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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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Commercial Printing: Ricoh’s Advances in Inkjet Printing

I received a press release from a colleague and friend this week about new developments at Ricoh in production-level digital inkjet printing. I found this intriguing. It doesn’t feel like it was that long ago that an inkjet printer sat on my desk and printed somewhat muddy colors on uncoated laser paper. The product was good enough for a color mock up. It would help me visualize the final printed results of a job if I used a little imagination. I didn’t need, or expect, much more.

Now the press release from Ricoh, “Ricoh Changes the Inkjet Game, Introducing Additional Inks and the New RICOH Pro VC70000,” (Ricoh USA, Inc., 6/25/18) addresses some of the issues in the new and expanding realm of production inkjet.

As I understand the term, “production inkjet” refers to the evolution of inkjet commercial printing from my initial memories noted above to a technology that is seeking to rival the speed (efficiency) and quality (resolution and color gamut) of offset printing on the huge offset lithographic presses that run 24/7.

Implications of Ricoh’s Advances

Volume and Speed

Ricoh’s press release notes that the CV70000 was built to “accelerate the transfer of offset print volumes to digital.” (“Ricoh Changes the Inkjet Game, Introducing Additional Inks and the New RICOH Pro VC70000,” Ricoh USA, Inc., 6/25/18).

So a lot of what’s happening is a dramatic growth of inkjet press efficiency.

Not that long ago, you would choose an inkjet printer or digital color laser printer if you wanted to produce 500 brochures (or another, low press run), because all of the make-ready (preparation work) to get an offset lithographic press up to speed would put the initial entry point (cost) of the short job at the same level as the cost of a much longer offset run. Another way to say this is that you would pay a bit less for 500 digital copies than for 1,000 offset copies, but the unit cost would be higher. Plus, you could personalize them.

Now, the efficiencies of production inkjet allow for much longer runs on a digital platform. For instance, the press release notes that the RICOH Pro VC70000 can produce “nearly 130,000 A4/letter impressions an hour” (492 feet-per-minute).

(Keep in mind that if you want 1,000 copies of a 500-page book, that job involves custom printing 500,000 book pages. Of course, this number rises exponentially if you’re producing 100,000 print books.)

This takes time on any press. To put this in perspective, an offset lithographic web press might run at 3,000 or more feet per minute, which is much faster than a sheetfed offset lithographic press, which might run at 12,000 sheets per hour. So, while production inkjet is still slower than offset commercial printing, the increased efficiency still makes it a game changer. (And the speed will continue to improve as the technology matures.)

Quality of the Printed Product

As I noted at the beginning of the blog posting, inkjet custom printing used to provide marginal color fidelity and detail. (In fact, back in the day, I used an inkjet printer only to visualize color placement. For everything else I used a laser printer.)

Now, according to Ricoh’s press release, the RICOH Pro VC70000 provides “1200 x 1200 dpi resolution on uncoated, offset-coated, inkjet treated or inkjet-coated papers” (“Ricoh Changes the Inkjet Game, Introducing Additional Inks and the New RICOH Pro VC70000,” Ricoh USA, Inc., 6/25/18).

This tells me a number of things. First of all, the resolution and therefore the detail in the images printed on a Ricoh press are startlingly crisp.

Furthermore, the ability to print on so many different paper stocks means commercial printing vendors will have flexibility (and therefore more control over price) in choosing custom printing papers to stock.

In addition, since acceptable substrates include coated papers, Ricoh’s press release also implies that printers can now digitally produce crisp graphics in color on superior paper that will reflect the kind of detail and color vibrancy that didn’t exist a short while ago. And this is at production-level speeds.

More specifically, this implies that Ricoh has addressed issues of ink drying speed in its new press. (This is because the new production level inkjet presses need to be able to dry ink immediately on a coated press sheet, and since the ink needs to sit up on the coated surface of the sheet.)

This quick ink-drying ability will avoid the wet, rippling paper I used to experience on inkjet printers, while accommodating coated press sheets comparable to those used on an offset lithographic press. (Another way to say this is that you can now print high-end catalogs and magazines on an inkjet press.)

Color Gamut

Color gamut is also a function of quality, but I’d like to address this separately. As I’ve noted before, having access to more ink colors makes an incredible difference in the color range and color fidelity of a printed piece. And inkjet presses, in my experience, usually have the capability of expanding the color ink set by multiple hues.

This is not alien to offset lithography. Back in the 1990s I worked with a commercial printing vendor who offered High-Fidelity Color (which he also referred to as Hexachrome). These were probably proprietary names, as well, but the gist of the technology is that instead of separating images and text into the four process colors, this printer separated them into six: cyan, magenta, yellow, black, green, and orange—or occasionally purple, as I recall. By adding extra inks, he could match more PMS colors, and he could achieve more vibrancy in the images because the color gamut was larger.

Other commercial printing suppliers were doing similar things by adding touch plates, or kiss plates, that “bumped up” overall color in the offset lithographic CMYK spectrum by accenting specific areas of photo imagery with the ink on the touch plates.

Being able to do this on an inkjet press means that you can achieve the expanded color gamut without all the extra ink units, plates, wash-ups, blankets, and other expensive make-ready supplies and labor.

So the color quality enhancements within the production inkjet presses also make me optimistic.

Operating Cost

Having access to multiple paper stocks makes a huge difference. Inkjet papers used to need pre-treatment. Therefore, there were fewer of them a commercial printing vendor could purchase. This tied his hands in two ways. First, paper vendors could charge more for these specialty papers, and, second, clients had fewer options for custom printing substrates. They couldn’t page through practically any paper swatch book, choose what they liked, and ask the printer to purchase and print on it. Ricoh’s approach means printers will pay less and their clients will have more options.

What This Means to You

Here are two thoughts:

    1. If you’re designing for print, keep it up. Companies like Ricoh would not be pouring money into the development of presses that produce high-end catalogs and magazines if they thought print books and periodicals will cease to exist.

 

  1. Observe and study the technology as it develops, but go beyond the promotional literature and request printed samples. Then compare the crispness of the text and imagery (resolution) and the color accuracy and vibrancy (color gamut) to that of offset printed products you admire. Compare printed output on both coated and uncoated press sheets. And check the detail in the highlights and shadows of the photos. Then, going forward, watch the technological developments across multiple digital platforms from multiple press manufacturers.

This is a most exciting time.

4 Responses to “Commercial Printing: Ricoh’s Advances in Inkjet Printing”

  1. T says:

    interesting guide

  2. I have a commercial printing business which is required more tech knowledge. I have found the best thing on lithographic CMYK in your post that helps me in solving the printing problem.

    • admin says:

      Thank you. It’s great to hear this. You may want to search the Printing Industry archive. There should be more than 800 articles (blog postings and Quick Tips articles) on various aspects of printing.

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