December 13, 2016 By PrintAction Staff
Frank Romano, Professor Emeritus at the Rochester Institute of Technology and well-known printing pundit based on more than 40 years of industry analysis, on December 2 provided a keynote speech at the Digital Imaging Association’s annual holiday luncheon, held on Toronto’s waterfront at The Boulevard Club. The title of Romano’s DIA keynote, Digital Printing, From Good Enough to Nanography, describes one of the most-pressing issues facing printers as they prepare to make investment decisions around the commercial-printing possibilities of inkjet technologies.
Romano spent an hour providing the crowd of some 100 people with his insights on the evolution of printing technologies, beginning with his take on the industry’s historical transitions into offset, toner and wide-format inkjet. The last 20 minutes of his speech then focused on both the opportunities and challenges facing further adoption of digital printing, with an emphasis on production-strength inkjet printing, ending with his perspective on Landa Digital’s Nanography-branded presses.
Discussing the challenges facing further adoption of digital-printing technologies, particularly inkjet, Romano points to three primary issues. First, he explains, is the continuing, misguided marketing of technology developers that promote digital-printing growth via page volume. “The way they measure the output from these machines is page impressions. If you reduce everything to just a page, you have denigrated it – you have insulted it – because a page has no value,” says Romano. “When the page is in a brochure it has value. When a page is in a book it has value… They are not pages, they are parts of a product and that product has value. And if we keep making that a page, we reduce the value in the product and that is an issue.”
The second primary obstacle to digital-printing growth, according to Romano, is the absurd number of sheet sizes needed to accommodate unique imaging formats on most every single digital press – both historic installations and new systems coming to market. “Let’s get rid of all of these stupid sizes. We cannot deal with every different sheet size you can imagine,” says Romano. “I’m sorry, the paper companies are not going to support you – they can’t anymore. They do not have the resources. They do not even have the warehouse space.”
Romano then walked the crowd through a third significant challenge facing the further adoption of digital and inkjet presses: “The problem is that the majority of these machines are CMYK and yet we all know that we have to handle brand colours – Pantone colours… That is one of the reasons why Indigo sells so well. HP has done a very good job because of the fact that you can match almost every Pantone colour, every brand colour. That is why they are so dominant in the label market.”
Romano continues to explain flexography remains so vital in the packaging world because of the ability to invest in 6, 8, 10-unit presses on which just about any brand colour can be dropped into the machine. He notes, however, that inkjet presses today can print on just about any polymer or plastic. “It is just a matter of time, but the problem is without the brand colours they are not going to get into the packaging market… And, by the way, telling me you can do 80 percent of the Pantone colours with CMYK does not hit it. Sorry, but that is not an argument.”
After visiting drupa 2016, Romano notes the incredible range of production inkjet systems entering the market and their ability to print on most any substrate. He uses the growth in wide-format inkjet as an example of this ever-expanding application range, primarily leveraging mature UV technologies. “The next generation is going to print on new kinds of substrates. It is going to go way beyond paper… The home decor market, make the pattern of your sofa match your wall paper, if you so desire. Make your windows look like Tiffany glass. You can do that now very easily with wide-format inkjet.”
Romano envisions a strong future in the use of UV inking on production-strength systems, particularly with water-based UV inkjet technologies as opposed to oil-based UV. “I think the next big movement has to be water-based UV,” he says. “UV is really a key system because it can print on almost anything. It is impervious to the weather. That is going to be a key technology.”
The use of water-based inking systems ties directly into the potential of Landa Digital’s Nanography-branded printing systems, which Romano does not view as standard inkjet presses, despite their use of print heads, because they jet liquid toner. Landa’s unique consumable is water based and evaporates in the imaging process to provide vibrant colours with a very low ink coating relative to existing inkjet systems.
“A lot is going to change when Landa actually starts shipping… When that machine comes out there are several things about it that are unique,” says Romano. “You look at what [Benny Landa] is doing with that ink, it is going to change the world. The question is, will he make the machine affordable.”
Without singling out Landa Digital, Romano continues to point to the challenge printers face given the high costs of production inkjet systems in the market today. “The thing that bothers me more than anything else is that we are a capital-intensive business and these machines are not cheap anymore,” he says. “[Technology suppliers] figure we all have money and yet that is one of my issues – we don’t. If you could get the machine at a reasonable price, we could then build a business and buy more machines, and buy more consumables… But right now I think they have priced them a little bit too high.”
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