Transaction Printers Are the Leading Adopters of High-Speed Continuous-Feed Process Color Digital

Jim Hamilton
Aug 9, 2010

Who is buying high-speed continuous-feed process color printers? Early evidence indicates that it’s transaction printers. About 200 print engines in this class were placed around the world in 2009 but it hasn’t been entirely clear which environments have been most likely to buy them. It was my assumption that the quality and running cost capabilities of these devices made them attractive to transaction, direct mail, and some publication environments but I wondered whether that was really the case. I decided to look at the public announcements of companies that have placed such products to see what this said about market preferences.

The news editors at InfoTrends track and tag all of the press releases and industry announcements related to the digital printing market, including those announcements that relate to the placement of high-speed continuous-feed color products. Using this as a resource I found all of the relevant announcements for this relatively new class of products which is made up primarily of inkjet printers with duty cycles of more than 10 million impressions per month. These devices generally print on uncoated stocks at quality levels below graphic arts products, but with very impressive speed, productivity, and low running costs.

Among the announcements that I found were ones from HP about the Inkjet Web Press, Impika about iPrint, InfoPrint Solutions about the InfoPrint 5000, Kodak about Versamark and Prosper, Océ about JetStream, Pitney Bowes about IntelliJet, Screen about the TruePress Jet 520, and Xerox about the 490/980 (the only toner-based printer in this class). More than 50 such announcements had been made since 2004, most of them within the past two years as more and more vendors began to offer products in this category. The announcements were split about evenly between North American and European sites. A few of these sites are focused on monochrome printing, for example, the HP Inkjet Web Press site at CPI, the French book printer. I’ve included these in the total anyway since they could be upgraded to color.

Selected 10M+ Color Duty Cycle Sites by Type

After looking over these releases, it’s clear that transaction environments are leading the way. They account for about a third of the announcements in this decidedly unscientific survey. Keep in mind that the only sites that end up in press releases are ones that have agreed to be exposed in such a public fashion. Not every company is willing to do so and it is entirely possible that this could skew the results. Nevertheless, short of having a database of every single placement of these products, this selection of press releases does provide some useful insight. It indicates that a significant number of transaction environments have decided that a “white paper in, full color document out” workflow has finally become economically feasible. Meanwhile, the use of digital color supports efforts to add promotional components to transactional documents while also bringing the added value of variable color for other purposes, such as branding.

Next in line among the sites in the press releases are book printers with 19% of the placements, followed by direct mail with 15%. “Multiple applications” sites account for 23%. These sites plan to use the device for a mix of two or three of the following: transaction, publishing, direct mail, and marketing. Newspaper sites have 6% of the total and the “Other” category accounts for just two sites, one doing a gaming (bingo) application and the other testing paper.

Digital printing in data centers has a long history. Until recently the digital printing was monochrome or perhaps spot color. The process color in transactional applications has generally been provided by static shells printed on offset presses. Bringing digitally printed process color into these environments means that not only are offset color pages shifting to digital, it also means that monochrome digital pages are moving over to color digital devices. This is a significant market change that impacts offset and monochrome digital print volumes. It also speaks to the capabilities of this class of high-volume continuous-feed process color printers which has the ability to operate at very high speeds and low running cost. Sites doing transactional work are leading the technology adoption, but it won’t stop there. The appeal of these devices will expand as they gain the ability to print on affordable coated papers which will open up other applications such as catalogs, magazines, and custom publications. As that happens, even more pages will shift to this exciting class of devices.

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