Without a doubt, the growth in the digital printing segment has come as a result of new technologies. Whether it is the ability to customize products or do short runs, digital printing has moved into new markets with each technology improvement, and as speeds and quality improve and cost per print decreases, inkjet will find new opportunities.
Jeffrey Nelson, business development manager, FUJIFILM North America Corporation, Graphic Systems Division, said that better quality with smaller droplet sizes, better speed through higher frequency and higher density print heads and better reliability with MEMS technology and recirculating printheads, are all improvements in digital technologies.
“Higher speed, better quality and reliability all make an ROI much more attractive,” Nelson added.
“There are so many advances taking place in inkjet printing that it is hard to keep track of them all,” said Chris Cudzilo, inkjet business development manager for Wikoff Color. “Printhead technology has advanced so much in the last three years that you can now jet a very wide range of fluids as well as put print heads in all kinds of unique places. The improvement in head technology has pushed the demand for new chemistries and components upstream in the supply chain so we are seeing advances in materials that we can use. The main improvement we overlook in inkjet printing technology is the reduced cost and better performance of the computing systems needed to drive digital equipment.”
Lawrence Gamblin, president of Collins Inkjet, said that printheads are an important area of improvement.
“At the moment there are many printhead manufacturers and more and more companies who are creating new application specific printers,” said Lawrence Gamblin, president of Collins Inkjet. “Printheads are getting faster and more reliable. Ink chemistries are developing at a rapid clip. The new chemistries are improving the application space for printers faster than at any time in the past 30 years.”
“The most dramatic advances continue to be printhead development,” Michael Andreottola, president, American Ink Jet Corporation, said. “The Memjet print head technology has been very exciting. We are also seeing more applications utilizing Kyocera and Seiko printheads. In the office environment the HP Pro X printers are creating quite a stir. We have developed inks a CIS for this printer that are allowing users to print several books continuously without running out of inks.”
“Faster printers and printheads are boosting the digitalization of several industries,” said Dr. Christophe Bulliard, commercial director, Sensient Imaging Technologies SA. “Also, developments are seen in water-based solutions, especially soft signage.”
Brian Albans, global business manager, DuPont Digital Printing, noted that advanced ink and dispersion technologies enable higher optical densities with less ink, which results in blacker blacks and brighter colors that can be achieved with higher print speeds and at lower cost.
“The ability to print high image quality on a wide variety of substrates is also a key technological breakthrough,” Albans said. “For textile printing, inkjet delivers a simpler process compared to traditional printing. Inkjet eliminates the need for screens or rotogravure that need to be stored in inventory or disposed of, creating waste. The water-based inks are also more environmentally responsible and technology continues to enable faster printing speeds. Many of these advances are possible because we maintain close collaborations with OEMs and printhead manufacturers in all regions to optimize systems and results.”
These improvements are driving advances in ink.
“The advances in SunJet ink technology will offer ease of use for print applications, provide global product stewardship, allow for products that can be shipped globally, and meet all regulatory requirements,” Peter Saunders, business director – Digital, Sun Chemical, said.
“The wide format inkjet market is thirsty for sustainable yet compatible ink solutions,” said Ruth Zach, marketing coordinator for Bordeaux Digital PrintInk Ltd. “Bordeaux invested heavily in sustainable solutions like the water-based Latex ink and new generation high speed eco solvent inks since Bordeaux as a deeply rooted in the wide format market and as a socially conscious company is aware of this shift and prepared for it. Bordeaux already offers Latex water-based ink for non-thermal printheads, which is congenial with piezo printheads. The company management believes this is the future of the wide format digital printing market which is moving away from traditional true solvent inks and is seeking environmentally friendlier solutions.
“High speed printing and sustainability open up new possibilities for wide format digital printing and are new fields constantly being explored by printer and ink manufacturers,” Zach added. “High speed printing definitely increases productivity and therefore is more cost effective. Nevertheless, these new opportunities require a lot of creativity from the R&D teams.”
“Our Research & Development group is one of the largest when it comes to inkjet development, and they are on top of future trends that will impact the marketplace,” said Karla Witte, vice president of product development for INX Digital. “One of their current main projects is to provide greater adhesion with our inks on short run work.”
“With the introduction of gray scale and other improvements, quality on these printers continues to improve,” Stephen Emery, vice president, ink business and Jetrion Industrial Inkjet, EFI, said. “Also, the addition of LED curing capability for UV inkjet is a significant technological advance that our customers are taking advantage of. Not only is LED UV curing more environmentally friendly from the perspective of VOCs and energy consumption, but this ‘cool curing’ capability means that lighter weight materials can be used, thus saving in material and shipping costs.”
As a result of these advances, inkjet printing is gaining new possibilities and markets.
“EFI VUTEk LED printers tend to produce more square footage compared to UV machines of the same size and speed,” Emery said. “LED lamps last significantly longer than UV arc lamps, and they don’t gradually degrade the way arc lamps do, so the printed output can be that much more consistent over the life of the lamp. Without the extra energy generated by UV arc lamp curing, VUTEk LED printers also handle a broader range of substrates. All of those advantages translate into more jobs per shift for our customers. In addition, with the introduction of the VUTEk HS100 Pro, our highest volume printer, digital printing is making its way into traditional screen printing shops ad competing on longer runs with its speed of 100 boards per hour.”
“From what we have seen, most of the really new opportunities are being opened up by some of the smaller printer manufacturers who have more open business models,” said Gamblin. “The more open business models allow customers to identify and then create new solutions that allow them to capitalize on those opportunities.”
“The more printers invest in inkjet technologies the more opportunities everyone will see,” Cudzilo said.
“These advances are opening up new opportunities, and we expect they will continue to enable further progress in the future, for example with aqueous inkjet printing on coated papers, films, and foils,” Albans said.
“The inks for the HP Pro X printer, for example, reduce the cost and the waste of OEM inks and cartridges,” Andreottola said. “We are producing books in third world countries for people who otherwise would not have access to this type of reading material. My customer had to reach a price point that would make publishing these books realistic. By eliminating cartridges and producing inks that perform in this new printer, we have basically developed a new market for these printers.”
Witte said these changes are making digital printing more attractive choice for printers.
“It’s more attractive and cost effective for short run, custom opportunities, which are a growing market trend in all printing segments,” Witte concluded.