When I attended the Print World show last month, I heard a very articulate Kristoff Dekeukelaere, Landa Sales Rep, explain the basics of the revolutionary Nanographic Printing process in a special pre-show presentation. Never mind that the technology was the buzz of drupa last May and that Landa Corporation netted over $1 billion (that’s right, $1 billion, mostly in letters of intent and some in actual cash down payments) from major industry players without one single press being sold. In fact, manroland sheetfed and Komori have already inked strategic partnerships with Landa, in addition to its global strategic partnership with Heidelberg. And in Canada, Pazazz Printing of Montreal has already signed a Letter of Intent to invest in a Nanographic press. All this without even knowing the final costs involved – only that deliveries of presses are “expected” at the end of 2013. (Dekeukelaere eventually pointed out that Landa is currently evaluating feedback from the industry to anchor future price points.) Does this sound like an industry struggling to you? Or maybe, just maybe, it really will be the way of the future.
For me, it wasn’t just the concept of nanography that seemed fascinating. It was the NanoInk, the specially treated blanket and thirdly the new way of printing – not directly to the substrate but on the blanket first, then to the selected media. But the big news is that this technology is destined to combine the versatility and short-run economics of digital printing with the qualities and productivity of offset. The anticipated bottom-line result will be the lowest cost per page ever! But how specifically does the process work and how will those savings be realized? From a recent whitepaper, here’s a basic explanation of the technology that most experts believe will transform our industry.
Nanographic Printing technology, also called nanography, differs from other printing technologies because it uses an innovative system and printing process that employs Landa NanoInk, a proprietary water-based ink with nano-pigment particles that measure tens of nanometers in size. While inkjet printing jets transfer the image directly onto the substrate, nanography first ejects the NanoInk onto a unique heated blanket, and only then is the ink transferred from the blanket to the substrate in the form of an ultra-thin film.
In the printing market, 98% of pages are not printed using digital technology, but use technology that is essentially 500 years old. One of the main reasons is that when modern digital printing applies ink directly to paper, the wet ink penetrates the paper and many of the pigment particles end up beneath the paper’s surface becoming inefficient absorbers of light. Additionally, when multiple colours are printed on top of each other, there is a limit to the amount of wet ink that can be applied to the paper. This maximum threshold is referred to as either TIC (Total Ink Coverage) or TAC (Total Area Coverage). Any ink applied beyond such limits does not attach itself to the previous layers and more significantly, the wet ink is not able to dry properly on the substrate. This can lead to ink smudging of subsequently printed sheets.
This is true for all printing processes, from offset to inkjet. In the case of inkjet printing, there is so much water in the ink that the paper becomes completely saturated, swollen, deformed and cockled. The paper must then be heated and the water evaporated from the paper. This limits aqueous inks to low-area-coverage applications, such as books and trans-promotional materials – and makes it unsuitable for high-area-coverage applications such as commercial printing, packaging or for specific applications in the publishing sector such as magazines and colour books.
The Nanographic difference
The Landa Nanographic Printing process is innovative in that it utilizes nano-sized pigments to absorb much more light than other pigments, and thus permits images with ultra-sharp dots of extremely high uniformity, high gloss fidelity and a broad CMYK colour gamut – covering at least 15% more Pantone colors than offset printing. Many of the advantages of the process are achieved by eliminating the absorption of the liquid ink carrier by the substrate. In addition, the ultra-small Landa NanoInk pigments (and their ability to form a very thin layer of ink) allow digital printing at very high speeds on ordinary untreated paper stocks (coated or uncoated) and on just about any plastic packaging film or label stock. Also, the final images are both abrasion-resistant and scratch-resistant.
Many materials, when reduced to nano-sized particles, acquire unexpected properties. Some particles become super-hard, able to protect surfaces from abrasion; others become super-absorbent in the blood stream, enabling more efficient drug delivery systems. In the course of a decade of research, Landa observed that ink pigments, when reduced to nanometric scale, become unusually powerful colourants. On the basis of this discovery, NanoInk colourants are at the core of the Landa Nanographic Printing process. Landa NanoInk contains ultra-small pigment particles in the tens of nanometers in size. In comparison, good quality offset inks have a particle size of approximately 500 nm. NanoInk is also water-based and eco-friendly.
The Nanographic Printing process begins with the jetting of billions of droplets. However the droplets are not ejected directly onto the substrate as they are in the traditional inkjet process. Instead, they are ejected onto a specially treated blanket from ink ejectors positioned one to two millimetres away. Each print bar prints a specific colour. Landa Nanographic Printing Presses are equipped with eight print bars capable of printing up to eight different colours simultaneously. Furthermore, the eight print bars can be employed for CMYK, spot or specialty colours such as white. The eight-bar configuration includes two bars for each colour, which in combination with doubling the paper handling system’s speed, leads to the doubling of productivity while maintaining the best print quality.
The ink drop ejection onto the blanket is precisely timed to obtain high accuracy between print separations and achieve high colour-plane registration. As each ink droplet lands on the heated blanket, it spreads and very quickly loses its water, becoming thinner as it does so. When all of its water evaporates, the ink becomes an ultra-thin, dry polymeric film on the blanket. When pressed into contact with the printing substrate, this thin 500-nm layer of ink instantly bonds tenaciously to the substrate without penetrating it. The formed images are tough, abrasion-resistant, do not need post-drying and leave no residual ink on the blanket. So two-sided printing becomes simple – and the printed output can be processed immediately right off the press, even on the most aggressive finishing equipment.
The revolutionary transfer blanket and dot structure
The design of the specially treated blanket and blanket conveyor system embodies some critical considerations to ensure an optimum image, including the full image transfer to the paper, the prevention of any ink residues, and smooth and stable blanket motion. The design enables a suitable balance between receiving the Landa NanoInk drops (permitting them to create a perfect image) while allowing the transfer of the ink film to the various substrate types without leaving a trace on the blanket. This ensures that the full image is transferred without any distortions and, most importantly, the blanket remains completely clean and ready to receive the next image ejection. When I asked Dekeukelaere about the life of the blanket, his estimate was about 500,000 sheets depending on type of substrate used and printing process – so they should be very durable.
Next, inkjet-printed dots are typically characterized by poorly defined edges. This effect is due to the capillarity of the aqueous ink that causes it to be absorbed and wicked along the paper fibres. Offset printed dots are generally sharper than inkjet, but also suffer from edge raggedness due to ink capillarity. As mentioned earlier, the Landa NanoInk droplets form a dry ink film when applied to the paper or other substrates – and unlike directly applied wet inks there is no penetration into the paper fibres. So the Landa NanoInk film does not wick along the paper fibres. Instead, it conforms to the surface roughness, right down to the topography of individual paper fibres, literally laminating the paper surface and therefore permitting precise and extremely efficient low-ink laydown. This accounts for the technology’s ability to match the gloss of the paper and to produce dots with super-sharp edges and high optical uniformity. As a result, dots obtained using the Landa Nanographic process are exceptionally round.
Extended colour gamut, high-gloss uniformity, media friendliness
Because the Landa NanoInk pigments are extremely small, the light dynamic range is wider than any other printing processes and covers more Pantone colours than offset printing. This also translates into larger and more effective gray levels. Additionally, the technology creates printed solid areas with lightness depth (density) values unlike any other printing process. Another amazing outcome of the very thin effective layer created is that the images have extremely high gloss fidelity with the substrate printed upon. That means glossy images on glossy stock, and matte images on matte stock – all the while maintaining the highest image qualities such as optical density, dot shape, and others. In contrast, images printed on a dry toner electro-photographic press display the same gloss regardless of the gloss level of the printed media. The gloss differences between the printed area and the background are often irritating to the human eye and may also be perceived as low-quality printing.
The ultra-thin Nanographic Printing ink film has an extraordinary ability to bond to all types of media. Landa NanoInk images can be applied easily to a wide range of sheet or web substrates, including untreated paper stock (coated or uncoated), plastic, newsprint, film and more. As the ink film contains no water or other liquids, nanography preserves the substrate from both water damage and deformation. The substrate remains dry, and since very low heat is applied to the paper’s surface, it maintains the substrate’s pure qualities.
Several important economic advantages
The Nanographic Printing process offers the capacity to yield the lowest cost-per-page of all the digital printing technologies now on the market. This is the big news – and it is due to a variety of aspects relating to its underlying technology. These include:
The ink carrier. Landa NanoInk solutions are based on water – a less costly ink carrier than any solvent or UV-based inks.
The amount of ink used. The Landa Nanographic Printing process creates a film of about 500 nm which is about half the thickness of an offset-printed image and therefore uses less ink for the same image.
Energy consumption. The process is energy efficient with heat used mainly to evaporate the limited amount of water in the ink rather than to dry water-soaked paper.
Substrate cost. Printing on any substrate enables printing on low-cost, off-the-shelf uncoated paper rather than expensive coated paper or specialty papers.
Production. Landa NanoInk is manufactured and shipped as a concentrated solution that reduces packaging, shipment and storage costs. The combination of Landa NanoInk and the Nanographic Printing process allows digital production at up to 13,000 B1 sheets per hour for sheetfed and 656 feet per minute for web-fed presses. This is an improvement of nearly 100% over other digital printing processes and it should significantly boost the productivity of any printer’s digital business.
Finally, with the productivity, substrate range and print qualities of offset and a break-even point of around 5,000 sheets, I feel nanography is destined to become the first digital printing process that can compete in the mainstream market. As printing shifts from offset to digital, printers are unlikely to sustain their future growth solely with offset. We’re already seeing this. This new breakthrough technology addresses most obstacles faced by digital technology today – and that includes speed, quality and cost. Most industry experts believe that it will fundamentally change our industry. Will it? We’ll be watching.
More information: www.landanano.com.