Continuous-feed Inkjet: Paper Plays a Starring 'Roll'July 2013 By Jack Miller
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.