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The Hottest Technologies

Industry consultants discuss technologies to watch in '09.

Big Picture

Last year, we all seemed to agree that four specific technologies were instrumental in pushing the market forward: UV, flatbed technologies, single-pass printing, and grayscale print heads. Do you agree that these technologies are still the strongest industry factors?

Florek: Yes. Lyra is forecasting that UV-curable printer shipments will grow at a double-digit pace beyond at least 2012. The recent proliferation of rollfed and low-end UV-curable products is a major reason for these booming sales. In particular, small print shops that only recently bought a UV-curable printer are driving growth.

Boer: Don’t forget about the advancements in ink technology. All of these technology advances go hand-in-hand, and in the end they have to show efficiency improvements or else printshops won’t buy.

Greene: I would add durable water-based inkjet as well, such as HP’s Latex inks, and the Sepiax and Eastech Magic inks. I think this is something that has the potential to change the momentum that UV-curable inkjet seems to have in the wide-format marketplace. Time will tell for sure, but between HP, and the other companies that have significant investments in water-based inkjet printing technologies such as Canon and Epson, in addition to the companies that make inks-I think there is a lot of room for resurgence in water-based wide format.

Marx: All these technologies are still strong influences on the market, but I believe that UV-cured inkjet and flatbed technologies have become mainstream and no longer elicit the "wow" factor. To me, the next big thing will be dazzling increases in inkjet print speed, as evidenced by some of the inkjet technologies introduced earlier this year. The industry can expect to see in the near future the commercial introduction of single-pass, or near single-pass, systems for wide-format. When wide-format single-pass inkjet comes to the fore, inkjet will find itself fully competitive with production screen printing and short-run litho, and there will be a drastic shift in the perceptions and possibilities of inkjet technology.

A batch of new products and technologies came to market this year that may have quite an impact for years to come--the Inca Onset and EFI’s Vutek DS series printer, the new latex inks from HP, the toner-inkjet CrystalPoint technology from Oce. What other technologies have impressed you?

Florek: It’s too early to determine the impact of technologies first seen this year. Needless to say, manufacturers have turned out products that may quickly render current technology obsolete. Latex ink promises to constitute a jump in environmental sustainability. It remains to be seen how Oce employs CrystalPoint beyond the ColorWave 600, but the company will have to improve the color accuracy and UV-durability to be a viable graphics solution. And, yes, I would certainly add the new DS Series printer from EFI Vutek. If the DS delivers the color quality and print speed it claims, then this printer-along with the Onset-marks a significant improvement in competing with analog technology.

Greene: These are all enormous developments, providing dramatically improved speeds (Inca Onset), potentially solving the environmental factor in durable graphics printing (HP-Latex), and offering high-speed color toner printing which has been a virtual "holy grail" in the wide-format technical document printing market for years. To these I would add other durable water-based inks that companies have been developing that offer many of the same properties as HP’s Latex ink, but are made for piezoelectric inkjet printers. I also have been impressed by some of the new "green" printing substrates, including a wide array of fabrics and now even some film products. In the past, it seemed like ink manufacturers were ahead of media manufacturers in terms of working on greener products and technologies-now it seems like the media suppliers are advancing as well.

Marx: I’m particularly interested in UV-LED technology, and at SGIA ’08 in Atlanta we’ll see Mimaki release the first mainstream offering of this technology. If UV-LED is fully proven as a UV-curing solution for inkjet printing, it will bring many benefits over traditional UV-curing technologies: drastically longer lamp life, lower energy use, lighter structure, and much lower heat, allowing for printing on thin plastic films. Plus, we continue to see more UV roll-to-roll units entering the market. Recent changes in UV ink technology have greatly improved the physical flexibility of UV inkjet ink, allowing UV prints to be used for vehicle wraps and other applications requiring the printed media to stretch.

Boer: The real effect of HP’s Latex inks won’t be felt for years, because it will take some time to scale up the product line that features this chemistry (and, correspondingly, the installed base of these products). However, it’s a big investment on HP’s part that would not have been possible without the prior investment in their scalable printhead technology inkjet heads-it’s an investment that HP can’t afford not to see a return on, so it’s an ink technology whose further developments are worth watching. Now the hard work for HP will be managing the positioning of these inks: Do they displace eco-solvent, solvent, or water-based products? They won’t replace UV-curable inks because of the inks’ limitation on printing on thicker substrates.

Oce’s solid inkjet technology is critical to upgrading Oce’s base of LED technical-drawing printers, and the advantage of instant dry solid inks is that it’s enabled Oce to create printers that are comparable in productivity to monochrome LED printers but now offer color at little cost premium. The next challenge for Oce will be to migrate this ink chemistry to graphics usage, which has very different final product requirements than technical drawing applications in terms of durability, mounting, etc.

Other manufacturers are also offering innovative inks, focused on being environmentally friendlier than solvents. Mutoh’s bio ink is one such example, while others are trying to reduce the hazardous air pollutants in their inks.

An interesting conundrum that may arise from all these improvements in productivity is the ability of the marketplace to absorb this incremental output capability. The Vutek DS for example is nearly 10x more productive than the average wide-format solvent printer on the market, and correspondingly is expected to offer a lower running cost. When this ships in 2009, will it take volume away from existing solvent printers, or will it enable displacement of analog screen printing?

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