Production Inkjet: Almost All Grown Up
It’s been nearly a decade since drupa 2008, which had been dubbed the “inkjet drupa,” when production inkjet technologies burst onto the scene. Since then, the number of vendors offering inkjet units has increased, installations have proceeded apace, and, perhaps tellingly, it is difficult to have conversations with software developers and finishing equipment manufacturers without the topic of production inkjet compatibility coming up.
There is an increasing number of players in the production inkjet market. In the early days of inkjet’s development, the value proposition was to shift work from offset, not just willy-nilly, but to allow print service providers to take advantage of the growing demand for short-run, fast-turnaround, and customized/versioned/personalized print jobs. And it wasn’t just offset; inkjet—thanks to its speed—was also positioned to take work from toner-based digital.
It is also not unusual to hear talk of inkjet taking work from other kinds of analog printing processes, like flexo for packaging application, especially corrugated.
While these process shifts are certainly ongoing, the conversation as of late has centered around exploiting inkjet to create unique, high-value printing products that were never the purview of other printing technologies to begin with. In that sense, inkjet is “coming into its own,” rather than being a new and improved version of what came before. We’ve progressed past inkjet’s infancy and its turbulent adolescence. Now it seems inkjet is almost all grown up.
You can also tell the status of any printing technology by its effect on the parts of the workflow. Research conducted last summer by found that top investment categories for commercial printers are binding and finishing equipment specifically designed to be compatible with high-speed inkjet presses, as well as workflow and other automation software. And on the show floor this week, you’ll find that software is where much of the action is, and indeed, it is using software that printers can use to develop those high-value print applications. You could almost say that the printing press is merely an extension of the software.
So when prowling the floor looking at inkjet presses, think less about speed, horsepower, and other technical specs, and more about what unique products can be produced. And don’t be surprised if you end up talking to software companies, as well.