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Digital Color Printing — Ink-jet in Line for Takeoff

May 2007 By Mark Smith
Technology Editor
NOT LONG after the close of Drupa 2004, the 2008 edition of the international printing exhibition was already being called the “ink-jet Drupa.” Upping the time frame, the title of a keynote panel at the just-completed On Demand Conference & Expo asked, “Is Ink-jet the Technology Story for 2007?” It should be clarified that both are references to color page printing in a production environment, and not wide-format or consumer photographic printing.

For 2006, the big story in ink-jet printing was industrial printing applications. It seemed as if every vendor was talking about flatbed machines capable of printing on a wide range of substrates. There have already been some signs of a shift in product focus back to page production this year.

Agfa Graphics, for one, had cited the opportunities in industrial applications as the primary motivation for several investments it made in developers of ink-jet technology. This February, however, the company introduced a new page printing system designed for “transpromotional” and direct mail applications.

The Dotrix Transcolor prints four colors in a single pass at a max speed of almost 500 ppm (A4 size) in duplex mode. It is designed with a static array of drop-on-demand, piezo ink-jet heads that spans the entire 25.6? paper width. Combining Agfa’s Agorix Nova UV-curable inks with non-linear (stochastic) screening is said to deliver a perceived 900 dpi resolution, but the device has a 300 dpi measured resolution.

IBM signalled its intention to finally enter the volume color page printing market at Graph Expo 2006, but waited until the same month to formally launch a product. The Infoprint 5000 continuous (webfed) printing system is based on the piezo-electric, drop-on-demand ink-jet engine used by Screen (USA) in its Truepress Jet520 product.

This engine uses water-based pigment inks to print a 20.4? maximum web width at a 720x360 dpi resolution. It runs at speeds up to 210 fpm, producing 916 ppm (letter size) in a tandem engine configuration printing in duplex mode.

Continuous Ink-jet Option

Credit for pioneering the use of ink-jet technology for high-volume page production goes to the Kodak (then Scitex Digital) Versamark product line, currently featuring the VX5000 and VX5000e models. It’s important to note that these machines are based on continuous ink-jet print head technology. The VX5000 is rated to print at 500 fpm (>2,000 ppm) with a maximum 300x600 dpi resolution, and the VX5000e (enhanced resolution) runs at 328 fpm (>1,400 ppm) with a 300x1,200 dpi resolution.
 

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