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The Melding of Industries
Printers Go after Photo Labs

Graph Expo logo

CHICAGO—Since the early 90s, large format digital printers, began showing up at the annual Graph Expo and larger Print exhibitions at Chicago’s McCormick Place. In those days, the digital inkjet printers were of the Encad brand, now a Kodak company, and absent from the September show. As those of you who’ve followed the growth of the industry are probably aware, Hewlett-Packard is number one today, followed by Epson, and in third place is Canon. Ground-braking news from all three, as well as Color Span was announced at the show.

HP had a big presence, as did Canon, and next to Heidelberg presses, had the second largest exhibits. HP has exploded through acquisitions, including Indigo on-demand inkjet printing and Scitex large format printers. At one point one could imagine being at PMA not Graph Expo. HP had a large banner “Photo” hung from the ceiling over their cameras and photo printing kiosk area. We didn’t see anything new but wondered what HP would acquire next. The Eastman Kodak booth was next to HP, and showcased a myriad of software, and not one Encad printer.

HP and its Scitex division have been without one product, a moderately-priced flatbed inkjet printer. Immediately following Graph Expo, HP announced its plans to purchase ColorSpan Inc. from MacDermid Printing Solutions LLC, a subsidiary of privately held MacDermid Inc. This acquisition will give HP entry into quick printers, sign shops, and specialty photo labs. Color Span comes to HP with some interesting history. It was formerly Laser Master, the company that put Encad on the map. Based in Minnetonka, MN, the company has sold more flatbed printers than any other manufacturer in the world. The marriage between HP and ColroSpan will provide existing ColorSpan customers with HP’s vast service network. And you can bet that its UV flatbed printer base will expand even more.

EFI is another company, formerly dedicated to software RIPs that has grown through acquisitions and partnerships. EFI owns Vutek. Its large-to-grand format printers have been purchased by many large photo labs. Vutek is now leading the way to “green” printing and had its show spotlight on BioVu corn-based inks for its grand format, solvent ink, roll printers. Vutek hopes users will replace their true solvent inks and their harmful VOCs (volatile organic compounds) with green, clean bio inks. At this time, Vutek and Mutoh are the only two companies formulating bio inks. With all the “green” hype can others be far behind?

The real EFI story is in their partnerships. For many years popular copiers had EFI RIPs; at Graph Expo EFI introduced a large format version of their RIP. First they’ll start with Vutek customers who are using various RIPs, and try to get them to switch, but it will take time to convince other digital printers to switch from such popular RIPs as those from Onyx and Caldera. Throughout the show floor were signs “EFI RIP,” even at Canon’s booth.

Canon is hot on the heels of HP with its new iPFS-Series ImageProGraf 8 color pigment ink printers. Who needs 12 colors? What’s to like about this new printer? A lot, two 1.07” print heads with 30,720 nozzles dispensing down to 4 picoliter ink droplets, large ink tanks, 2400x1200 dpi, and it’s fast, at least 200 square feet per hour in high-quality mode. Unlike Epson, Canon comes out of the gate with a 62-in. wide model followed by a 44-in. printer.

Epson, on the other hand, has been living with a 44-in. printer for almost a decade. At Graph Expo Epson finally introduced a 64-inch printer that could move them up market to the larger print shops and photo labs. The Epson Stylus Pro 1180 comes with UltraChrome K3 pigment inks with a new vivid magenta ink. The nine-channel print head has 360 nozzles per channel. This is a variable-drop printer down to 3.5 picoliters.

Having been the inkjet printer of choice for photographers and fine-art reproduction, users now have more choices, the HP Z series with multiple black inks and now the new Canon model. However, Epson will not loose market share quietly. The 1180 has advanced B&W printing technology that uses a three-level black system to produce prints from color or grayscale image files. It also has two black-ink modes, Photo Black or Matte Black. High-quality resolution is 2880x1440, plus Epson has upped the speed.

Photographers and photo labs will definitely benefit from the new printers just launched at Graph Expo.