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Let's get digital

Jul 1, 2009 12:00 AM

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Many people use the terms “digital press” and “digital printer” interchangeably. “That's bit misleading,” says Justin Searles, a consultant with InfoTrends Printing and Publishing Services (Weymouth, MA). “A press is essentially something that prints the same impression over and over again.”

Searles suggests that there are two definitions of a digital press: a loosely applied marketing term and a specific class of products.

“At InfoTrends, when we refer to digital presses, we're not talking about desktop printers,” says Searles. “We're looking at machines with a high duty cycle — 1 million or more 4-color impressions per month — and substantial speeds — 50 pages per minute (ppm) or faster.”

Searles categorizes machines as light, mid-volume, high and very high-volume production. Speeds range from 50-ppm cutsheet devices to web-fed models zipping along at 750 feet per minute (fpm). Other distinguishing factors include average monthly printing volume (AMPV) and resolution.

Digital print quality has improved by leaps and bounds over the past few years. “At one point, you saw a very glossy toner layed down and it didn't look great,” says Searles. “If you look at any of the products in the high-volume production range now, the quality definitely [is competitive with] offset.” He further notes that several vendors are migrating color and laser technologies perfected on their high-end machines to their midrange models.

While not every digital printer can meet exacting color requirements, great strides are being made. “In the high-volume production segment, a lot of devices can't produce true spot colors, but most are Pantone certified to produce spot color representations,” says Searles. “They're all getting there. HP Indigo, which can produce a true spot color, is probably in the lead, followed by Kodak's NexPress with its fifth color option.”

Coming soon

New inkjet presses that combine speed, quality and variable-data capabilities are poised to challenge both electrophotographic and offset for a piece of the printing pie. “The quality and reliability are there now for roll-fed, high-volume color,” says Searles. “Cut sheet still has some [room for improvement].”

Web-fed inkjet highlights at Drupa 2008 included Océ's JetStream 1100 (492 fpm) and 2200 (500 fpm); and HP's 30-inch-wide, 4-color duplex inkjet platform. Kodak's continuous inkjet solutions include the 500 fpm Stream Concept Press — a high-speed, process color system with resolution that exceeds 600 dpi.

“Inkjet is moving digital print into new territory in regard to running cost,” says Searles. “In certain applications, these advancements, combined with variable print capability, provide a very attractive, cost effective, offset alternative.”

The graphic arts trade press got a PRINT 09 preview at Media Days last month in Chicago. Show coverage continues in our August issue.

Inkjet, EP or offset?

For an inkjet update, see AMERICAN PRINTER's March 2009 issue at


  • Overall: Versamark VX5000 (750 fpm)
  • Cut-sheet toner: HP Indigo 7000 (120 ppm)
  • Cut-sheet inkjet: RISO HC5500 (120 ppm)
  • Cut-sheet copier/printer: Ricoh Aficio Color MP7500 (75 ppm)

Source: InfoTrends, Inc.

More digital press bragging rights…

  • Largest cut-sheet: Xerox iGen4 (14.33 × 20.5 inches standard; optional 14.33 × 22.5 inches)
  • Longest image: Punch Graphix' Xeikon 8000 (virtually unlimited)
  • Most cut-sheet substrate flexibility (16 lb. bond to 130 lb cover): NexPress S2100/S2500/S3000 and Xerox iGen4
  • Most roll-fed substrate flexibility (27 lb. text to 122 lb. cover): Punch Graphix Xeikon 8000