This was an odd year peppered with bursts of activity followed by stretches of quiet as OEMs and their customers navigated a new business environment without tradeshows, customer events, business travel, and for some companies, essential business status. After bursts of launch activity in the Spring and Summer, I thought we were done for the year and then 3 more launches occurred in December. This article discusses the production inkjet press launches serving the document and publishing market in 2020, when they were announced, when they will be commercially available and the related development trends. (For coverage of launches in the inkjet label and packaging segments, see Ralf Schlozer’s excellent article.)
There were 9 significant production inkjet announcements over the course of the year, 6 of which can truly be categorized as new press launches. All but 2 of the presses/enhancements were aimed at serving the commercial printing market. However, how each of them address commercial printing requirements differs.
In the table of 2020 Production Inkjet Press Launches by Release Date below we see companies pursuing top quality levels using aqueous and UV inks, as well as piezo, continuous and thermal print heads. There are single drop, dual drop and multi-drop solutions and only slightly more roll fed (5) than sheet-fed (4) offers.
With the majority of the presses targeting high coverage and quality sensitive markets, it’s not surprising to find that the focus of improvements for many includes one or more of the following features:
- Enhanced ink formulation
- Higher resolution print arrays
- Improvements in drop formation and placement
- In-line quality control
- Nozzle compensation
- Innovative drying options
These are the features that work together to drive improved inkjet quality and expanded media options. What’s truly impressive is that many of these presses were available when launched, or very soon after. Unlike the typical drupa-year-dreaming of “announced” presses that might actually be available by the time the next drupa rolls around in 4 years, several were actually available much sooner than their planned availability date.
|2020 Production Inkjet Press Launches by Release Date|
|Market Positioning||Printheads/Ink||Upgrade Path||Announced Availability|
|Commercial, direct mail,
print and publishing
|HP thermal dual drop
iX3200 and 2100
|Commercial, direct mail||Kyocera piezo dual drop
|Kodak Prosper Ultra 520||Commercial, direct mail,
|Kodak Ultrastream CIJ,
labels and signage
|Konica Minolta piezo
Pro VC 40000
|Transaction, direct mail||Ricoh piezo
|Canon ProStream 1800||Commercial, direct mail,
magazine and catalog
Aqueous polymer pigment
|SUPERWEB WEBJet 2100P||Publishing, transaction,
|Memjet Duralink thermal
drop on demand
|Xerox Baltoro Color
|Xerox W Series Piezo
Xerox HF Aqueous
|RICOH Pro Z75||RICOH piezo
For each of these presses, we’ve provided a snapshot of the core capabilities, improvements over the previous generation, where applicable, and a brief update on how the press has been received in the market. You can also link to further data and images on our Device Finder.
HP PageWide T250 HD
HP was first out of the gate this year with a “pre-drupa announcement” of their new continuous inkjet press with expectations of a full launch in June. “We launched earlier than planned in 2020 because we saw tremendous demand for the solution in the market,” said Kris Albee, Global Marketing Manager, HP PageWide Industrial. “We promised availability by the end of 2020 and had multiple presses installed in the third quarter with very demanding, high-end commercial and direct mail customers. They love the gloss levels and gamut that can be achieved with this press using Brilliant ink.” HP customers with T240 HD presses can “field upgrade” to the T250 HD.
The HP PageWide Web Press T250 HD includes new heads, a new ink system and improved priming fluid among other upgrades. Together they enable production on media weights of 40 to 250 gsm with thickness of up 10 point including uncoated and gloss coated offset stocks. The press has a web width of up to 22 in (559 mm) and a print width of up to 20.5 in (521 mm). It will also ship with an inline spectrophotometer system.
The HP thermal heads have dual drop weights and produce a native resolution of 2400 dpi at 250 ft (76 m) per minute. Performance mode doubles the speed and uses a single drop weight reducing the resolution to 1200 dpi. Performance HDK mode keeps top speed and 2400 dpi for black while reducing CMYK to 1200 dpi.
HP launched early and was able to capture pent up demand from commercial print customers despite an overall industry slowdown in press sales. In July, American Litho was the first U.S. customer to purchase the new press. SoloPress in the UK announced their purchase of an HP T250 in August.
Canon VarioPRINT iX Series
Technically, Canon announced two sheet-fed presses in April, the iX3200 and iX2100, with their much anticipated Vario PRINT iX series launch. They are actually the same physical press with the upgrade available as a software key enabling pricing flexibility. Built on a similar footprint to the iSeries, the new press(es) have been redesigned in almost every other way including ink, transport, quality control and drying. With their eye on high-end commercial print customers, Canon has made the presses faster, more accurate and more flexible. Since their launch in April, Canon has placed more than 40 orders globally.
Second generation Kyocera piezo drop-on-demand print heads were optimized for use with the iQuarius iX series inks. The heads deliver native resolution of 1200 dpi with 2 drop sizes. Positioned just after the print head, the varioPRINT iX‐series offers two automated inline quality control routines, Nozzle Activity Control (NAC) and Nozzle Uniformity Control (NUC) to ensure consistent quality by detecting jet outs and evaluating past head performance to see if a jet is fully out or experiencing intermittent issues. Optimal performance is achieved with jetted ColorGrip conditioning liquid.
The iX series greatly expands the compatible media range supporting 60 – 350gsm uncoated and 90 – 350gsm offset coated at full speed, including mixed media jobs and gloss coated offset stocks. Full speed for the iX3200 is 320 A4 images per minute and 210 ipm for the xi2100. Beyond speed, instant media switching with a printer input module supporting 4 trays of up to 4,500 sheets and the ability to connect multiple printer input modules (for a maximum of 13,500 sheets in 12 trays) provides unrivaled productivity in a B3+ format device. Canon also touts improved drying and paper control systems. Their enhanced 2-step drying process enables high coverage and a precision sheet control system managed with a perforated stainless steel belt and vacuum suction delivers impeccable registration.
The iX press was installed at Kampert Nauta in the Netherlands in May, one month after launch. “In recent years, we have been talking to Canon about investing in inkjet,” explained their managing director, Richard Kampert. “The main talking points were quality, productivity and paper weights. Canon was very responsive in addressing these points with the varioPRINT iX3200. The press combines heavier weight media with high quality, that is comparable to offset, and high productivity. That’s a golden combination. On the iX, we plan to produce greeting cards, business cards, leaflets, folders and brochures. All in small runs. That’s where our future growth lies.” Canon indicated that the first two US customers were installed this quarter..
Kodak Prosper Ultra 520
In June, Kodak hosted a virtual event make several announcements originally scheduled for drupa. Randy Vandagriff, Sr. Vice President, Print Eastman Kodak Company told us, “We had multiple new products planned for drupa and believed a virtual press event during the original time of the drupa show was the best approach.” A key element of that event was the announcement of the Prosper Ultra 520 continuous inkjet press slated for full availability in early 2021. The new press can be configured as a C version sporting an extended dryer for use in high-coverage commercial markets or a P version for publishing markets. Both make use of intelligent near infrared drying with 2 units in the Ultra P520 and 4 in the Ultra C520. Vandagriff confirmed that the press is on track to ship to beta sites this year as planned.
The uses Kodak’s own Ultrastream continuous inkjet printheads to deliver resolution of 600 by1800 dpi. The heads differs from Kodak’s previous STREAM technology in its use of an electrostatic charge to deflect non-print-drops in the CIJ process away from the media as opposed to air deflection. The new approach enables precisely shaped drops of less than 4 picoliters. Kodak also delivers their own nanoparticulate aqueous pigment CMYK inks that have been tuned for the Ultrastream heads.
With a web width of 20.5” (520mm/) and a speed of 500 fpm (150 m/min), the Ultra 520 produces 2,184 US letter images per minute and supports papers from 45 to 270 gsm. The press is compatible with both coated and uncoated papers, with some papers requiring a priming treatment to deliver top quality. Kodak offers the flexibility of offline or inline priming stations to support top quality on challenging stocks. Continuing the vertical integration, the 520 is driven by the KODAK 900 Print Manager digital front end with state-of-the art Adobe APPE 5 RIP.
Konica Minolta AccurioJet KM-1e
Konica Minolta’s announced upgrades to their AccurioJet KM-1 B2, UV inkjet press in June. The AccurioJet KM-1e, with e standing for enhanced, incorporates a new, 1200 dpi printhead design and a patented LED curable UV ink formulation. The company cites improved media versatility, sharper text quality, image correction capabilities and reduced downtime among the press enhancements.
Konica Minolta’s patented Dot Freeze Technology™ controls each printed dot to prevent ink dots from spreading on the substrate. The company claims zero dot gain due to a high viscosity ink system “that allows reliable jetting due to much lower viscosity at that moment but instantly “freezes” the ink upon contact with the substrate” preventing uncontrolled movement of the ink dot and deep penetration of the ink into uncoated materials. Automatic duplex printing is possible on media between 50 and 400 gsm with thickness of 0.06 to 0.45 mm including textured and embossed paper, canvas, synthetic and translucent media, clear plastic and film, plastic card, metallic media and packaging carton stock. An image correction system checks the print quality of every printed sheet promising color matching within a tolerance of ΔE 1.5.
The press runs at up to 3,000 sheets per hour with productivity enhanced by a large-capacity media input and output system. Konica Minolta has offered proof-points for their claim of reduced downtime including 40% lower paper preparation time and 50% faster inkjet head replacement time than for the KM-1.
Enhancements in the KM-1e available to KM-1 customers can help them expand beyond commercial applications into growth markets such as packaging, labels and signage. The press is commercially available with the first U.S. press installed in March, prior to launch, at trade printer FolderWorks which is a subsidiary of Taylor Corporation.
Monochrome-only RICOH Pro VC40000
While other OEMs featured here enhanced presses in order to penetrate a new market, Ricoh delivered a press that took features away in order to better serve one of their core markets. In June, Ricoh introduced the monochrome-only version of the RICOH Pro VC40000 model. While the trend for OEMs overall, including Ricoh, is to pursue volumes in high-color, high-coverage markets, many also have core markets of transaction printers and direct mailers and book printers that help managing productivity and production costs. Ricoh addressed a continuing need in the market for crisp, high speed monochrome production. The mono-only press operates at speeds of 590 ft/min (80 m/min) and a web with of 20.5” (520.7 mm) to produce up to 2,500 mono letter images per minute. Like the full color version, the monochrome-only Pro VC40000 uses piezo drop-on-demand heads for resolution of 600 x 600 dpi at full speed and offers a MICR option. The press is compatible with uncoated, inkjet treated and inkjet coated stocks at weights of 40 to 250gsm and is available with either aqueous dye or pigment inks.
Broadridge Financial Solutions was one of the first to take advantage of the flexibility in the PRO VC 40000 line replacing the last of their toner fleet with a combination of mono-only devices configured with and without MICR, as well as the full color version also configured with and without MICR. While the mono-only system has been commercially available since the beginning of the year, it was formally announced in June.
Canon – ProStream 1800
In July, just 3 months after the launch of the VarioPRINT iX, Canon introduced the next generation of their continuous inkjet ProStream line, the ProStream 1800. The prior model, the ProStream 1000 began shipping in 2018 and received some significant updates within the first year. Like the 1000 and the iX series, the ProStream 1800 uses Kyocera heads and Canon iQuarius aqueous polymer pigment inks along with ColorGrip priming solution. It also uses the unique air flotation drier developed for the 1000 model. During the drying process, the web passes between 2 arrays of hot air nozzles positioned alternately above and below the web. The web is floated by the nozzles and does not touch any rollers. The hot air and air flow evaporates the water to dry the ink. A series of chilled rollers in an external cooling unit then lowers the temperature of the media.
While there are a number of software are media options available including EdgEnhance rasterizing architecture for improved detail sharpness the main advance in the new press is speed.
The ProStream 1800 is significantly (66%) faster than the 1000. It runs at 133/m minute and delivers 1,791 A4 images per minute at full speed. It supports a wide media range and will run at its top speed using media weights from 40 to 160 gsm. Speed drops to 80 m/min on weighs from 160 to 250 gsm. There is an optional heavy paper kit that expands media compatibility to 300 gsm. While the printheads are capable of true 1200 dpi production, at the high highest speed, the resolution drops to 1200 by 720 dpi (in imaging direction). The system offers the option for the Inline Quality Control (IQC) system introduced in 2019. The optional (additional cost) IQC is a camera system jointly developed with a third-party control supplier. It has two functions: assuring nozzle uniformity and compensating for nozzle failures.
At the announcement in July, the ProStream 1800 had already found its first customer, Italian book printer, Grafica Veneta who also took the first ProStream 1000. Dr. Mauro Fontanari, their General Manager remarked: “For many years, we were looking for a digital press but we were never happy with the quality available on the market. With the ProStream, we have found a machine that enables us to achieve a final product that has similar paper and the same quality as offset. Since installing the ProStream 1800, we are able to produce 50% more work which means we will have much more flexibility and have the chance to deliver more orders in the same amount of time.” As of November, Canon was in the process of delivering another 6 upgrades to ProStream 1000 customers in the U.S. and were in negotiation with several additional customers.
SUPERWEB WEBJet 2100P
Superweb has quietly delivered their latest inkjet market offer shifting from dye to aqueous pigment using Memjet DuralinkTM thermal print heads. The WEBJet 2100P roll-fed inkjet press delivers 1600×790 dpi resolution at its top speed of 490 ft/min, as compared to 330 ft/min on the WEBJet 200. In high quality mode, the press can deliver 1600 x 1260 resolution at a reduced speed of 307 ft./min. The combination of a 2.1picoliter drop size and Xitron Navigator RIP provide fine control of ink for sharper text and images.
“The WEBJet 2100P represents the marriage of Memjet’s Award-winning next generation pigment inkjet technology, DuraLink, with Superweb’s decades of success with versatile paper transport and fully-integrated OEM paper finishing solutions,” said Dustin Graupman, Senior Vice President Sales and Marketing SUPERWEB. “The WEBJet 2100P builds on the success of the WEBJet 200D (launched in 2014) and WEBJet 100D (launched in 2018) to bring the benefits of dramatically improved head life and the increased permanence, water-fastness, color gamut and substrate versatility.”
Superweb is focused on publishing, transaction printing and direct mail markets with a more robust pigment ink and expanded substrate range including uncoated offset papers and uncoated inkjet optimized papers media between 60 and 160 gsm. As this article was being written, Superweb was continuing to test and approve a range of inkjet optimized matte and gloss coated papers. Finishing options remain the same as the WEBJet 200D line including Superweb proprietary finishing and third-party options, however; there are now two drying a options, a base package and an enhanced drying package aimed at higher coverage applications.
The first press was installed in November and the press with be commercially available in early 2021. Look for further launch activity from Superweb partner, Konica Minolta who is the primary distributor of Superweb presses.
Xerox Baltoro ColorAccelerator
While not a new press announcement, Xerox’ ColorAccelerator upgrade represents significant hardware and software enhancements to the Baltoro sheet fed platform launched in June of 2019. As a reminder, the Baltoro is a compact B3+ sheet fed press representing a Xerox vertically integrated platform delivering 1200dpi native resolution with speeds of up to 182 images per minute simplex or up to 302 IPM duplex on an 11×17 sheet (271 IPM on US letter duplex). You can read the full details on the original launch here but let’s talk about the upgrade.
Customers electing to upgrade to the ColorAccelerator will get a new dryer that doubles the power of the existing dryer and incorporates a sheet cooling unit to prevent damage to the media from the increased energy. This is intended to extend the weight of paper supported from 270 to 300 gsm and also to enable the Baltoro to expand its compatible media range to include offset coated gloss papers. When queried, Xerox did not provide information on whether the speed of the Baltoro will need to be reduced to support gloss or other challenging media types.
Color consistency and ink management enhancements have been provided through software including the AI Update 1 for improved image process control and ink management. Missing jet detection and compensation has also been improved. For more on these improvements, see Ralf Schlozer’s recent post. Xerox plans to offer the upgrade to existing customers starting in the first quarter of next year. New buyers will have the option of buying the original Baltoro or the upgraded version depending on their quality and media requirements. Xerox has not provided information on beta sites for the upgrade or pricing at this time. It is notable that Xerox led the sheet fed inkjet market in engine sales in 2020 providing a significant base of customers ripe for an upgrade in 2021.
RICOH Pro Z75
Ricoh’s first sheet fed inkjet offering, the Pro Z75 has been in the works for several years and discussed at multiple non-disclosed customer and analyst events. David Zwang recently referred to the Z75 as one of the industry’s “worst kept secrets.” In their December announcement, Ricoh opted to deliver a very limited scope of information to the public and continues to keep many of the specifications under wraps. Even the picture of the device included in the release shows only a shadowy corner of the press.
What we can report is that this is a B2 sheet fed press targeting commercial print, signage and other high-end graphic arts applications. The technology is Ricoh engineered and manufactured including piezo printheads, advanced aqueous inks and dynamic drop size technology similar to that used for the RICOH Pro VC70000. Ricoh promises that “Those seeking exceptional productivity, ease-of-use, and media versatility, across offset coated, uncoated and inkjet treated stocks, with one of the lowest operational costs in its class will benefit from the strategic design of the RICOH Pro Z75.” While Ricoh has not yet shared speeds, pricing, drop sizes, media compatibility details or target launch, promising that more will be revealed “in early 2021,” they have set goals of “market leading speeds” and “class-leading levels of productivity.” Surprisingly, Ricoh did quote first customers (who have not yet received the press) in the announcement. Heeter, who also installed one of the first Pro VC70000 presses will be one of the first to receive the Z75. Kirk Schlecker, President of Heeter having viewed the press in Japan shared that “the print quality on the Pro Z75 is just as impressive as the VC70000.”
Looking Forward to 2021
The line-up of new production presses launched in 2020 continue an accelerating trend for faster, higher quality, and more flexible presses. In 2021, all of these presses will be commercially available and market tested. Across document, label, packaging and industrial segments we expect to see additional presses launched in 2021. In the document and publishing space we expect to continue to see the focus on taking volume away from offset presses and, to a lesser degree, toner.
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Happy New Year Everyone.