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Three-way fight hots up: inkjet v toner v litho

One of the top dogs in the commercial inkjet printer market has launched its latest kit onto the market. Canon’s Océ VarioPrint i200, is a 200 page-per-minute (ppm) sheetfed inkjet press whilst also introducing the option of MICR inks to users of the VarioPrint i-Series, plus its Océ PRISMAsync controller for the new printer and its PDF workflow.

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Canon’s Océ VarioPrint i200

The inkjet press enters an increasingly crowded market which is a rival to toner-based digital presses and the latest litho machines which still dominate the print industry. Although it is still early days in this three-way fight for dominance, inkjet does have the advantages of flexibility over litho and quality over toner. Having said that, speak to any of the manufacturers and they will dispute these popularly held assertions. 

“When we originally launched the Océ VarioPrint i300, we brought unprecedented innovation to the inkjet space and introduced a technology built around the evolving needs of our production print customers,” says Peter Wolff of Canon Europe. “Now, we are not only bringing this technology to a wider customer base but also helping PSPs to expand into even more application areas and exciting new markets with the introduction of MICR inks. Importantly, by giving customers upgrade paths, we can maximise their capabilities and production efficiencies today while also protecting their investments long-term.”

One of the main issues for printers weighing up the pros of and cons of each system is price and return on investment. The reason why litho presses have retained such a massive chunk of the new press market is it is a tried and tested product, the consumables are universally available and costs are easier to assess. The price tag of all presses are something fairly easy to discover but what some inkjet and toner manufacturers insist on are the exclusive use of their paper and ink stocks which increase running costs along in some cases of monthly click charges which jack up running costs further. 

Some printers privately refer to manufacturers who insist they only allow their own inks to be used on their presses as a type of heroin addiction as they are the supplier and have the printer over a barrel. Likewise stipulating paper stocks which come from the manufacturer or their sister company means prices are not in the control of the user. Both ink and paper prices have already shot up this year which in these cases leave the purchaser vulnerable to above inflation hikes.

Litho manufacturers have also been guilty of similar practices with service contracts and stipulations over software and finishing add-ons. The second hand market is easier to assess fiscally as Print Monthly has often charted cases of trusty litho presses remaining in use for decades while the same can’t be said always of digital printers. They like so much new technology appear to have an inbuilt obsolescence which is another factor in favour of litho. As print runs get longer litho gets cheaper compared to digital but they are not so cost effective at the short runs. And that’s where the market has headed. 

In the short run markets of less than two or three thousand print runs digital is a player with inkjet increasingly making inroads. Fujifilm believes that fast turnaround is the key and that’s why both toner and inkjet have done well as opposed to litho where time is lost in set ups, make readies and plate changes especially on an aging press. 

Direct mail with its demand for longer runs but with numerous individualisations of a leaflet so as to personalise and tailor the product for particular targets finds the flexibility of toner and inkjet attractive. And turn-around is vital in a fast moving marketing campaign so inkjet is the winner here with its improved quality. Canon’s Océ VarioPrint i200 is likely to do well as the firm has a heritage in inkjet having championed the technology longer than most. Another competitor who has been in the market for the long haul is Jetrion but in recent years firms such as Screen and Durst have pitched in. 

The competitors to Canon’s Océ VarioPrint i200 and i300 also include Fujifilm’s Jet Press 720S, HP’s PageWide Web Press T200 HD color series, Kodak’s still-in-development Prosper presses and Ricoh’s PrVC60000 amongst a growing list of manufacturers jostling for market share. Is there a enough of a market for them all is the question and like all new developments in the industry somebody will lose out. In the short run market if the prices can be kept down and quality up then there is enough for almost everyone as universities, Government and local government print departments and marketing firms all decide to invest.

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