Feb 21, 2017
Continuous feed colour inkjet has put its mark onto digital print for a number of years now, but it has been slow to escape the confines of transactional printing, despite some success in direct mail and book printing. While transaction print is set to decline, the much more attractive market would be moving into commercial print and converting portions of the immense offset print volume to digital. That is easier said than done however, with the demands for print quality and paper range being much higher in commercial print, compared to transaction print. Several devices have been launched to target this market, but success so far has been limited.
With its latest announcement on the 17th of February Canon plans to take advantage of this opportunity with a new product called Océ ProStream. The ProStream supports a print width of 540 mm, a maximum speed of 80 metres per minute, and a duty cycle of 35 million A4 pages per month. The printer is targeted to offer high print quality on a large range of substrates. Canon cites four major reasons why the ProStream should finally be able to gain a larger portion of the commercial print market:
– New 1,200 nozzle per inch Kyocera piezo drop-on-demand inkjet heads
– A new high-density polymer-based ink system – including ColorGrip primer
– A new, non-contact “flotation air” drying system
– A new usability concept supporting native PDF and PDF/VT
Strictly speaking the Kyocera inkjet printing heads are not new, but are already used in the ImageStream series. Still they offer a native 1,200 dpi resolution with two levels of 2 droplet sizes (the smallest is two picoliters). An integrated water cooling system promises further quality improvements by maintaining optimal temperature conditions for the head.
For the first time, however, Canon Océ is offering a primer solution in its continuous feed inkjet solutions under its brand name ColorGrip – as already being used in the cut-sheet VarioPrint i300. Like in the i300 the primer is applied by a row of inkjet heads. The use of the primer and targeting standard offset coated stocks required the development of a new set of ink as well. The ink includes polymers for the first time in high speed inkjet printing, which are designed to melt in the drier and glue the ink to the surface of the paper. After cooling they should form a protective layer as well.
The development of the new ink set is closely linked to a new drying system. In all drying systems in continuous feed inkjet presses so far the backside of the paper has some form of roller or surface contact in the drier. In contrast in the ProStream the drier is designed like a heatset web offset drier where the web is led between two sets of hot air nozzles. The airflow lets the web float in the middle. Only after an additional set of cooling air nozzles does the web make contact with a set of rollers. With this drier design the stress on the paper should be reduced and due to the better temperature control the image quality should be enhanced as well.
Another new feature is the usability concept. The press is operated by a touch screen panel at the delivery end of the ProStream. It features a user interface designed for easy and intuitive control. The digital front end supports native PDF processing and several features to manage job settings and print queue.
Canon Océ ProStream at the Launch Event
It is early yet to judge how much of the total commercial print opportunity the ProStream will be able to address. Print samples shown at the launch event showed very good colour strength, saturated colours, and rendering of fine detail on standard offset paper, including those with matte, satin, and gloss finishes. No samples were given away however and final judging of the quality will require prints produced from installations at customer sites. Likewise the promise of a wide paper range needs to be proven first. Canon Océ has set up a program to qualify papers and with it to determine the optimal primer, printing, and drying settings – and if the paper will allow sufficient print quality at all. So far Canon is cautious in specifying the final paper choice – even the paper weight range. It has said it would be in the range of 60 to 160 gsm at first, but that this will depend on specific papers, and that the range is likely to expand over time.
The ProStream is not going to replace any existing Canon continuous-feed production colour inkjet printers. ColorStream, JetStream, and ImageStream will all stay in the portfolio. The ProStream is rather targeted at markets requiring a wide range of papers and superior print quality, but at a lower volume level than the ImageStream would offer. Accordingly pricing of the press will fall somewhere in-between ColorStream and ImageStream. The overlap with the ColorStream range is likely to be smaller and will be defined by the number of users willing to invest more for a better quality.
While the Océ ImageStream launched in 2014, it has been slow to ship so far. In contrast, Canon expects sales of 25 lines of the ProStream for 2017, with the first 6 lines already being sold. Canon identified three sites at its press conference this week at Hunkeler Innovationdays where it is showing the Océ ProStream for the first time publicly. These sites are Direct Mail House (St. Gallen, Switzerland), Ipskamp Drukkers (Enschede, the Netherlands), and Daten-Partner (Erkrath, Germany). Another site, in Poland, was mentioned but not specifically named. Installations are targeted to start around July, mainly in Europe with the aim of having a few sites in the US as well. Global availability is planned for 2018.
The ability to print at high coverage levels on coated commodity offset stocks is the goal of many production colour inkjet systems. Achieving this will open up a range applications that could drive significant offset transfer and also enable innovative high-volume production digital print. The next year will prove pivotal as companies like Canon work to convince commercial printers that the time has come to embrace high-speed inkjet technologies.
More blogs from Ralf Schlozer