Saturday, 04 Feb 2017 14:57 GMT

Digital Printing Presses (Toner): Part 1

Regular readers of print industry media might be forgiven for thinking that the digital world is now wholly consumed by inkjet. That is far from the case, says Russ Hicks

At the touch of a button

Inkjet might be getting column inches, but a large number of very big players still have a strong focus on toner-based systems, and indeed where commercial production machines are concerned, toner is still holding the balance of power.

New introductions into this sector emphasise the importance of toner-based digital printing to the market. As a prime example, Heidelberg only last year announced an expanded digital portfolio with its family name of Fire—Primefire, Omnifire, Labelfire, and Versafire. Versafire is the name of its toner-based systems (previously Linoprint) and these come in two flavours: CP (p standing for performance) and CV (v standing for value).

These products are selling strongly. By Drupa last year, Heidelberg claimed sales of over 1,000 toner-based machines, 130 of them with its own digital front end.

By Drupa last year Heidelberg claimed sales of over 1,000 toner-based machines

“Heidelberg has already shown the effectiveness of workflows linking production and business modules in litho,” says Chris Matthews, digital equipment business manager for Heidelberg, adding: “It cuts make-readies, enhances quality and throughput, and minimises waste. With digital, where runs are shorter and personalisation is possible, data control and slick set up times as well as the business information feedback becomes still more critical.

“The Digital Front End offers this type of seamless connectivity. It is already selling well with Versafire’s and will be the common platform for all our digital products moving forward.”

The Heidelberg Versafire range builds on the manufacturer’s reputation for robust quality
Both Versafire’s incorporate a banner facility that enables customers to handle six-page A4 gatefold leaflets or four-page landscape A4 leaflets, which have been particularly popular, as has the ability to use spot white, clear varnish, and neon yellow on the CV model.

The Versafire CV range can include a fifth colour unit in addition to the standard CMYK allowing production of five-colour work to include either white, clear, or neon toners. The neon yellow spot colour option was launched at the end of 2016. The toner glows under UV light, enabling it to attract even more attention and add unexpected touches to printing applications. The effect can also be used as a security feature, since the toner is almost impossible to copy. This makes it especially interesting for printing admission tickets or wristbands, for example, and other applications in the event industry. This is available on new five-colour presses but can also be retrofitted to all Versafire CV and Linoprint CV systems already in the market that include the fifth colour unit.

Examples of UK users include Apple Colour, which took a Versafire CV digital press to replace a Linoprint 901. Its Versafire is integrated and driven by Prinect and includes the Heidelberg DFE.
Murray Thomson, joint managing director, says: “We have been very happy with the digital quality we had with the Linoprint but size was the issue. The new 700mm banner feeder will allow us to produce A4 landscape work and there was a risk that if we didn’t have that our competitors might win work from us. At Drupa we saw the machine and its ability to have a fifth colour—white, clear or neon—and that gives us something new to offer clients.”

Meanwhile, Acanthus Press supplemented its HP Indigo digital printing technology with a Versafire CV with the digital front end, enabling it to link in the press to its existing Prinect workflows.

Phil Sydenham, director, says: “We have seen an increase in digital demand and we wanted to try a toner-based system which could cover the really short runs at a competitive price. There is an improvement in quality and a more tactile, litho-like feel in this value end of the digital market. The six-page format means we can produce folders.”

Unique offering

Konica Minolta is a supplier with a strong focus on toner-based solutions, in addition to its major presence in the inkjet arena.

Following a sneak preview of the new model at the 2016 edition of The Print Show, the company has this year unveiled the new versions of its main mid-range production machines, the C2060 press and C2070 press products.

The range includes an entry-level version, the C2060L, offering a single feed plus a bypass tray—useful for 6pp A4 work for example—and with limited post-press options compared to its bigger brothers.

Apex Digital Graphics has been a partner of Konica Minolta in the printing arena for several years now. The company presents what it describes as a unique offering to those print companies that want to benefit from both litho and digital production.

Neil Handforth, sales and marketing director at Apex, expands: “From the very beginning of our relationship with Konica Minolta we have focused on providing offset-style support to our customers—that’s the way we have always worked, and we still see big benefits in that approach for digital production. All too often businesses believe that they can cut corners on finding the cheapest digital machine—the internet allows such a purchase model to be readily available. However, the cheapest products tend not to come with any support or critical in-depth training.

Our customers know that they only have to pick up the phone to guide them through a production problem, or to request the attendance of one of our qualified support team.

“We work with Konica Minolta because we know that they produce quality hardware that can print very reliable colour consistently on a wide range of media. Printers, however, are a demanding breed. They expect to push the technology to get the very best from it. Our support team, with their combination of offset, CtP, applications, and digital knowledge can help them to do that.”

One additional product that Apex believes is not recognised widely enough by other Konica Minolta dealers is the Bizhub Press C71hc toner-based model. By using the appropriate profiles, the company suggests that the technology will ‘produce colours such as vivid pinks and purples, shades of green and bright blue in a significantly brighter and more vibrant manner than ever before’. This enhanced finish helps the company to aim the hardware at a specific image conscious niche, with photobooks an obvious target.

Elsewhere in the Konica Minolta world, the company has increased its equity investment in the French-based digital press manufacturer MGI Digital Technology. Konica Minolta first took a 10 percent minority ownership position in MGI Digital Technology in January 2014 by subscribing to a capital increase. Following this latest 2016 transaction, Konica Minolta now holds a 40.76 percent stake in MGI Digital Technology. The company produces toner-based digital colour presses, as well as inkjet digital varnishing and coating equipment.

More accessible Intec is another supplier busy expanding its product range, with the 2017 launch of the CS3000—a new model added to its Color Spash range. The new CS3000 puts professional, quality digital colour print within the reach of lower volume users who require the functionality normally associated with more expensive solutions.

“The new CS3000 offers our dealers the opportunity to supply Color Splash printers to more budget-conscious customers due to the low purchase price, and help their customers gain easy access into the world of light production digital printing,” says Terri Winstanley, product and marketing manager at Intec Printers

“Since its launch, Color Splash has seen significant worldwide sales with products now in over 80 countries. Now with the new CS3000 model it will make the acquisition of a Color Splash digital printer even more affordable. Intec has hit a new sweet spot for equipment buyers with the CS3000,” says Ian Melville, managing director of Intec Printing Solutions, adding: “The CS3000 is now the most affordable printer in the Color Splash range.”

Colo rSplash digital print engines deliver superb CMYK imaging quality for razor sharp, vibrant images, and smooth tonal sweeps at lightning speeds of up to 50 A4 pages per minute. The new CS3000 model offers the same extensive imaging and technical specification as the current CMYK print engines within the Color Splash range—but at the significantly lower price of just £1,999.

The ColorSplash CS3000 from Intec, new for 2017

Intec Color Splash engines employ a straight through paper path for expanded media handling. This enables Intec printers to image a wider range of substrates, such as polyester, digital PE, light 55gsm NCR type media up to 500gsm heavy card stocks, or less flexible substrates such as magnetic and metallic foil media. This also includes extended paper size formats from 63 x 89mm right up to 330 by 1,321mm long for banner printing, providing users the flexibility to print unusual formats such as A4 landscape, tri-fold, and even concertina style products.

Intec’s unique modular build capability ensures users are able to add additional print production and finishing modules, allowing them to grow their capabilities in line with their needs. The CS3000 can be coupled with any of Intec’s unique feeders and finishers to easily handle print applications such as banners, envelopes, labels, and packaging. The printers are also great for personalisation printing for smaller and more bespoke print applications.

Terri Winstanley, product and marketing manager at Intec, adds: “The CS3000 accepts high yield 24k toner, although it ships with 10k starter toners, providing a lower running cost than typical office type printers and aiming at high-end graphic environments, including designers and advertising agencies.

“The new CS3000 offers our dealers the opportunity to supply Color Splash printers to more budget-conscious customers due to the low purchase price, and help their customers gain easy access into the world of light production digital printing.

“This new model, offers a new strategic positioning for dealers to help customers choose the ‘right Color Splash model’ for their needs because all Intec accessories, feeders and stands work with this engine, enabling users to build-up a modular system to suit their own specific requirements.”

O Factoid: The laser printer was invented by Xerox in 1969 and was built from a modified photocopier. Xerox was also responsible for developing the world’s first laser printer designed for office use, the Xerox Star 8010, in 1981. It cost a whopping $17,000 (around £14,000) at the time. O

Toner-based equipment, we can confirm, is very much alive and kicking as this bank of product additions can certify. Inkjet might be the one to watch, but maybe toner-based products are currently the one that real world commercial printers are producing with.

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