COLOR COPIERS & DIGITAL PRESSES -- Coloring Between The Lines
BY MARK SMITH
The line of demarcation between a copier and printer was the first to fall. Now it's not uncommon for devices with similar capabilities to be called printers or presses, depending on who's doing the naming. And, markedly different machines—such as all-digital and digital offset systems—may be labeled as digital presses, or the ubiquitous production systems.
The upshot is that it has become very difficult to neatly define what products should be included in an update on the state-of-the-art in digital printing. Therefore, what follows is a look at some, if not all, of the recent major developments in the marketplace.
Hewlett-Packard Co. just launched the HP Indigo press 3050 and 5000 digital presses, both of which are seven-color machines capable of producing 4,000 letter-size pages per hour. They are also compatible with the new Series 4.0 HP ElectroInk, which is said to deliver longer photo imaging plate life, offer enhanced adhesion characteristics for use on coated stocks and improve resistance to rubbing, scratching and cracking.
The HP Indigo press 3050 is based on the Series 2 engine and replaces the 3000 model. It features an improved paper path with increased feed reliability and ability to handle lower weight papers. Ease of operation is said to be enhanced through hardware and software improvements.
Designed for larger volumes, the HP Indigo press 5000 features patented paper handling technology and easy-to-maintain press systems for more efficient operation. The HP Press Production Manager front-end offers enhanced workflow tools for imposition and job control, along with a remote user interface. HP CMYK Plus technology offers automatic, consistent color management across a range of devices, including the HP Designjet and large-format ink-jet printers. HP Adaptive Halftoning analyzes text as it's being printed and intelligently adds dots to fill in gaps at the edges.
Océ Digital Document Systems division was targeting this month's On Demand show for the unveiling of a new hardware and software systems platform for production-class printing. The platform reportedly has been engineered to support monochrome and highlight color printing with the capacity to migrate to full-color production—on a single machine. It is said to offer "offset-class" quality.
According to Océ, the cornerstone of the platform is a multi-stage imaging technology that can be customized with as few as two or as many as 10 toner stations to support monochrome, highlight color and, in the future, process color and beyond. The continuous forms print engine is intended to print short runs, long runs, and transactional and production publishing jobs.
New Name, Offering
At its first major exhibit since being acquired by Eastman Kodak, Kodak Versamark (formerly Scitex Digital Printing) is targeting Drupa 2004 in May for the official launch of a page-wide (8.97˝) color system offering 300x1,200 dpi resolution and a maximum print speed of 1,500 fpm (monochrome at 300x300 dpi). With this "Next Generation" continuous ink-jet technology, the company is moving from a 44 pl (picoleter) drop size to 15 pl. It also reportedly is considering a six-color configuration.
Partly as an offshoot of this move by Kodak, the future of NexPress Solutions became the subject of much speculation. When Heidelberg—a partner in the joint venture—announced plans to restructure its business, all bets were on a buyout by Kodak. Heidelberg promised to make a further announcement sometime in March.
Kodak has already hinted at an aggressive move to expand application of the color printing technology. Some first steps in that direction were taken at last fall's Graph Expo exposition, with the introduction of three versions of the current NexPress 2100 digital press.
The Xtreme Edition is positioned as suitable for the fullest range of digital printing services, including complex variable data printing. It is equipped with the NexStation II XE front end and one license of the new Acrobat-based NexTreme DL-100 variable data software.
The Standard Edition is designed for static and variable data printing. It comes with the new Nex-Station II SE front end and one license of NexTreme DL-100. And the Entry Edition, with the Nex-Station II EE front end, supports basic digital printing services like short-run and quick turnaround jobs.
At press time, Canon U.S.A. had announced its intention to hold a "momentous" press conference in early March, but no details were available on the new product introductions.
Last fall, the company unveiled two production color printing systems—the CLC 5100 (51 ppm) and CLC 4000 (40 ppm). The machines are said to feature new delivery and fixing unit systems, plus advanced color management technology for enhanced system efficiency, accelerated production and increased color consistency. Four-drum technology, Finer Brighter (FB) toner and Automatic Image Refinement enable print resolutions up to the equivalent of 800x400 dpi.
Xerox Corp.'s most recent major introduction was of a new black-and-white platform, as it continues to build the installed base of DocuColor iGen3 digital color presses. At the low end, however, the company did launch the new Phaser 7750 color laser printer. It is capable of printing 35 pages per minute, handles media sizes up to a 12x47.25˝ banner sheet and offers three print modes, including the ability to print at true 1,200-dpi resolution for fine detail and photographic images.
Bundled with the device are PhaserMatch 3.0, an enhanced color-matching tool for proofing applications, and PhaserCal, a new color calibration software application that ensures consistent color regardless of the page quantity produced.
The merger that formed Konica Minolta is still the big news from that organization. The combined entity has formed a new Production Printing Group to capitalize on the commercial printer market, among others. So far, there reportedly has been no consolidation of the color product lines since both brands have been retained.
In fact, the company launched the Minolta DiALTA Color CF5001 copier/printer as a separately branded version of the Konica ColorFORCE 8050. It features an output speed of 50 ppm (color and black-and-white) for paper sizes up to 13x19.2˝. The device handles paper weights ranging from 24-lb. bond up to 110-lb. index through the main paper trays and up to 140-lb. index through a bypass tray. Finishing capabilities include stapling, saddle-stitch bookletmaking, two- and three-hole punching, trimming and post-sheet insertion.
The EFI Fiery S300 50C-K controller is offered as an option to drive the device.
Similarly, A.B.Dick introduced the Color X-Press (CXP) 3000 digital printing system at Graph Expo. It, too, is based on a 50-ppm Konica print engine, and uses patented polymer dry ink technology for improved image quality by eliminating the need for fuser oil. The machine offers 600x600 dpi resolution (600x1,800 enhanced resolution) and supports paper sizes up to 13x19.2˝ in weights ranging from 24-lb. bond up to 110-lb. index.
Take Your Pick
A.B.Dick is offering a choice of front ends, including its own Momentum Workflow or a Fiery S300 print server. Included as standard equipment with its configuration are a stackless duplex unit and two-sided color reproduction/printing capabilities.
Ricoh Corp. introduced the Aficio 2232C (24 ppm) and Aficio 2238C (28 ppm), the newest additions to its "Black to Color" product line. These multifunction systems enable users to print, copy or scan in either color or black-and-white in sizes up to 12x18˝. They handle paper weights from 16-lb. bond to 90-lb. index, and feature an 80-sheet automatic reversing document feeder, duplex unit and 1,100-sheet paper capacity.
Development work has continued on the digital offset press front, as well.
Following its debut at Drupa 2004, Screen (USA) expects to bring the TruePress 344 digital offset press to Graph Expo 2004 for its U.S. introduction, with commercial deliveries set to commence in November. The press has a maximum sheet size of 13x18˝ and printing speed of 7,000 sph. It utilizes a thermal (830nm) multi-array laser diode (MALD) imaging system to expose a new processless plate technology from a "leading manufacturer" that Screen was not ready to identify.
The plate material is rated for 10,000 impressions and is designed for conventional—not waterless—offset printing. It can be imaged at up to a 2,400-dpi resolution using screen rulings of 150 or 175 lpi. All four plates are exposed simultaneously, with the exposed coating material removed by the action of the dampening solution.
KBA North America is now offering ORIS Works, from CGS Publishing Technologies International, as a digital front end to its 74 Karat digital offset press. The prepress workflow system supports all major file formats, including PDF/X, TIFF/IT, DCS, Scitex and others. Network-enabled hot folders receive and process files automatically, performing such tasks as preflight checking, format conversion, trapping and imposition.
Having previously straddled the all-digital and on-press market segments, MAN Roland announced it was removing the DICOpress and DICOpack digital printing systems from its product range and exiting the toner-based digital printing business. The company's digital systems business unit is now focusing solely on its digital offset press, the DICOweb.
Since the two toner-based systems were OEM products from Xeikon, the company acknowledged that "the difficult and unsure business footing of Xeikon this year (in 2003) was not an insignificant factor."
MAN Roland says it is looking to further advance its own fully digital offset printing press as a means to take advantage of the industry trend toward smaller production runs at increased quality, lower costs and improved performance.
While it wasn't prepared to make any specific announcements, Kodak Polychrome Graphics (KPG) says both its new Thermal Direct non-process plate material and thermal head technology are suitable for on-press imaging applications. Thermal Direct is said to produce no debris and support run lengths of at least up to 100,000 impressions. The company reports stressing miniaturization and modularity in its head technology, making the systems a good fit for on-press imaging.
In the meantime, KPG continues with its efforts to sell the DirectPress 5034 DI press, which it says offers a different workflow and service support package from the standard Ryobi configuration.
The Ryobi 3404DI digital color press, distributed by xpedx in the United States, is a four-color machine with a maximum paper size of 13.39x18.11˝. The direct imaging press is configured with two imaging systems, incorporating FirePower multi-beam lasers developed by Presstek, that expose rolled PEARLdry Plus waterless plate material on each cylinder. A compact design is achieved by using a satellite V-shaped, five-cylinder configuration.
Even though it technically isn't an on-press imaging solution, the Reusable Plate System (RSP) from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries merits inclusion here because of the potential of the technology. The prototype, scheduled to be shown at Drupa, will use an off-line operation to erase, prepare and write plate sleeves—in three minutes—using a polymer coating that is sprayed on. The imaged material is said to offer on-press performance equivalent to "conventional" CTP plates and supports runs of 100,000 impressions.
Mitsubishi currently is only exploring web offset printing applications, but stay tuned for further developments in this and other digital printing technologies.
Also, Presstek Inc. has announced a new laser imaging platform. ProFire Excel, the next generation of thermal imaging, is designed to bring improved productivity, higher quality and reduced cost to thermal CTP and DI applications. The ProFire Excel design broadens the range of applications that can be produced on a DI press. ProFire Excel-enabled DI presses are designed to produce up to a 300 line screen with no incremental cost, offering increased flexibility and improved margin opportunities.