They are fast, versatile, print duplex with variable data, the color is good and they get better every year. We’re talking about digital offset/toner-based printing systems. Some might refer to them as glorified color copiers, but in no way can you compare them to an office copier. Primarily because digital offset systems have many more controls—namely RIPs and color management on the front end, and billing, finishing/bindery on the back end. But first a little history.
The first small format digital offset system to hit the market was Benny Landa’s Israeli-produced Indigo, back in the early 1990s. The first Indigos went to the former A.C. Photo Lab, in Cleveland, Ohio. In those days the joke was you got three boxes with your Indigo printer, one for the main printer, a backup printer, and the third box was for the technician who lived with you for a year. The outstanding feature of the Indigo was ‘liquid toners’ that Landa called “digital inks.” Office copiers have dry toners, as do all the other digital offset presses available today including those offered by Eastman Kodak, Xerox Corp., Canon U.S.A., Inc. and Screen (USA).
My how times have changed, or have they? The last century users of these systems purchased them primarily for commercial work. Today, photo labs or digital imagers are buying digital offset systems primarily for photo/memory books, supplemented by greeting cards, calendars, etc. Not that commercial work has gone by the wayside, graphic arts shops and what was a photo lab, The Color Place, Dallas, TX, now a digital print shop, is on their second Indigo because owner Rex Jobe found out that offset printing is a constant, and he can offer a more extensive product line, give value-added to his clients, and in turn, keep his profit structure where it was in his photo processing hey-days.
Because of the popularity of photo books, photo imagers are stepping up to the plate and buying one-box digital offset printing presses. That is the business plan of most of the manufacturers marketing to the photo industry—Kodak’s NexPress (formerly a joint venture with Heidelberg), Xerox’s i-Gen3, and the HP Indigo (now owned by Hewlett-Packard).
In fact, the majority of these systems are located in offset print shops. Once Kodak divorced itself from Heidelberg, it began heavily marketing the NexPress to various segments of the photographic industry, but primarily portrait/social labs. Kodak has been quite vocal about its two systems installed at Millers Imaging, located in Pittsburgh, KS, and one in Columbia, MO.
Canon Enters the Field
The newest digital press, the Canon ImagePRESS C7000VP, was introduced last October at GraphExpo ‘06 in Chicago. At the time, it was so new that it was difficult finding someone who knew all of its attributes. Earlier in the year Canon had introduced a larger digital color press, the ImageRUNNER C5180, and at GraphExpo it rolled out a line of four B&W presses. A company spokesman explained that the ImagePress is 100% Canon. “The engine is Canon’s single largest R&D dollar investment.”
Canon is coming to market with prices below the competition. The basic system price is $230,000 with an entry-level Canon RIP. Canon offers two EFI Fiery RIPs for the high and middle priced system. “The image quality is designed to rival offset,” says the Canon spokesman.
The ImagePRESS prints on a range of media from 12-pt Chrome coat to 100-lb. cover stock, plus textured, with automatic duplex and an output speed of 70 pages per minute, no matter how heavy the stock used or sheet size.
The maximum output size is 13x19.2 inches, slightly larger than the 12x18 maximum size for the HP Indigo. The printer holds 4,000 sheets of media x 2, plus two 1,000-sheet cassettes in the main engine. A nice feature is the ability to load and add paper without having to stop printing.
The ImagePRESS’ resolution of 1200x1200 dpi is for four colors. Not only does the engine belong to Canon, but its dry toners are formulated by Canon. Finishing can be inline or offline. Available inline is saddle stitch and trimmer.
Canon is targeting the ImagePRESS to commercial and quick printers that do 50,000-100,000 impressions per month. When we asked about photo book applications, we were told that Canon hadn’t thought of this, but would take the suggestion back to corporate.
Delivery is pegged for Q1 of 2007. What may prove difficult for Canon is that its going to be sold through dealers who are conditioned to office copier sales. They may connect with quick printers, but it will be interesting to see how they connect with digital photo/graphics print shops and photo labs. Canon is hoping to break into any market with its enticing entry-level price.
The Color Place has been breaking away from its photographic-based roots for several years now, and the transition is complete. No more film processing. During the past five years, president Rex Jobe has been building new markets with large and grand-format printing as well as offset printing with a Heidelberg Quickmaster DI for longer press runs; and he recently traded in his Indigo 2000 for the latest 5000 model.
Jobe said, “The volume was getting so that we had to step up to a faster printer.” HP promotes the latest Indigo model with the phrase, “half the cost, twice the speed.” This was no blind trade in. Jobe’s team tested the Xerox iGen3 Press and the Kodak NexPress before deciding on the HP Indigo 5000. “We did color tests and shoot-outs between the iGen and Indigo. The color gamut [with the Indigo] was better.” He puts a lot of importance in the Indigo’s liquid inks as opposed to the dry toners in other units. “When you fold it [the media] there are no cracking issues that you have with dry toners.”