18 July 2016 Digital Printing Technologies

Inkjet on the web is knocking on the door

The quality is improving, speed is increasing and costs are falling: suppliers of continuous feed inkjet presses are breaking free of the transactional sector.

The breakthrough of continuous feed inkjet printing into the mainstream was a recurring theme for Drupa 2016, something underlined by a series of sales to UK companies.

GI Solutions is adding an HP PageWide T490 to the two PageWide T230s it has installed; Adare is swapping out an Infoprint 5000 for two Ricoh VC60000s; First Move Direct Marketing is buying its first continuous feed print capacity with the first Xerox Trivor 2400 web presses in the UK.

And beyond these borders Kodak has notched several sales for its current Prosper technology, including to The Lettershop Group, as well as a commitment to develop a press round the Ultrastream head from Anton Group.

Many of these are going to companies with existing experience of continuous feed inkjet printing for transactional printing. But these are more than better ways of doing the same things as before.

The latest generation of inkjet machines can start to win commercial print work, catalogues as well statements, colour books alongside mono books. The door to the new markets is being opened by either better inks or better papers, improved resolutions and productivity.

Kodak’s Prosper presses have held the record for speed, the heads able to keep up with newspaper presses for example. The Prosper presses can run at 200m/min for high coverage applications on coated papers where additional drying time is needed, or at 300m/minute for less quality critical applications on uncoated substrates like newsprint.

An important issue, says Philip Cullimore, senior vice president, is that Kodak's inks do not need the level of humectants that drop on demand technology needs to keep nozzles clear. “It is clear that the world of printing is moving rapidly to adopt inkjet and that inkjet is getting closer to achieving the four requirements of quality, speed, substrate flexibility and cost,” he says. “It is clear that inkjet is going to take offset pages.”

That is without the benefits of the Ultrastream technology. “The quality is astounding,” he says. “Stream has shown that reliability is achievable and where Stream has 130 moving components in a head, there are just 13 in an Ultra­stream head. That brings another level of reliability.”

It will be another two or three years before Ultrastream is fully commercialised. Kodak has no intention of building a new generation of presses for the new printhead. Instead the model will be to supply the heads to those who want to build a press for a specific purpose or else to integrate the technology into an existing print platform, as Anton is planning to do with Ultrastream heads.

In the meantime, the choice is around how to achieve quality on standard litho papers. The problem is that almost all inks are aqueous – they contain copious amounts of water. This has to be removed before affecting the dimensional stability and strength of the paper and without dragging colour into the paper fibres which dulls the image and is a rapid way to raise ink consumption to unaffordable levels.

Paper companies have been working to adjust the surface chemistry of their papers to suit inkjet conditions, but with limited success. There is no generic coated paper for all types of inkjet because there is no generic type of inkjet technology.

The choice comes down to adding a treatment to the paper before, but also perhaps after, printing, or using an ink which will work on all types of paper. Different suppliers are coming up with different solutions to the dilemma.

HP has moved from deploying a bonding agent through a fifth set of inkjet heads to applying an overall treatment to the paper using a coating unit. For high ink coverage jobs this is a more cost effective approach and can be positioned inline or as a standalone offline coater if a printer is operating more than one machine.

A post print treatment may also be needed to achieve the lift and gloss that customers expect from lightweight coated web offset papers. This will go hand in hand with the arrival of the HDNA printhead. This intersperses a row of small nozzles between the standard nozzle set to apply a lightweight droplet along with the standard droplet size. It smooths out the gradations in flesh tone areas or where such steps would be noticeable.

The HP PageWide T490 is the first press to include its HDNA print head, producing a step forwards in terms of image quality (though still not a match for Indigo). This will enable customers like GI Solutions to print mail order pages that are personalised and can sit alongside litho printed pages without seeming out of place. The new printhead will also be available on the PageWide T240 later this year, either with a new machine or as a retrofit to existing versions of the 558mm wide machine.

Ricoh also takes the pretreatment route to optimise stocks for printing on the VC60000. To judge by samples of books and catalogues seen at Drupa 2016, the approach works. It has also impressed customers, with installations and orders for the machine rising above 20 presses across Europe by the end of the year. In the UK MBA has three on order and Adare a pair of machines.

The former is switching from an all Xerox line up, while the latter already has the previous generation of Ricoh inkjet techno­logy. It means that the coating is applied to the surface that is about to be printed. Each cabinet also holds the dryer and web chillers to optimise its condition for printing on the reverse side. A post print coating can protect the web from marking when finishing as well as adding gloss to the printed result.

Screen also sells the same machine, but has no additional coating either as a pre treatment or after printing. The company reasons that this is expensive and adds a layer of complications which is not necessary. Instead it believes advances in the paper production will result in a match for its press.

Nevertheless, it has also decided on the use of a new ink designed to dry on the surface of the paper before absorption. One of the early adopters, Dutch mailing house Nic Oud has worked with a children’s clothing company to develop and put together a personalised catalogue where any concerns about quality were mitigated by sales success.

Brian Filler, Screen Europe president, says: “We have found another ink manufacturer so that we can print on ordinary litho stocks with no coatings. This is getting very, very close to litho quality. Everything is getting there in terms of performance, price and quality.”

Screen is now working with Komori as the sales channel for its inkjet web press for Europe to give it a greater market presence especially with commercial printers. “We were not so well known in transaction or book printing, but high quality commercial print is our traditional market, so we needed to be able to print to litho stocks.”

The new ink is available in the new year as TPJ520 NX. A few sample sheets at Drupa 2016 supported the analysis that quality is now at this sort of level. Says Filler: “I’m not sure that sheetfed litho printers can be converted to reelfed printers, but they can print to the same level of quality they are used to. NX will be a real door opener for us.”

Canon is also taking the ink approach for the ImageStream presses. At Drupa 2016 this was printing business magazines with variable content and covers to show how publishers can open the way to new types of targeted advertising.

The ink used is designed to remain on the surface of the paper, in the same way that latex inks adhere to the surface of the substrate in wide format applications. However, Canon has a second approach using Chromera inks on the ColorStream 6500. This is an ink designed to have a wider colour gamut and to achieve a greater density than a standard ink.

The first user is French printer transactional Corus which has been an inkjet printer for five years, buying the first ColorStream 3500 in 2011. Its reliability since encouraged the latest purchase which includes the 1,000th installation of a Canon high speed continuous feed inkjet press.

“Digital printing is now viable for almost any application,” says Peter Wolff, Canon’s senior director for commercial printers and production CRDs. “And the latest version of the ImageStream is matching offset. And this is starting to transfer applications to digital from offset.

“We have shown a clear commitment to R&D to increase the effectiveness of printing on offset coated media, and we know that is the way we need to go to create more volumes and applications.”

Xerox has an equivalent in the High Fusion ink that is part of the Trivor 2400 launched at Drupa 2016. The first in the UK will head to First Move Direct Marketing in July. It will help sustain a growth rate averaging 25% annually as well as providing digital print capability.

“For direct mail to be successful today it must be personalised and that means more than just the address,” says David Amor, First Move managing director. “The Xerox Trivor 2400 inkjet press will ensure that First Move continues to innovate within direct mail marketing by turning our digital insights into fast, targeted, variable text and imagery direct mail, cost effectively.”

At Drupa 2016 the Trivor was printing on Sappi’s Galerie Silk paper and combining the output from a litho press running this paper with a section of products selected to match the profile of a potential customer. “This is a very, very important step for us,” says Xerox inkjet division COO Paul Morgavi. “One of the most important things is the ink which lets us approach this market in a simple way. If you use a coating to treat the paper, you lose the basic quality of the paper.

“Printers moving to inkjet need to have something more flexible and more agile in terms of what it can print on. This is the challenge and I’m confident that inkjet is good enough to provide the image quality. What is important is to be able to work in a cost effective way.”

Kodak's Ultrastream in action

Kodak's Ultrastream in action

Ultrastream is the forthcoming Kodak continuous inkjet technology. It promises higher quality than Prosper, albeit at slower speeds, and to be able to print on any substrate. For those demanding the highest speeds, Prosper will be the favoured choice.

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Ricoh VC60000

Ricoh VC60000

The Ricoh VC60000 has been installed across Europe in transactional, direct mail, newspaper printing and also book printing. At Drupa the machine was printing catalogues and books on standard offset papers after applying a conditioning coating to optimise the surface of the paper.

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Canon Imagestream

Canon Imagestream

Canon's Imagestream was producing a business to business magazine with variable content as a demonstration of a workable application where publishers can create customised content to suit readers without having to change plates, but changing pages on the fly.

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Kodak's Ultrastream in action

Click here for You Tube video: Kodak's Ultrastream in action

Ricoh VC60000

Click here for You Tube video: Ricoh VC60000