Beyond Process Color Digital Printing

By | December 6, 2008

Jim Hamilton, Group Director at InfoTrends has a blog post up at InfoTrends’ InfoBlog comparing digital printing systems that have the capability to use more than 4-colors in print applications. Jim says,

I’ve been giving some thought to devices that offer one or more imaging stations above the typical four (for the four process colors). HP Indigo, Kodak NexPress, and Xeikon have had this capability for many years but recent announcements are expanding this capability, and, in addition, others are entering this space. The possibilities range from simple spot color use to custom colors, coatings, and magnetic image character recognition (MICR).

Take a look at the table at Beyond Process Color Digital Printing: Approaches to Additional Colors, Special Effects, and MICR

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3 thoughts on “Beyond Process Color Digital Printing

  1. Bob Raus

    This is a very interesting table in that it clearly shows the capabilities of each engine are distinct and unique – and the discrete positioning of each product line. There is little overlap in capabilities and therefore each company has defined a (nearly) unique niche to play in. I think it is fascinating how the marketing teams in each company can read the market potential and requirements so differently.

    I’d like to also see a list of target markets, applications and substrates for each engine/family. For example, some products would clearly be positioned more towards Transpromo, direct mail and transactional printing (MICR), while others would be more targeted to traditional offset applications. The first group is almost always printed on paper, while the second can include films, plastics, corrugated packaging, pressboards and papers.

    It will be interesting to see these engines evolve. That is, if companies duplicate/add feature sets and capabilities that “fill in the blanks” (where there is a “no” today) to provide a more complete – and competitive) set of product capabilities in the future.

  2. George Alexander

    For anyone who hasn’t taken a look at Jim Hamilton’s table (the link is in the initial post), you really should. It is an interesting look at how a single concept (“more than four imaging stations”) can be applied in many different ways.

    I liked Bob Raus’ idea of trying to classify these machines by their capabilities and target applications, so I have made a first attempt. It turns out that a fairly good sense of the appropriate users for these machines can be gleaned. If you can improve on my classification, please add your two cents!

    The first thing that jumps out from Jim’s table is that there are two vendors who have done relatively little with the “5th station” concept so far: Canon and Oce.

    Canon offers only a “clear finish” option. I would speculate that this lack of options is partly because Canon is a relatively recent entrant, with little time to evolve more complex options, and partly because it addresses a market that focuses on straightforward four-color work, so its users are not yet pushing for other options.

    Oce offers only MICR, a clear indication that it is initially focusing on transactions.

    The remaining three vendors (HP, Kodak, and Xeikon) are generalists in the commercial-printing world. They all offer a clear coat or protective finish of some kind. This suggests an interest in the high-end commercial printing market, and perhaps also direct mail. Also, all three offer some off-the-shelf standard highlight colors. These could be used in book, documentation, and transactional work. Two of them (HP and Xeikon) offer custom-mixed spot colors, essential for some kinds of corporate ID and business-card work.

    Perhaps the most interesting are the unique features of some of the machines. For Kodak, the unique aspect is raised printing, which suggests business cards and social stationery. (According to the table, Kodak also offers a 5th color to expand the gamut, but it is not clear to me how valuable a single additional primary is for gamut expansion.)

    For Xeikon, the unique features are white printing (for printing on transparent substrates, such as labels or decals) and UV security printing (for financial and other security-oriented markets).

    HP has the most unique features. It has 6 or 7-color expanded gamut and a matte finishing option (both useful for high-end commercial printing). There is also a light-cyan/light-magenta option, which would be helpful for photobooks, photo finishing, and similar applications.

    It seems you really can tell a lot about market focus from looking at how a vendor implements imaging stations beyond the initial four.

  3. Jim Hamilton

    In regard to George’s question about gamut expansion for the NexPress products, they can use their red, green, and blue toners to expand the gamut in one of those directions. So if you had an image with a lot of reds (or a corporate color to match beyond CMYK), you might choose to add a red using what Kodak calls “Intelligent Color.” I agree with George that this has limited value, but it does have applications. With two additional colors you can really begin to expand gamut significantly, but only HP Indigo is capable of doing so today in the digital print arena. I think that special effects like the dimensional ink for NexPress will ultimately have a greater impact than gamut expansion with only one additional color.

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