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Need To Know

Toner Under the Microscope

Toner-based printing was once predicted to dominate print. Rob Fletcher investigates what the future holds for this technology versus its competition and what is currently on the market

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In pursuit of the perfect print

Who does not love a good debate? Whether it is arguing over who England boss Gareth Southgate should take with him to the football World Cup in Russia this summer, or going back and forth with your significant other as to where you should go out to eat on Friday night, debates are plentiful and often entertaining.

One such discussion that has been going on for some time in the print industry is the issue of what technologies are set to next dominate and become the staple platform for commercial printers. In the 1990s and through the early noughties it was toner-based print technologies that were paraded around the world’s print shows as the answer to all ills, before that it was litho when short runs were the preserve of copy shops, and today it seems to be inkjet grabbing all the headlines.

Here, we speak with some of the leading brands in toner-based printing to find out more about some of their latest solutions, as well as the advantages that this type of kit has over other machinery and if its light is still burning bright.

Reacting to trends

One of the most recognisable names in this market is Canon, which has options available across its Image Press and Océ product ranges. Wayne Barlow, head of graphics and communications business group at Canon UK, says toner-based kit is key to addressing major trends in the modern market.

“Today’s key print production drivers are smaller run lengths and faster time-to market,” Barlow says, adding: “Digital toner presses that have been designed to cost effectively address these trends include the Canon Image Press C10000VP colour digital engine.

Machines in the Canon Image Press range, such as the C10000VP model, can support a host of media and textured substrates with auto duplex up to 420 micron

“It is perfectly suited to the most demanding graphic arts applications as well as many other applications including book, training manual, and direct mail printing. It supports speeds up to 100ppm even on long run or mixed media jobs.”

Barlow says that, while investment in high quality kit in this area of the market is key, he says that it is critical for print-service-providers to work with reputable companies in order to guarantee ongoing support.

“Customers don’t just want a machine, they want to be part of a development strategy in a real partnership approach that supports them as they investigate new opportunities,” Barlow explains.

Customers don’t just want a machine, they want to be part of a development strategy

He adds: “For example, our Océ Prismasync controller provides an intuitive workflow for full colour editing functionality for easy management of complex jobs and an automated work scheduler system. Or there is our Essential Business Builder Program, which inspires and guides customers to innovate and transform their business models with creative, and even disruptive ideas, irrespective of the underlying technology.”

Leading on from this, Barlow draws attention to the Image Press family, which he says supports a wide range of media and textured substrates with auto duplex up to 420 micron. It also has lightweight coated media handling using air-knife technology and is able to run auto duplex banner sheet production.

Also available through Canon is the Océ Vario Print 6000 Titan cut-sheet monochrome production press, which supports volumes of up to ten million A4 size impressions per month.

Canon’s Océ Vario Print 6000 TITAN cut-sheet monochrome production press can support volumes of up to 10 million A4 size impressions each month

Barlow adds: “The reality is that the success of toner systems has opened more doors for Canon into growing markets. Canon toner-based products complement other technologies such as litho and even ink-based products to provide the manufacturing bandwidth required by PSPs to deliver additional services to their own clients to improve revenues and reduce costs.”

Agile and flexible

Another big name in this market is Xerox, whose marketing manager of graphic communications, Kevin O’Donnell, says toner remains “the most agile and flexible printing technology” available to print companies today.

O’Donnell expands: “Compared with inkjet or litho as a total package, toner has the advantages of high quality, high productivity, automation, ease of use, mixed media in a single job, and scalability across a portfolio.

“In addition, there is wider range of applications toner can serve today. For example, the Xerox IGen5 can run books, direct mail, photobooks, catalogues, and packaging all on the same device with only change in substrate, workflow, and finishing.”

With this in mind, O’Donnell goes on to say there are two big movers impacting the toner-based market at present in the form of automation and CMYK+, adding that Xerox has developed several products to respond to these trends.

O’Donnell says: “Automation keeps basic and advanced operations of the press monitored, controlled, and reported on. At Xerox, we have launched inline spectrophotometers to measure and control colour consistency, automated calibration technologies such as SIQA (Simple Image Quality Adjustment) across our Xerox Versant suite and developed intelligent paper libraries to characterise the press for the different stock requirements—all working automatically for you.

“Secondly, we have CMYK+, which adds value, revenue, and profit to a printed job. An example of this at Xerox are the additional colours on the IGen5: orange, green, and blue. We added these toners to widen the colour gamut and hit brand colours more accurately.”

Another new toner-based product from Xerox is the White Dry Ink it launched at the end of last year. This ink opens up a whole new range of applications. For example, designers can use white on coloured and transparent substrates to create promotional items such as brochures, business cards, greeting cards, and invitations, as well as packaging cartons.

Xerox recently launched White Dry Ink, which it says opens up a new range of applications, such as designers being able to use white on coloured and transparent substrates to create promotional items such as greeting cards

O’Donnell concludes: “We have also introduced a new capability to our presses, which gives them the ability to produce metallic toners, such as gold and silver, either as an underlay for a very iridescent CMYK colour or as an overlay to grab attention in applications such as high-end product brochures.”

Spectrum of opportunity

Another key name in this market sector is Intec Printing Solutions, and Ian Melville, managing director, says that the main benefit of these machines is that they can print onto a wider spectrum of media with high quality output.

Melville expands: “The output on toner-based devices is instantly dry, and with production speeds to match, this delivers a quick turnaround for businesses and their clients.

Ian Melville, managing director of Intec Printing Solutions, believes the main advantage of toner-based machines is that they can print onto a wider spectrum of media with, high quality output, than other kit

“Because there is so much choice, there is always a chance that any investment will do the job, but may not offer you the scalability you require—so you absolutely have to look at your requirement now and into the future.”

Melville goes on to emphasise that toner-based printing systems are still the most widely used digital systems in the market, and with many different print engines from major manufacturers, selecting the right toner-based system for your needs is an important business decision.

“What Intec is doing more of now is toner-based products working in harmony with print associated products for new applications. So, while toner is important, it is increasingly becoming only half the story,” says Melville.

He builds on this by picking out the example of Intec’s Color Splash range of digital toner printers that work with the Color Flare. Melville says toner laydown is “crucial” here in order to obtain excellent results for foiling.

Melville adds: “Toner-based devices like this only work because the toner acts as the ‘glue’ to allow the foil to stick, whereas litho and inkjet do not offer this application.

“While there are great advances being made in other printing methods including inkjet technology, toner-based systems continue to lead in the digital print market place.”

Ongoing development

Elsewhere, Xeikon is able to offer its customers the best of both worlds, stocking both dry toner and UV inkjet-based printing presses. Danny Mertens, corporate communications manager, digital solutions, says both technologies offer their own advantages to print companies.

“Looking at the amount of new patents taken, dry toner printing is a proven technology still being developed,” says Mertens, who continues: “Every printing technology has its own pros and cons. Dry toner has some unique advantages that makes it stand out compared to other technologies—for example, it is FDA approved for food packaging. Within the digital printing techniques, it reached the highest image qualities and densities.

O Factoid: Modern day toner traces its roots back to the Xerox 914, which was unveiled in 1959. The toner used in the first Xerox 914 featured a mixture of plastic polymer, iron oxide, and carbon. O

“Our dry-toner presses are unique in the market since they are roll-fed and provide unlimited imaging capabilities. We see that all of our customers can generate a lot of added value using these unique features in their business models in various ways. So, in our case, the combination of roll-fed and dry-toner has a unique value proposition in the market place.”

For toner-based technology, Xeikon recently launched the Xeikon CX500 for label print production. The press features a unique web width of up to 520mm and offers full rotary printing at speeds of up to 30m/min.

In terms of graphic arts applications, the manufacturer is able to offer the Xeikon 9800. The press can print at a top web speed of 21.5m/min in 1,200dpi and on media as wide as 512mm. The Xeikon 9800 is also able to print on a wide range of substrates, including key materials coated and uncoated paper, paperboard, and synthetic media.

Xeikon’s new CX500 label print production press features a top rotary printing speed of 30m/min

Mertens adds: “Both presses have their unique dry toner systems designed for the applications they are aimed at.”

With this, we conclude the latest instalment in the ongoing debate of toner-based printers versus other technologies. It is clear that toner-based products do offer some advantages over other machines, but only if it suits your business. What may be seen as benefit for one company may be not so effective for another, so it is critical to speak with manufacturers, dealers, and resellers to ensure the press is the right fit before you take the plunge.

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