Inkjet: Rapid Growth Momentum
Entering its 10th year as a printing technology, production inkjet hasn’t replaced all the volume from offset or digital toner printing. It has, however, become an indispensable tool in the arsenal of any print services provider and many in-plants. Some continuous-feed inkjet printers are on par with offset productivity. Others are reaching output quality levels nearing digital color press output. And new cut-sheet production inkjet printers are putting inkjet technology within acquisition cost reach for the first time.
Existing owners of inkjet printing systems are seeing an increase in average monthly page volumes per device, as users become more comfortable shifting volume and, more importantly, developing new applications to produce on their inkjet systems. Many of those same users have reached capacity levels on those inkjet systems, requiring them to acquire additional inkjet presses. IT Strategies believes that well more than one-third of new production inkjet system sales were purchased by existing press owners.
Collectively, all pages produced on production inkjet printers are projected to grow 21% compounded annually, with demand for continuous-feed inkjet printed pages predicted to continue to grow at more than 17% between 2015 and 2020 on a worldwide basis. There is even higher percentage growth projected for cut-sheet (or in offset parlance, sheetfed) production inkjet systems.
The B-2 size (four-up) cut-sheet inkjet printers are projected to experience growth upwards of 80% annually, and the new B-3 size (two-up) inkjet printers will triple the amount of pages projected to be printed annually. The root cause for this higher percentage growth in comparison to continuous-feed inkjet (or in offset parlance, webfed) printers is because cut-sheet production inkjet printers are relatively new arrivals to the market.
In addition, like all sheetfed devices, there are mechanical limits to how fast a sheet can be moved through a cut-sheet printing system making them slower than rollfed. However, don’t let the initial comparative low volume of cut-sheet inkjet printers lead one to dismiss their importance.
New Cut-Sheet Inkjet Printers
The new generation of cut-sheet production inkjet printers are putting inkjet technology within reach of a new generation of first adopters — print providers that have had an interest in inkjet technology for multiple reasons, but couldn’t justify the investment and/or the workflow leap required with continuous-feed printers.
The adoption of these cut-sheet inkjet printers is very likely to lead to a virtuous cycle of application and page volume expansion; users will find new applications to print on the devices beyond their original expectations.
The core production inkjet printing applications today, however, still revolve around transaction statements and direct mail, which account for about two-thirds of all inkjet pages printed worldwide. The line between transaction statement and direct mail is blurring somewhat, though, as transaction statement providers are expanding into direct mail output and vice versa.
The printing of book pages via inkjet technology continues to grow for two primary reasons:
- Demand for printed books is remarkably resilient and healthy.
- Run lengths per title are coming down so much that a significant percentage share is now within the plate-/labor-saving reach of inkjet printing.
Other applications, such as personalized health care insurance provider booklets, low-ink-coverage marketing collateral and applications that fall in between digital color presses and offset in terms of volume requirements, are also growing.
Graphic arts quality output, such as full-color books, marketing collateral and even posters, are emerging as output from the new generation of high-resolution inkjet systems that enable printing on coated offset substrates.
The bottom line is that the market for production inkjet printed output is healthy and continues to grow at rates that make most other print sectors envious. Advances in ink chemistry, paper substrate compatibility and higher print resolutions, are opening up the addressability of even more print applications.
Inkjet technology co-exists with other printing technologies, but its flexibility in productivity, rapid turnaround times and ability to print variable data — while providing attractive profit margins — is making inkjet a tool that print services providers and in-plant printing operations can’t live without.
Related story: In-plants to be a Major Force at Inkjet Summit