Inkjet Myths Exposed
Though inkjet is a highly developed and reliable technology, myths about it are impeding its growth. One expert attempts to bust them wide open.January 2014 By Pat McGrew
Inkjet has been a part of the printing world for more than a few decades, but some people perceive it as not only new, but risky. The naysayers will tell you that inkjet is not up to the color and image quality demands of the brand owners and agencies that control the commercial printing world.
It just isn't true! From the early days of low-resolution line printing through the many evolutions that brought us inkjet imprinting technologies and, finally, the full-color production workhorses of today, inkjet is a highly developed and reliable technology. But somewhere along the way, strong mythology developed that tries to pigeon-hole high-speed production inkjet. Believe the myths and you may miss an opportunity.
Myth 1: High-speed inkjet is only good for transaction printing and letters.
Most transaction, regulatory and essential communication mail is designed and executed with more attention to accuracy and speed than to print image quality. The resulting reputation is that there is no real requirement for brilliant color or print quality, and inkjet is good enough to meet those criteria.
However, when you actually sit and talk with the brand owners and agencies, they tell a different story: They guide the design and language used in bills and statements, insurance policies and welcome kits. To them, brand guidelines, brand colors and print quality are of concern regardless of the communication channel. High- speed production inkjet print quality—which has many variations depending on the print system vendor, print head technology, ink and paper—is deemed appropriate, not just because it is good enough, but because it is good.
So where does the idea that inkjet is not appropriate for general commercial printing, magazines, marketing collateral or point-of-sale material originate? History. Go back five to 10 years when achieving brilliant color on a variety of substrates was a challenge. However, today's technology, substrates and inks have changed the story.
Every vendor has made huge strides in meeting customer demands, as you can see at any industry trade show where they share their print samples and success stories. But somehow the myth persists that high-speed production inkjet is only good for transaction print.
If you buy into this myth you miss the myriad opportunities that production inkjet brings to the communication equation.
Myth 2: You can’t get rich colors on production inkjet web presses.
In the early days of production inkjet printing, there were limitations. The blacks were not always true black and, depending on the paper and ink, the colors could look weak and washed out. With good color management and attention to paper selection, it was possible to get to color and image quality that most brand owners would accept, but it took some expertise and dedication.
Early adopters learned that color management was essential. It wasn't sufficient to take a file prepared for offset or electrophotographic printing and pass it through the workflow to the high-speed inkjet press. Success came when files were prepared for inkjet.
Today's inkjet solutions are more robust and versatile. With both dye and pigment ink solutions in the market, the color gamuts are broader. It is now possible to take files prepared for other print delivery channels and successfully print them on high-speed inkjet web presses with little or no additional color management.
While it is always best to color manage for the specific device and paper, every day many printers around the world print files that were not specifically prepared for their inkjet device. When the option is available to prepare files for inkjet, there are some simple tricks that are key to obtaining rich color:
- Review files for text composed as rich black instead of black. Rich black is the composite additive color that means you are laying down cyan, magenta, yellow and black. In the world of inkjet, all that does is add ink and water, diluting the sharpness of the black. Designers who create for offset often use this technique to get a richer black, but that same technique applied to inkjet produces a muddier black.
- Review the color management of images in the document. Taking black out of the images through profiling and other techniques allows the color to come through vibrantly.
- Ensure you are starting with as much data as possible. Image objects that were created for the red/green/blue Internet delivery channel at 72 dpi will never bring brilliant color to an inkjet-printed project.
Avoid the myth, and add color management to your tool kit.
Myth 3: You have to use expensive paper to get good print quality.
The most dramatic change in the world of high-speed production inkjet is the availability of paper in a range of weights that meet the needs of most transaction, direct mail, book, magazine, newspaper and general commercial print providers. While not as vast as the selection for offset printing, there are papers in most categories, from uncoated offset to inkjet treated and coated in matte, silk and gloss variations.
Will every inkjet press from every manufacturer work with every paper stock? No. But the odds are that there is an appropriate paper available at a reasonable cost for most projects.
One of the big advances in getting rich color in the high-speed production inkjet web press environment is ensuring that the ink stays as close to the surface as possible. When the ink is absorbed into the paper the image and text usually lose their sharpness.
Many of the papers available in the market today are treated or coated to give the ink something to grab at the surface, keeping it from being absorbed.
One objection to the treated and coated papers is that they can carry a higher price tag than a standard uncoated offset—and we all know that the printing industry can be very price-sensitive. This is where concepts like primers and bonding agents come into play.
The concept is to lay down a fluid ahead of printing on the low-cost offset stock, allowing shops that print offset and digital to use a common house stock or allowing digital shops to take advantage of the price difference. The result is that ink stays on the surface, text is sharper and images appear more brilliant. (The World Bank's in-plant uses this technique to allow its HP T230 Color Inkjet Web Press to print on papers not manufactured for inkjet printing.)
These are the myths about inkjet but, as you can see, we can bust them all.
A well-known industry author, speaker and communications professional, Pat McGrew currently works as the inkjet evangelist for the High-Speed Inkjet Web Press division of HP.