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The future of print: Inkjet set to go through the roof

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The future of print: Inkjet set to go through the roof

October 17, 2010 - 22:38

LONDON, Oct. 18, 2010 (RISI) -In Part II of a "future of print" special,Mark Rushtonspeaks to Gareth Ward, globally renowned printing expert and editor ofThe Print Businessmagazine about the direction print technology is heading in and the opportunities ahead for papermakers. Part I of this article can be readhere

RISI: Where are the growth areas in print now? What technologies should papermakers be concentrating on?

Offset litho remains the dominant printing process, but its time may be ending as at one point letterpress was usurped by litho. The challenger is digital printing and in particular inkjet printing. Electrophotographic colour printing has been around since 1993 and while it has made an impact, its relative slow speeds and restricted format mean that it cannot challenge the mainstream of print. But inkjet breaks this ceiling. In theory it is modular, with heads and arrays bolted together to print any format; it is fast, printing at speeds that allow long runs and high paginations to be produced is short time and cost effectively; and it is young, there is much to come yet and we do not know the limit of what inkjet is capable of.

Three technologies exist within inkjet: continuous where a stream of droplets is fired at a substrate and is directed into place by a charge or blast of air; thermal, where rapid expansion of a liquid due to heating forces a droplet of ink from a nozzle and piezo where a piston effect is created in a chamber of ink by the movement of a piezo crystal in response to an electrical charge. The first technologies, dominated by Kodak and HP, currently demand a water-based ink, which can limit quality, but are very fast. The piezo technology can fire a much wider range of fluids, give higher quality prints but is currently slower. Other technologies also show promise, but have had no market impact as yet. These are all technologies in their infancy and will change the nature of printers as much as offset lithography did over the last 50 years.

New inkjet technology is providing high speed, multi pagination print for more and more demanding customers (Picture courtesy of Kodak)

We know that environmental considerations are centrepiece - but is there anything else suppliers can do make a printer's life easier?

To reiterate, the environment and CSR can only become more important as the recession ends. The trend in the last year or two may have been about restricting spending putting more expensive recycled grades out of reach, but that is coming to an end. The printers are very much in the middle and will be led by their customers in most cases. The demand has been and will continue to be labelling as proof of good behaviour, so FSC, PEFC, SFI and other certification schemes will be favoured over non traceable products, even if the product is no worse for the wider environment. No sensible printer can ignore waste segregation as the sums paid for waste, plates, tins and different types of paper, can be a big contributor to the bottom line. Printers are moving away from adding alcohol to fount solutions and fitting energy efficient lighting and heating. It is good business practice as well as something necessary to reassure customers and conform with legislation.

Carbon footprint is the big coming issue and there will be pressure to attach a real carbon footprint to each tonne and ream of paper. More is expected of recycled papers. They need to be whiter and ever more flawless. The fly in the ointment however is the growth of inkjet. The technology developers have worked hard to ensure that the ink does not come off the paper. The paper industry needs to find ways of making sure that it does, because if inkjet printing cannot be recycled, the whole printing industry is going to have a major problem.

Finally, what are the essential ingredients a printer wants from a papermaker/merchant? Is it all dependent upon price?

The requirements that a printer has from his paper supplier have not changed: it's instant service, the lowest price and foolproof quality. The coming of digital print and especially inkjet throws a new emphasis on the supplier's knowledge and ability to come up with a product that will work. Inkjet technology in particular needs papers that match its characteristics and this may mean papers that suit only one model of machine. As inkjet develops and there is greater knowledge of what works and how to make these papers in volume, this may change just as early litho papers were poor compared to letterpress papers. That changed and it will change again.

Part I of this article in the "Future of Print" series, can be readhere