Ink-jet Printing -- Coming Up Heads and Tales
Based on the product announcements at Drupa, there ultimately will also be two separate categories of ink-jet press configurations available—webfed/continuous and cut sheet/sheetfed. Webfed models established the high-volume ink-jet production press category and should remain dominant. The choice between material handling options is largely independent of the ink-jet technology employed.
Thermal and piezo-electric ink-jet both fall into the drop-on- demand (DOD) category, meaning a drop of ink is only produced when needed for printing. Continuous ink-jet (CIJ) models produce a steady stream of ink drops, with only the drops needed for printing ejected from the head, and the rest captured by an ink return system.
DOD ink-jet heads have a cost advantage because of their engineering and mass production. Compared to the mechanical nature of piezo heads, the heating required for thermal units restricts the ink formulations they can support and their firing speeds.
The Versamark CIJ product line—previously offered by Scitex Digital and now again part of Kodak—launched the color ink-jet production press category. Its top-of-the-line Versamark VX5000 Plus model produces 3,272 ipm (81⁄2x11? format) at 300x300 dpi or 2,180 ipm at 300x600 dpi.
Kodak added piezo DOD technology to its offerings with the Versamark VL2000 series (246 fpm or 1,090 ipm at 600x600 dpi) last year, and recently expanded the line with the faster VL6000 (492 fpm) and VL4000 (410 fpm at 600x360 dpi) series. These products are designed for transactional, transpromo and direct mail applications.
In a recent presentation to investors, Kodak CEO Antonio Perez said development of the company’s Stream CIJ technology has been stepped up by three to six months, and a full-color press implementation is now expected to be ready “at the beginning of 2010.” The technology is being positioned as “offset-class quality,” with printing speeds expected to be in the 500 fpm range at a resolution greater than 600 dpi and comparable to 175 line offset print quality.