Production Inkjet Printing: Ready for Prime-Time for Commercial, Package Printers?January 2014 By Erik Cagle, Senior Editor
The current prevailing theory is that direct mail, books and transactional work are the holy trinity of the production inkjet digital printing church, and you won't get any arguments. Those three sectors have been transformed by production inkjet technology. But there are murmurs, rumblings of a fertile ground beyond the big three that will open the door for commercial printing, package printing and beyond.
Some observers believe that time is near, others are a bit more conservative in waving the production inkjet flag for commercial and packaging applications. But, unlike the onset of the digital printing revolution of the mid-1990s, when the market for such machines was undeveloped, this current trend toward continuous-feed and cutsheet inkjet press adoption is unmistakable. And, depending on your vantage point, production inkjet has yet to peak; were it a winter nor'easter, many would say the eye of the storm has not yet arrived.
The production inkjet movement in commercial printing may be closer than you think, notes InfoTrends Founder Charlie Pesko. He has heard from general commercial printers who have found applications outside of the book/direct mail/transactional range of items, while other areas such as newspapers and packaging have also reported some success.
The beauty of production inkjet in comparison to its toner-based digital printing cousin is that it operates at much higher speeds, notes Pesko. The upshot of this, though, is the resulting printed output in need of finishing. Setting up in-line or near-line tools—cutters, folders, stitchers, etc.—in a configuration that keeps operator intervention to a minimum, can enhance productivity and, thus, shorten turnaround time and yield the lowest operating costs, especially when compared to traditional offset printing.
"The feeding and finishing aspects cannot be overlooked," Pesko stresses.
The greatest change has come with the expansion of inkjet paper weights and sizes, according to Pesko, which has really enhanced the number of products and applications available in the production inkjet environment. This, coupled with more automated online or near-line output, is going to tremendously improve the print provider's return on investment.
"With the sheetfed products, they can start to handle the heavy weights and some of the packaging elements," Pesko adds. "We can start to seriously look at packaging applications that exist now. With the cutsheet ability, you're going to be able to run much heavier substrates and be able to start displacing some of the traditional products in the packaging area, as well."