Since 2012, production inkjet technology has continued developing. While machine speeds have remained fairly static with minor improvements here and there, as we expected, image quality has made some good progress. This progress can be primarily attributed to continued development in inkjet heads and the enhanced manufacturing of inkjet inks using nano pigment grinds. With the increase in resolution and even more importantly, the increase in pigment loading and dispersion on the sheet, we are seeing a much wider use of inkjet in higher quality applications like Direct Mail, Commercial Print, Labels and Packaging.
Up to now, many production inkjet manufacturers have been ‘tweaking’ their existing products; however, we are now starting to see newly redesigned offerings. The latest example of this is the recently announced Océ ImageStream 3500 from Canon (aka Océ JetStream 3500 GA in Japan).
This new ImageStream 3500 press transport takes a 30 inch wide roll, and has its roots in the successful JetStream Wide press. It prints 4/4 running at 262 fpm at a resolution of 1200x1200 dpi or 525 fpm at a resolution of 1200x600 dpi. It has been designed to ensure relatively low energy consumption, and has the most compact footprint in its class.
Canon claims that this new press can run almost all stocks, including standard offset coated, without any bonding agent or primer. Of course, the implications of this are significant in reduced media cost and increased availability. According to some calculations presented by Canon, the potential cost savings on 3000 MT of media use per year using conventional papers versus inkjet treated or optimized papers can range from about $1MM to $7MM/yr. Using standard offset media not only reduces cost, but also creates opportunities for many new applications, like high quality books, brochures, magazines and personalized catalogs, and introduces efficiencies into shops that have both offset and production inkjet presses. Canon has already tested many conventional offset stocks as you can see in the graphic below:
Océ uses the 4.25 in. piezoelectric drop on demand (DoD) Kyocera KJ4B-Z print heads. These are the native 1200 dpi heads we originally highlighted during our drupa coverage in 2012. They are reported to be the fastest native 1200 dpi piezo printheads available today for production print applications. But resolution and speed are only part of the story. These heads support multi-level droplet sizes of 1.3pl to 2.8pl, which further enhances the ability to balance higher pigment laydown for richer mid-tones and shadows and still enable smoother highlights. To take advantage of these new print heads, Canon developed a new, albeit more expensive, aqueous pigment ink. This new ink brings a higher print contrast as a result of the higher pigment concentration, bringing the final product appearance closer to offset (the benchmark). They have also added micron-level print head alignment for tighter control.
The ImageStream 3500 is supported by the scalable Océ SRA® MP controller, which is used across its production print product lines. Combined with the Océ Prisma workflow software, it can prepare and process most input formats. These include Adobe APPE for native PDF processing, as well as support for AFP/IPDS and PCL.
I originally looked at the Océ production inkjet line in 2011, during the early stages of their acquisition and integration with Canon, and it is obvious that they have not sat still in developing new technologies. The new Océ ImageStream 3500 joins the ColorStream and JetStream, VarioStream, and the upcoming InfiniStream production printer series based on inkjet and toner technologies, giving Canon (under the Océ brand) “the broadest product range for continuous feed printing with a production capacity of up to 30,000 B2 format sheets per hour in black & white and full color.” The new Niagra sheetfed press and the InfiniStream folding carton press are both coming close to release, and the ImageStream 3500 will be available the beginning of 2015. While we expect many of the other vendors to introduce new high speed production devices in the near future, the ‘new’ Canon/Océ marriage seems to be bearing lots of offspring. The ImageStream 3500 is projected to sell for between $3MM and $4MM, but pricing will, of course, vary based on configuration.
We are anxious to see what the other vendors will be announcing in this space. Stay tuned…