InfoTrends Forecast : Inkjet Targets CommercialAugust 2010
As the new decade begins, InfoTrends focuses on the status and prospect of color inkjet technology in the commercial printing industry. In the current market, seven companies (Agfa, HP, InfoPrint Solutions, Kodak, Miyakoshi, Océ and Screen) now offer high-volume, continuous-feed color inkjet systems. Fujifilm and Xerox have also publicized plans to offer their own products.
The current systems are successful in forms printing, book printing, direct mail, transactional and TransPromo applications. Nevertheless, most pages are produced in the general commercial printing market—and color inkjet, as a printing technology, is barely existent here.
Inkjet is not a single technology. In fact, it is the most varied printing technology in terms of sub- categories available. In some cases, these are just several approaches to meet the same goal, but in many ways the technology choice has practical implications on the viability of certain applications.
Figure 1 cuts the different technologies into two main groups, namely Continuous Inkjet (CIJ) and Drop-on-Demand (DOD). It further cuts these two categories by type of drop ejection, carrier fluid and colorant. As outlined below, there are far more technology variants available in drop-on-demand than in continuous inkjet. Please note that the "Other" category under DOD includes technologies that are not relevant today or in the near future for the graphic arts market, but may eventually play a role.
Over the next few years, color electrophotographic (EP) systems will remain the dominant color digital technology in commercial printing due to their higher image quality and greater media range. Nevertheless, the maturity and speed constraints of electrophotographic technology make color inkjet a brighter prospect for the commercial printing market in the long term.
As noted earlier, inkjet as a printing technology is not widely used in the area where most pages are produced (e.g., commercial printing). Nevertheless, this market structure is beginning to change. Several technology developments have enabled the use of inkjet for high-volume commercial printing as a primary process:
Inkjet Arrays: Page-wide1 inkjet arrays have been a prerequisite for inkjet to enter color graphics printing with sufficient speeds. Before their introduction, inkjet systems capable of sufficient print quality levels had to use scanning (i.e., moving) inkjet heads, which intermittently print a swath and then forward the media a small distance. These setups did not allow for the high print speeds required in general commercial printing.