An update on digital press tech

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Changes in economic climate, competitive challenges and increasing customer expectations have brought digital press technology to the forefront of our modern-day printing industry. As our industry shifts to a greater reliance on customization and shorter turnaround, an ever-expanding repertoire of digital presses are making waves in the marketplace. In an update on new digital press technology, let’s explore emerging technologies in digital label presses and digital packaging presses.

Digital Label Presses

Digital label printing is on the rise and is proving particularly successful in the food, beverage, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries. For example, products such as wine labels are well suited to short-run, high-quality printing that can be achieved on modern digital presses. Let’s take a look at four of the many digital label press manufacturers: Xeikon, HP, Domino Printing Sciences and Heidelberg.

Xeikon’s dry toner digital label presses allow for quality of up to 1200 dpi, the toner has no VOC emissions and they have better lightfastness than liquid toners. They are also approved by the FDA to come in contact with food. Examples of this technology include the Xeikon 3000 series digital label presses. These presses are capable of printing at maximum speed no matter the size of the labels or the number of colours used. These presses are also capable of printing labels of different sizes in the same run. Finally, the 3050 and 3500 models have a larger imaging width, thereby increasing the scope of the products produced, as well as increasing productivity and efficiency of current label printing processes.

The HP Indigo portfolio of digital presses employs liquid toner technology, which better simulates offset inks by using finely-ground particles suspended in a liquid. All colours (up to seven) are collected on the blanket prior to transferring the entire image to the substrate, thereby employing a ‘one-shot’ printing process that achieves superb registration. In addition to offering a variety of spot-colour inks, HP also provides the option to print using ink technology such as its invisible red security ink. Current applications include printing the invisible ink on pharmaceutical labels to help prevent counterfeiting.

heidelberg-linoprintDomino Printing Sciences, a global manufacturer of inkjet, laser, thermal transfer and labeling technologies, is soon set to announce their latest four-colour digital label press, the ‘N600i’. This press employs UV curable ink for coated paper and plastic label stocks and with its native 600 dpi print resolution, four greyscale levels and small droplet size (6pl), this technology proves it is a competitor in the digital label press marketplace. Unique features of the N600i include its i-Tech CleanCap system, which automates print head cleaning, eliminating the need for excess routine manual work. Additionally, this press employs the ActiFlow ink circulating system, which continually circulates ink around the print head even when the press is not in production, minimizing downtime and providing consistent print quality when production resumes. Finally, this digital label press is modular by design, allowing for scalability as your digital needs evolve.

Heidelberg has recently announced its new digital press portfolio dubbed ‘Linoprint’. The Linoprint offerings will be grouped in two categories – ‘C’ for commercial printing and ‘L’ for the label and packaging market (drop-on-demand inkjet technology). As Heidelberg begins to play in the digital market, these presses are just the beginning of a larger digital offering from the offset giant.

Digital Packaging Innovations

In recent years, Fujifilm has begun to address non-traditional digital markets with its array of technological advancements in the field of digital inkjet. They have begun to play in markets outside of commercial printing and into the wide format, packaging and signage markets to better service growing needs of these industries.

At the beginning of March 2012, Fujifilm announced their new B2 inkjet digital press for short-run folding carton packaging applications. This technology, which will premiere at drupa, is predicted to revolutionize the digital packaging industry. This digital press builds on the technological advances of Fujifilm’s Jet Press 720 Inkjet digital press, which debuted at drupa in 2008. The Jet Press became commercially available in Asia and North America in late 2011.

The Jet Press premiered Fujifilm’s game-changing Samba print head and water-based ink technology that is a single pass inkjet printer capable of printing 1200 x 1200 dpi native resolution and four levels of greyscale. The B2 capitalizes on the Samba print head technology has improved on the original to provide greater precision and a longer overall life. The B2 also incorporates Fujifilm’s new Vividia range of high performance inks suited to folding carton packaging to achieve quality that more closely matches conventional printing. The success of this new Vividia ink is based around its ability to reduce pile height on the print surface caused by traditional inkjet systems, thereby allowing for superior quality images on packaging substrates.

The B2 will also be better suited to handle thicker paper and will pair well with unique post-press operations. This technology uses new digital capabilities to meet the unique needs of commercial packaging printers, including shorter turnaround times and the opportunity for customization.

HP has also just announced their HP Indigo 30000, a B2 Indigo digital press designed to meet the needs of the folding carton packaging market. This press is 29.5” x 20.9” and can handle substrates of up to 24 points. This press utilizes the innovation of the HP Indigo technology, including the option to print up to seven colours and speeds of up to 4600 full colour sheets per hour with Enhanced Productivity Mode (EPM). EPM involves printing full colour documents using only cyan, magenta and yellow, providing a 33% increase in speed. Additionally, the HP Indigo 30000 uses an optimized Esko packaging workflow to provide seamless automation.

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Front-End Automation is Critical

An important consideration to keep in mind with digital press technology is the ever-increasing need for powerful front-end systems. In order to facilitate the increased number of digital jobs that make up the equivalent volume of conventional printing, superior prepress automation is required to reduce the risks of front-end bottlenecks. Andrew Mckerlie of LabelTraxx asks the industry this very important question: “Can your MIS cope with three times the number of current orders? Because that is what happens with digital.” Printers must ensure that they have these systems in place prior to implementing their digital press (or presses) to ensure that their machines have a consistent level of profitable up-time.

Additionally, the transition from conventional to digital processes is a great time to launch a web-to-print online ordering system, which may or may not include online proofing tools. By placing ordering and file submission in your customer’s hands, not only is your efficiency improved, but it also places a greater onus on your customers to ensure they are providing you with correct job data to avoid any potential errors upstream. Your customer can feel more in control when submitting a job and you feel more in control because there is less room for miscommunication. An added benefit is that your customers have the ability to send you work when it is most convenient for them – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year – and not just when your physical office is open.

To conclude, digital press technology is now being deployed in a wider range of markets, representing a variety of applications. As digital press technology continues to improve, it will help to meet the growing need for short-run, high-quality print production across a range of markets. It will be exciting to see what direction it takes next!

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Diana Varma is an Instructor at the School of Graphic Communications Management at Ryerson University and the Owner of ON-SITE First Aid & CPR Training Group, a health & safety company that provides training to the Graphic Arts Industry.