Activity Brewing in the Zone of Disruption

Jim Hamilton
Feb 25, 2016

Inkjet is having, and will continue to have, significant impact on the production digital print market. One of the most active areas for inkjet is in the “Zone of Disruption.” It’s a busy segment, and it will only get busier as drupa 2016 approaches, so now is a good time to revisit the product activity there.

In defining the Zone of Disruption, InfoTrends has in mind inkjet products with a capital acquisition cost of less than $1 million, very competitive running costs, and high levels of productivity. This puts them at speeds faster than current cut-sheet color toner devices, and at a capital acquisition cost lower than most 20” roll-fed color devices. To be truly disruptive there are some other important aspects. These devices must compete in quality and ease of use against the mainstream cut-sheet toner devices. This requires sound design, effective feeding & finishing, as well as workflow software that automates production. Success within niche markets is certainly good, but being disruptive in the marketplace means that these products must address the needs of mainstream cut-sheet and roll-fed color users. As this market progresses, InfoTrends is closely watching for broad levels of success by products in the Zone of Disruption. As of today, only a relatively small number of products fit there and relatively few placements have been made.

Zone of Disruption

The Zone of Disruption fits below the gap between current cut-sheet color toner and roll-fed color inkjet devices. Cut-sheet color toner devices have speeds less than 200 images per minute, and are used primarily for short-run, quick turnaround, and print-on-demand work. Roll-fed color inkjet devices, on the other hand, are capable of very high volume at low running cost, but typically do not have the quality levels or broad substrate range of cut-sheet toner devices and they also require a much higher capital investment cost. Across this spectrum there are a few broad device categories.

At the highest end, in terms of productivity, are roll-fed inkjet devices supporting rolls wider than 24 inches. These devices are used for a range of applications including transaction, direct mail, books, publications, and increasingly commercial print, but their wider webs bring advantages to certain formats within book and other publication printing as well as for commercial and promotional applications. There is also a key category of roll-fed inkjet devices with 20 inch web widths. The application set is similar here, although it tends to be weighted towards applications like transaction, direct mail, and books. These systems typically cost more than $1 million. A key emerging trend for both of these categories are devices that are intended for higher quality output on coated stocks. At the lower end of this class are some offerings that are positioned as black & white units that can be upgraded to color.

Sitting between the cut-sheet color toner and the roll-fed inkjet products is a class of products that support paper sizes of B2 or larger. These B2+ cut-sheet devices are targeted at commercial print or packaging, with some examples that use inkjet and others that use electrophotography. InfoTrends does not consider these devices to be part of the Zone of Disruption because their prices are typically well over $1 million. This segment includes products from HP Indigo and Fujifilm, and soon will include products from Heidelberg, Konica Minolta, Komori, and Landa.

Today there are two primary categories in the Zone of Disruption:

  • Within the past year, a class of narrow-web roll-to-sheet inkjet printers has emerged. Examples from this segment include the Pitney Bowes AcceleJet and the Xerox Rialto 900. These devices provide speeds faster than electrophotography as well as other features (such as in-line cutting trimming, and perfing) that make these devices attractive to transaction or direct mail environments. Close automation with insertion or addressing is another defining factor. The first units in this segment are now in beta testing.
  • Cut-sheet inkjet devices are emerging based on different design concepts. The Canon VarioPrint i300 has an A3+ format and benefits from its ability to leverage feeding & finishing components from the VarioPrint 6000 series. In contrast, the Delphax elan has nearly a B2-format, yet unlike the previously mentioned devices in the B2+ cut-sheet class, elan is targeted primarily at transaction, direct mail, and book environments. The longest-standing cut-sheet inkjet devices, RISO’s ComColor product line, fit well below the Zone of Disruption from a price perspective, but benefit from very high speed for a device of its price. ComColor has been successful in business color environments, but lack of support for coated stocks has limited its impact in commercial print markets.

Another area that could have disruptive potential is low-priced models of roll-fed color inkjet supporting 20 inch webs. If these units have price points less than $1 million, they could succeed, even if they do not have the broad feature range of the more expensive devices. This could open up the market to those who can’t afford a large capital expenditure. One example of this is the Super Web Digital 200D. More devices will likely enter this segment between now and drupa.

And there is more to come. Xerox has already indicated that it will shortly have an additional inkjet product in the Zone of Disruption. More announcements are possible soon as companies are beginning to brief analysts and press on their upcoming drupa announcements. InfoTrends will certainly return to this topic as the news becomes public.

InfoTrends offers a number of free white paper downloads, including some that touch on products in the Zone of Disruption.

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