What’s Happening in Sheet-Fed Inkjet?

By Elizabeth Gooding / Published:

“Opening New Markets with Sheet-Fed Inkjet Innovations,” was the second webinar in Inkjet Insight’s Inkjet Innovation Week program. I had the opportunity to present with Ralf Schlozer of digitalprintexpert.de who provided a much-needed European perspective on market trends.

We set the stage with the understanding that there is not just one sheet-fed market, but many. This is largely driven by different formats approximated in B1, B2 and B3 sheet sizes but also by the relative cost of entry. There are application segments  that are best fit for each format, but there’s also a lot of flexibility for many of these devices. At the smaller end, we see a break out in the B3 devices between those that are focused on entry-level buyers and making inkjet more accessible within established market segments, and others that are pushing into the more complex application segments like direct mail and graphic arts.

In established inkjet markets “B3 is frequently a solution if a company doesn’t have the volume for continuous feed inkjet press,” according to Ralph Schlozer. However, there are also B3 presses pushing directly into graphics intensive commercial print segments.

By contrast, most B2 presses are taking work away from offset presses, with the ability to serve graphic arts, books, signage and packaging markets. “Some of the B2 presses are even used in photo printing,” Schlozer said, “which shows as well that the quality level achieved here is tremendous, even better than offset printing in some cases, and it really shows what inkjet printing can do.”

At the next level, for a company to install a B1 inkjet press, volume is key. Packaging benefits from the ability to process heavy weights and specialty media and the ability to match brand colors. While the graphic arts utilize the offset coated gloss, high coverage and wide color gamut. Ralf made the point that most of the initial B1 installations in Europe went to online printers.

Trends

Sheet fed inkjet has experienced the same innovation trends in ink, drying and media compatibility discussed in the previous webinar, “Driving Innovation in Web-Fed Inkjet Systems.” Advances in these areas work together to drive water out of the process more quickly without damaging the media surface. This in turn enables higher coverage, a wider color gamut and opens up new, more demanding markets for inkjet.

However, entry level accessibility is also a trend for the B3 market. Buyers focused on application segments that don’t have the most demanding speed, coverage or quality needs require a lower capital investment and lower running costs. Many OEMs focused on this segment offer creative cost models. 

Across all segments there’s a big push towards reducing labor costs by making it easier for the operator, and creating a touchless workflow for the press. We’ve seen many OEMs making updates to the user interface and even enabling remote access.  

Current Market Overview

The production cut sheet inkjet devices we covered in the webinar typically support several application segments. This provides a lot of flexibility for companies to drive work to the device, expand their reach and maximize productivity. But one size doesn’t fit all and one of the big differentiators between devices isn’t just the sheet size, but the overall size of the device itself.

The largest size category of B1 presses have a big footprint as well as large  price-point starting at $3 million USD. They require a significant investment, but pay can pay off if you have the necessary volume. The Landa S10 and S10P are currently available and the Komori Impremia NS40 has been announced and is in beta.  

In the B2 size category, there are both UV and aqueous inkjet devices. The Konica Minolta KM-1 and Komori Impremia IS29 fall into the B2 UV category, and  range in price from $1-1.5 million. The UV gives them a large range of compatible substrates. Fujifilm has the only B2 aqueous sheet-fed press on the market with the J Press 750S, which also has the distinction of being the fastest B2 press on the market. While it is not a perfecting press, it easily handles duplex jobs using a very dependable barcode reader to ensure the correct image and position on the reverse side. 

Fujifilm’s J Press 750S mixes high quality with productivity and has the added benefit of sustainability over UV devices. Updates to the J Press drying system cut power consumption by 23% over the previous J Press model. In terms of innovative pricing models – these presses have no click charge and the starting price is around $1.2M – $1.3M USD based on factors such as volume commitments, and configuration for commercial vs. folding carton or both using user changeable cylinder sleeves. Fujifilm also provided us with information on a new partnership with Permalite for the development of an inkjet receptive coating that brings PVC, polypropylene, matte-finished and satin-finished canvas and adhesive-backed vinyl to the list of compatible substrates for the J Press 750S.

As noted earlier, the B3 market is segmented into Entry Level and Graphic Arts presses. Those considered as entry-level presses, all come in under $500,000 USD. The Delphax Elan 500, Kyocera TASKalfa Pro 15000 C, RISO Valezus and the newly announced MCS Merlin all fall into this category.

The MCS Merlin K146c is a 2020 release based on the Kyocera TaskAlfa 15000 C. It has Kyocera piezo heads, four color stations, a 4,800 sheet paper tray, a cart stacker and uses heated ceramic tile forced air for drying. With native resolution of 600dpi and support for up to 400gsm media, it is a fit for several markets but MCS is focused on transaction printing, letter mail, work books and other “business color” documents.

I found MCS very refreshing in their approach to positioning the device. They have tested the Merlin successfully with offset coated matte stocks,  but they don’t promote that. They would rather under-promise and have customers be pleasantly surprised if they can push the envelope a bit. Like the J Press, there is no click charge for the Merlin and the purchase price comes it at $200,000 USD or less including training operators.

In considering the more graphic arts oriented presses in the B2 category, we talked  in detail about the Canon VarioPRINT family and the Xerox Baltoro HF. These devices range in price from $700,000 – 1.3 million, with the Baltoro usually coming in at a lower price point than devices in Canon’s VarioPrint iSeries or iX series however variations in finishing and other options can swing prices signficantly. The Baltoro is slightly faster than the top end of the iSeries and slightly slower than the top end of the iX Series. The Canon devices have a slightly broader media range than the Baltoro with Canon supporting offset coated gloss media on some models while the Baltoro supports offset coated matte, but not gloss. The Baltoro also has a very streamlined foot print as compared to the Canon presses. You can read more detail about the Baltoro in Xerox Baltoro Platform Overview. We also had extended coverage of the newly announced Canon VarioPrint iX series in “Canon Doubles Down on Commercial Print with VarioPrint iX.”

To get the detailed discussion of all these presses, their positioning in relevant print market segments, and differences in the US and European approaches, watch the full “Opening New Markets with Sheet-Fed Inkjet Innovations” webinar. You can also check out Device Finder for more specs on specific models.

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About the Author

Elizabeth Gooding

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Elizabeth is the Editor and Co-founder of Inkjet Insight. She has a rare ability to see print related issues from many perspectives. She has managed creative teams on complex design projects, selected outsourcers for major brands and helped print organizations to retool operations, focus their market positioning and educate sales teams to accelerate growth. She works with a team of top analysts to translate experiences into tools, data and content to help print organizations evaluate the potential of inkjet, optimize their operations and grow pages profitably. She is a founding member of the Inkjet Summit advisory board, the co-author of an award-winning book on designing for inkjet and a curious consultant constantly seeking innovative ways to drive new pages onto inkjet presses.

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