What I Liked at GRAPH EXPO
The first thing I thought was cool was what you didn't trip over the moment you walked in the door...the old guard. Namely, Heidelberg and Komori weren't on hand—going un-missed and un-mourned—while the new big (digital) dogs of print lined the center aisle.
A few remaining princes of offset were relegated to spaces further back in the hall, all but lost among the maze of stands that serve the needs of digital print and distribution first, while ignoring the needs of offset technology. Offset still has a place in the world, but it's getting smaller. 2010 is the year that offset printing—at least in terms of a trade show presence—finally became, well, mostly irrelevant.
Big and Fast
The big inkjet systems are making a lot of noise and I'll revisit them in more detail in some coming installments of this blog. First up is the one most noticeable—the T-300 and T-200 family from HP.
While having these machines at a short show like Graph is not practical, HP still tells a good story. There are now some 20 T-300 systems (40 print engines) installed around the world. According to HP, these sites are all paying customers, and while no doubt some smokin' deals were cut, these machines are beginning to affect the market. Virtually all are in some type of book manufacturing operation where they are turning out to be an excellent fit.
In talking with execs from college textbook publishers such as Pearson Education, I'm hearing no issues with print quality compared to offset, and the appeal of printing only the number of books required makes a compelling business case. Publishers' assessment of quality gets my attention because inkjet print quality for publishing applications has been on my mind for some time. The validation of big publishers tells a lot about the changes.
Compared side by side with offset using a critical eye, T-300 output sometimes looks a bit different, but the real issue is whether it is acceptable for a given application. I've been critical of print from this machine in the past, but no longer. It has dramatically improved over the past year and I've reported on the changes in presentations and in my former blog at the late, great Graphic Arts Online. In every example I've seen, it's just fine for the ways it's being used.
I also saw some real speed at HP. HP announced the T-350, the newest member of its inkjet line. It continues to run at 30˝ wide, but they've turned up the wick so it now cruises at 600 feet per minute (fpm) in full color, a 50% increase in speed, with reportedly no change in print quality. That's nearly seven miles an hour, meaning the machine can inhale a 5-mile-long roll of 30˝ wide paper, print on it and run it out the other end in 44 minutes.
And if that's not enough, in one corner of the booth was a "technology demo" showing two black inkjet head modules adding personalized data to a pre-printed shell, running at 800 fpm. Seeing this now, one has to wonder what we'll see at drupa 2012, some 19 months from now. Anyone want to place some bets on whether it will be 800 or 1,000 fpm in color?
Across the main aisle I got a great tour of the Xerox stand, which is probably good for 2 or 3 blogs in itself. There was a lot to see, so stay tuned. But the thing I liked most was not the big (digital) iron but one of the smallest machines the company offers outside of it's desktop devices. Think of it as a crossover press that spans the gap between garden-variety copier-printers and light-production presses.
Back in the day, I started doing consulting in this industry with quick printers, so I'm always looking at how a small shop can make money with a new print engine. The new Xerox 550/560 printer is a replacement for the almost venerable 240/260 printer that does yeoman duty in CRDs, copy shops, quick printers and even some service bureaus. There are a lot of great features to this new box, but four things really stand out in my mind.
First is the print quality. It uses Xerox's EA toner, the chemical stuff that has smaller, more uniform particles than conventional toner and creates excellent images with no fuser oils. Second is the speed. At 50 or 60 pages per minute, it's quick enough to be truly useful in a light production environment. Then there's price. It starts under $35K for the 550 model and under $40 grand for the 560. The add-on pieces build on that, but you can still get a great performer for not a lot of money.
Last, and perhaps most profitably, is the range of supported substrates that are really targeted at businesses that need to make money with their printer and do so quickly. There are magnetic cards, a variety of photo pages, and a wide range of stocks that cover all types of applications. If a quick printer buys one of these and can't see an ROI in about six months, he should be looking for another line of work.
Anyway, that was just the first two booths at Graph. I liked some other stuff, too, so I'll have to get back to you on that.