Expanding Applications That Drive Inkjet Page Growth
Digital color pages continue to grow nicely: up 15% in North America in 2016. Looking at the growth in more detail, one can readily see that the page volume growth is being driven by high-speed, continuous-feed color inkjet. Pages produced on webfed presses have been increasing at ~20% per year in recent years, double the rate of growth of cut-sheet pages, resulting in half of the total volume being inkjet output.
So what’s being printed on these production inkjet web presses? The common denominator is documents on uncoated stock and that don’t require high-quality images: transactional documents, direct mail letters and books. The economics of transactional printing and direct mail letter printing now favor white paper feeding a full-color inkjet web press versus preprinted forms with mono laser overprinting. And, for books, the focus is shifting from the print cost per book to the cost of books sold.
The next phase of growth for digital color printing is the use of inkjet technology to print offset-quality images on coated stocks, at reasonable costs. The target applications are direct mail, catalogs, collateral and magazines. This phase is just getting started. A number of vendors are offering continuous-feed presses for this market, including:
- Canon Océ ProStream
- HP HDNA PageWide
- Kodak Prosper
- Ricoh VC60000
- Screen Truepress Jet520HD
- Xerox Trivor 2400
I recently received a set of samples from Xerox highlighting the capabilities of the Trivor 2400. Xerox is touting its ability to print on standard offset stocks, with no pre-coat or primer. The samples consisted of direct mail letters, postcards, two- and four-page personalized direct mailers, personalized mini catalogs and hybrid catalogs (cover and eight-page insert produced on the Trivor 2400 and 28 pages produced offset)
Hybrid Catalogs Target Buying Patterns
My personal favorite is the hybrid catalog. For me this one was of the highlights of drupa 2016, as it represents an innovative way to re-invent the catalog and drive additional value for the end customer and for print service providers. This kind of innovation can help increase overall demand.
Inkjet image quality has progressed tremendously over the last several years and is now good enough for most applications, but typically still not good enough for high-end, luxury products, where offset quality is the gold standard. This is evident in the samples of the hybrid catalogs sent by Xerox.
Since the hybrid catalog is printed with both offset and inkjet technology, it allows for easy comparison of the images. Personally, I don’t think the average consumer would notice that some of the pages are produced on offset, and some with inkjet. Most of the inkjet pages are dedicated to product shots of outdoor clothing or fishing gear. Super-high-quality is not required, but the quality needs to be good and, in my opinion, it is very good.
Quality Gap Between Inkjet, Offset Continues to Narrow
The hybrid catalog cover is also printed inkjet and shows images of people wearing the gear that is being sold. These same models are also shown inside the catalog on offset produced pages. This makes it easy to compare and, upon inspection, I noticed variations in the skin tones and differences in details among the digital and offset images. While there still might be a gap in image quality between the new web inkjet presses and offset, the gap is small and narrowing.
Early adopters are finding success in applications that utilize personalization of text and images. Anecdotal evidence suggests that customers and their print service providers are seeing response rates that make the application profitable for both parties.
With personalization as the key driver, workflow is a critical component of the solution. All of the hard work to get a response can be lost with errors that are easy to make.
For example, my pack of Trivor samples was personalized to David, but upon closer inspection the personalized URL was for David Zwang, not David Erlandson. While, in this case, mixing up the packets and the envelopes wasn’t a big deal, it does highlight the issue that proofing and matching up variable components within a job remains challenging. Making the process “bullet proof” is an important objective for workflow software providers.
With the huge advancements in image quality and substrate flexibility, today’s inkjet presses can meet the requirements of nearly every application. Early adopters are finding success in data-driven applications. And as production inkjet ink prices decline, more opportunities in short-run printing continue to emerge, opening up the large offset markets to color digital printing.
Dave Erlandson is the GM of Caslon & Co. One of Caslon’s primary activities is to serve as the North American Affiliate for PODi, the Digital Print Initiative. PODi is a leading industry initiative focused on developing the market for digital printing through education and standards activities. Other key activities include digital printing market analysis and sales training.