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Trade Comment

Disadvantages of Toner-based Presses

As a sector once predicted to dominate every print room, Jo Golding asks: “What are the advantages and disadvantages of toner-based presses over other types of printing technology?”

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Tim Carter, director, commercial printer, Ricoh UK and Ireland

Personal touch

Toner presses have improved year on year and are renowned for their ability to deliver quick production and heavier substrates. But the ability to personalise is really where toner presses have the advantage over other types of printing technology.

This comes down to two factors: speed and time. A toner press is quick at producing short production runs, however, a litho process is more cost-efficient at producing higher volumes if the same artwork is used. For example, a B2 litho press will print four A4 sheets in a single pass, while a toner press will print two A4 sheets in one pass, at a much slower rate. At a certain point, creating the plates and setting them on a litho printer is going to become too time consuming and costly, making a toner press a better choice when developing personalised content.

Digital print's evolution has had a large impact on the popularity toner presses

Digital print's evolution has had a large impact on the popularity of toner presses. It has enabled print businesses to produce packaging and mailers, with finished products having an individual identity. However, the challenge with toner presses is that they are assigned to CMYK colours, making it difficult to achieve a certain pantone a client wants. The challenge for manufacturers is to demonstrate to printers how they are focusing on improving colour quality and standards in digital printing. Technology and process should be a consideration.

Ultimately, it comes down to what a client wants and the value they hold on the service you’re delivering. Print businesses that are able to develop a relationship and understand their clients requirements will become a valuable asset and be able to have a real impact on the bottom line.

Bigger picture

Wayne Barlow, head of graphics and communications business group, Canon UK

Digital toner, just like inkjet presses, cost-effectively address the over-riding market drivers of today’s production environment—the demand for smaller run lengths and faster time to market.

Toner-based products complement other technologies such as litho and even ink-based products to provide the manufacturing bandwidth required by innovative print-service-providers (PSPs) and commercial printers to deliver additional services to their own clients to improve revenues and reduce costs.

Canon’s own toner-based developments have improved for both general and niche applications. Examples include Titan on lightweight media and colour on mixed and textured substrates. Our Image Press family delivers new levels of quality and productivity across a huge range of media and a wide choice of finishes, thanks to huge advancements in technology.

Whether it’s toner or inkjet, they all help customers uncover new revenue streams, improve their margins, and make the most of their equipment. They make new applications and services possible; ultimately, they make the consumer’s experience of print more valuable than it has ever been.

Whether it’s toner or inkjet, they all help customers uncover new revenue streams

But it is no longer just about the most productive systems or best productivity and reliability. Customers don’t just want to buy a machine, they want to be part of a development strategy in a real partnership approach.

Recognising that, we provide business advice and support programmes including our Canon Essential Business Builder Programme. It is a perfect illustration of how we work closely to help our customers build business opportunities.

Another example of our commitment to customers are Canon’s showrooms in London, Birmingham, Venlo, and Poing. They were established to help customers to grow and transform their businesses by unleashing the power of print and combine Canon’s insight, expertise, and technology. We definitely help our customers see the bigger picture.

Working in harmony

Paul Stead, head of production print sales, Smart Print

As with most subjects in the print industry, the answer should start with the phrase, ‘it depends’. Questions arise over the space in a print facility along with size, format, and shape of the finished article.

One technology, such as toner, probably doesn’t answer all the needs of a print-service-provider (PSP), and thereby it is required to work in harmony with other technologies. All should enhance the output of the PSP and complement their offerings.

That said, when considering your next purchase, you might ask yourself a few pertinent questions: How do I feel about cleaning heads and washing down equipment? Is this time consuming and does the lost time limit my output? Does this process leave me with an environment that is not particularly clean? Am I losing productivity due to drying times? Does this slow down my turnaround?

Apart from these points, there are other issues which at first don’t seem ‘obvious’. One recent adopter of digital told me: “Since I stopped running offset in-house, I can’t believe how clean and tidy the place is. I even come to work in smarter clothes!”

This works well for the smaller PSP that can rely on in-house digital only whilst sending litho work to a third party, but if you are committed to multiple print methods, your thinking might be a bit different.

Until the equipment becomes more economically placed liquid ink becomes less expensive than champagne, accurately measuring profits could be a challenge

Despite the many improvements in digital quality, and there are very many, toner still struggles with 80 percent grey tints. Toner particles, whilst ever smaller, still don’t flow quite like liquid ink. Fine lines can be great and can do an ‘acceptable job’, though for some customers, acceptable isn’t good enough.

Given the changes in the demographics of ‘print buyers’, I’m not that sure that we could all agree on what is ‘good enough’ anyway. Perhaps this is just a case of horses for courses? If you want high quality, quick turnaround, personalised output with the minimum of fuss and no mess, then toner could be right for you.

The very best advantage is that each sheet can be costed accurately through ‘click-based’ charging that is fully inclusive of everything but paper. For a smaller PSP, this makes costing jobs an accurate exercise and allows them to clearly identify profit margins.

Inkjet may be on the increase, but until the equipment becomes more economically placed and liquid ink becomes less expensive than champagne, accurately measuring profits could be a challenge.

Flexible printing

Kevin O’Donnell, marketing manager of graphic communications, Xerox

In today’s print market, there’s no denying that toner remains the most agile and flexible printing technology there is. Toner has the advantages of high quality, high productivity, automation, ease of use, mixed media in a single job, and scalability across the portfolio, over other printing methods such as inkjet or offset.

In addition, there is a 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.

There are two big movers impacting the toner-based market at the moment—automation and CMYK+. We have developed products to respond to these trends. Firstly, 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.

In today’s print market, there’s no denying that toner remains the most agile and flexible printing technology there is

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 Xerox 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 we launched at the end of last year.

This new 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. 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.

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