The recent Ipex event will hopefully be remembered as the start of the revival of the graphic arts market. Certainly the response we saw at the event from the visitors indicated that the mood of the industry had changed and that signs were positive that we might be entering a period of economic growth.
Ipex showed developments in all parts of the industry from creation through prepress, press and post press. Most activity and visitor interest however centred on the digital printing area, and in particular on inkjet printing. This article will concentrate on digital printing developments at Ipex.
There is no doubt that most interest and product development was in the area of inkjet, however there was limited amount of new product news from the electro photographic (toner) market. The following is a brief assessment of the activities in these areas at Ipex.
Continuous feed inkjet presses
At drupa in 2008 we saw the announcement of many new presses but few were available at that time. Ipex showed how most of these presses had now come to market, however Ipex also showed some new presses being introduced. The most interesting trend was the arrival of the “entry-level” inkjet presses. We had seen this before Ipex with the announcement of the Océ Jetstream 1000, a single engine duplex printing press. At Ipex I felt the highlight in new presses was the new HP T200 press.
This like the Océ press is a single engine duplex press printing in monochrome or colour on a 20-inch wide web. This press makes use of the technology developed for the existing HP T300 press with the same print heads, electronic modules and inks. It produces comparable quality to the HP T300 that I feel is the best quality of all the commercially available inkjet web presses. What was particularly interesting was to see the press printing on some of the new inkjet optimized coated substrates.
The sample work on display from HP T300 customers on these new substrates showed how these presses are moving aggressively into the offset print markets, particularly books. Also in the “entry-level” continuous feed inkjet space was the new Dainippon Screen Truepress Jet520 CP. This is a version of the press that has an operating speed 50 per cent lower than the standard Truepress Jet520, but can be upgraded in the field later to the higher speed specification. At the same time Infoprint Solutions announced a comparable model of its Infoprint 5000 press.
In the high-speed inkjet space the other product that was generating great interest was the demonstration from Xerox of the new inkjet technology. This is a continuous feed colour press using a derivative of its solid ink technology. This uses small granular ink pellets that convert to a liquid in the heated print head and convert back to a solid on contact with the paper. The benefits of this are that it can print on most low-cost uncoated substrates. The press demonstrated runs at up to 150 metres/min at a resolution of 600 dpi. The quality looks reasonable but one could not really look in detail at the printed output. This is not a product at this time and no price indication was given, however I would expect this to come to market in 2011.
The other major inkjet press show at Ipex was the Kodak Prosper XL5000 press. This was shown as a dual engine configuration printing full colour at a speed of 200 metres/min. The quality looked excellent and the demonstrations drew a great level of interest. My question however still is when will the press really gets into production? The answer to this is how long will it take to start manufacturing the Stream continuous inkjet print heads in commercial quality.
B2 format digital presses
One of the most eagerly awaited new technologies shown at Ipex was the B2 format inkjet sheet fed presses from Fujifilm, the JetPress 720, and Dainippon Screen’s Truepress JetSX. These two products drew major crowds for their demonstrations and both companies indicated they had received a very high level of interest in the presses. I have indicated in the past that I felt that while there is obviously a market for B2 digital presses, I felt that these two presses failed to provide a strong enough financial and business case to succeed. The level of interest and potential purchase commitments for these presses perhaps showed I may be incorrect in my assessment. I still feel however that these are not ideal products. T
he Fujifilm JetPress 720 is I feel over-engineered in being built around an offset press chassis, and this limits its performance. For example it only runs at 22 metres/min whereas the Dimatix print heads run at twice this speed. It appears this speed difference is because of the way the paper is handled in the press. I also find the speed of the Screen Truepress JetSX to slow particularly in its high-resolution mode of operation.
These two presses however are not the only B2 act in town. We have the Xeikon presses that have always handled B2 format but in continuous feed mode, and the latest Xeikon 8000 is significantly faster than either of the inkjet presses. There is also the Jadson QPress from Hong Kong, a toner press, however this has still to come to market.
Electro photographic presses
Most of the attention at Ipex was in the inkjet area. There was however developments in the toner press area. The highlight was the new Xerox Color 1000 press. I found this new press, and the Color Press 800, produced exceptional quality, and the clear toner option added a great degree of extra functionality.
HP introduced the new HP Indigo 7500 press. I say new but in reality it is the HP Indigo 7000 press brought up to the specification I would have expected when it was launched at drupa. It is now comparable in terms of colour functionality to the HP Indigo 5500 with the use of light magenta and light cyan colours. There are some imaging improvements to add operational consistency. One new function is the Vision System but at this time it does very little but over time applications should be added in areas such as page checking that should enhance the product.
Canon brought their imagePRESS C7010VP, C6010VP and C6010 presses to Ipex. These are enhanced models of the current imagePRESS 6000 and 7000 presses. They are capable of handling a wider range of substrates and have facilities for greater productivity and colour quality. This is seen with the incorporation of the X-Rite i1Process Control for enhanced colour management.
Xeikon came with an all-new Xeikon 3500 for the label and flexible packaging markets and a higher speed Xeikon 8000 for the document printing and book markets. Both produced Xeikon’s exceptional quality and productivity and Xeikon reported excellent sales at Ipex.
Other inkjet presses
Despite Ipex not being aimed at the label market there were many label presses on show, as well as other inkjet printing technologies. I was highly impressed with all the inkjet printing modules from inkjet printing integrator Atlantic Zeiser. If you need a special press built for an application this is the company to talk to. One of the inkjet printing market leaders in special niche applications is Domino and they showed their new presses using the Kyocera print heads for both aqueous and UV curable inks. These showed a lot of promise but I feel the company has still some way to go in understanding the needs of the market before it comes a major force in the graphic arts markets.
One of the highlights of Ipex came from the Israeli company Scodix. This was a finishing system for print enhancement where clear ink was printed onto an offset or digitally printed sheet. The ink curing process then created special effects such as a simulated embossing. The current format is B2 but there was no doubt that in future larger format systems could be produced.
Finally there was one unexpected product I saw. This came from the French company Neryos. They showed their IPN75 press that is the fastest cut sheet B3 format sheet fed colour press with an operational speed of 300 A4 pages/minute at 1,200 dpi equivalent resolution. Two presses it was stated could be linked together to give a speed of 600 pages/min. The press uses the Kyocera print heads used by other companies like Océ and Domino. The quality of the prints was difficult to assess due to poor quality substrates, however I was shown some nice samples.
Ipex was very much an inkjet printing event but electro photographic printing showed that it is still the major digital print process and that inkjet printing is not yet likely to impact in the major digital printing space. Inkjet printing however is becoming more viable for smaller printers and the inkjet printing quality is improving. Perhaps drupa in 2012 will move inkjet forward a further step.