Truth From the Trenches: Experiences in Cut-Sheet Inkjet Printing Output
For some print services providers (PSPs), cut-sheet production inkjet printing is delivering the best of both worlds. It delivers the speed and uptime seen among continuous-feed inkjet systems — while at the same time benefiting from a sheet-fed process approach and workflow with which many printers are comfortable.
A growing number of cut-sheet inkjet solutions are currently available from Canon Solutions America, Delphax, Fujifilm, Komori, Konica Minolta, Kyocera, Landa, Ricoh, Riso, and Xerox, and they offer an attractive, profitability-driven alternative to digital toner-based and even sheetfed offset presses.
According to Marco Boer, VP at industry consultant IT Strategies — who also serves as conference chair for the annual Inkjet Summit — the key benefit attracting PSPs toward this emerging opportunity is flexibility. “Cut-sheet inkjet has enabled the productivity needed to handle small and large volumes,” he says. “You get the quality you need at any run length, whereas toner technology has a finite capacity.”
Boer points to a recent study outlining how cut-sheet inkjet is being used: 30% for general commercial printing, 30% for direct mail, 20% transactional, 10% for books, and 10% for other applications. Two additional benefits of the technology, he says, are uptimes above 90% and exceptional output quality. “We’re past the stage where we’re worried about not matching offset. We’re past the discussion of whether it’s good enough. It’s sellable.”
The best way to learn about what is driving PSPs toward this growing range inkjet applications is through a sampling of those who have adopted it.
Seeking Inkjet’s Advantage
Advantage Inc., in Anaheim, California, has been operating a new Canon vario-PRINT iX system since summer of 2022. To date, owner Tom Ling reports he has been pleasantly satisfied by the quality of the output, which he says puts the technology “on par” with the digital toner-based systems the company also uses. He says that compared to toner, “there is some difference in vibrancy and depth, but for 90% of customers, I don’t think that matters.”
Ling says that because his varioPRINT iX press does not operate on a “click charge” model, more margin – somewhere between 11% and 17% — stays with the company. He adds that while that number could skew based on the individual operator, “we are definitely ahead without the click charges.”
Cut-sheet inkjet is just one arrow in the technology quiver at Advantage. The company also runs sheetfed and web offset, as well as roll-fed inkjet, presses. Ling says the new system “fist seamlessly and nicely into our existing workflow,” and reports that color quality on the unit is “all locked in.” He says his company remains highly observant of quality, and it is rare that color-focused adjustments need to be addressed.
For Ling, a big pre-purchase concern was whether the technology would work acceptably with all needed substrates. However, the press has met those expectations very well. Also of concern to Ling was reliability, but because cut-sheet inkjet has fewer moving parts and a more direct paper path than toner-based systems, uptime is increased. Ling says Advantage is experiencing uptime of roughly 92%: “About the same as continuous-feed inkjet. Highly reliable.“
Asked if there’s one key lesson learned in sourcing and adopting cut-sheet inkjet, Ling is positive: “I wish I knew just how much more efficient it is, and how high the uptime is. I didn’t really believe inkjet was as good as it is. The uptime is truly there, so I might have upgraded earlier.” As to Advantage’s future with toner-based technology, he says he’s “not sure whether staying in with toner is the right direction.”
Data Media Associates:
A Tightly-Focused Output Solution
“Everything we do is cut-sheet,” says Cleve Shultz, CEO and president at Alpharetta, Georgia-based Data Media Associates, which installed its first single-engine cut-sheet unit in 2017. Shultz describes the company’s work as 95% after-insurance medical bills for regional health systems and medical practices, 100% printed in color. It amounts to 120 million documents per year are printed on pre-perforated white paper.
For the company, which now has a portfolio of six inkjet units, including four Riso Valezus machines, migration into cut-sheet inkjet started with a quest to limit the number of pre-printed shells it produced. Originally, Shultz’s goal was to move 50 of 195 over to inkjet. That step, having went well, led to further reductions.
He found inkjet was favorable when compared to toner-based production. Full conversion commenced — no more pre-printed shells. Today, the company uses only one toner-based machine, which is set up specifically to run MICR.
Shultz says increased production efficiency was a primary benefit of the migration to inkjet — the concept of “white paper in/finished documents out,” made a difference as he scaled the business. Another was cost. He says he didn’t want to transform the business technologically and have it increase cost overall. Finally, the quality was there. Shultz notes fonts with more crispness and better color as compared to the company’s legacy toner systems.
Customers seem to agree. He says he’s been contacted by clients who see the quality and ask, “Are you charging me more?” and the answer is “no.”
More than five years into his cut-sheet inkjet odyssey, Shultz is in no way a neophyte. About his company’s transformation, he says, “We were preparing for it for years. It was in our long-term planning.” Shultz and the Data Media Associates team, during those five years, undertook a prolonged migration: “We paced it. We couldn’t take the risk of flipping the switch one day.” He credits Riso as a valuable partner in the journey.
About his company’s future in cut-sheet inkjet production, Shultz says he likes the machines he’s using and they will “do us well for years. They never stop, and they don’t jam. The baseline math is that one inkjet unit replaces three toner systems.” He adds that the company self-maintains the equipment and it runs 24 hours a day, five days a week.
A Different Spin on Inkjet Adoption
Since November 2021, Hudson Printing in Salt Lake City, Utah, has been running a Landa S10P Nanographic perfecting press. Proof that the technology is a good fit for the company is best evidenced by the fact the company is working on the installation of a second unit. “We will be the first site in the world with two Landa presses,” Paul Hudson, CEO, points out.
While Landa’s Nanographic printing technology is based on inkjet technology, using normal inkjet heads, the printing involves a dry transfer process that Hudson says can bring a quality advantage. “Inkjet is very wet,” he says, “which can bring challenges with paper, and can limit color vibrancy.” He says the new system is working very well, even on uncoated paper.
Hudson says the ROI for the Landa S10P is built on two “buckets of business.” The first is for long-run variable data jobs, which were previously done using HP Indigos. “That has been moved to the Landa,” he says, “and has been very successful.” The second is for jobs that would normally be printed using sheetfed offset — a process Hudson Printing does not have under its roof. Those short runs are made possible and profitable due to the Landa’s speed, which Hudson describes as “3,250 double-sided sheets per hour.” He says the press runs 24 hours a day, five days a week.
As for advantages over digital toner-based systems, Hudson says favorable economics are most important. “The click system,” he says, “is basically a nice, easy model, but it has challenges.” With inkjet, he says, the model is different — buying gallons of ink and having variable costs based on coverage. Further, the Landa system can run a larger, B1 (27.8x39.4") sheet size, allowing the company to do, for instance, “a 16-pager, fully variable, without the need to assemble variable pieces through barcodes.” With a seven-color mode available, Hudson says the company “can do some remarkable things if we need to.”
Hudson notes that for cut-sheet inkjet systems, it is important to, “have the right processes in place around how you handle, treat, and maintain equipment. If you don’t have that in place, you will become very frustrated.” He says inkjet systems are different from offset because maintenance-wise, they are less flexible. “Don’t get behind on the maintenance,” he advises.
Impressed by Quality, Speed, and Sheet Size
In March 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was taking hold, Peczuh Printing, based in Price, Utah, installed a Fujifilm J Press 750S, which Paul Lynaugh, COO and senior VP of sales, notes was the first to be installed in the state. The company, he says, has since experienced great results from the system, which was sourced based on print quality, speed, and sheet size. He says the ability to faithfully match brand colors was also paramount.
Before making the investment, Peczuh Printing needed certainty that the system would be the right fit for the business. Lynaugh says they explored whether it could replace some offset work, how it would help them grow, whether it would work as expected, and if it could perform what toner systems could not — all great questions. Through the sales process, and by running test jobs, these questions were answered.
Frank Peczuh, the company’s president and CEO says moving to cut-sheet inkjet has enabled, among other things, better prototyping for its folding carton products. He says the larger sheet size in the JPress 750S (23x29.5"), coupled with its print quality, resulted in “a much more realistic example of the package for the customer.”
Peczuh also mentions the consistency of inkjet output, which he describes as a change in experience over digital toner: “We can match jobs from six months ago and it still looks the same.”
Integrating the system into Peczuh Printing’s existing workflow, according to Lynaugh, was seamless, particularly because the company was already using Fujifilm’s XMF workflow software.
Peczuh says the company uses a large number of stocks, ranging in thickness up to 24-pt. board. While he says the J Press 750S inkjet printing system works well for most substrates, he does wish it performed better on synthetics, which Peczuh Printing instead runs on an offset UV press.
Like Ling of Advantage Inc., Peczuh wishes his company had adopted cut-sheet inkjet sooner: “Our company has been slow to change and adopt it.” He also wishes Peczuh Printing had launched the new system with more fanfare.
All totaled, Peczuh says the truly differentiating part of the system is its print quality. He says that feature alone, “spoke to his heart,” which has its foundation in offset printing.
Filling the Opportunity Gap for Quality and Speed
A large part of the work produced by Roeland Park, Kansas-based Boelte-Hall is direct mail and catalog work for major agricultural and pharmaceutical companies. During 2022, the company made a move into sheetfed inkjet printing with the addition of a 29" Komori Impremia IS29 cut-sheet inkjet UV press.
This investment built on the Boelte-Hall’s portfolio of Komori equipment — it also has two of the manufacturer’s 28" Lithrone sheetfed offset presses running on its production floor.
A primary motivation for Boelte-Hall’s investment in cut-sheet inket was to expand its ability to produce variable, short-run, high-quality output — a trio of needs that are just not all possible on a traditional offset press. “We invested in this press to enhance our efficiency and expand our capabilities,” Garrett Shropshire, company co-owner, points out.
Like many companies, he says, Boelte-Hall was working in both analog and digital printing spaces. Adding the new unit, however, changed the equation. He says the company is now “reaching markets we couldn’t touch before.”
About the features of the Impremia IS29 inkjet press, Shropshire particularly notes is its ability to run a larger sheet size on a variety of substrates. He says that feature alone, “significantly reduces setup time and material cost,” which has carved out additional production time.” The new press and its enhanced features have significantly changed how the company works and the creative solutions it can offer its customers.
While print quality has been a persistent concern for those exploring inkjet, Boelte-Hall has found that the IS29 press has the ability to deliver color matching that rivals offset output — a feature that leads to repeat business. The quality-focused company, which adheres to G7 color standards, says the cut-sheet inkjet press has alleviated quality concerns, and brought consistency to brand identities and color assets. Further, the press utilizes UV curing, which facilitates improved pressroom efficiency and makes it possible for Boelte-Hall to deliver work on shorter timelines and use less energy doing so.
Boelte-Hall’s entrance into cut-sheet inkjet capacity is an example of how the technology is filling, or at least narrowing, the gap in quality and production speed between toner-based digital printers and traditional offset. In doing so, it is increasing application opportunity, accessing the personalization and short-run advantages of digital printing, and moving the bar on output expectations.