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Digital Output Devices : A Digital Printing Redux

November 2012 By John Parsons (with Staff Contributions)
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GRAPH EXPO suffers from a perennial problem and a quadrennial one. The latter, of course, is that it comes only months after the international drupa printing trade show, where vendors have all but exhausted their new technology announcements. Every drupa year, vendors must come up with something new to show in Chicago, or simply offer a repeat performance and hope there will be enough booth traffic from North American customers who didn't go to Düsseldorf in May or get a personal demo.

The perennial problem with the show was voiced by a fair number of equipment manufacturers—the cost of exhibiting at Chicago’s McCormick Place, compared to other venues, is unsustainable in a sluggish print economy. Such costs were cited as a reason why so few offset presses were on the floor. The other reason of course is that digital printing is the new norm for shows like Graph Expo and for the printing industry in general.

Almost without exception, digital press vendors highlighted their workflow and digital front end (DFE) capabilities, enabling everything from transpromotional and variable data printing to ganging of smaller jobs (e.g., short-run books) into longer production runs. The emphasis was on automation, personalization and run-length optimization.

Océ/Canon was one of the two largest exhibitors, combining the electrophotographic (EP) and high-speed inkjet heritage of both sides of the company in its booth. The Océ ColorStream 3900 inkjet press announced at drupa made its U.S. debut at the show. The 21.25˝-print-width color press boasts a speed of more than 400 fpm, and was shown running with an in-line booklet finishing system from Standard Horizon.

The other of the two largest exhibitors, Xerox, featured the latest incarnation of its popular iGen digital press platform. Making its North American debut, the iGen 150 features a 150 ppm print speed, new matte dry ink and a host of finishing options for booklet production. Also on display were the CiPress 500 waterless inkjet system, for color printing on a wide range of uncoated stocks, and the new Nuvera 157EA (157 ppm) and 314EA (314 ppm) monochrome systems, the latter being a perfecting system.

Sharing the booth was XMPie, a Xerox Co., which introduced the uStore 7.0 upgrade to its Web-to-print solution. Enhancements include Job Definiton Format (JDF) compliance, a pricing plug-in for integrating custom pricing mechanisms and the ability to work with the Xerox FreeFlow Connect workflow component.

With offset presses becoming scarce on the show floor and digital vendors pushing for higher volume and larger B2-format machines, digital presses are becoming the "big iron" components of the show. One example was the HP Indigo 10000 digital color press which, advancing from its introduction at drupa, is now officially in beta testing with units of the B2-format sheetfed press installed at Sandy Alexander in the United States, as well as Precision Printing in the UK, and Old City Press in Israel.

Two smaller format HP Indigos—the 7600 and the 5600—also made their U.S. debut. A major advance offered by these systems is Enhanced Productivity Mode (EPM), which is the company's three-color printing option that boosts productivity by 33 percent.

Although Fujifilm's J Press 720 sheetfed inkjet press was launched at GRAPH EXPO 2010, it still drew considerable interest at this year's show. Using 1,200 dpi Samba print heads developed by Fujifilm Dimatix, it can print up to 2,700 four-up sheets/hr. on coated and uncoated stocks. To date, the company has installed 11 units worldwide. A web version—the J Press W—is expected to be available by the end of this year.

The InfoPrint line of digital presses, now part of Ricoh, has grown into a multi-platform offering topped by the continuous-feed 5000 family of inkjet devices. Enhancements introduced at the show include a new 315 fpm print speed option to match finishing components and new TotalFlow workflow modules to drive the device, including DocEnhancer for last-minute editing of PDF documents and Cadence for ultra-short-run book production.

The 5000 line is based on print engine technology from Screen (USA), which did not have its own booth this year, but was able to team up with MCS to exhibit a Truepress Jet520 inkjet press.

Heidelberg, which showed one of the few offset presses on the floor, also prominently featured its digital offerings. Its solutions based on the Ricoh engine are now under the Linoprint brand, represented by the Linoprint C901 color digital press in Chicago. The company also had an EFI Rastek H652 UV flatbed inkjet printer in its booth, and all three devices were employed in a demonstration of cross-platform color matching.

Along with displaying its bizhub line of EP presses, from the monochrome PRO 951 to the full-color, 80 ppm C8000, Konica Minolta offered a preview of output from the B2-size KM-1 UV inkjet press, but did not have the machine on the show floor like it did in Germany. New at Graph Expo was the launch of EnvisionIT Production workflow solutions for commercial printers, including EngageIT Automation for print and EngageIT XMedia, a cross-media solution.

Komori has been working with Konica Minolta to become a player in the digital sector, including collaborating on the development of sheetfed inkjet technology. Its Impremia IS29 29˝ press implementation was shown in a "live" virtual demonstration at Graph Expo via an interactive hook-up with the company's production plant in Japan. The bizhub PRESS C8000 EP color press was also demonstrated.

KBA talked about, but did not show, its new RotaJet 76 inkjet press unveiled at drupa and scheduled to ship early next year. The press accommodates a 30.7˝ web width, print speeds of up to 500 fpm and the use of aqueous pigment inks. Both inkjet-optimized coated and uncoated stocks are supported, although the company claims good results with traditional stocks.

Continuing with technology shown at drupa, Kodak's booth featured the imprinting part of the Prosper inkjet platform—the S-series. The new S30 model ups the speed range to 3,000 fpm to enable augmenting conventional offset presses with fully variable text and graphics. Kodak also announced its new Prosper Image Optimizer Station for the Prosper Press, which will pre-coat a much wider array of stocks. On the EP side, the Nexpress SX will get a speed upgrade, new 36˝ sheet capability, and fluorescent and metallic colors for the 5th imaging unit.

Presstek has been contributing to the "big iron" at Graph Expo in recent years by having its 31x23.6˝ 75DI on the show floor, but this year it opted to display just a single tower of that press in its booth along with a four-color 52DI digital offset press. Another carryover demonstrated in the states for the first time was Virtuoso, an in-line color management and sheet inspection system for the Presstek 75DI that performs a complete inspection of each sheet as it passes through the press at full speed.

Another digital print pioneer, Xeikon, displayed its new 8800 press, originally previewed at drupa. The rollfed EP system, handling media up to 20.2˝ wide, has a purported print capacity of 10 million pages per month, using its DFE's native IPDS mode for transactional or direct marketing applications.

French developer MGI brought its drupa-introduced Meteor DP8700 S to Chicago. The full-color EP device can accommodate formats up to 13x19˝ at speeds approaching 3,300 sph. Also garnering considerable attention, as it did in Germany, was the JET-varnish 3D inkjet spot UV coater, capable of adding raised effects up to 100 microns in thickness.

In a similar vane, Scodix drew considerable interest with its S-series digital presses, capable of adding "digital glittering" and other effects via inkjet. Attendees—and a fair number of industry pundits—were quite taken with the technology's potential for commercial and packaging applications.

Update on Nanographic Technology

Not all the digital press buzz was on the show floor. Benny Landa, Indigo founder and CEO of startup Landa Corp. continued the speaking tour he began at drupa, evangelizing the benefits of his new digital printing approach: Nanography. By using pigment particles in the 50-70 nanometer range, Landa maintains that image quality, sharpness, color gamut and color fidelity can be improved far beyond that of any existing printing process—conventional or digital—while reducing costs and providing the workflow benefits of digital. So far, Heidelberg, Komori and manroland sheetfed have signed letters of intent to also integrate the technology into their product offerings.

Labels and Wide-Format Printing

drupa was not the only spoiler for digital printing news. Only weeks before Graph Expo, several vendors had launched digital devices at Labelexpo. It also seems like some exhibitors may have held wide-format inkjet introductions for the 2012 SGIA Expo that closely followed Graph Expo.

EFI officially launched its high-speed Jetrion 4900 inkjet label printer at Labelexpo, but also brought it to Chicago. It combines UV inkjet printing and laser finishing in a modular, upgradable system for efficient label production. At Graph Expo, the company showed the Fiery FS100 Pro DFE for the first time in the states. New features of this next-generation system include HyperRIP, a performance-enhancing technology, and Fiery JobMaster, an advanced makeready solution for producing complex jobs.

Epson did not bring its new SurePress L-4033A label press to McCormick Place, but the SureColor S50670 wide-format model was selected as a Must See 'Ems. Introduced just prior to the show, the solvent inkjet S50670 and companion S70670 model are 64˝ printers incorporating the manufacturer's MicroPiezo TFP printhead technology for increased print quality and performance.

Wide-format printing also took center stage in Agfa's booth, which showcased the new the :Anapurna M2540 FB entry-level, flatbed UV inkjet printer (six colors plus white) and :Jeti 3020 Titan hybrid model for high-volume and high-resolution applications. The M2540 FB is designed for printing on rigid substrates since it is a dedicated flatbed machine, while the 3020 Titan is field upgradable from a base configuration with 16 heads to a maximum 48 heads for outputting at up to 2,432 square feet per hour.

Having previously been shown as a technology demonstration, the Excelagraphix 4200 high-speed, wide-format inkjet printer was featured in the Xanté booth. It uses Memjet Waterfall print head technology to deliver print speeds up to 12˝ per second across a 42˝-wide format at up to 1,600 dpi. Making its worldwide debut was the new Impressia "multi media" digital printing system. The 50 ppm EP device supports a wide range of stocks in sizes up to 12x18˝ or 12x49.6˝ with manual feeding and offers a 2,400 dpi print resolution.

PriscoDigital brought a related drupa carryover to the states by showing the Kongsberg XN automatic cutting system from Esko, which handles media up to 69x135˝ and offers multiple cutting and routing tools. It complemented the 104˝ HP Designjet L28500 Latex and 98.4˝ HP Scitex FB700 hybrid UV wide-format inkjet printing systems in the distributor's booth.

Back on the label side, OKI Data featured its ProColor series, including the 511DW web press for production of both static and variable print labels. The high-speed device is capable of printing on a wide variety of materials, including non-converted or pre-converted label stock, vinyl, PET and other substrates up to 330 gsm.

Another vendor in the label space, Colordyne, exhibited its new CDT-1600 PC Laser Pro system, combining EP-based color imaging with integrated in-line finishing, and available flexo print/coating, UV curing and lamination capabilities.

Still More to the Story

Digital printing at GRAPH EXPO extended well beyond the new "big iron" players. A number of vendors offer inkjet and EP technology to encompass the needs of smaller printing and in-plant facilities.

Delphax, originally (and still best) known for its monochrome check printing capability, demonstrated its Elan color digital inkjet system, using multiple Memjet print heads to produce full-color, 1,600 dpi output at speeds up to 500 images/min. The sheetfed Elan 500 introduced at the show is being positioned as an affordable inkjet option for commercial and in-plant printers focusing on direct mail, transpromo and booklet printing.

The RISO booth featured two of the company's ComColor 9050 color inkjet presses—one with a native IPDS controller for high-speed variable transactional printing and the other with a multi-function finisher for tasks such as in-line booklet making. The new IPDS controller allows AFP print data to be sent directly to ComColor printers.

The monochrome side of the business was not neglected, as Graph-Tech displayed its MonoCube inkjet web system for high-speed (150 meters/min.) variable data printing. Other monochrome printing solutions—mostly EP-based with a scattering of inkjet—were scattered throughout the venue, but tended to be overshadowed by their color counterparts.

The typical GRAPH EXPO attendee still tends to be the printing professional rather than the print consumer. For service providers, the show was a reliable barometer of the shift from offset to digital printing. However, the nature of the printing business is changing along with the physical process. Companies are seeking new communications models, which will certainly include print, but which often require new partnerships and investments in order to economically produce and deliver printed products. PI



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