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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Custom Printing: New Digital Print Technology from Kodak

I was excited to see the new digital printing technology from Kodak, the NEXFINITY platform, referenced recently in the printing trade journals. I have been a devotee of Kodak’s competition, the HP Indigo, for years due to what I perceive as its superior color fidelity. However, I can’t help but believe that strong competition in the realm of digital printing technology will “raise all boats.” The new printing platform that Kodak has crafted will benefit all digital print buyers by encouraging the constant improvement of digital print technology in the marketplace.

The New Technology

The first article I read on the subject was a Kodak press release, “Kodak Launches the NEXFINITY Digital Press Platform,” published on 3/1/18. Here’s how they describe their new approach, called “Dynamic Imaging Technology,” which will be available in the spring of 2018.

The technology applies “algorithmic adjustments to specific areas of an image,” enhancing the quality and consistency of the content within each portion of the printed page. That is, it can produce high-resolution type, crisp lines, soft flesh tones, and clear skies on the same page. The technology maximizes the image quality of each, even though all of these require different treatment.

The press release notes that this improved technology will benefit package printing, commercial printing, direct mail production, and publishing.

Moreover, the NEXFINITY platform can do this by utilizing “the industry’s highest information density at more than 1.8 billion pieces of image information per square inch” (Kodak press release). This produces consistent, flat fields of color and detailed imagery. According to Kodak, the NEXFINITY “can reproduce fine details on the fly, like highlight areas and consistency in mid-tones by adjusting the exposure levels….” Kodak’s press release goes on to say that “The LED writing system provides 256 levels of exposure on the imaging cylinder, compared to laser systems that only are on or off.”

Furthermore, the new Kodak technology allows press operators to change the order or combinations of digital inks depending on the needs of the specific job. This, along with closed-loop color control, produces outstanding results.

More Digital Press Features

Here are a few more items Kodak touts in its press release on NEXFINITY.

  1. The new Kodak press can be seamlessly integrated into existing workflows, so finishing operations can be done smoothly and quickly.
  2. NEXFINITY is compatible with existing digital workflow software (including PRINERGY, among others). The printing unit can be operated in stand-alone mode, providing imposition; trapping; color management; and print job specification, management, and reporting functions. Or it can be integrated into existing software utilizing JDF and JMF data. All of this allows for a smooth transition of the new equipment into the pressroom as well as quick, efficient production of all print jobs.
  3. One operator can successfully control up to four NEXFINITY units simultaneously, using a Kodak Multi-Press Station to coordinate all printing activities from a single console.
  4. In terms of runability, the NEXFINITY press can accommodate stocks up to 24pt. in thickness and 48 inches in length, and it can print between 83 and 152 pages per minute. In addition, the technology allows for fast “RIPing” of detailed imagery and complex variable-data jobs.
  5. In terms of substrate coatings, the NEXFINITY press can efficiently and cost-effectively print specialized coatings (including dimensional coatings, security elements, and special finishes).

The Implications of the Technology

All of these features reflect the following benefits:

  1. Flexibility, in terms of the varied substrates the NEXFINITY can image.
  2. Much higher speed and productivity, in terms of the kinds of jobs that can be efficiently produced, from short-run jobs (hundreds of copies) to much longer ones (thousands or millions of copies). This makes these digital presses better able to compete with offset technology in longer-run jobs.
  3. Integration, in that the NEXFINITY can easily link to existing commercial printing and finishing equipment. Therefore, it will complement rather than disrupt the current workflow, making the custom printing supplier more efficient. It can even make current staff more productive or reduce the number of operators needed.
  4. Access to new markets, due to increased press sheet lengths and paper thicknesses. For instance, the 48-inch press sheet can allow commercial printing vendors to produce large lay-flat photo books, and the 48pt. paper thickness can give custom printing vendors access to the burgeoning packaging and signage markets.
  5. Differentiation from computer-display-only products. Since NEXFINITY can efficiently and cost-effectively print specialized coatings, such as dimensional finishes and security elements, it can set custom printing jobs apart from their non-tactile, computer-screen-only counterparts.

What Does This Say About Digital Printing in General?

I’ve given thought to the implications of Kodak’s new technology within the overall commercial printing market. Here are some ideas:

  1. The focus on enhancing digital custom printing technology suggests that Kodak and other equipment manufacturers expect physical printing to be around for some time. Instead of abandoning print, Kodak sees opportunities for developing those capabilities only available within the physical print process.
  2. Many of Kodak’s developments improve the efficiency of the digital printing process. This allows digital printers to compete with offset printers in increasingly longer press runs. My expectation is that digital printing technology will eventually marginalize offset printing, making it still essential for selected products but no longer as pervasive as digital printing.
  3. Kodak’s Dynamic Imaging Technology, which allows for adjustments to specific areas within a printed page, reflects a focus on image quality, as does the expansion of the color gamut through extended color sets. I think the goal is to not only match the quality of offset printing but eventually exceed it. At this point, the variable imaging capabilities of digital printing will make it more attractive for many jobs than the static nature (printing the same page again and again) of offset lithography. Only by making digital presses run at comparable speeds to offset presses (and therefore making them as efficient to operate for longer press runs) can this actually happen.

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