keyvisualMichael Mittelhaus

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What’s happening in the inkjet market?  

Perhaps it is time for a reminder of which companies are the ones that are actually driving the development of digital printing. Among them are Agfa, Fuji, EFI, HP, Kodak, Océ, Pitney Bowes, and Screen; and that is only a partial list. Other companies, such as Atlantic Zeisser, Domino, Impika, Linoprint (Heidelberg), Olympus, and Scodix are active in specialized market segments. Agfa, Fuji, HP, Mimaki, Epson, and Roland are involved in large-format inkjet printing. Some of these systems work with pigmented inks, which produce a larger color gamut, and which permit colors such as white and metallics for special effects.

Some observers hold the opinion that inkjet is gaining ground, and they point to examples from the transaction and transpromo market as well as book printing. These examples include O’Neil Data Systems (direct mail), which is involved in beta tests of the HP 300; and Courier (book printing), also using the HP 300 to print on uncoated stock.
On the other hand, it is worth noting that the first “trans” applications (transactions and transpromo) in Europe have not had anything like the impact that they had in the US. Also, printers of black-and-white book pages must deal with the sub-par print quality of these systems.

Ultimately, inkjet is faced with some intrinsic problems. If the highly productive one-pass approach is used, there is always the possibility of failure of individual nozzles, leading to unusable output. A wide variety of solutions to this problem have been tried, but they all drive up the costs. The same is generally true of the inks as consumables. In contrast to the highly-unpopular and expensive click charges found in toner-based digital printing—charges that, to a large extent, prevent digital printing from competing economically with offset—the inkjet vendors do not charge their graphic-arts customers based on clicks. All the same, the inkjet vendors have to manage a balancing act, because they recognize that the actual cash cow in this market is the consumable (that is, the ink). But if they set its price too high, it will be hard for inkjet to gain market share and machine placements in competition with toner and other printing technologies (including flexo and screen printing in addition to offset).

It is also interesting that most inkjet vendors don’t have clear relationships with graphic-arts distributors and dealers. A direct sales relationship (between vendor and customer, with no middleman) might have made sense for the initial “key accounts” with HP T300 and Kodak´s Prosper. But this is no long-term solution.
In the medium term, the dealers, who are still coping with the fact that the CTP boom in Europe and North America is now largely over, cannot ignore the digital printing market. They have no alternative but to invest in it, and to get involved in supplying the consumables. The impression we have gotten so far is that the vendors have not given this issue the attention it deserves.

To summarize, then: the inkjet developers and dealers still have some homework to do.
The implications of this will be the subject of future issues our “Newsbox” newsletter.

This comment is part of our weekly news service "Newsbox", more information is available here.


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