In previous columns I covered the success of inkjet in direct mail, transaction and book markets. Today those are the three main applications for inkjet production print (when leaving out packaging print). The biggest sector in the printing industry is conspicuously absent from that list: commercial print.
Inkjet in Commercial Print
There are a few Continuous Feed (CF) inkjet installations at commercial printers around Europe. Some of the sites made public are Hansaprint in Finland, Esser, Eversfrank, Haberbeck and Walter Digital in Germany, Zalsman in the Netherlands and Poligrafico Roggero & Tortia in Italy, DG3, ProCo and Severn in the UK. The exact number is a bit elusive as the term commercial printer is given from the outside, so there is quite some leeway in which printing companies could be listed here.
As mentioned in the preceding article on direct mail, commercial printers do not always invest into CF inkjet for their mainstream business, but often to expand into other print application areas like direct mail. Here the variable data capability is a stepping stone to fill capacity and get familiar with the device. Another stepping stone application is manuals and books, which can provide a good baseline for print volume.
CF inkjet at commercial printers is only a small portion of the total installations – roughly 35 lines of the approximately 700 CF print lines installed in Europe. Quite a variety of CF equipment is in operation at commercial print sites, but it is obvious that the commercial printers prefer the latest generation presses with high quality and a wide paper latitude, such as the Canon ProStream, HP’s HD-Series, the Ricoh Pro VC60000/VC70000 or the Screen TruePress Jet520HD. Still, this can’t solve the main disadvantage of CF inkjet for commercial printers: the time and waste when changing papers. Automated webbing-up solutions might help, but this will never get to the speed and ease of use of a sheet fed solution.
In cut-sheet/sheet fed inkjet, the uptake has been much faster, given that these devices are not as widespread yet as the CF printers. With the Fujifilm JetPress (now in its 3rd generation), the Konica Minolta KM-1 and the Komori IS-29 a limited choice of commercial-ready options exists. Among those contenders more than 30 B2 inkjet presses have been installed so far in Europe. As a B1 format option the Landa S-10P is just moving into the commercial market. The first installation at the Bluetree Group in the UK has started up production and more placements in online print are expected by the end of the year. There are a few Canon VarioPrint i300, Xerox Brenva and Baltoro inkjet installations on top – but these devices had most uptake outside of commercial print.
There is little criticism on print quality or paper range from the cut-sheet inkjet users. Rather the relatively high running costs and limited productivity is weighing down on the uptake. More variety in the press design would be helpful as well. All B2 and larger presses follow the traditional offset press design with a single pile for feeding and delivery and very little opportunity to add in-line finishing or varnish.
Other Specialty Applications
When observing inkjet markets in document printing there are couple more applications that do not fit the standard categories of transaction, direct mail, book and commercial print. By a lack of a better word they can be called specialty applications.
The most prominent specialty application is newspapers. At some point there was even a bit of a hype of inkjet taking over portions of the newspaper print business. More than 20 print line installations worldwide were made public by 2014, with most of them installed in Europe. Several concepts led to the that high interest. First there are some local markets, often islands, visited by holiday makers from various countries. Instead of flying in newspapers, which might even be out of date by then, inkjet allows to them print on site (=island). Similar would be true for remote regions in a country with a small local newspaper. There have been other more value-added approaches, like adding local advertising or the logo of a sponsor (hotel) on the paper. The most advanced option was a fully customised newspaper where readers were able to pick and choose content from different news sources.
Alas the digital print concepts for newspaper failed to have a bigger uptake. There were very few additional installations since 2014, like the Prosper presses on the island of Jersey. Some newspaper lines have even been taken out by now. It seems that newspaper publishers lost their appetite on exploring new print concepts in the light of declining (conventional) print circulations.
There is no shortage of other specialty applications. Just to name a few there are some CF lines printing gaming tickets and bingo cards. Governmental agencies use CF inkjet to print duty stamps or similar tax certificates or ballot papers. Another printer specialised on vouchers and tickets. Cambridge Assessment is printing exam papers. More exotic is the CF printer that prints on paper napkins (with a Canon ColorStream) at Paper + Design in Germany, producing napkins on demand. Some of the cut-sheet printers serve specialty markets as well, from photo print, to business cards, POS, tags and postcards.
There are surely more specialty applications, but under the radar of public announcements. With more cut-sheet inkjet printers coming into the market also the range of applications addressed will grow.
Moving forward there are a couple of trends or developments I expect for inkjet devices in commercial print:
- Quality will remain an issue with commercial printers and most users will focus on the top quality devices available
- In-line varnishing will become an important feature, preferably as spot coating
- Extra colour station options would increase the uptake, especially for cut-sheet. The challenge of quick ink changes needs to be solved however.
- The frequent paper changes will promote cut-sheet solutions. However as commercial print companies are very diverse, there will be opportunities for a number of press concepts
- Commercial printers still tend to undervalue the saving potential in factory workflow and supply chain integration when looking at digital production print. This could mean more paper decks, some inline finish, but also AI-concepts and seamless workflow software integration for future presses.
- The availability of specialty inks (security, special effect) will help the uptake in specialty printing markets, although the total number of lines sold here will be limited.