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Continuous-feed Inkjet : The Web Paper Challenge

September 2012 By Jack Miller

Inkjet Printing Productivity chart
[+] click to enlarge
While the market for print has been in decline since 2000, digital printing has continued to grow at double-digit rates, and the new generation of continuous-feed inkjet presses promises to accelerate this growth. At drupa 2012, we saw a host of new entrants, as well as upgrades from the earlier entrants: one drupa visitor reported seeing 18 different inkjet engines. As Figure 1  shows, the speed and productivity of inkjet presses has grown, and inkjet printing has grown apace.

Printers face a number of tradeoffs in selecting presses, ink and paper for production inkjet. This article will explore the challenges and solutions relating to paper in key applications, including transactional and transpromo, book, direct mail and general commercial printing.

Pages Printed Via Inkjet chart
[+] click to enlarge
IT Strategies estimates that in 2012, 108 billion pages will be printed by production inkjet systems. IT Strategies also projects that this will quadruple by 2015 (see Figure 2 ). Market-Intell estimates that for coated papers this represents something less than 50,000 tons in 2012, and less than 1 percent of the market. For uncoated paper, however, which represents the vast majority of the volume, mainly in transactional print, the volume is in excess of 500,000 tons. This is 6 percent of the uncoated freesheet market, and a much higher share of the transactional print market.

Inkjet Printing Applications chart
[+] click to enlarge
InfoTrends estimates that 57 percent of all inkjet printing is either transactional or transpromo (see Figure 3). Variable data is fundamental to this market and, while quality graphics are important, the print is less demanding than high-quality, four-color offset printing. Ink coverage may be well below 30 percent. The vast majority of all transactional printing is done on uncoated paper, often ordinary offset grades. According to an estimate from one OEM, more than 90 percent of all inkjet is on uncoated paper.

Inkjet inks can be dye-based or pigment-based. In general, pigment inks are more expensive and higher quality, while dye-based inks still produce good color, but colors may be slightly less brilliant and less permanent. Dye-based inks are good for transactional and some direct mail applications, while pigment inks are better for some book applications and general commercial printing where ink coverage is high with four colors.

Water In, Water Out

Both types of inks contain a lot of water, and the water creates a challenge. Dennis Essary, director of digital papers for NewPage Corp., explains: "The water has to go in and leave pigment on the surface, and then the water has to be driven out by heat. This requires a surface that looks smooth, but is actually quite open." This is especially challenging for coated papers, and more so for glossy papers, where coatings are smooth and appear to create a continuous, closed surface.

 

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