DRUPA’S STANDING as an international printing exhibition makes it the place to see the course of technological development in the industry laid out for the next four years. As even the following press and postpress wrap-up stories note, digital printing technology had its strongest showing yet. Even the developments in digital workflow were muted by comparison.
Many of the product introductions were already covered in one of the Drupa Countdown stories published in editions of Printing Impressions leading up to the show. Therefore, this wrap-up will primarily focus on what was new in Düsseldorf.
The event lived up to its billing as The Ink-Jet Drupa, with “green printing” being the only challenger as a show theme since virtually every exhibitor touched on it. As the market expands, “ink-jet” increasingly is losing its usefulness as a label for a product category. The technology is being adapted into solutions that address an ever-broader range of applications. Document printing was the primary focus at Drupa 2008, but industrial/wide-format solutions were also prevalent.
All printing solutions to some degree can be characterized as application specific. Or, to put it another way, have limits on the type of work they can acceptably produce. Ink-jet takes product segmentation to a new level, though.
The fact that a device uses continuous vs. drop-on-demand (DOD) ink-jet heads, and thermal vs. piezo-electric in the latter case, doesn’t necessarily say all that much about its capabilities. Use of water-, pigment- or UV-based ink is a little more telling, but not always determinative. Combined, they do have a bearing on the types of substrates that can be printed, production speeds, print quality and total cost per piece, all of which factor into suitability for a given application.
In evaluating the new ink-jet press options, the place to start is with the attributes of the printed piece to be produced, rather than those of the machines being evaluated. If the target application demands printing on coated paper or that some type of top coating be applied to the finished piece, for example, then solutions using water-based inks are at a disadvantage.
Ink-Jet Not Fit to Print Everything
Print quality can be assessed using a quantitative measure such as resolution, but ultimately it’s a subjective judgment. The attributes people use to define quality can vary, including color fidelity and/or consistency, smooth tints and fine text. All forms of ink-jet still fall short of the text definition achievable by other printing technologies, which is why newspaper and transpromo are two of the applications initially being targeted by almost every manufacturer.
Price, conversely, is likely to narrow the list of potential buyers, as the ink-jet devices being introduced are in the $1 million to $5 million or more range. Also, those looking to buy in the near-term have more limited options, as several products won’t be commercially available until at least 2009.
HP showed a 36˝ version of its Inkjet Web Press in keeping with its stated intent to introduce a webfed, thermal DOD product line, but said the first model released (in fall 2009) will still be a 30˝ configuration. The machine prints uncoated paper, with a bonding agent applied, at 600 dpi and 400 fpm/3,200 ppm (A4).
HP announced three beta sites at Drupa, including O’Neil Data Systems and Taylor Corp. in the United States, and a European book producer, CPI.
Building on its current JetStream ink-jet platform, Océ introduced three new models—the JetStream 750, which prints 675 ipm (A4) at 600x600 dpi; Jetstream 1500, producing 1,300 ipm (A4) in two-up, duplex format at 600x600 dpi; and JetStream 3000, which boosts output to 2,700 ipm at 480x600 dpi in two-up, duplex mode. The press series uses a piezo DOD technology with variable dot size that the company has branded DigiDot.
There were a couple of surprises on the ink-jet front in the form of sheetfed machines from Dainippon Screen and Fujifilm Corp. capable of printing on coated stocks. Both firms restricted viewing of these machines and said the product names were provisional, which raised some doubt about when and in what final form these technologies will be commercialized. To be fair, HP and Kodak both had their webfed ink-jet presses behind stanchions, and Kodak at times would lower a set of curtains that completely blocked its Concept Press from view.
Screen did allow people to get up close to its Truepress JetSX, except at the roped-off delivery end where operators held up select samples “hot off the press” for viewing from a few feet away. A sample sheet was displayed under glass for closer inspection. The press uses water-based pigment inks to print a 20.8x29.1˝ sheet at up to 1,440x720 dpi and 1,600 sph.
Fujifilm went a step farther by having the Jet Press 720 entirely roped off and the glass-encased print samples also located behind the barrier, so no one could get a look at either from closer than a few feet away. The press is said to use piezo DOD heads and water-based inks to print a maximum 28.3x20.5˝ sheet at 1,200 dpi and a 180 ppm (A4) rated speed.
Behind Curtain Number Three...
It was the new iGen4, scheduled to launch in September, that was walled off and viewable by appointment only on the Xerox stand. According to the company, this machine is 25 to 35 percent more productive than the iGen3 (which will still be sold) and features an Auto Density Control sensor, in-line spectrophotometer and use of a dry ink “carrier” in place of developer for more consistent color and printing. Among its Drupa product introductions was the entry-level Xerox 700 digital color press, which uses low-melt EA toner to print 70 ppm at 2,400 dpi.
Xerox also began to fill in some details about how it plans to compete in the production level ink-jet printing segment. Building on the phase-change, solid-ink technology used in the Phaser printer line, the company provided a technology demonstration of “cured gel ink.” It converts into a liquid in the print head, is the consistency of peanut butter when it hits the substrate and is then hardened by a pulse of UV light. This is said to enable printing on a range of papers and materials such as plastic and foil.
Kodak delivered on its promise to show the Stream Concept Printhead and Concept Press, based on continuous ink-jet technology, but didn’t reveal anything more about the product specs or commercialization plans (previously said not to be until 2010) for the press implementation. Its product introductions included the 120 ppm Kodak Nexpress 3600 toner-based color press and two down-market additions to the Versamark ink-jet press line—the 500 fpm VT3000 continuous ink-jet system and 250 fpm VL2000 DOD ink-jet printer. The 300 ppm Digimaster EX3000 monochrome system was previewed in advance of its projected mid-2009 launch.
Also addressing the monochrome printing segment was Konica Minolta, with the world premiere of its internally developed bizhub PRO 1200 (120 ppm) monochrome solution and a mid- production line developed in partnership with Océ that’s due to launch this fall. The bizhub PRO 1600P (160 ppm), 2000P (200 ppm) and 2500P (250 ppm) are single-pass systems that will be offered in a range of configurations. Both product lines are toner-based.
Back in the color arena, Presstek announced an alliance with Konica Minolta that enables it to bundle the bizhub PRO C6500 color printer with Presstek DI presses. UV capabilities for the Presstek 52DI and 34DI digital offset machines were previewed, including a dedicated UV waterless printing option to be available in the third quarter, and an option to switch between standard and UV waterless that will be introduced in the fourth quarter.
Located across from one another at Drupa, Ricoh and InfoPrint Solutions marked the first anniversary of the latter’s formation in a joint venture with IBM. Transpromo applications were highlighted on the InfoPrint 5000 color ink-jet (piezo DOD) press with the addition of support for the new AFP Color Management Architecture and SAS Customer Intelligence marketing tools. The company also introduced the InfoPrint 75 (115 ppm) and 100 (154 ppm) monochrome, toner-based continuous forms printers that output PostScript and PCL data at 600 dpi.
Across the aisle, the Ricoh Pro C900 and C900s (90 ppm) color production printers had their first European showing. New at the show were the Ricoh Pro 906EX (90 ppm), 1106EX (110 ppm) and 1356EX (135 ppm) multifunction, black-and-white devices that print at 1,200 dpi. Both series are toner-based.
MGI Digital Graphic Technology delivered the faster—3,900 sph, A4—Meteor DP 60 Pro (paper and plastic) and Paper (no plastic support) models of its color toner press family that it had previewed, but signaled the future direction of its product development efforts by unveiling the ink-jet-based JetVarnish spot UV coater. DOD print heads are used to apply a matte or gloss UV varnish to sheets up to 14x20˝ at a price that compares to offset coating, the company claims. The initial configuration is slated for delivery early in 2009, with a larger format model to follow.
Xeikon, a division of Punch Graphix, believes the 230 ppm (A4) top speed of its previously announced Xeikon 8000 webfed press makes it an alternative to ink-jet while offering a 1,200 dpi resolution (1,200x3,600 addressability) and toner quality. In Düsseldorf, the company unveiled the 19.7˝ Xeikon 3300 five-color label press version of its platform that also has a 1,200 dpi resolution and handles substrates from 40 to 350 gsm. The 1,200 dpi resolution capability is to become available as a field upgrade for the Xeikon 6000 and 5000plus in the first quarter of 2009.
Labels (usually grouped in with packaging) was just one of a wide range of applications beyond pages that saw the introduction of new digital solutions. Photo books are the new killer app, along with the old staples of POP and displays.
EFI previewed the VUTEk DS (digital screen) series flatbed UV ink-jet printer, set for release in 2009. This eight-color device prints 557 square meters per hour at 1,200 dpi with a maximum material format of 63x96˝ and 2˝ thickness. The company also announced commercial availability of the Jetrion 4000 UV ink-jet label printing system and demonstrated the next generation of its Fiery front end that integrates the Adobe PDF Print Engine and offers Microsoft XPS file format support.
Agfa Graphics again demonstrated its Dotrix ink-jet press family that includes configurations for packaging and documents (transpromo and newspapers). For the display/POP segment, debuting at Drupa were the high-end Anapurna XLS (up to 98˝ at 1,440 dpi) and the Anapurna Mv/M4f (63˝) entry-level models. The Mv model adds UV varnish capabilities, while the M4f has CMYK print heads and is designed for handling rigid materials.
The new Epson Stylus Pro 7900 (24˝) and 9900 (44˝) ink-jet printers use an 11-color UltraChrome HDR ink set to support packaging and flexographic proofing applications at resolutions up to 2,880 dpi. Epson also introduced the Stylus Pro GS6000 printer, a 64˝ device that outputs a 1,440 dpi resolution using the eight-color UltraChrome GS ink set.
Xanté took specialty digital printing in a different direction by introducing the Ilumina 3D press for printing directly on lenticular sheets in sizes up to 12.9x19˝.
Workflows Getting Connected
There are still a number of dedicated digital printing workflow solutions being offered, but the systems originally designed for offset/CTP production increasingly are being extended to feed digital presses. This trend toward universal workflows is also leading to more agreements between vendors, especially in terms of Web-to-print solutions tying into production. Another development seen at Drupa that spans workflow solutions was Adobe’s announcement of Adobe PDF Print Engine 2, which offers improvements for processing “graphically rich,” variable data printing.
Global Graphics continues to be the workflow solutions provider moving most aggressively to address the XPS file format. Its new Harlequin Plus Server RIP (v8.0) features native processing of XPS, PDF and PostScript files, along with providing faster processing of variable data.
Some of the other specific announcements made in Düsseldorf include:
HP SmartStream Director and Presstek PathWay are two new implementations of the Press-sense iWay Web-to-print technology, which is also part of workflow solutions offered by Océ, Xeikon and Xerox. The new iWay 5.0 upgrade features an improved user interface and infrastructure that provides added flexibility.
Presstek also introduced the Latitude workflow, powered by EskoArtwork’s Odystar (now to be called Pro) system. EskoArtwork said it is committed to further developing its workflow solutions for the commercial printing segment, not just packaging, as well as the Enfocus PitStop and Switch product lines that are now part of the company. PitStop Professional and Server have both been upgraded with interface enhancements and performance improvements.
Also rebranding their workflows are Agfa Graphics and Screen. Agfa is now offering Apogee Portal (Delano) and Prepress (ApogeeX) as part of the Apogee Suite that includes the new Apogee Media module for content integration and management. Equiosnet is Screen’s new workflow concept to drive digital printing and CTP production, powered by Trueflow SE with support for the Outline-PDF data format and more versioning in the version 6.0 upgrade.
“Cross-media” is starting to find its way into the product sector now that it is getting more established as a service offering among printers, come marketing services providers. XMPie says it is adding cross-media capabilities to its uStore Web-to-print solution with support for customizable e-mail campaigns. Eastman Kodak introduced Insite Print Campaign Manager, which provides analysis and management of all elements of a marketing campaign, including printed pieces, personalized URLs and e-mail blasts. It also launched the Kodak ColorFlow solution for managing and aligning colors across devices.
X-Rite is addressing color control, as well, by unveiling an update to the Color Exchange Format (CxF). It is said to enable consistent, accurate communication of spectral color and appearance data across industries, devices and applications. The company also introduced an optical brightness correction (OBC) solution that is designed to compensate for the color shifts in custom ICC profiles caused by this characteristic of substrates.
DiMS! organizing print announced it had successfully integrated its MIS with the Kodak Prinergy workflow, but its big news at the show was the launch of the new DiMS.net! MIS/ERP system. The product is said to be based on the look-and-feel of the Microsoft Vista operating system to make it more user-friendly, while retaining functionality for more advanced users.
Heidelberg demonstrated the ability of Prinect to link with Pageflex solutions from Bitstream to provide an Internet storefront solution. Its big news at the show, however, was the introduction of two VLF sheetfed press models that created the need for the new Suprasetter 145/162/190 larger format thermal platesetter line. These models can image up to a 74.8˝-wide plate with speeds to 35 plates/hour.
Larger formats was one of two trends evident in the CTP arena, with the other being green solutions.
Agfa (Avalon N), Screen (PlateRite Ultima 48000) and Kodak (Magnus XLF 80 Quantum) were among the other vendors introducing large-format CTP devices. Presstek stressed environmentally friendly platemaking with its launch of the Compass 4000 (four-up) and 8000 (eight-up) series thermal platesetters and the Vector FL52 platesetter and Freedom Pro plate combo.
On the thermal plate side, Agfa rolled out the Azura TS, which increases throughput by up to 50 percent compared to previous versions, and China-based Xingraphics previewed Fit eco, a processless product that supports run lengths up to 50,000 impressions with no pre-heat required. Fujifilm’s Brillia High Definition PRO-V chemistry-free violet plate also, figuratively, saw the light of day at Drupa.
On the whole, CTP solutions were given less prominence at this event compared to recent Drupas. That trend undoubtedly will be very pronounced in 2012, as digital printing continues to gain on offset. PI
- DRUPA S STANDING