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Special Drupa Coverage — Drupa Foretells Digital Future

July 2008 By Mark Smith
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DRUPA’S STANDING as an international printing exhibition makes it the place to see the course of technological development in the industry laid out for the next four years. As even the following press and postpress wrap-up stories note, digital printing technology had its strongest showing yet. Even the developments in digital workflow were muted by comparison.

Many of the product introductions were already covered in one of the Drupa Countdown stories published in editions of Printing Impressions leading up to the show. Therefore, this wrap-up will primarily focus on what was new in Düsseldorf.

The event lived up to its billing as The Ink-Jet Drupa, with “green printing” being the only challenger as a show theme since virtually every exhibitor touched on it. As the market expands, “ink-jet” increasingly is losing its usefulness as a label for a product category. The technology is being adapted into solutions that address an ever-broader range of applications. Document printing was the primary focus at Drupa 2008, but industrial/wide-format solutions were also prevalent.

All printing solutions to some degree can be characterized as application specific. Or, to put it another way, have limits on the type of work they can acceptably produce. Ink-jet takes product segmentation to a new level, though.

The fact that a device uses continuous vs. drop-on-demand (DOD) ink-jet heads, and thermal vs. piezo-electric in the latter case, doesn’t necessarily say all that much about its capabilities. Use of water-, pigment- or UV-based ink is a little more telling, but not always determinative. Combined, they do have a bearing on the types of substrates that can be printed, production speeds, print quality and total cost per piece, all of which factor into suitability for a given application.

In evaluating the new ink-jet press options, the place to start is with the attributes of the printed piece to be produced, rather than those of the machines being evaluated. If the target application demands printing on coated paper or that some type of top coating be applied to the finished piece, for example, then solutions using water-based inks are at a disadvantage.

Ink-Jet Not Fit to Print Everything

Print quality can be assessed using a quantitative measure such as resolution, but ultimately it’s a subjective judgment. The attributes people use to define quality can vary, including color fidelity and/or consistency, smooth tints and fine text. All forms of ink-jet still fall short of the text definition achievable by other printing technologies, which is why newspaper and transpromo are two of the applications initially being targeted by almost every manufacturer.











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