Digital Printing Continues to Flourish

By David Savastano, Ink World Editor | 09.02.05

As Drupa 2000 illustrated, digital technologies are improving the capabilities of the variable data, small offset markets.

For the printing and allied industries, Drupa 2000 was an eye-opening experience. It would be extraordinarily difficult to determine, let alone discuss, all of the new developments brought forward by the leading press manufacturers.

With many new digital technologies, companies at Drupa 2000 set the stage for the future of printing. It is a future where makeready times are shortened, and powerful engines create an opportunity for variable data to be utilized.

It is also a rapidly growing segment. According to the Printing Industries of America’s Digital Printing Council, the digital printing market is expected to grow from 20 percent presently to 35 percent in 10 years.

With this in mind, print buyers and printers are deciding which routes they will select. Meanwhile, for printing ink manufacturers, the digital market is a challenge to be analyzed, with great potential gains available for successful companies.

Variable Data
One of the most intriguing areas for gains has been the field of variable data. Through the use of digital technologies, companies are able to put in specific information tailored to each customer.

The 1998 on-demand digital printing market is estimated at $13.3 billion, and Jim Hamilton, associate director of CAP Ventures, a Norwell, MA-based consulting firm, said that variable data is still a very small sector of the market.

Initially, variable data printing was utilized in areas such as business forms and labels, but as technologies have advanced, personalization has become much more sophisticated. Today, car manufacturers, real estate agents, catalog companies and countless other entrepreneurs can tailor brochures to meet the tastes of their customers.

“People are looking at digital printing and not looking at the classical applications like addresses and invoices,” said Dr. Nick Ivory, executive vice president of Coates Electrographics Inc., part of Sun Chemical Corporation. “People are now looking at digital printing as a means of providing more personalized, more focused advertising. The limitations of ink jet and digital printing is the imagination.”

“Variable data is more than just a name and address; for example, you can add recipes to coupons,” said Andrew Burke, supplies business manager, XSG document supplies, for Xerox. “It truly becomes personalized. Through 1:1 marketing, you can customize coupons and catalogs.”

Mr. Hamilton said that he was impressed by some of the applications he saw at Drupa, particularly those relating to car and real estate advertising. For example, an automobile company could send brochures of new cars to present owners, right down to the same color and body type. “These, to me, are more likely personalized applications,” Mr. Hamilton said.

“I think variable data is really going to start to take off in the coming years, just based on what we feel and hear from printers,” said George Ryan, president, Graphic Arts Technical Foundation. “I think it’s going to be more customized, that the customer will chose from a large menu what they might want to see in a catalog.”

“It’s unbelievable how non-impact has made inroads,” said Dr. Alexander Sieber, head of BU, ink pigments at Clariant Corporation. “They are starting to go into packaging printing. Non-impact inks are a big area of research for us, both in ink jet and toner. For many years, it was a question of which technology would succeed. I am convinced both will succeed.”

Press manufacturers such as Xeikon and Indigo have long been the leaders in digital technologies. Now, major manufacturers such as MAN Roland and Heidelberg are becoming involved in the variable data field as well.

Heidelberg is weighing in with NexPress, a joint venture with Kodak, while MAN Roland has taken over Agfa’s Chroma press line, and has its new DICOweb, which features a Xeikon engine.

“Digital technologies make the gap closer between the press manufacturers and the printer,” said Tak O’Haru, vice president/graphic arts, Toyo Ink, which has manufactured toners in Japan for more than 15 years.”

“You can see the new emphasis,” said Joe Bendowski, Van Son Holland Ink president. “Manufacturers who never had digital presses have them, and they still use offset ink. The digital duplicator business is growing rapidly. It’s exactly like the small offset market in the 1950s, and Xerox machines. It always starts off in black, then moves to color.”

“We think a lot of printers are going to want to be full service, and by offering a Xeikon engine, it will allow printers to do variable data as well as traditional offset,” said Kevin Oakes of MAN Roland. “It gives them more flexibility.”

DICOweb utilizes offset for optimum production in the 1,000 to 30,000 copy range, is highly modular at a component level including interchangeable inking systems which are being developed.

Xerox had its own hall at Drupa, and introduced its DocuColor 2060, which handles 60 pages per minute and can print on coated and uncoated substrates, including 100-pound stock.

“This is the machine that will revolutionize digital printing in the graphic arts,” said Mr. Burke. “Essentially, this could go all the way up, and because it’s variable data, you can customize, such as customizing catalogs. We’ve been working on it for a number of years, and it’s redefined what short-run offset is. It uses dry toner and much finer particles. The quality is such that it looks printed out of a printing environment.”

“There’s going to be a huge shift toward digital,” Mr. Burke said. “We’re focused on the short-run market today, and we’re heading toward faster, better quality all the time. By marrying offset and Xerox technology, we can create a hybrid product, printing through offset, then adding variable data at very efficient cost.”

“The Xerox 2060 is capable of running heavier stocks, and NexPress 2100 is expected to handle heavy stocks as well, which is important to printers,” Mr. Hamilton said. “However, the output from products like the Xerox 2060 and the NexPress 2100 still have the look of toner on paper. This may prove to be an entry barrier for some commercial printers.”

Offset’s Response
However, as Drupa 2000 made quite clear, offset press manufacturers are working to meet the demand of printers for presses that can handle short runs at efficient prices.

“Digital and ink jet is definitely the future, and it will be putting a lot of ink on paper,” said Paul Brouwer, Royal Dutch Printing Ink Van Son president. “The small offset market is changing, but we’re still getting our own market.”

“I think traditional commercial printers are more interested in short run and quick turnaround properties of digital presses rather than variable data,” Mr. Hamilton said.

Press manufacturers are working on products that speed up the makeready time, and allow printers to do shorter runs faster.

For example, CreoScitex Digital Offset Printing (DOP) technology is being used in presses manufactured by the world’s four largest press manufacturers: Heidelberg, KBA, Komori, and MAN Roland.

A DOP press is an offset printing press equipped with an on-press imaging system. In a DOP workflow, images are transferred as digital files and imaged – just before printing starts – onto plates already mounted on the press cylinders, which allows for changes to be made at the last minute and streamlines the workflow.

DOP presses with CreoScitex-supplied imaging systems include the Heidelberg Speedmaster 74 DI, the 74 Karat, the Komori Project D and the MAN Roland DICOweb.

“The 74 Karat Digital Press is a totally integrated digital offset press,” said Doug Clott, vice president of sales and marketing, North America, for Karat Digital Press, a joint venture between KBA and Scitex. “I think that print buyers for years have wanted to do shorter runs at lower costs and traditional offset models have never showed a large difference between 1,000 and 5,000 copies. Along came Indigo and Xeikon, and they showed a difference, but they excel at very short run lengths, lower than what print buyers are looking for. Once they get to 300 to 700, it reaches the same price as offset. We’re the first company that has taken a traditional offset model and provide more competitive pricing for short runs.”

“We’re imaging our plates in less than four minutes,” Jackie Hudman, general manager, Komori Imaging Systems, whose new Lithrone 40” sheetfed presses feature completely automated makeready systems. “In under 10 minutes, you’re up to color, including the imaging of the plates. It’s far more productive for printers.”

The newspaper industry also has digital applications. Toyo Ink is working with Elcorsy Technology, a Montreal-based private company, on Elcography, a new process. Its most recent product, the ELCO 400, has a printing speed of 51,000 tabloid newspaper pages per hour.

The ELCO 400 digital press allows publishers to decentralize newspaper printing for closer news coverage, faster delivery to regional markets, and print targeted advertising and personalized content.

Drupa 2000 offered a fairly clear look at what the future holds for printers. For ink manufacturers, understanding what is ahead will help make the future brighter for their own companies.

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