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Digital Presses--Making the Grade

October 1998
The teeming class of digital color presses seems to be on the verge of a graduation of sorts. Xeikon celebrated the shipment of its 1,000th digital color press earlier this year, a DCP/32D. Indigo reports well over 1,000 E-Print shipments globally. Xerox boasts more than 4,000 DocuColor 40 units installed worldwide. Heidelberg's Quickmaster DI continues to flood the market.

All this is happening just as Agfa's variable printing Chromapress and the Scitex/KBA-Planeta Karat continue to push the technology forward. But that doesn't mean new classmates, like Screen's recently launched TruePress and the Quickmaster's big brother, the new Speedmaster 74 DI, aren't ready to raise their hands.


The rise of on-demand color printing has made for an interesting class of digital printing tools, ranging from digital color copiers driven by advanced RIPs to variable printing solutions to traditional offset presses, digitized and modernized with the ability to image plates mounted directly on the press cylinders.

All are termed digital presses, yet the three classes function differently while still delivering on the concept and vision of print-on-demand. Printing systems and related software technologies from a virtual Who's Who of printing powers proliferate the digital press movement: Agfa, Canon, BARCO Graphics, Heidelberg, IBM, Indigo, Minolta, Omnitrade, Ricoh, Scitex/KBA-Planeta, most recently Screen, T/R Systems, Xeikon, Xerox and other star pupils are among the ranks.

Who started all this? That merit award is shared by Heidelberg and Indigo. Heidelberg's GTO-DI caught great industry attention at PRINT 91, followed by Indigo's 1993 introduction of the E-Print 1000—recognized as the industry's first fully digital, four-color offset press.

With Indigo, perhaps, the fervor for print-on-demand took new meaning—a more viable meaning, based on a more tangible technology. The E-Print, a sheetfed machine that uses a liquid toner to produce a very fine dot for high-quality output, captured the attention and imagination of the digital printing world.

Today, the print-on-demand world is a bit smaller, more crowded, with solutions breaking the digital press market in three distinct categories.

H Devices by innovators such as Canon, Minolta, Ricoh, T/R Systems and Xerox that are toner-based digital color copiers bolstered with advanced software set on flashy digital front-ends. Canon's Color Laser Copier series and the Canon CLC 1000 join T/R Systems' MicroPress cluster printing solution in this category.

H Variable printing solutions, packed with the power of personalization, capture the second segment of digital presses, namely offerings such as the Indigo E-Print 1000; Xeikon's DCP family, chiefly the DCP/32D; Agfa's Chromapress 32i and 50i, both of which employ the Xeikon engine but are delivered with Agfa's IntelliStream digital front-end and the potential of Personalizer X, a QuarkXTension that enables variable-data fields; IBM's InfoColor 70; and Xerox's Docu-Color 70, tanked with the Scitex Darwin XTension for handling variable data.


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