COLOR COPIERS & DUPLICATORS -- Creating Color that Clicks
BY MARK SMITH
In this age of computers, flatbed scanners and color desktop printers, it's easy to forget that not every document is readily available as a digital file, nor does every piece have to be printed in four-color to be effective. These are just two of the reasons why color copiers and digital duplicators, respectively, continue to be productive tools in the "print-for-pay" market segment. While they fit slightly different applications, both product categories can be considered entry-level digital printing systems from a price standpoint.
Color copiers is the harder category to pin down in terms of target markets and applications. Manufacturers already commonly call these devices printers/copiers, but some have started referring to them as "digital printing systems" and down playing the copying capabilities. RIPs and network interfaces have become standard equipment or offered as options. By teaming up with traditional proofing system vendors, companies also are adding color matching capabilities that turn copiers into digital proofers.
In a similar fashion, digital duplicator manufacturers have taken to calling their products "digital presses" or "digital printing systems" for competitive positioning reasons. These devices fill a somewhat unique niche by providing spot-color (and black-and-white) printing at comparatively higher speeds and lower cost, with the image quality benefits and substrate flexibility of ink on paper.
Because of their different color, the two categories of products really only compete in the sense that entry-level system buyers must decide which best fits their color output needs.
Color copiers can fit all of the aforementioned applications, agrees Janet Cain, director of marketing at the Canon U.S.A. Graphic Systems Div. in Lake Success, NY. She sees the copying function potentially still coming into play in a number of ways.
* An office may have a desktop color printer capable of producing a limited number of copies, but the company may take a hardcopy original from that device to a print-for-pay site when larger volumes are required.
* Some popular office software—especially Microsoft Word and PowerPoint—can be difficult to process through four-color, PostScript-based workflows. One workaround that has developed is for shops to output the file to a desktop printer and then recapture the document for volume production.
* Information often needs to be updated in existing printed pieces. Before a major revised printing is done, the current piece can be scanned and edited on a color copier for output in smaller quantities.
Reproduce Fine Lines
While it is true that most documents today are created digitally, that doesn't mean the file is always readily available, points out Dino Pagliarello, product marketing manager for color at Minolta Corp. in Ramsey, NJ. A case in point, he says, are a competitor's marketing pieces that a company may wish to share with its sales and marketing staff. "In addition, some artists and graphic designers still prefer to work with hand-drawn illustrations and layouts," Pagliarello notes. A color copier can easily reproduce the fine lines and colors, he says.
Scanning hardcopy documents to a file is the biggest use being made of the integrated platen in color copiers from Konica Business Technologies, reports Stephen Jones, vice president of color operations at the Windsor, CT-based manufacturer. "The file is then brought back into the computer for editing or merging with other elements before it is reprinted," he explains.
While it's for a different set of reasons, digital duplicator manufacturers also must deal with the issue of properly positioning their products in the marketplace. RISO Inc. has taken the step of formerly referring to its products as "digital presses" and not duplicators, says Anne Barrett, marketing manager at the Danvers, MA-based supplier. The company's machines can provide spot color printing at 7,200 iph for as little as a third of a cent each, she notes.
"Many two- and three-color jobs don't require the expense and set-up time of an offset press, and wouldn't be cost-effective to produce on a color copier," Barrett continues. "Additionally, these devices can handle a wider variety of paper."
Spot-color work, low cost per copy and fast speed are key strengths of digital duplicators, agrees Shen Liao, manager of marketing services for the Digital Duplicators Div. of Duplo USA in Santa Ana, CA. However, she also notes that the expertise of a press operator isn't required to run these devices, and they can be set up in an office environment.
Moving beyond the basic differences in the product categories, how do some of the top-of-the-line offerings from the leading manufacturers stack up?
The Canon CLC 5000 color copier with the ColorPASS Z5000 server is the company's lead product for the professional graphic arts market, Cain says. The integrated scanning system can process captured documents without using compression, thereby maximizing output quality, she adds. The copier/printer's output speed is 50 impressions per minute on stocks up to 250gsm.
Minolta's DiALTA CF9001 copier/printer outputs eight color pages per minute (32 black-and-white) and offers an "enhanced" 600x1,800 dpi image quality. The device prints up to an 11x17˝ full bleed on 12x18˝ stock in weights to 110-lb. index. For color matching, a test print with seven color versions can be output on a single sheet.
Konica Business Technologies' 7832 color imaging system is based on the manufacturer's award-winning 7823 engine. It prints a 600x600-dpi resolution on paper sizes from 12x18˝ down to 4x6˝ and weights up to 110-lb. stock. Users can see seven color variations of the same print with the push of the button. The 7832 prints and copies up to eight pages per minute in color or 32 pages in black-and-white mode.
Power Up Your Engine
The RISO 3700 digital press can reside on a network and handles stock sizes from 4x6˝ to 11x17˝ and weights from 13 lb. to 110 lb. A more sophisticated production system can be created by adding peripherals to the print engine, Barrett says. For example, a variable addressing unit can be rolled up to a RISO digital press to add printing of a return address, teaser messages and address information.
Duplo's DP-63 Series digital printing systems offer high-speed printing at 600 dpi, Liao notes. Both the DP-63P and DP-63S models feature master and ink systems that reportedly produce sharp images while maintaining minimal ink consumption. The DP-63P has a computer interface, which is an option on the DP-63S. Both can handle paperweights from 13 lb. to 110 lb. and sizes to 11.88x17.28˝.
Ricoh Corp. is a player in both markets. Its Aficio Color 6000 series of professional copiers is capped off by the model 6513, which prints 13 color pages per minute (51 ppm in black-and-white mode). It handles stock sizes up to 13x19˝ and weights to 140-lb. index. The firm's duplicator product family is headed by the Priport JP800 and VT6000. Both handle stock sizes to 12.5x17.5˝ and output 120 ppm at 600 dpi.
Setting aside the advances in digital interfaces, the fundamentals of these print engines remain largely unchanged. However, a couple of new technologies and systems have been introduced that reengineer the imaging process itself.
Several years have passed since its original introduction, but the Océ CPS700 color printer (and copier) reportedly is now commercially available. The unique feature of the device is its use of seven-color imaging—CMYK+RGB—in one pass. The company says seven colors are used to improve the printer's color stability and accuracy, not increase its color gamut. The machine prints 25 ppm on stock weights up to 110 lb.
The interesting development in the works from Xerox Corp. is in the area of consumables. No timetable has been announced for the U.S. introduction of its new emulsion aggregation (EA) toner technology, but its development reportedly is well under way in Japan. The technology is said to "grow" toner particles with well-defined shapes and smaller sizes. Reported benefits include lower operating costs and improved image quality.
Whatever name they are given, entry-level digital output devices show promise of a colorful future.