28 September 2015 Digital Printing Technologies

Colour digital comes to books

Inkjet has secured its place for printing mono books, now it is starting to eat into colour book printing as well.

This has been the year when, almost without noticing, inkjet has become the most important technology for book printers. Until now there have been small installations, single presses in the main, as companies tested the waters.

Now almost all serious book printers are plunging in: in March Clays announced investment in a pair of HP T series presses, with a second for Ashford Colour Press. Canon has installed machines at TJ International, Henry Ling and a third at Lightning Source in Milton Keynes. CPI led with HP machines.

Now Screen has engines in operation at Printondemand Worldwide while Ricoh, Konica Minolta and Kodak all believe in opportunities in book printing. And this is no longer just mono printing, but also involves colour, albeit not yet colour for coffee table books.

Outside the UK, Canon, KBA, Kodak and HP have been shipping presses. QuadGraphics has announced an ambitious plan to install at least 20 HP T400 presses over the next three years.

Also this year, Timson threw in the towel as a manufacturer of new presses, either litho or inkjet. Its advanced folding system was acquired by Kolbus.

It would be wrong to write off litho printing because for blockbusters and the highly illustrated coffee table volumes, litho printing will continue to dominate – at least for the moment.

The new generation of inkjet web presses looks capable of meeting most quality requirements if not the formats publishers are looking for. Already educational books are printed digitally with colour to acceptable standards.

The tipping point has been a combination of factors. The technology is more mature and the quality accepted by publishers; paper remains a weakness, but is improving rapidly; and most importantly the publishing industry is focusing on the efficiencies that digital printing can bring to the entire supply chain through elimination of waste and being able to respond rapidly.

The technology has also paved the way for new business models, either micro publishers who can reduce the risk of printing books that might not be sold, or technology businesses that can create books on demand.

There are websites which host thousands of recipes, allowing consumers to make a selection and produce a personalised book. This type of publication combines traditional book publishing with photobooks. There will be other examples emerging from left field, travel and gap year diaries for example.

Andrew Bromley of Lightning Source says that when the company installed its second inkjet press – and first colour machine – last year, the expectation was that it would be printing academic journals ordered via a dedicated website.

But it has been Ingram Spark, a website for smaller publishers to order books that has been the immediate success. “And a lot of those people are ordering colour books,” he says.

A third ColorStream has been installed in the Milton Keynes plant over the summer. “We have noticed a big uptake in colour especially where there are pastel colours for line art rather than photographs. We also expect graphic novels to do well and there have been a lot more children’s books,” he says.

The technology also been used by publishers to produce seasonal specific or sector specific catalogues. These can be created through the industry’s Edelweiss database containing images and metadata relating to books.

Instead of producing a single catalogue with thousands of entries once a year, frequent specialised catalogues can be produced in much smaller batches. The quality is acceptable for this type of work.

Lightning Source continues to use Indigos for premium quality colour, and at a premium price. However, inkjet is proving its value with ‘standard’ colour at a much more affordable price and this is driving growth. It also offers the ability to print on the inside of cover pages, enabling the catalogue application.

Printondemand Worldwide is following the same strategy, offering a choice between inkjet and toner colour. It has commissioned the first Screen line at its Peterborough plant and will install a second in January.

A Hunkeler Book line is being integrated with the presses and feeding a Horizon binder and automated three-knife trimmer. It will be a hands off operation.

Managing director Andy Cork says: “We are investing a lot of time, effort and money to ensure success in this both the inkjet installation project and the automated Hunkeler binding line.”

The question that remains to be sorted completely, says Bromley, concerns paper. There is a more limited range of papers on the inkjet technology than for the Indigo where cream as well as white papers can be specified.

In the US where Lightning Source has facilities in Lavergne, Tennessee and Fresno, California, there is a lightweight paper while in the UK, customers can specify a 105gsm paper which reduces the risk of show through with heavier ink coverage.

“We introduced this about four months ago, mostly in response to feedback from customers,” says Bromley. “For customisation products, like recipe books, there is a higher perceived value and they will specify the heavier paper because there is less need to keep the price point low.

“But we still need a greater variety of paper and we expect this will be the next step forwards in development of inkjet printing.”

At Henry Ling there is a similar ColourStream 3700 and the company faces similar issues over finding suitable paper.

Managing director Helen Kennett says: “The print technology is ready; paper is holding it back.” Nevertheless after a slow build up since the press was installed last year, the Dorchester printer has enjoyed steep rise interest in the last six months.

“Publishers do not mind us choosing inkjet as long as paper and quality is good enough for the job,” she says.

Cost of digital colour has fallen thanks to inkjet and this is encouraging publishers to specify digital in ways they did not when the only digital option was the relatively expensive Indigo.

Clays was one of the first to test inkjet with one of the first Kodak lines. Now it has upped the ante, installing two HP T series inkjet presses to deliver a huge boost to its digital production capacity. Currently these are mono presses, the type of work that Clays specialises in. However, the order includes provision for a colour capable T410 which could be ordered for installation next year.

CPI, Clays chief rival for mono trade books, has extensive experience of HP inkjet both in France and the UK. These are also configured for colour printing, positioned as an enhancement to an otherwise mono trade book.

In Scotland, Bell & Bain operates a Fujifilm 540W inkjet web press, basing the investment on absorbing short run academic journal work, but exploiting the capacity of the press for other styles of book.

Industry observer and consultant John Charnock comments in a blog for Ricoh that market movements towards publishers managing their supply chains to cut costs will inevitably lead to digital printing for colour trade books, following the path set by mono trade books.

“Once inkjet can achieve acceptable colour for the publishers there is no reason why a trade book printer could not migrate to colour and fulfil the majority of titles to the trade market. This represents a significant opportunity for them as colour books have higher value and is a market that they did not previously serve,” he says.

There are logistical problems he points out, and as printers using colour inkjet presses to print colour have described there is a need for a better choice of papers with different colours and textures.

This is even more important in the trade colour market where a greater range of paper is needed than in academic publishing.

It remains a finely balanced decision, but digital is clearly the future for book production. The changes it has enabled publishers to make to increase their efficiency and reduce the cost base and improve supply chains, means there is no going back.

And digital has helped stave off threats from e-readers that many predicted would sweep away the printed book. The litho printed book is being pushed aside as the letterpress production was several decades ago, but the physical book remains.

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