WHAT IS …….. INKJET 2.0 ?
WHAT IS …….. INKJET 2.0 ?
2009-11-10 at 10:45:10 am #22898
WHAT IS …….. INKJET 2.0 ?
Inkjet printing is moving quickly into mainstream roles for professional print projects, but it hasn’t been an easy road, as Frank Romano explains.Inkjet printing is the overnight sensation that took almost 40 years. Inkjet printing is a form of digital printing. Digital printing involves any reproduction process that does not use a static image carrier (such as a plate). Every page impression is regenerated, even if they are the same. Digital printing can use any method that places spots of coloured particles on substrates, with toner and inkjet being most common.
Inkjet technology is either thermal (heat makes a bubble), piezo (pressure makes a bubble), or continuous (pressure makes a flow). Inkjet printing can be sheetfed, rollfed, flatbed, or combinations. They can use inks that are aqueous (water-based), solvent (petro-chemical-based), eco-solvent, and UV using either dyes or pigments.
All digital printing systems are perfect for short runs and the only way to do variable and versioned jobs. The Holy Grail has been to apply digital printing as a plateless printing process for offset litho and flexo printing.Considering that toner-based digital printing dominates, why is inkjet generating interest?
• Less complexity. Almost everything about inkjet is in the heads. There are less electronics, heating units, and drums/belts to deal with.
• Potential for spot colours. The single impediment to toner printing is its inability to print all the Pantone (and now Goe) colours.
• Like toner, there is no makeready so there is instant changeover of jobs with no waste.
• Inkjet is scalable from the desktop to the plant floor. Thus, proofers could use exactly the same technology to allow for proofing in customer offices.
• Larger toner-based systems have high power requirements with equally larger power units and severe environmental requirements. Inkjet requires much less of all that.
• Inkjet ink is usually less costly than toner, but new toner manufacturing techniques my narrow that gap.
There are still issues with substrate availability, nozzle clogging and head width. A lot will depend on ink formulations in terms of substrates and quality. Heads must be self-recovering to avoid clogs and missed spots.
New applications will include the so-called transpromo market for bills and statements that incorporate ads. Then, retail promotions that incorporate coupons. UV flatbed printers can print on thick board, plastic, metal and glass in addition to vinyl and fabric, and this opens many new industrial printing markets.
Toner and inkjet printing are competing with offset litho and print buyers should investigate all processes for the applicability to specific projects. For both, there is no image carrier, no makeready, instant drying and integrated finishing. Today, quality and production speed are coming into alignment with industry needs.
The professional inkjet market consists of photo labs, service bureaus, sign shops and quick printers, and represents a fast growing segment of the graphic arts industry. From its birth as an extension of the pen plotter business, wide-format product development has exploded.
In the early 1990s, Encad was the first to show the concept of wide-format inkjet printing, with technology consisting of four thermal HP print heads using dye-based inks. Other companies followed, and wide-format graphics soon emerged as the next step in the evolution of inkjet printing. These printers started rather small at 36 inches, but quickly expanded in size as the needs of the users grew.
Today, printers as wide as 16 feet are printing everything from point-of-purchase displays to fine-art reproduction. Ongoing research and development continues to improve and expand on the uses for wide-format inkjet printing. This is now an area where key desktop printer OEMs are focusing, and represents a possible growth opportunity for the inkjet aftermarket.
Within a decade, wide-format inkjet printing has cut screen printing volumes by almost half. The market began by applying roll-fed printers and advanced to flatbed printers. Everything about the inkjet market is changing almost daily. Over 1,000 companies worldwide are working on some aspect of inkjet technology.
There are many approaches to segmenting the inkjet printer market. The most basic categorisation is by the size of the image that can be produced:
• specialty inkjet printers for mailing, marking, coding, etc (less than 6 inches wide);
• desktop inkjet printers for home and business use (less than 18 inches wide);
• office printers and multi-function devices (less than 18 inches wide);
• Narrow format inkjet printers for the label market (less 24 inches wide);
• Wide format graphics inkjet printers (roll and flatbed) (greater than 24 inches wide);
• Super wide or grand format inkjet printers (greater than 48 inches wide).
The inkjet head is that element of a printer that applies ink onto a substrate. Printheads may be:
• shuttle (moving)
• page width array
• disposable: inkjet head is bonded on ink cartridges
• non-disposable: inkjet head and ink cartridges are separate devices
• removable (replaceable or disposable heads)
The consumer market represents 95 per cent of global sales for inkjet heads. The industrial and large format market represents about five per cent. Inkjet printing is digital printing. Over half of the volume printed digitally today is advertising collateral and direct mail – flyers, brochures, folders, booklets, postcards and self mailers. This promotional material has seen a shift in the last decade from 20,000 runs to multiple 2,000 runs, for example. Thus, even static material, if it meets the design and production criteria, is going digital.
Offset litho, toner and inkjet printing will all co-exist because there are good reasons to use all of them. The digital printing wars are upon us: toner vs inkjet, and within inkjet, CIJ vs DOD, solvents vs aqueous, roll vs sheet, and greyscale vs binary.Welcome to Inkjet 2.0.