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Battle of digital processes looms at PacPrint – Andy McCourt’s ReVerb

Tuesday, 02 May 2017
By Andy McCourt

“Inkjet has jumped off of the desktop and onto production floors”

Canon’ new Colorado UVgel wide format machine – will it achieve as great a state as Arizona and ‘kill Latex?’

The unending search for a digital printing process that is both ‘better than the rest’ and locks in customers to a unique ink/toner supply chain continues.

Andy McCourt, editor Print 21 magazine

It’s not new. Ever heard of Collotype, Heliotype, Serigraphy, Photogravure or Woodburytype? They were all popular methods of print reproduction around the time Offset started to emerge in the early 1900s. Entrepreneurs, universities, scientists and chancers were frantically searching for a new patentable printing process to make their fortunes. Even novelist Mark Twain dabbled with his investment in the Paige Composition Machine – it sent him bankrupt. One did endure: in 1907 Samuel Simon was granted a patent in the UK for a process using silk fabric as the ‘mesh’ to squeegee ink through a stencil.

Fast forward to PacPrint 2017 and it’s quite apparent that battle lines are being drawn between digital processes in all formats: cut-sheet, web and wide format.

Let’s look at a recent one.

Inkjet vs toner

Electrostatically-charged toner imaging, the basis of Chester Carlson’s 1937 patent, is under attack. Vendors are even attacking their own markets by offering both. Take Canon for example.

In an extraordinarily bold campaign in the USA; Canon’s inkjet division is making direct production cost (in USD$) comparisons on jobs printed inkjet versus toner, with startling claims such as (based on 10,000 units each):

  • A variable data postcard mailer job: Toner $167, Inkjet $18 (not a typo)
  • A die-cut promotional item: Toner $1,000, Inkjet $147
  • A bound children’s book: Toner $2,300, Inkjet $589

Don’t believe me? Here’s the link: http://bit.ly/2oC0t0q

Naturally, the capital cost of a continuous-feed inkjet machine running at 1,818ppm, capable of such massive savings is several times higher than a 60ppm -100ppm toner machine but Canon is in both markets so should know its TCO costs well.

When we look at the entry into inkjet production printers by others such as Konica Minolta, Xerox, Ricoh, Xeikon and HP – all of who also have strong footprint in laser/toner; it’s a fair assumption that dry toner at least (HP Indigo is liquid toner), is possibly a twilight process.

Trespassing in toner territory – Epson’s new 100ppm WF C20590 inkjet

Accelerating this is Epson’s entry into the 100ppm office and pay-for-print sector with the laser-free Workforce Enterprise WF C-20590 (pictured, above), an A4/A3 colour machine that uses PrecisionCore inkjet lineheads. 100ppm is the sweet spot for the bulk of corporate documents and walk-up pay-for-print operations.

No longer a curio but a reality – Konica Minolta’s Accurio Jet KM-1

Konica Minolta will premiere its KM-1 B2 4-up inkjet press at PacPrint; again no lasers and no electrostatic dry toner. Others are also offering production cut-sheet inkjet, such as Xerox’s Brenva and Canon’s Océ Varioprint i300.

It’s too early for Landa Nanography to be shown in Australia but, with beta sites already going in, this will be the next contestant in the battle of digital processes and it too is inkjet-based at the image formation stage.

Yes, inkjet has jumped off of the desktop and onto production floors and it’s happening before our very eyes – laser/toner kingpins disrupting their own markets with inkjet alternatives!

Wide format process stoush

With the higher growth rate in wide format in the signage, display, out-of-home and POP markets, it’s little wonder that innovators are working on alternative processes. It’s virtually all inkjet in this market but – to paraphrase the memorable Castrol ad: ‘oils ain’t oils’ – inkjet ain’t inkjet. So what is it?

  • Aqueous
  • Solvent/eco-solvent
  • UV cured
  • Latex
  • Dye sublimation
  • UVgel

What was that last one? UVgel? This is the newest inkjet process and it’s billed by Canon as a ‘Latex Killer’ – a direct shot across the bows of the phenomenally successful HP Latex. Estimates are that there over 1,000 HP Latex machines have been delivered in Australia and over 35,000 worldwide since its introduction in 2008.

Canon will premiere UVgel at PacPrint in the form of a 64” wide format roll-to-roll machine called the Colorado 1640. UVgel is a Canon invention developed at the Océ Venlo operation where the ‘ink pearls’ CrystalPoint technology was developed, as used in the ColorWave printer. The gel liquefies with heating before jetting onto the substrate, where it re-solidifies on contact, is ‘pinned’ with a blast of LED-UV and finally cured with more UV before emerging dry and ready to finish.

The attraction for Canon is that they own the ink tech and therefore all UVgel must be bought through them – same as all (almost) Latex ink comes from HP. The scourge of solvent, aqueous and UV ink machine manufacturers, is 3rd party after-market ink going through their printheads, thereby missing out on the real ‘gravy’ of on-going profits from the sale of the hardware.

Bread and butter signage

So is UVgel a ‘Latex Killer?’ Time will tell and at PacPrint, customers will have the opportunity to inspect output from both processes. Even though it uses piezo printheads, UVgel droplet size is a large 10 picolitres but the precise droplet placement, claimed with no ‘dot gain’ (borrowed from offset but really droplet spread), may lessen its impact. The Colorado itself is a nifty 40-159 sqm/hour machine – faster than Latex but the machine does cost around twice the price.

The 64” or 1620mm wide format printer market is a bread-and-butter size for most signage and display shops and it is also highly competitive. Solvent printers using low-odour ‘eco’ or ‘mild’ type inks are still very popular and none more so than OKI’s (formerly Seiko) ColorPainter. Why? Because it is fast, reliable and a low investment cost. It also prints onto bog-standard vinyls for outdoor use that will last up to 3 years without lamination. OKI’s ink gamut received a boost when it introduces ‘SX’ inks and added an optional gray as a seventh colour.

Solvent’s melody lingers on – even Epson still believes in it with the SureColor S80600

Epson too has 64” solvent models including the SureColor S80600 running Ultrachrome GS3 eco-solvent inks. This 9-colour inkset can be topped off with optional white or metallic and the results are so good that some users are printing photo and fine art prints with them. Roland DG, Mutoh, Mimaki – they too have 64” eco-solvent machines with advanced features and speed. Mimaki even offers latex ink models with white ink but sales have been sluggish.

By the way, there is no latex-rubber in latex inks as the name implies. They use polymers in dispersion like many other inks. Great marketing name though, and they are very versatile in the printing of differing substrates because they do not penetrate the media as much. Some say this is a disadvantage with coated stocks as the true nature of the media does not show through and colours are duller; but you be the judge.

Buy what is right for you

So which wide format inkjet process is best? Well it all depends on application and your business model. Dye-sub is in a class of its own for textile and apparel printing, although direct-to-garment is coming up. Aqueous is still king for photo, fine-art and proofing due to the dye-like inks, wider colour gamut and smaller particles but are weaker outdoors.

For signage that leaves Latex, UV, Solvent and now UVgel – each with its own unique pros and cons.

Trucking on regardless – Latex is one of HP’s most successful print technologies ever.

My advice is don’t get too hung up on the process; just look at quality, performance, durability and most importantly total cost of operation and then arrive at an accurate cost-per-square-metre on whatever material. This will include power consumption, ink costed on coverage and not per-litre (some inks achieve better results by using less rather than more), degree of expertise and training required, cost of parts and replacement printheads and leasing or rental costs: outright purchase price if you prefer it that way. Warranty is also a very important consideration and we are seeing manufacturers offering longer warranty options in order to retain the ink loyalty. Try and get printheads covered under warranty.

When you are at PacPrint, do your homework and ask the hard questions, see and measure results and always remember what your main applications are. One thing for certain is that it’s the best opportunity under one roof you will have for another four years!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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