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Continuous-feed Inkjet: Paper Plays a Starring 'Roll'

July 2013 By Jack Miller
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Continuous-feed inkjet digital printing offers advantages versus conventional offset, and also versus electrophotographic or toner-based systems. And, as the technology continues to evolve, it is gaining share from both offset and electrophotography.

The presses are good. The substrates are good. The software is good. And, as Cathy Cartolano, VP of sales and technical services at Mitsubishi Imaging (MPM), says, image quality is "scary close" to offset. So why doesn't continuous-feed inkjet dominate the market?

Challenges include education, workflow, sales and finishing, as well as the limitations of the technology itself—and some have said that all of these challenges are being met. The technology continues to evolve with improvements to paper and ink, and also to workflow software, as well as to the presses themselves.

While much of the discussion is focused on image quality and the technology, it is important to note that digital print is a very different sale than conventional print. The value proposition of digital involves a total system solution around better targeting, better logistics and less waste, which results in a better return on the customers' investment rather than a lower per unit cost. Also, the decision on inkjet versus toner depends on image quality required, substrate, ink coverage and run length. The right solution depends on the specific application, and inkjet is gaining ground.

Image quality may not be the issue as much as economics. As Dave Bell, Mitsubishi director of digital paper sales, points out: "The highest form of printing in the world for museums and photography is inkjet. The question is not when will inkjet quality be equal to offset, but when will production inkjet quality be equal to offset."

The promise of continuous-feed inkjet is quality close to offset with short-run and variable data capability, and quality close to or equal to electrophotography with greater productivity and lower cost.

For transactional printing and certain book applications, numerous success stories demonstrate that the promise has been met. Some applications are suitable for uncoated papers, either with or without inkjet treatment. But, for applications with more color and high-quality graphics, print customers often want coated papers. NewPage Corp., Appleton Coated LLC, Mitsubishi Imaging (MPM) and Resolute Forest Products have developed coated inkjet papers in conjunction with press manufacturers (OEMs) and continue to refine and improve their inkjet coated paper offerings.

NewPage TrueJet was developed for the Kodak Prosper press, is recognized for use on HP T-series presses without a bonding agent and also works well on Canon (Océ) engines. According to Dennis Essary, NewPage director of digital papers, "A patent-pending formulation allows the water to absorb into the paper while keeping ink on the surface, and provides offset-like quality." Essary adds that TrueJet is an optical match for Sterling Ultra, and is available in 80# and 100# gloss text, plus 7-pt. and 9-pt. gloss cover, both of which meet postal requirements. Earlier this year, NewPage also introduced TrueJet Book 45#, which has been "accepted well into the marketplace." Essary notes that NewPage is looking at developing additional finishes and basis weights, e.g., dull and matte, as market needs evolve.

In addition, TrueJet Hybrid has found a home with the Ricoh InfoPrint 5000 with pigment inks and extended dryers. "We continue to grow and expand the customer base and focus on customer needs as the market continues to develop," Essary says. "TrueJet is readily available and is running on all the machines."

At Appleton Coated, the initial focus has been on books. Ann Whalen, senior vice president, advises that Appleton Coated "has now developed a book inkjet product, Utopia Book PE, which works in piezoelectric inkjet with modified dryers and has expanded its gloss line down to 60# text and to 9-pt. cover." Utopia Inkjet, with gloss, dull and matte finishes, was developed with HP and optimized for the HP T-series. Whalen notes that "Appleton Coated is the leading supplier of coated products for the HP T-series presses."

Utopia Inkjet Matte also works well with the Kodak Prosper, and Utopia Inkjet Gloss is under development for Prosper. Whalen adds: "For the HP presses, Utopia Inkjet Gloss is by far the closest to a gloss offset coated product, at a reasonable price." Utopia Inkjet sells at premiums of around 30 percent to offset, and while the cost per impression is higher than for offset, the total cost is less. Whalen advises that, in book publishing, printers are getting beyond the unit cost and publishers have a better understanding of the value.

Gianluigi Rankin, worldwide marketing product manager for HP Graphics Media, reports that the installed base of HP inkjet presses has now reached 100, and that improved inkjet papers are helping clients push the envelope on ink coverage. "We began seeing an increase in full-color direct mail in 2012, after Appleton Coated first introduced Utopia Inkjet Gloss with ColorPRO Technology," he explains. "Since then, customers have used this paper for other high-coverage direct mail jobs, as well as general commercial printing applications. As the selection of inkjet optimized papers grows, we expect to see higher volumes of these applications."

However, Rankin adds that image quality has always been a differentiation point between HP inkjet web presses and HP Indigo digital presses. For customers who print pieces that generally have a high image quality, but are not produced in high quantities—such as specialty coffee table books—HP would recommend production on an HP Indigo digital press. Customers printing larger volumes of books that do not require such a demanding image quality, like textbooks used in higher education, are better served with an HP inkjet web press.

Appleton Coated is now stocking some sizes in 80# gloss text and 80# gloss cover. For commercial printing markets, Utopia Inkjet and Utopia Uncoated Inkjet are available through xpedx, Spicers US and Lindenmeyr Munroe. For book publishing, Utopia Book Inkjet and Utopia Uncoated Inkjet are available through Bulkley Dunton.

Prosper's Highest Paper Rating

Mitsubishi Imaging has a history of more than 25 years in the photographic and graphic arts industries, and is the global leader in home inkjet papers and proofing papers. For production web inkjet, Mitsubishi offers a wide range of high-quality, coated media from 90 gsm to 249 gsm (9-pt.), in a variety of surface finishes, including gloss, satin and matte. Mitsubishi's Cartolano notes that "our parent, Mitsubishi Paper Mills, is a recognized leader in high-performance papers." She adds that Mitsubishi's SWORD iJET Gloss received a 5 Diamond rating on the Paper Rating Program for Kodak Prosper presses, the highest rating within the Paper Rating Program. Kodak's 5 Diamond rating is awarded to a media that equates to "offset quality" within the rating structure.

SWORD iJET carries a premium price, by some reports as much as 130 percent above ordinary coated offset papers. This compares with premiums of around 20 to 30 percent on other coated inkjet papers. However, there are significant savings in ink use, energy and productivity. According to Cartolano, in tests with Screen USA, they were able to back off on the ink usage, and also required no drying. Ink savings can reportedly be up to 40 percent.

In a presentation at the recent Inkjet Summit, developed and managed by nGage Events and NAPCO, publisher of Printing Impressions, Dave Bell explained that the coating holds the ink on the surface, while allowing the water to disperse into the sheet. Although the water evaporates over 24 hours, the sheet immediately feels dry to the touch and is ready for finishing without any offsetting or smearing. He cited a study by Canon Solutions America (formerly Océ), which showed that, at 25 percent ink coverage, paper cost is equal to ink cost. Above 25 percent ink coverage, it may well make sense to use better paper that lowers the ink usage.

Indeed, the study referred to by Bell is available online, and is part of an ongoing effort by Canon Solutions America to provide much-needed education about continuous-feed inkjet. Guy Broadhurst, vice president technology and client solutions, notes, "We are on a quest to educate the industry on how inkjet technology affects key areas such as paper, ink usage and color gamut. Our presentations available online will be given to industry groups and will open up the dialog. We are excited to help stimulate important dialog and stop misconceptions about what these new systems can do."

Canon is not only addressing the need for education; they are also addressing the need for workflow software. It has introduced a suite of Océ PRISMA software for data centers, transactional printers, on-demand printers and in-plant print shops. The software is designed to streamline workflow, minimize IT costs and more effectively manage documents.

The Canon Océ JetStream and ColorStream presses produce excellent results with Mitsubishi SWORD iJET and with Glatfelter coated inkjet papers. NewPage TrueJet is currently being tested. The strength has been with transactional print and transactional direct mail (TDM), and Kris Albee, Canon marketing director, notes that 2012 was a banner year. "Canon Océ was the 2012 leader in placements of continuous-feed color inkjet presses in Western Europe and the United States with a 41 percent share (see Figure 1)." She adds that, as paper and ink have matured, future growth will be in higher end direct mail and commercial print.

IDC MarketScape has named Ricoh's InfoPrint 5000 production platform the high-speed inkjet market share leader in the United States. Ricoh has a global installed base of several hundred, focused mainly on transactional print, with the majority of the paper uncoated, but that is changing quickly. Mike Herold, Ricoh's worldwide product manager for inkjet technologies, notes that Ricoh "continues to innovate" and "is now running applications that even a year ago might not have been possible." They have added drying capacity to handle more challenging papers, and now have three ink systems: dye, pigment and MICR. Herold adds, "We are testing new papers every week, and can handle coated papers, depending on the level of gloss."

Herold also reinforces the need for workflow solutions and education, noting that there was a lot of discussion early on around the technical details of the core technology, but "now there is more discussion about the enhancements to the periphery—more about finishing equipment, more demand on the software side."

On a Roll with Uncoated Grades

In the world of uncoated, Domtar Corp. and Finch Paper continue to develop their inkjet product lines.

Beth Povie, director of branding and communications at Finch, notes that their strategy to engineer proprietary substrates specific to either dye-based or pigment ink systems is working. "Customers who understand their total cost of operation appreciate Finch's approach to optimize the technology and costs rather than commoditize it."

She adds that they are selling into book publishing, transactional and direct mail segments. "Commercial printers are familiar with the Finch brand, so it is a natural fit for direct mail where color and service are so important. Finch Inkjet Pi, for pigment inks, is stocked from 60# text to 9-pt. reply card, and we've just added a 7-pt. reply to the Finch dyeJet line." Finch's digital sales grew more than 60 percent last year, in large part due to the inkjet roll business.

As noted earlier, software and workflow are critical to the success of inkjet, and Finch offers a unique program to its customers: F.I.T. by Finch Color Management and Workflow Services. Povie says that "Finch's on-site support helps companies expedite their return on investment."

At Domtar, Ann Rieser, director of market development, notes that uncoated treated inkjet continues to grow, albeit slowly. Demand is driven by the growth in the installed base, and consultative selling. Rieser advises that Domtar's Enterprise Group (EG) remains the primary channel. "EG's roots are with data centers and transactional print, but we would expect distribution to evolve as the market evolves." She adds that Domtar "continues to learn and evolve with the market and the evolving needs of the customer."

Groundwood publication papers and recycled papers are also worth noting. Resolute offers Ecopaque Jet with ColorPRO Technology for transactional, book and direct mail applications. Ecopaque Jet has higher opacity and more bulk than woodfree grades, but less brightness. For book and transactional applications, this can be a plus and, for direct mail, more bulk means lower basis weight and less mailing cost. Industry sources suggest that FutureMark may also be soon entering the market with recycled coated inkjet treated paper, with more than 90 percent recycled fibre.

Ralf Schlozer of InfoTrends agrees with the consensus that we are seeing continual, gradual improvement, and notes that "volume gains reduce costs. Direct mail volume is moving higher." As Figure 2 (above) shows, not only is the installed base growing, but the number of new installations is growing—and at an increasing rate. However, he notes that growth in commercial printing is not as great "because there is less need for personalization."

The debate about whether it is better to have special inkjet papers or whether it is better to use ordinary papers with special presses or on-press treatments continues. One inkjet solution specifically designed to use ordinary paper is the Xerox CiPress production inkjet system, which uses waterless inkjet inks.

Jason Rider, worldwide manager, CiPress Business, at Xerox, points out that, as a result, the CiPress does not require premium-priced, inkjet treated papers to achieve high-quality output. The first beta site was dmh Marketing Partners in Iowa almost two years ago, and the first commercial installation was in the third quarter of 2012. Rider adds that there are now CiPress installations in five European countries, plus the U.S. and Canada. Market-Intell estimates that the total installed base is in the range of 10 to 15.

High gloss remains the boundary for CiPress, as with others, but the CiPress produces good results on matte and silk finishes, up to 220 gsm or 9-pt. According to Rider, "Xerox is working on the development of an in-line coating solution to enable customers to get a range of gloss using post coating that is still less costly than premium-grade, inkjet gloss papers. Significantly, because of waterless inks, CiPress can handle paper as light as 29 gsm with no show through, even with full-color, high-coverage applications."

Rider says that Xerox has an extensive file of suitable substrates run on CiPress for a wide range of applications. He also notes that "there is a new technology for ink optimization" that gives customers the flexibility to vary ink usage based on customer quality requirements to maximize profitability.

Continuous-feed inkjet is replacing both electrophotography and offset. It has been suggested that, for high-end graphic arts with ink coverage above 30 percent, inkjet begins to hit limits. Image quality does not match Indigo or iGen, but it is close, and it has been suggested that the limiting factor may well be economics more than quality. As ink coverage pushes above 30 percent, improved papers may be able to handle it, but the cost of ink can be a major factor. However, Canon's Broadhurst notes that toner is more expensive than inkjet inks, and the cost per page for inkjet is 10 percent to 20 percent less than toner. Broadhurst suggests that the larger issue with inkjet is that all of the water absorbed by the sheet in inkjet printing makes cutting and finishing difficult.

The choices are many: ordinary papers with on-press treatment or extending drying options; inkjet treated papers at different price levels; electrophotography; or offset. While it is often said that the holy grail is ordinary untreated paper, Jillian Acord, Mitsubishi vice president of marketing, operations and information systems, notes that at the Inkjet Summit, "printers were excited to see new papers, and excited by the opportunity to sell higher end digital printing to new markets." She adds that a major takeaway from the Inkjet Summit was that "paper is a very important part of the puzzle."

So far, we have not discovered or created the holy grail, and must deal with tradeoffs in cost, productivity and quality. The right solution therefore depends on the application. Key factors are end use, cost, quality, ink coverage, productivity, run length and the need for personalization or versioning. And herein is a caution for printers: Until you see the file, and know what the ink coverage will be, you won't know your cost, and can't safely quote a price. Nor can you know the best way to print it. PI

About the Author

Jack Miller, known as the Paper Guru, is principal consultant at Market-Intell, a supplier of strategic consulting and "Need to Know" market intelligence in paper, print and packaging. Formerly, Miller served as senior consultant, North America, with Pira International and was also director of market intelligence at Domtar. He can be contacted by e-mail at jack.miller@market-intell.com.


 
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