Printing and Design Tips: April 2016, Issue #177

Nano-Technology Transforms Printing

I think we may be witnessing the birth of a new disruptive technology. I know there have been some fits and starts, but the articles I have been reading about Nanography, and particularly about the Nanographic presses that will be on display at the upcoming drupa 2016, make me very excited to see exactly where digital printing is headed.

What Is Nanography?

1. Nanography is digital printing done with very small ink particles (particles in the tens of nanometers in size, in contrast to offset printing inks that have particle sizes of approximately 500 nanometers). A nanometer is one billionth of a meter.

2. These ultra-small digital ink particles are jetted onto a heated belt in the Nanographic press (unlike inkjet printing, in which the liquid ink is jetted directly onto the paper substrate). The ink droplets hit the heated belt and spread, creating a thin, dry, polymerized image on the belt.

3. The dry print image then is transferred from the belt to the substrate.

4. Since the image is already dry, it transfers to the paper with no dot gain. The ink sits up on top of the paper with an especially crisp halftone dot edge.

5. In addition, since the ink particles sit up on top of the substrate (in contrast to both inkjet digital printing and offset printing, in which the ink seeps into the paper at least a bit), all colorant particles efficiently reflect the light.

6. The Nanographic ink particles are also especially durable and scratch resistant.

7. Since the image is dry when it offsets onto the paper substrate, the job can be finished immediately (folded and trimmed, for instance) with no wait time.

8. Nanography is a digital process, so every printed piece that leaves the press can be different. And you can either personalize every copy or print a press run as short as one copy.

9. You can even print on thin plastic films as well as paper with this technology.

10. The paper does not need to be proprietary or specially treated or coated. Nanography will work on any paper (including newsprint, without dot gain).

11. The whole process uses far less energy (to remove the water from the ink as it hits the heated belt) and far less ink than other technologies.

12. In contrast to electrophotography (otherwise known as laser printing, or xerography), the Nanographic ink laydown is matte on a matte sheet and glossy on a gloss sheet. Toners used in electrophotographic digital presses have a more glossy or waxy look than the surrounding paper substrate, and the human eye perceives this as being of a lesser quality than offset printing.

13. There is no stress to the paper since there is no water used beyond the initial inkjetting onto the heated belt. The image transferred to the paper is completely dry. In contrast, a printed inkjet sheet can be compromised, stretched, or cockled by the water in the ink.

14. With inkjetting and offset printing, you can only put so much ink on the paper before it becomes a wet mess and the colors smear (the total amount of ink is called “total area coverage” or “total ink coverage”). Since the inkjetted image on a Nanographic digital press belt is dry, the concept of total ink coverage is irrelevant. For high-ink-coverage applications, such as museum books, Nanography is therefore ideal.

15. There are no emissions. Zero, none. The technology is totally environmentally friendly. Heat used in the process dries the ink film on the belt. It does not need to dry the wet paper fibers, so far less energy can be used.

16. Since the ink film is so thin, presses can run much faster than normal. Landa's white paper notes 13,000 B1 sheets per hour as the rated speed for the presses. Landa notes that this is 100 percent faster than other digital processes.

17. Thin ink films also mean less ink usage, which keeps the cost down.

18. Since the nano-particle inks have an extremely large color gamut, it is possible to match far more PMS colors within the CMYK color space.

19. Since Nanography will print on any paper, you don't need to buy specialty papers, so the cost of the paper does not increase with this technology.

What New Presses Will Be on Display at DRUPA?

1. The first press I've read about is a sheetfed press, the Landa S10P, which will be ideal for commercial printing in that it will perfect the print job (print on both sides simultaneously).

2. The second press is the Landa S10, which will be ideal for folding carton and point-of-purchase displays. That is, the single-sided printing (apparently a similar press without perfecting capabilities) will lend itself to the single-sided print nature of POP and cartons.

3. The third press is the Landa W10, which is a web press. This will be ideal for flexible packaging (think of the squishy juice bags with straws) and paperboard printing.

What makes all of this particularly exciting to me is that the photos of these digital presses look like “real” presses. They no longer look like copy machines on steroids. I encourage you to check out the images online (Google Images). You'll see the futuristic consoles running the presses along with the inking units that look like any high-end offset commercial printing equipment. Benny Landa is serious about this.

What Else Is New? (Hint: Nano-Metallography)

I've written about Scodix as a digital foiling option, and although I have not yet been able to find specifics about Benny Landa's new “zero-waste” Metallization Graphics, it seems that this technology will replace hot foil stamping (presumably along with the metal dies that cost a lot and take time to create). Landa's press releases tout the technology as “reducing costs by more than half compared to foil.” Moreover, this metallization technology will work with flexo, offset, and screen printing as well as digital.

What Does This Mean?

All of this technology is aimed squarely at packaging (folding cartons, flexible packaging, labeling, and such) because this is such a robust and growing arena of commercial printing at the moment, benefiting the fields of pharmaceuticals and cosmetics among others. However, this technology will also benefit all aspects of digital printing, and, as with any digital printing technology, it will foster the growth of mass personalization—potentially a different printed product for each recipient, precisely targeted to his/her interests and needs.

Up until now, if you looked closely, you would see that the unit cost of digital printing was still usually higher than that of offset, even if the overall cost of a digital print job could be less. (For instance, you could get 500 copies of a job instead of 1,000. The overall cost would be reasonable, but the per-unit cost would be higher for digital than for offset.) Now, with Nanography, the unit cost of digital can be competitive with the unit cost of offset.

When Can I Buy One?

Ok, I'm sure they will be expensive as well as large, but if you're in the market and you have the cash, check out drupa in Dusseldorf, Germany, (May 31-June 10), and be prepared to buy the presses in 2017.

[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He 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.]