From invoices and timesheets to presentation materials, reports, and documentation, print in the office is still strong despite the increasing use of digital screens. Business professionals rely on printed documents to communicate data and information in a clear and professional way. For this month’s Innovations in Printing Processes piece, I’m taking a look at some advances in office imaging solutions, particularly in inkjet, where speed and quality are rising, and where cost of ownership is declining.
Inkjet office printing on the rise
Laser printers have long been ubiquitous in offices, home offices, and institutions, for their ease and practicality when printing in small quantities. While the xerographic printing process has been the popular choice for general office applications, inkjet adoption is increasing rapidly thanks to new innovations that have brought increased speed and higher quality, more cost-effective consumables to the market. According to InfoTrends – a market research and strategic consulting firm for the imaging industry – the U.S. office inkjet market is expected to grow at a 3.3% CAGR through 2016, and even more in Europe at a 6.6% CAGR through 2016. In fact, penetration of inkjet devices is expected to reach 50-60% in small to medium-sized office settings by 2017. Let’s take a look at how inkjet is quickly becoming the more popular choice.
Page-wide printhead means faster speeds
Arguably, the major limitation of non-impact printing processes is slow output speed. This has especially been the case for inkjet, since output requires ink cartridges to move mechanically, back-and-forth across a sheet. Typical cartridge heads are only an inch or two in width, which means they have to travel a further distance to print an entire image. Over the last 5-10 years, though, there have been many innovations in production grade inkjet printers, which use fixed printheads that span the entire width of the substrate. This removed the need for cartridges to mechanically move. Now this technology is being scaled down for the office environment.
HP’s Officejet X series and Brother’s WorkForce series printers are at the forefront of the office inkjet transformation. They both have page-wide printheads that stretch the entire width of the output tray. These printheads contain over 40,000 tiny nozzles, and are clustered at 600-1,200 per inch depending on the model. Using piezo elements they send up to four colours of ink onto a moving sheet of paper. And, since the printheads are fixed – there are no moving parts in the printer other than the substrate feeder – these printers can yield speeds upwards of 70 letter-sized sheets per minute. That’s almost double what most comparable laser MFPs can achieve! Furthermore, because inkjets don’t need time to warm-up (unlike laser printers) these types of printers have a rapid first page out of less than 10 seconds.
In addition to improved speed, page-wide inkjet has significant energy savings, more cost-effective consumables, and requires less consumable packaging. Much less energy is consumed during the operation of inkjet printers since no high temperature toner fusing is required. In fact, according to BLI – an independent office equipment test lab – office inkjet energy consumption uses anywhere from 50 to 80% less energy than that of a comparable laser model. In terms of consumables, high-speed inkjet cartridges don’t need to be replaced as often, meaning that less employee interaction is required. Also according to BLI, new office inkjet printers can reduce the cost per 4-colour page over its lifecycle, compared to laser, from an average of 11.5 cents down to 6.5 cents. Furthermore, upwards of 90% less consumables packaging (boxes, wrappings, etc.) is required for printing the equivalent number of sheets, compared to the laser process. This saves on both office storage footprint and environmental impact.
Quality over quantity
Aside from speed and savings, what about quality? How do these new innovations in high-speed office inkjet fare from a print quality standpoint? In terms of image sharpness and colour gamut, the results are said to be comparable to laser printers of the same class. Although technical specifications report generally low resolutions for these types of printers – one of Epson’s models is only 600 dpi – both manufacturers and testers say that the difference is made up in the nearly perfect shape and placement of the dot. Perceived quality is not just a result of resolution, but also ink dot characteristics at the microscopic level: Are dots uniformly rounded? Can the control of their sizes across a line be maintained? Are dot pattern results repeatable? Changes to the orientation of nozzles to achieve the optimum dot shape, size, and placement can be made within 1/10,000 of a second. The results compared to laser dots are obvious. The precision of the newest inkjet printheads is astonishing.