Production Inkjet Printing: Ready for Prime-Time for Commercial, Package Printers?
While there are challenges to consider on the road to widespread production inkjet adoption, a large percentage of capital imvestments during the last year to 18 months have centered around digital devices, and inkjet in particular. Noel Ward, managing director of Brimstone Hill Associates and newly named editor-in-chief of Package Printing magazine, feels there are a few measures that must be met in order to justify purchasing a high-speed inkjet system: Being able to fill at least 50 percent of the machine's monthly duty cycle on day one, paired with the ability to reach 75 percent capacity within six to nine months.
"Given the monthly nut attached to the investment a big inkjet press requires, the jobs have to be lined up ahead of time, ready to go or the press can become an enormous drag on cash flow," he says.
Uncertainty also plays a role in keeping some printers from taking the leap into production inkjet—concerns about areas such as image quality, operating costs, inkjet head replacements and paper, Ward remarks. These are valid issues that any printer should be asking about during the due diligence process. Ward makes the following observations:
- Image quality is at least adequate for most applications that will run on an inkjet press.
- Operating costs can vary widely. Rather than relying on vendors' claims, he recommends talking with other printers who have machines similar to the one you're considering in order to learn about true operating costs.
- The technology is generally solid, works well and is reliable. But, as with any press, thorough training and ongoing learning is required to get the best results.
- Head replacement is usually a top-of-mind concern, but in fact heads seem to be outlasting even vendor expectations. Again, tap other printers to get a real-world read on head life. And don't be afraid to see what kind of agreement can be crafted with the vendor. Heads aren't cheap, so you must have a clear understanding of costs and service requirements.
- Paper is abolutely critical with inkjet presses (more on that shortly). Testing is urgently required here.
But while the current print markets that are favorable to production inkjet press output represent a critical consideration in the "why to" decision making process, the bread-and-butter of production considerations, namely paper, ink, feeding and finishing, represent a lion's share of the questions that beginner entrants into the space are (or should be) asking. Many improvements in the inks and papers used, in fact, have driven the quality improvements and made it possible for production inkjet to make serious inroads into commercial work.