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Market Trends

Inkjet: The Real Picture

Inkjet printing technology is developing at a rapid pace and looks set for even more growth. Jo Golding finds out what is on the market and who should invest

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The recently launched Primefire 106 from Heidelberg is a packaging and industrial commercial press for producing calendars, posters, and POS work

Leaps and bounds

Inkjet really is a buzzword for the global print industry and recent years have seen this digital print technology start to eclipse the aspirations of its toner-based cousins and present a genuine threat to the longevity of technologies such as litho in its myriad forms. Indeed, in the wide-format sphere it has already all but wiped out screen printing for commercial applications—although its industrial applications remain somewhat protected through the need for micron-level registration accuracy and print quality. It is also more often than not the chief topic of conversation at most big industry events, for example, at the recent EFI Connect conference.

“The benefit of inkjet technology is that because it’s a contactless-based printing, it opens up the opportunity to print on just about anything,” Ken Hanulec, vice president, inkjet marketing at EFI told me at the event.

I talked to a handful of key players in this market to find out how inkjet has evolved, what type of printing companies should consider inkjet, and how the market will grow in the future. It is also fundamental to understand this technology is growing on several fronts, with the aforementioned wide-format sector now utterly dominated by inkjet in one form or another, while its narrow-format brethren are very much in the foothills of their climb to the industry’s peak.
It is also important to note that in our special Trade Comment section (page 32) there are more comments from the experts about why printers should invest in inkjet, including Canon, Domino Printing Sciences, Xeretec, and Riso.
Inkjet evolution

“Undoubtedly advances in print head technology, particularly Piezo, as well as ink formulations have combined with well thought out printer chassis design to create a broader range of inkjet solutions,” explains Phil McMullin, UK sales manager pro graphics at Epson, adding: “Epson entered the market with proofing devices, but today supplies inkjet printers for signage, car wraps, photography, backlit POS, giftware and promotional products, labels, textiles, décor, and a myriad of other applications.”

A couple of inkjet printers from Epson that McMullin highlights are the Sure Color SC-S80600 and Sure Color SC-F9300. Motion and AD Bell are two print businesses that have already purchased the SC-S80600, with Philip Highton, managing director of Motion, saying that it has achieved an ‘exceptional depth of colour’ with the machine.

Philip Highton of Motion says the Epson Sure Color SC-S80600 has allowed the company to achieve ‘exceptional depth of colour’

The SC-F9300 has a speed of up to 108.6sq m/h and McMullin says: “The Sure Color SC-F9300 is the latest printer for polyester-based substrates which can include textiles, décor, and giftware. Brand new Epson precision dot technology for dye-sublimation including a halftone module, look-up tables, and micro-weave help make an instantly noticeable difference to print quality and make it easy to get quality results straight out of the box.”

Epson’s Sure Color SC-F9300 printer is ideal for producing textiles, décor, and giftware

McMullin also talks about how more is expected in our modern industry: “The best wide-format inkjet printers now offer exceptional print quality on a huge array of media whilst still delivering outstanding productivity. As a given, print companies now expect reliability, ease of use, and a low total cost of ownership built in. This kind of guaranteed performance can only be delivered on a consistent basis by those manufacturers who own all aspects of the technology. That is print head, ink chemistry, firmware, and printer chassis.”

The best wide-format inkjet printers now offer exceptional print quality

Xeretec, the distributor of Xerox technology, is another key player in this technology sector, all be it on the cut-sheet narrow-format front. Regional sales manager, Steve Andrew, says that inkjet technology has continued to evolve at a significant rate.

“Advancements in speed, image quality, and media latitude are expanding the range of applications and driving the movement towards offset transition,” Andrew says, adding: “Xerox has a broad inkjet portfolio, from the entry-level Rialto and Brenva cut sheet presses—that enable our customers to take advantage of inkjet’s speed and cost per page benefits—to our high-end industrial continuous feed solutions, Trivor and Impika. These have the ability to print onto offset coated stocks without the need for pre- and post-coat.”

(Above & below) Xerox has a broad inkjet portfolio, including the entry-level Rialto and Brenva cut sheet presses

Heidelberg has also focused heavily on the inkjet market in recent years, specifically at the industrial end, with three product ranges: “The recently launched Primefire 106 packaging and industrial commercial press (think calendars, posters, and POS work), the Labelfire label press, and the Omnifire which prints onto 3D objects,” explains Chris Matthews, digital equipment business manager of Heidelberg.

He continues: “Both the Labelfire and Primefire reflect the positive collaboration between Heidelberg and Fujifilm, the former supplying the paper handling expertise and the latter the inkjet know-how. The key is that these inkjet presses must marry up with the quality expected by litho producers and their customers.”

The Gallus Labelfire 340, sold through Heidelberg, offers a short-run solution for creating labels

The Primefire 106 handles short runs and personalisation including barcodes, QR codes, and numbering. The Labelfire 340 offers a bespoke and short-run solution with single pass production for creating sellable labels in minimal time and with less waste.

Is it for me?

Are you currently working as a print-service-provider (PSP) and not sure whether inkjet is right for you? Well, the experts can help you with that. McMullin of Epson explains: “Inkjet is an affordable technology, which can broaden the range of print offered by any PSPs. They can select an application that works for them, purchase the right Sure Color (or Label Works/Color Works) solution, and build a profit centre. Print promotes brands and so the more applications handled, the more a customer relies on you and is unlikely to be side-tracked by an alternative supplier.

“Entry-level into wide-format is not costly. A new Epson signage printer (Sure Color SC-S range) can be bought for as little as £10,995+VAT, a photographic/backlit solution (Sure Color SC-P range) for £855+VAT, and a textiles/gifts dye-sublimation system (Sure Color SC-F range) for £4,795+VAT (plus heat press, costs will vary depending on application).”

Xeretec’s Andrew believes commercial printers are starting to recognise the benefits of inkjet to complement their toner and offset capabilities. He continues: “Inkjet not only allows commercial printers to print at far higher speeds than their current toner devices, but to do so at a fraction of the cost. This, in turn, will enable print companies to have automated end-to-end solutions capable of producing finished product with the benefit of reducing waste, inventory costs, and manpower.

“It also offers the right inline capability, eliminating post print processes such as finishing. This enables printers with inkjets to move to a true print-on-demand operation, which delivers demonstrable growth and allows valuable offset capacity.”

Matthews of Heidelberg says its Primefire and Labelfire ranges are targeted at companies that are well established in industrial print and “looking for a press that can offer an effective short-run or bespoke solution”. He explains how the Primefire 106 focuses on the packaging segment, as well as the following customer types:

1) Folding carton converters looking for a dependable high-quality printing system to profitably respond to the increasing need for shorter runs plus faster turnaround times, and to offer new and unique products to their clients (versioning and personalisation).

2) Pharma converters looking for a dependable high-quality printing system to profitably meet traceability and counterfeiting regulations by which every box is unique.

3) Calendar, poster, and cards producers looking for adding the value of personalisation and versioning to their products and looking for a dependable high-quality printing system that will reduce inventory and scrapping costs.

4) Publishing houses looking for dependable production of short runs of high-quality book covers, reducing inventory, and adding capability of print-on-demand.

“Both Primefire 106 and the Labelfire can be operated with the Heidelberg Digital Front End and can be connected to a Prinect workflow. They are presses that need negligible set up time and which produce outstanding quality results,” concludes Matthews.

Sky’s the limit

It is also interesting to think about how inkjet is going to change and evolve in the future. McMullin of Epson thinks it is only your imagination that will limit the scope of inkjet. He continues: “It is such an incredible, versatile technology offering exceptional quality combined with low running costs. In textiles we have everything from a DTG device right up to an industrial DTF (Monna Lisa) press with the dye-sublimation series in between.

“I have no inside track, but my personal view is that there is the potential to expand what we offer within each of the existing application sectors and I also do not see an end to the broadening of printing applications moving forward. This is made possible by the full array of ink chemistry options being brought to bear in the wide-format arena—aqueous, eco-solvent, dye-sublimation, resin, DTG, DTF, and UV.”

Xeretec’s Andrew adds to this line of argument: “Inkjet printing is well defined in the transactional marketspace with the move towards white paper solutions well and truly established. With improvements in IQ and media, more direct mail applications will migrate, which will allow complex image-driven personalisation. It also allows for the incorporation of new technologies such as augmented reality and the concept of print to web where printed matter is driving traffic to retail websites.

“Inkjet offers real growth opportunities and as the technology develops we will see more applications moving from traditional technologies to inkjet. For example, we are now starting to see a demand for personalised catalogues that are driven from past purchasing information and where the requirement can only be fulfilled with in-line finishing and removing all manual processes, which only inkjet is really capable of.”

O Factoid: Xerox’s Brenva HD production inkjet press has a rated speed of 197 A4/182 US letter sized images per minute. O

Recently announcing company results for the first nine months of the financial year, Heidelberg’s chief executive officer, Rainer Hundsdörfer, says: “Heidelberg is systematically transforming into a modern digital technology company. The considerable customer demand for our new digital solutions is just what we were hoping for. This applies to the subscription models setting a new trend in our sector, our e-commerce offerings of the new digital unit, and our industrial digital presses for packaging and labels.

“Inkjet is core to Heidelberg’s digital vision and is a technology that just keeps on giving at every level of the printing industry and across a very broad spread of applications. Print head technology and ink developments continue at a rapid pace and this will increase production speeds in the coming years.”

Development in the inkjet sector is set to continue, with steps forward being taken in speed, image quality, and the array of media that can now be printed on. It seems to me that those that make the wise decision to invest in the sector have a lot to gain from it.

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