It’s not all ink-jet
We are all pretty well conditioned to thinking that, in order for a technology to be tagged with the moniker of wide-format, then it has to be ink-jet. Its versatility is unmatched in many areas of the display arena but, nonetheless, there are still production sectors where alternative technologies might be better suited and, indeed, more economical.
Digital print is not all ink-jet. In the commercial and packaging sectors there are options that have been well accepted during the transition to shorter runs and greater versatility. Generally speaking, display output has relied on ink-jet for its flexibility and size, allowing for all sorts of creativity and wide-format design parameters to be incorporated into a variety of jobs.
However, consider the companies specialising in poster printing, and here is a classic example where ink-jet alternatives could easily be considered. Accepted options are offset litho and screen-printing but, in wanting to capitalise on customisation and low volumes, PSPs have tended to opt for ink-jet. Quality parameters have helped with high resolution and good colour, and process familiarity has also played a part.
One of the nicely repeating markets for all things digital remains in the output of posters, often destined for a short life, and dependent on fast turnaround and an acceptable price point. Because we’ve swiftly become conditioned to accepting that ink-jet is the de facto technology for this type of application, we tend to ignore the other options as not being relevant, or good enough, for these jobs. Alternative printers tend to be targeted at the AEC and CAD markets, but the standards of throughput are so high on many of these that there is absolutely no reason why work that comes under the category of graphics shouldn’t be produced using a different kind of output device.
There are several alternatives on offer, joined recently by HP Indigo with the 10000, a 750mm-wide addition to this famous family that uses the company’s proprietary ElectroInk. No-one familiar with photobooks or high-end business cards can fail to be impressed with the quality generated on Indigo presses, and for B2+ posters the new 10000 is surely going to attract the market for variable data and mixed runs.
Ricoh‘s launch of its A0 Aficio CW 2200SP is one example directed at the CAD sector. But the type of quality it produces should appeal to many who want to produce solid, rich colours on poster output. Its ink is a hybrid product called LiquidGel and comprises a combination between laser and ink-jet printing, so Ricoh should take into account that many graphics jobs will be well suited to its production standards.
I’ve spent some time with the Océ ColorWave and immediately was impressed with what it could turn out on a range of different media, including fluorescents, blue-back, polyester films, banner material and Tyvek. Its gravity-fed TonerPearls are a hybrid solid toner and ink-jet mix, converted into a gel, jetted and crystallised onto the material without the use of any fusing chemicals. Again, this is a strong and versatile contender for the poster market.
Another recent entrant into this sector is the LED production printer, the KIP C7800, which makes no bones about the fact that it uses toner-based technology, again with a solid particle system. Here’s another machine which is just as well suited to the display market as it is to CAD and AEC, with a good range of supported media, scan/copy, variable data printing and finishing.
Giving these and other alternatives close scrutiny, it’s understandable that display producers should look away from ink-jet for serious poster applications. There’s also the added benefit that many of these machines incorporate options, such as stacking and folding, bringing features that quick printers and copy shops have taken for granted into the wider format marketplace.
Yes, there’s the argument that users wanting to produce a run of posters can gang multiples across a wider roll of material but, in terms of convenience, storage and handling, working with dedicated rolls or pre-cut sheets is often easier. These machines also provide a valuable gateway into the market for volumes that simply aren’t practical on an ink-jet production printer but need the flexibility not available with offset litho or screen-printing.
Manufacturers of these alternatives to ink-jet are going to be out in force at drupa, and it will be interesting to see how much interest is generated from the graphics sector. The wide-format digital brigade should take time out to investigate these options; they should be pleasantly surprised.
This feature was originally commissioned and published by Output and can be found at http://www.outputmagazine.com/wide-format-print/equipment/inks/it-s-not-all-ink-jet-you-know/