Toner: A Once and Future Technology
Dry and Liquid Digital Toner, a technology near and dear to every in-plant, was the focus of one full day of the PRINTING United Digital Experience. In his keynote, industry analyst and consultant David Zwang made the case that toner is “the digital print of the past and the future.”
As for its past, the process underlying electrophotography (EP) was invented in 1938. Zwang argued that because of its vast installed base of equipment and the versatility of what those devices can do, toner won’t be eclipsed by other printing methods. It’s also breaking new ground in packaging, an application that plays to its strengths.
Although electrophotography, according to Zwang, is “very much still the same today” as when Chester Carlson first demonstrated it, presses based on EP toner remain the foundation of digital printing.
“This is what people are using day in and day out to produce digital print,” he said.
Toner printing became digital printing in the early-to-mid 1990s through advances like Indigo’s variable-data technology and the Print Production Format (PPF) workflow specification. Zwang noted that between 2004 and 2014, digital printing — consisting mostly of toner output — came to equal offset lithography in terms of dollar value of reproduction.
He went on to say that vibrant maturity of the toner market is plain to see in the breadth of the cut-sheet presses now available for entry-level to high-volume production, mostly in color. Continuous-feed toner presses, on the other hand, “are not as prevalent as they used to be,” now that continuous-feed inkjet presses have started to overtake them in applications like monochrome transactional printing.
Zwang said cut-sheet toner printing is getting renewed attention with the advent of “enhanced presses” that use extended color gamuts and in-line finishing to produce high-quality “bespoke” applications. He cited Xerox’s Iridesse, along with the fifth-color station models of the Kodak NexPress and the Ricoh PRO C7200, as examples.
Zwang pointed out presses like these are particularly well-suited to packaging, adding that most digitally printed packaging is produced on toner presses. He cited HP Indigo for making special progress in this area with its liquid EP presses for folding carton and flexible packaging applications. Zwang also mentioned the all-in-one printing, laminating, pouch-making, and filling solution devised by HP and its technology partner, Karlville.
He acknowledged that while production inkjet printing is coming into its own as a digital process, it still represents only a small fraction of the total market and will need time to become as “ubiquitous” a solution as digital toner is. And, although toner’s projected growth rate may be modest, the increase will still amount to many millions of new pages produced.
Precisely because it is so well-entrenched, toner “has a lot of room for growth” ahead of it, Zwang concluded. “It will co-exist for a long time to come with the other technologies,” he declared.
To view this PRINTING UNITED Digital Experience presentation, and more than 100 other educational sessions, for free, on-demand, visit digital.printingunited.com
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