For the commercial printing segment, there are two main flavors of digital printing technology: toner and production inkjet. While toner-based systems are used widely, and the quality of inkjet output has reached the expectations of most print buyers, which system is right for an individual business is an easy question to ask and a difficult question to answer. Cost, capability, and meeting the needs of your customers are all factors.
The Right Tool(s) for the Job(s)
As a general commercial printer with a particular focus on the needs of colleges and universities, Goodway Group of Massachusetts uses a range of equipment, including offset, color, and black-and-white toner; a cut-sheet production inkjet press; and wide-format inkjet printers. For the past five to seven years, says Mike Jenoski, president, roughly 70%-80% of the company’s total output is produced digitally. The Burlington, Massachusetts-based company’s digital fleet includes a Canon varioPRINT i300 sheetfed inkjet press, two Xerox iGen 5 toner-based machines, a Canon imagePRESS C10000VP toner press, a monochrone Canon varioPRINT 6250, and a pair of Canon wide-format inkjet printers.
While Goodway Group’s digital portfolio is rather diverse, Jenoski shares that a majority — 60% — of the company’s digital work is produced on inkjet. The company’s varioPRINT i300, he says, proved its worth within about a month of its installation, which was five years ago. “It’s reaching the end of its life and we will reinvest in inkjet. It was a great purchase and a game-changer for us,” he says.
With inkjet performing so strongly, what is it about Goodway Group’s toner-based systems that keeps them essential? The first reason, Jenoski notes, is print quality. He says there is only a small quality gap between the iGen and an offset press. “To the untrained eye, you can’t tell the difference.” Toner is also preferred for some of the company’s variable data work, and for jobs of less than 500 pieces, particularly if varying stocks are used. This type of work, he adds, most commonly includes training or classroom materials.
The benefits that make inkjet the choice for certain jobs are usually speed and cost per sheet, according to Jenoski, with other factors, including production schedules, pricing, and substrate requirements as other considerations that may push some jobs toward inkjet.
Asked how he sees the mix of the company’s digital fleet changing in the next five years, Jenoski maintains there will still be a role for toner devices. As inkjet quality improves, however, he can see “where
advancements in inkjet may eliminate some of our toner devices from a color standpoint.” Because of this, he sees that 60%/40% inkjet to toner mix changing in the favor of inkjet systems, particularly if a B2-format, cut-sheet inkjet system comes into play.
Looking beyond Goodway Group to the broader commercial segment, Jenoski says he sees press manufacturers putting much more R&D investment in inkjet than in toner-based systems, and he believes inkjet adoption will continue at a strong pace.
Using Toner Where It Is Needed
“We provide critical and secure communication for banks, credit unions — printed and mailed statements for highly-regulated spaces,” says Gretchen Renaud, vice president of strategic partnerships at PrintMail Solutions, with locations in Newtown, Pennsylvania, and Knoxville, Tennessee. Additionally, she says the company provides marketing communication and digital elements for those same customers.
Production at the company is 100% digital, and equipment includes two Ricoh IP5000 continuous-feed inkjet presses, two Kyocera TASKalfa cut-sheet inkjet printers, and a fleet of mostly Canon 6000 toner systems, which are mostly for MICR printing.
While a majority of the machines used by the company are toner-based systems, Renaud says roughly 90% of the company’s 352 million annual impressions are done on inkjet systems.
The Kyrocera TASKalfa machines, recently acquired, are currently used for reprints and very quick turns. Looking forward, she says the company expects to use those systems to move into different types of work: “getting more into marketing and sales.”
Asked whether the company’s toner/inkjet mix will change moving forward, Renaud sees it staying “pretty much where it is — the MICR dictates that.” That, plus a handful of customers who have a preference for toner-based printing.
For PrintMail Solutions, she sees high-speed inkjet as a great fit: “For us, transactional printing is very straightforward printing. Inkjet is phenomenal – full color, economical.” Another inkjet advantage for PrintMail Solutions is not having to produce pre-printed shells. The company used to produce 1,000 different shells. By using inkjet, she says, there is no need to maintain an inventory of shells — also a benefit when regulatory changes require revisions.
Looking at industry trends, Renaud believes production inkjet will continue to grow while toner will continue to shrink. “The barrier of entry and cost of inkjet have really come down,” she points out. Because of the benefits of inkjet printing, mid-size companies are now able to successfully move over to the technology, if they have not done so already, according to Renaud. For the commercial segment, she says the move to inkjet is often application dependent, but that “in our [transactional printing] space, there is nobody who isn’t using a high percentage of inkjet.”
In a final thought, she is curious about the plans other printing companies have for their future use of toner-based devices and believes that if click charges could be harmonized to more closely match the cost-per-page of inkjet, the technology might be more attractive. “If toner devices were more economical, then they would have a place.”
Dollars and Sense
“We’ve been involved in digital printing for a long time,” according to David Harding, chairman and chief executive officer at HardingPoorman, “and we’ve always had toner devices.” He says that in the last 10 years, the Indianapolis, Indiana-based company has purposefully increased its range of offerings beyond commercial printing to include fulfillment, mailing, wide-format, storefronts, promo products, apparel, and marketing services.
The digital devices on the company’s production floor include four toner-based devices from Canon (which include color, black and white, and MICR), a Ricoh toner-based color printer, and a Canon varioPRINT iX-series inkjet press.
As a percentage of HardingPoorman’s total production, digital work is about 8%, which Harding notes is running at about the national average (around 10%, according to I.T. Strategies). That said, he reports digital work has grown by roughly 25% in the past year.
While the company’s toner/inkjet mix is about 50/50, Harding believes that mix will change: “I’m convinced it will take a while, but inkjet will surpass and eliminate our toner devices.” He also believes that, in time, it will also replace HardingPoorman’s sheetfed offset equipment. “Inkjet has gotten better and the system we’re using is much more reliable. Same with toner: it has improved.” He says customers are accepting inkjet, toner, and offset output as the same.
Harding says what still makes toner-based systems essential for the company is MICR printing. Otherwise, he says the company “does a lot of addressing on-the-fly and personalized printing, but both types of machines can handle that.” What makes toner-based printing less attractive, Harding points out, are click charges, which often drive larger jobs toward the company’s Canon inkjet press. So, HardingPoorman’s primary driver for expansion of its use of inkjet is cost, not quality.
Looking forward, Harding thinks inkjet could ultimately replace HardingPoorman’s use of toner-based machines. Beyond what has already been discussed, he believes the higher productivity of inkjet printing systems will enable the company to shrink its production footprint, which will ultimately allow them to save money when leasing or purchasing buildings: more revenue per square foot of space. “Automation on equipment and smaller equipment footprints will lead to that,” Harding concludes.