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Canon moves into firing range

Monday, 30 April 2007
By Print 21 Online Article

In the large format inkjet world, competition is fierce between the leading suppliers. The battle for the rapidly growing market has attracted all the leading players. Surprisingly Canon proved to be a latecomer to the field, allowing rivals Epson, Encad/Kodak and Hewlett-Packard to almost carve up the market between them. Now, with the arrival of the W8200, Canon is staking its claim as a leading contender, prepared to compete at all levels with technology that it describes as ‘advanced simplicity’.

Few sectors of the imaging industry are as defined by technology as large format inkjet printing. The major equipment manufacturers have taken clearly differentiating approaches to the business of transferring drops of ink onto substrate. In the wide range of products available there are differences in the use of thermal and piezo imaging heads, drop on demand and continuous flow ink delivery systems, and the use of solvent, oil, dye-based and aqueous pigment inks. In addition there are wide variances in the speed at which the images are rendered and created.

This difference in approach has contributed to certain confusion in the market as to which engine is suitable for which application. While offset printing, for example, is a well-defined mature technology with little variation in the essential method of delivering ink to the paper, large format inkjet is still a battleground where the market has yet to declare a winner. Certain manufacturers have solved their marketing problem by confining themselves to niche markets, but the demand is still there for a versatile, all-rounder, large format printer.

This goes a long way to explain why Canon is so confident that its new 44-inch (1118mm) wide machine, the W8200, will be able to take a market leading position. Previewed to the local industry at last year’s PrintEx, the new entrant it is now shipping and causing a major rethink on what constitutes benchmark performance.

Despite its comparatively late arrival on the scene, Canon has concentrated on developing a machine that will be able to service the widest section of the large format inkjet market. It is aiming to gain market share in the order of 25 to 50 percent, an ambitious task given that already there are many second generation machines being traded. Canon believes it has put together the features that have proven to be winners in the marketplace, while adding a lot more functionality and ease-of-use.

In making sure the new model is suitable for the widest range of applications it is available with both dye and pigment-based inks. It is engineered to deliver the highest resolution images in the thermal class, up to 1200 x 1200 dpi with ‘spot overlap’ yielding higher apparent resolution. And because of its wide-gamut six-colour inkset – CMYK plus photo magenta and photo cyan, it is able to reproduce almost any printing colour, making it more than suitable for proofing applications.

The expectation of the Canon sales team is that when the market becomes aware of the features that define the new machine, it will recognise its leading edge technology and will either opt for the W8200 as a first choice when entering the sector, or make the switch from rival brands when upgrading.

Inkjet digital proofing is now a given
While short-run posters, either as stand-alone items or as part of a larger billboard, are the most common products from large format printers in the commercial sector, arguably the technology has had its greatest impact on the digital workflows of printing and graphic arts companies. Spurred by the arrival and increasing acceptance of CTP, the need for proofs drawn from digital data has exploded. The versatile large format inkjet engines are proving to be the ideal output for fast rendered accurate colour digital proofs produced at a fraction of the cost of traditional chemical or high-end digital proofs.

The Canon W8200 is being promoted as using state of the art proofing technology. The company is working closely with the software suppliers to ensure that the RIPs are compatible with the hardware. As part of its proofing solution the printer is using specially formulated inks that are claimed to be extremely fast curing and less prone to colour shift. According to a specifications sheet from the company, the colour shift affecting a W8200 pigment print between one hour and 12 hours after printing is less than _E 1 – in other words, the colour proof despatched to the customer will not visibly fade or degrade, so printing decisions can be made with confidence.

Speed thrills
If proofing is the most technically precise and challenging application for wide format printers, the production of images for sale on a variety of substrates is often where the turnover is. For this sector of the market imaging speed is the crucial determination as well as the ability to leave the machine running unattended for hours. The Canon W8200 is engineered as a heavyweight output device, designed for hours of uninterrupted operation. Changing the 330ml ink cartridges draws on Canon’s ease-of-use experience in the consumer world.

But it is in the speed of imaging that Canon stakes its claim to be technology leader. The specifications have the machine outputting an A0 image in less than two minutes, or 30 square metres per hour (the speeds quoted are for printing on heavy coated paper in draft mode). While the quoted rate of imaging is always open to question as to the resolution used and the type of substrate, by any comparison the W8200 stands head and shoulders above most of its competition in the speed stakes.

Steve Brown, national product manager (pictured), Canon, confirms that the W8200 is the fastest machine in its class, as well as providing the ability increase that speed in years to come, as chip and nozzle speeds improve. “Due to the design of the new imaging head there is the potential for the speed to be doubled every year for the foreseeable future,” he says. “This represents an enormous advantage for Canon customers who are able to stay at the leading edge of imaging technology, and a major advantage over competitive products.” Brown maintains that the current speed configuration already represents a speed differential of up to five times faster than models on the market.

The brains in the imaging head
In every new outstanding technology, there is one element that is primarily responsible for the competitive edge. Much of the W8200’s advantage comes from the development of the new Canon imaging head. This is radically different from previous and competing models in that it is a high-density, one-inch component, manufactured using semi-conductor technology. This allows the print head to be made as a single piece of silicon, which not only increases the reliability and long life of the imaging head – perhaps the most vulnerable part of large format technology – but also enables it to carry an impressive 7680 ink jet nozzles. Because of the stability of the new imaging head and the number of nozzles, the machine prints with extra fine drops of ink to the substrate, in what the company terms the ‘Canon Microfine Droplet Technology’ (MDT). The tiny nozzles enable the imaging of extraordinarily fine print detail, accurately and reliably.

According to Brown, MDT means that each of the six colours in the print head is delivered though 1280 nozzles. This is compared to just 128 to 256 nozzles for each of the six colours in most competing models, a major product differentiation. With an optional RIP, the dye-ink model can print at a stunning 1200 x 1200 dpi. “This advanced technology is providing graphic artists and professional printers with the ability to create sensational images that will leave the market in awe,” says Brown.

Taking it to the market
The arrival of the W8200 coincides with a renewed Canon determination not to be excluded from any sector of the large format marketplace. The ability of the new machine to image with pigment-based inks clears the way for the company “to compete at all levels”.

One of the sectors previously not catered for is the outdoor signage market. Posters that are exposed to sunlight suffer UV fade when printed with dye-based inks. On the other hand, solvent-based inks are relatively hazardous to use and environmentally unfriendly. Aqueous pigment inks are able to resist weathering to a far better degree, without the environmental cost.

The W8200 is also able to image onto a wider variety of substrates such as specialist paper and cloth, and it comes equipped with an automatic cutter capable of slicing flame-resistant fabric. This again opens up the professional signage market sectors where Canon is hoping to make inroads.
Another area is the fine art reproduction sector where colour fidelity over time is essential. The pigment-based inks option of the W8200 ensures that the fine detail images will remain vibrant indefinitely if displayed responsibly.

The aggressive market thrust for the W8200 is being supported by Canon Finance, the company’s own multimillion dollar financial arm, which already facilitates over 70 percent of all Canon purchases. The purchase price of the W8200 is being promoted as more competitive than that of competing models with a RRP of $15,345.

According to Brown the industry reception of the W8200 so far has exceeded expectations. Orders are currently outstripping supply.

“We are well in front of budget and the interest from our customers is continuing to grow. I believe that countless superseded wide formats will soon have to make way for a new W8200 from Canon,” he says.

This article was brought to you by Canon Australia Pty Ltd

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