PRINT 05 DIGITAL PRINTING -- Volumes Turning Up
BY MARK SMITH
One of the most striking trends to take shape at PRINT 05 & CONVERTING 05 is the degree to which one can now play a "zero degrees of separation" game between vendors of digital printers and prepress workflow systems. Some level of cross-linking seemed to be announced for almost every possible pairing. (More details are included in the "Prepress Workflow and CTP" show recap on page 28.)
In terms of the print engines themselves, developments appear to have at least temporarily hit a plateau. The pieces required to build a viable business are already in place, so the focus has shifted to promoting market success. System vendors are highlighting growth in monthly volumes among their installed bases, rather than looking ahead to the next big thing, be that larger formats or leaps in speed.
There do continue to be incremental gains in performance introduced, but the closest thing to a hot area of technology has been the various approaches to applying protective and/or glossy coatings.
Examples include new offerings from Kodak Nexpress, Xerox and Xeikon. Earlier this year, PIA/GATF released the results of a study that documented the greater risk of damage that postal handling poses for digitally printed pieces and the benefits of applying a protective coating. (For more information, see article on page 76.)
HP Indigo has introduced a coating technology/treatment of a different sort, called in-line priming, that enables its machines to run standard offset media.
While Canon U.S.A. did have a booth on the PRINT 05 show floor, its new product announcements were saved for Canon EXPO 2005 in New York City. The company also celebrated 50 years of doing business in the U.S. at the private trade show. (See "Digital Digest" news story on page 80.)
Next: Full-Color Version
In Chicago, the only talk of anything approaching a new platform for digital color printing came from Océ. It reports still being on track to introduce a full-color version of the VarioStream 9000 continuous-feed printing system sometime in 2007. For now the focus remains on what the company terms "job appropriate" color, which it extended to three-over-three color by unveiling the VarioStream 9230 model.
The concept of hybrid offset/digital printing got a boost from Kodak Versamark and Muller Martini, which teamed up to demonstrate the former's continuous ink-jet heads doing variable imaging in-line with the latter's Concepta narrow web press. The two companies have signed a reseller agreement to market the combination.
A smaller scale technology trend on the software side continues to be putting more variable data capabilities into the hands of creative professionals, rather than just production specialists. This is typically done via add-ons to QuarkXPress and Adobe InDesign.
PIA/GATF's Digital Printing Council is looking to provide fuel for the industry's drive to build market success. It unveiled a new research and market development project, called Marketing 4 Digital (M4D), intended to provide digital operations "with relevant and immediately applicable marketing intelligence they can use to sell more printing and open new business opportunities," according to the announcement. The project will explore more than 24 vertical markets. (For more details, see page 77 in this issue.)
Xeikon took an interesting step beyond user testimonials by partnering with one of its customers to produce a "live" application on the show floor. Working from its base in Portland, OR, expresscopy.com redirected a portion of its daily orders to print on a Xeikon 5000 digital color press in the manufacturer's booth. During the show, more than 50,000 variable data postcards for 165 different expresscopy.com customers were printed and picked up for delivery by the U.S. Postal Service.
Xerox continues to recognize winning digital printing applications with its PIXI (Printing Innovation with Xerox Imaging) Awards. From a pool of nearly 250 entries, winners were selected in four application categories: Variable Print/1:1 Marketing Communications, Short-Run Digital Color, Digital Books and Manuals, and Monochrome or Highlight Color. The complete list can be found at www.xerox.com/pixi.
The focus on market success was also evident among vendors of DI or digital offset presses.
KBA North America says it has been experiencing "explosive sales growth" for its 74 Karat 29˝ digital waterless offset press. Reports from its installed base indicate customers are achieving double-digit profit margins, the company claims.
Presstek Inc. sought more independent verification of the technology's success in the marketplace, so it commissioned a study by InfoTrends/CAP Ventures. "This research confirms our earlier findings that owners of DI presses are operating more profitably than their conventional offset counterparts," says Charlie Corr, group director of the research firm.
According to the report, respondents indicated that their job profitability is more than 13 percent higher on a DI press compared to conventional offset equipment. (The sweet spot for DI printing was found to be jobs ranging in runs from 250 to 10,000 finished press sheets.) Further, as a group they anticipate achieving a 27.5 percent increase in revenue generated from DI jobs over the next two years.
Wide and super-wide digital printing technology shouldn't be overlooked, but it is considered a distinct market segment as evidenced by the designated "Wide-Format Pavilion" main hall at PRINT 05 & CONVERTING 05.
Most commercial printers that have invested in such devices has been for proofing applications. Industry vendors, however, typically are now setting their sights on other uses for the technology. In recent moths, this market shift has led to several sizable acquisitions.
Just prior to the show, HP announced it had signed an agreement to acquire the assets of Scitex Vision, a maker of wide- and super-wide format printing systems for production of signage, displays and other graphics. This past summer, Japan-based Dainippon Screen acquired Inca Digital Printers, which primarily offers wide-format, flatbed ink-jet printers for industrial printing and packaging applications. EFI completed its acquisition of Vutek Inc., a leading player in the super-wide ink-jet segment, about the same time.
At the show, HP moved to extend its presence in the market by signing an OEM agreement with Seiko I Infotech to jointly develop and market solvent-based large-format printers for the outdoor graphics market. Enovation Graphic Systems and Mutoh America shared a booth to demonstrate the latter's wide-format ink-jet printers that are being distributed by the former. Agfa had a separate booth in the special pavilion to showcase, for the first time in
North America, the Dotrix flatbed, industrial ink-jet technology it acquired last year and its Grand Sherpa Universal line of rollfed ink-jet printers configured for graphics applications, not proofing.
Kodak, of course, had previously announced the incorporation of Encad's ink-jet printer business into its Graphic Communications Group. Xerox and Canon U.S.A. both have long offered large-format printer lines that they displayed. A number of independent companies had booths in the pavilion, as well, including the likes of Epson America, Roland DGA, Mimaki USA, Gandinnovations and Fujifilm Sericol USA.
While digital large-format printing has been touted for years as a new business opportunity for commercial printers, it seems the technology's time may finally have come. For example, at an event held the second night of the show, a representative of Enovation commented that large-format systems had been leading its sales—in terms of number, not dollar value.