Posts Tagged ‘DI’

  • Whatever happened to DI? – Andy McCourt’s Reverb

    In his second Reverb column, Andy McCourt investigates the state of Direct Imaging print technology – a hybrid digital offset press system – in today’s industry, and discovers that the 1990s technology may be making a comeback in some sectors. 

    That’s DI as in Direct Imaging presses and not princesses! Hi and welcome to my second Print21 ‘Reverb’.

    DI presses are hybrid digital offset presses where plates are laser-imaged on-the-press for effective short run jobs that deliver the benefits of toner digital but the quality and low cost-per-sheet of offset. This results in very short make-ready times (5 to 10 minutes) compared to making plates and mounting them on the press.

    The first DI press was shown by Heidelberg in Chicago at the 1991 PRINT trade show.  I was there to see crowds thronging around the machine, all lit up in blue neon lights and page data being ripped directly to the press. It was the talking point of the show but very few printers “got” the concept of short run on-demand jobs back then and sales were slow.

    Andy McCourt

    At Ipex 1993 time, a new version using Presstek’s PEARLdry plates was introduced; sales improved but it was not until the drupa 1995 launch of the smaller Quickmaster that DI really took off, with over 1,500 presses eventually being sold worldwide. The QM-DI was a great profit machine; printers owning them noticed fiddly short-run jobs could be performed with a minimum of prepress fuss and customers didn’t argue about the higher price-per-page.

    The DI juggernaut rolled on for a few more years with Heidelberg introducing a five-colour B2 press, the Speedmaster 74-DI and even previewing a 102 DI press at Ipex 1998, using Creo laser imaging heads. By drupa 2000 the halls were replete with DI presses from Heidelberg, KBA, Sakurai, Adast, Ryobi, Akiyama, Screen and even Xerox and Kodak got on the DI bandwagon with re-badged Adast 2-up and 4-up presses, using Presstek technologies. Even a label press manufacturer – Nilpeter – designed a rotary press using Presstek DI technology.

    It looked like DI’s star would continue to rise for many years – even industry prophet Frank Romano predicted this – but a series of legal disputes began that unnerved press manufacturers. Presstek – the undoubted inventor of DI and owner of the ‘DI’ trademark – took action against Creo, Kodak and Fujifilm, protecting its intellectual property rights. In this, Presstek was mostly successful but it looked like only one manufacturer could supply the DI imaging heads and most importantly, the DI plate material. Meanwhile, CTP arrived, was getting faster and make-ready times on conventional offset presses were dropping. In the background, digital toner presses were getting faster and more reliable.

    Presstek’s ablation plate imaging technology was co-invented by Bob Howard, who also invented the Dot Matrix printer when he formed Centronics. DI was sold with great success to the abovementioned OEM partners over several years. There was also a proofing collaboration with 3M/Imation.

    However, in 2006 Heidelberg dropped the bombshell – it was quitting DI presses.  Some of the others had already fallen by the wayside, with Xerox’s Presstek-powered Docucolor 233 and 400 being discontinued in favour of iGen development, Adast going broke, KBA ceasing development of the Karats and others not bringing their DI prototypes to market. This could have been the death knell for DI except for one thing: Presstek’s dogged belief in the DI business model, where it fitted, as a better profit proposition for many printers. Offset stocks, Waterless Offset quality up to 300dpi, single person operation, no click charges and fewer breakdowns – these were some of the compelling arguments. By 2010, only Presstek, Ryobi and Screen with its Truepress 344, were offering new direct imaging presses.

    Presstek roars back with DI

    Almost as soon as the Heidelberg withdrawal from DI press manufacture was announced, Presstek announced it would make its own presses, in collaboration with long-standing OEM partner Ryobi. The 52DI was the first, a B3 landscape press, which is today also available with spot or flood coating, followed by the A3 portrait 34DI, which is also offered as the 3404E-DI by Ryobi. UV versions of both these presses are also available.

    What re-opened the eyes of many litho printers looking to go digital but not liking the typical digital ‘click’ model and format limitations, was the 2011 introduction of the Presstek 75DI. Based on the Ryobi 750 series but with Presstek DI throughout, it is highly automated, pumps up to 16,000 sph through and is available in 4 to 10 colours, with coating and UV options, straight or perfecting and, to appease the ‘it’s not true digital’ nay-sayers: in-line variable data via the inclusion of inkjet printing modules. Add the packaging option of up to 0.8mm cartonboard and it seems this press has every feature any other B2+ offset press maker offers with one huge advantage.

    The 75DI hits the sweet spot of profitable printing from 500 to 5,000 B2 sheets better than any other machine, toner, inkjet or offset. Within this band, 1,000 to 2,500 sheets is the fastest growing area for most jobs in printing and Presstek claims a 50 per cent lower cost-per-page than toner-based digital, and a 13 per cent higher profitability than printing the same job conventionally. After 20,000 sheets for one job, the profit scales tip back in favour of conventional litho plus CTP. Around a dozen 75DIs have been installed around the world so far – not a bad achievement in a depressed market for a newcomer to B2. A not insignificant number of 52DIs with coater and a sprinkling of 34s have also been sold recently.

    So that’s what happened to DI; its inventor is now the sole purveyor of the technology. In my pre-drupa wrap on B2 digital,  I did not even mention Presstek, considering it a waterless offset solution. I was wrong; a convivial chat with Asia-Pacific director Tim Sawyer, visiting Sydney last week, sorted that out. The 75DI especially is a digital press well worth investigating for short to medium-run printing and in particular short-run folding carton work. Apart from the high automation, which can include built-in spectros monitoring colour and automatically adjusting ink keys, a single operator can perform dozens of plate changes per shift, pumping out jobs that will return a much higher profit than those from a neighbouring conventional offset press running a long run.

    DI is not dead, far from it. It is fulfilling an important role in a market that is increasingly short-run and on-demand. You should think about it if this is you.