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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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Book Printing: LumeJet Prints with Light Rather Than Ink

It wasn’t that long ago that inkjet printers made it possible for photographers to forego the wet chemical processes of traditional photo printing in favor of inkjet printing their images. It was faster and much, much easier.

Well, the LumeJet S200 is taking a giant step into the past to provide vastly superior custom printing quality using print heads that produce images with light rather than ink or toner. LumeJet does this using fixed or movable printheads, not unlike those on high-end inkjet equipment, to create a latent image on silver halide photosensitive paper, which can be chemically processed to yield prints with a resolution comparable to the clarity of a 4000 dpi inkjet printer.

Here Are Some of the Features

  1. LumeJet prints are created within the much larger RGB colorspace, which will match colors not available in the CMYK colorspace, such as neons, pastels, metallics, and a number of Pantone colors that would be difficult or impossible to to replicate on a CMYK press.
  2. The LumeJet produces continuous tone images, unlike an offset press, which depends on halftoning algorithms to simulate continuous tone photos.
  3. The LumeJet prints both vibrant images and crisp text, even at very small point sizes. Many other technologies that yield superior images (such as dye sublimation printing) unfortunately do not produce crisp text.

When Would You Use Such a Printer?

The LumeJet delivers an A3 press sheet, which is 11 11/16” x 16 9/16”. This is ideal for a layflat coffee table book or other short-run product. For instance, it would be perfect for a wedding photo book; a record of a once-in-a-lifetime vacation; or a fine artist’s, fashion designer’s, make-up artist’s, or graphic designer’s portfolio.

Basically, when the printed book has to be spectacular, this is the ideal custom printing technology.

How Does It Work?

The structure of the LumeJet is not unlike an inkjet printer. Instead of blank paper or film, however, the paper magazine takes 305 mm rolls of photosensitive paper.

In place of an inkjet printer’s print head array, the LumeJet has digital print heads (usually multiple print heads in tandem) that beam photons “of various wavelengths, spot sizes, and power” (from the LumeJet website) using LED array technology (light emitting diodes) along with fibre taper optics and a lens. Either the print heads can move across the paper as they print the tiny dots (.005 mm) that comprise the images and text, or the print heads can be fixed and the paper can move.

The photosensitive printing paper includes three separate light-sensitive (silver halide) coatings in sequence on the substrate (either white paper or film). There’s one for each of the three RGB colors (red, green, and blue). On these three separate layers are grains of dye-sensitized silver halide. Using a subtractive color model (like offset printing inks), the light sensitive substrate can be imaged, and then the latent image can be developed and fixed (in much the same way as photographic prints are produced) to release and then set the colors. The final step is to rinse the print in water to remove any remaining silver halide or chemicals. It can then be dried and bound into the final print book.

Why Is This Important?

More than anything, I think this is important technology to watch because of the high quality it provides. It will fill a niche market for flawless images with an exceptional color gamut, intense blacks, and crisp type at any size. I think automotive, fashion, food, and cosmetics marketing materials will benefit from this process.

However, it does not yet seem to lend itself to high-run printed products. That said, the first inkjet printers I used produced low-quality images slowly, and now the technology has progressed to include web-fed, high-speed inkjet custom printing of textbooks. So things might develop over time (no pun intended).

Finally, I’m glad to see digital printing reaching beyond traditional ink on paper and toner on paper. We’re printing in three dimensions and even creating food with the new 3D additive manufacturing printers, so it seems only fitting that we’re also starting to print with light. And I think it’s a cool twist that the technology reaches back into the past for its silver halide chemical imaging process.

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