Now Is the Time to Reinvent Cut-Sheet Production Color Digital Print

Jim Hamilton
Jan 13, 2010

This is a remarkable point in time to reinvent the cut-sheet production color digital printer. Why? Inkjet technologies provide a compelling opportunity to increase speed and format, offer additional flexibility through differentiation (4+ colors for MICR, gloss or matte coating, spot color, or other special effects), while lowering running cost. We’ve seen an inkling of this in A3 format with the RISO HC5500 and ComColor products, but I believe there is a significant opportunity for a larger format product.

Another reason that inkjet is well positioned is that electrophotography can’t keep up with inkjet for a lot of these capabilities. It’s reaching the limit of its speed. Going to larger format with imaging drums is expensive. And most electrophotographic devices are limited to four colors.

What could stand in the way of inkjet? The two biggest issues are print quality and available substrates (including cost-effective coated stocks). It will take time, but I think both of these are resolvable issues. I expect that this will play out like a lot of technology evolutions we have seen. Print service providers will not like the quality of the new inkjet technology when it is first introduced but they will be won over in time because quality will improve and at the same time the speed, format, and running cost will be compelling.

Another possible drawback of inkjet technologies will be the cost of printing high-coverage color pages. The running cost of inkjet output is tied very closely to the consumables, I believe even more so than with electrophotography where equipment service plays a larger role in cost. With inkjet, the more ink you use, the more expensive the page. So, not only must this next generation of inkjet devices be able to print high quality and high coverage images on coated stock, but it must be cost effective at high coverage. That’s a big challenge for a technology whose cost is centered to a large extent on the consumable. When some vendors include the replacement cost of the inkjet heads as a consumable cost, you know that the paradigm has changed.

What’s particularly exciting about this budding cut-sheet inkjet opportunity is that it’s not tied to prior restrictions. There is a tremendous opportunity here for system vendors to think creatively. Does it have to look like an offset press? No! In fact it shouldn’t. It doesn’t even have to look like existing toner-based digital printers.

A better way to view this opportunity is to imagine what a next generation inkjet-based cut-sheet production color digital printer could do that traditional or existing digital methods can’t. It certainly needs to take advantage of the best of digital print, such as electronic collation, automatic duplexing, and in-line finishing, but it can do so with larger formats and special effects in fascinating and innovative new ways.

InfoTrends clients will see more on this topic soon in an analysis about what we think the next generation B2-format cut-sheet production color inkjet product will look like.

Note: The InfoTrends analysis has been published. It’s called “The Use of Inkjet for a B2-Format, Cut-Sheet, Production Color Printer” and is available in the InfoTrends document store at: http://store.infotrendsresearch.com/product_p/105918.htm. Another recently published InfoTrends piece entitled “Inkjet in Commercial Print: A Map for the Coming Decade” may also be of interest. It is available at  http://store.infotrendsresearch.com/product_p/105367.htm.

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