memjet comes to wide format

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Sep 27, 2011

One of the questions I hear frequently is about the potential impact of memjet – the inkjet print head technology – on the wide format digital print market. This question is likely to become even more common following the announcements at Graph Expo and LabelExpo that two companies have become the first to integrate the memjet print head technology into wide format digital print solutions.

At Graph Expo Xante announced that it has become the first to integrate the memjet print head into a wide format printing system which the company is calling the Excelagraphix 4200. OWN-X’s WideStar 2000 is another memjet-powered wide format printer announced last week that will be shown at LabelExpo, so it is pretty clear that memjet is picking up speed, so to speak.

The potential impact of memjet print heads in the wide format digital print market is huge, and right now there is really one major reason why. Speed. Recently InfoTrends partnered with FESPA to execute a study called the Evolution study, which asked print service providers a series of questions about how their businesses are changing. One of the questions we asked was about what has been the most significant development in inkjet that has impacted their business. The number one answer is speed. Faster printing systems are a great asset especially for wide format graphics providers because many of these jobs need to be turned around so quickly.

What has been the most significant development in inkjet that has impacted your business?

The rated speeds of wide format inkjet printing systems have been steadily increasing since the introduction of the first units but have increased dramatically in the past five years with the development of UV-curable inkjet plus smaller droplets and enhanced automation. Now, some of the fastest units on the market can produce thousands of square feet per hour at a very high quality. The rated speed of the Excelagraphix 4200 is 6,300 square feet or 585 square meters per hour. This from a 42-inch wide printer. Not bad at all, especially for a printer that is expected to cost less than $100K. Even if the actual speed is 50% lower for whatever reason when the printer comes to market this still represents a huge increase over other water-based wide format printing systems. By the way the rated speed in production mode is 12-inches per second of what calculates out to 12,600 square feet per hour or 1,170 square meters per hour.

From a quality standpoint the sample of the Excelagraphix 4200 output that I have seen is in the “good enough” category, especially for many wide format technical documents and short-term signage and graphics. To me the all-important question now is on operating cost. Over time a lot of printing companies can easily factor in the cost of the equipment, but operating costs or running costs are critical because it often determines which jobs are done with which printer. The operating cost of water-based inkjet has historically been high relative to solvent and UV-curable. Xante estimated that its ink prices would be about $350 per liter, but the final price is not set yet. The price per liter is about average compared to water-based inkjet competitors, so it will be important to see how efficiently the inks cover using the 1.2 picoliter ink droplet that the memjet print head produces.

The memjet-based printer units are not available yet and dates have not been announced, so without knowing all of the actual cost elements it is only fair to say that the memjet technology has the potential to have a very big impact on the wide format digital print market. We’re going to watch this closely.

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