Digital Print Update

Digital Print Update

Now a strong force in the label converting industry, digital printing is accomplished using several competing processes.

By Jack Kenny

A couple of months ago a narrow web converter made this declaration: “I want a digital press. We can afford it and I really and truly want to own one. But because of the markets we serve, we won’t have enough work for it.” That’s an honest assessment, but you could feel the enthusiasm for the technology in the converter’s voice and delivery. That speaks volumes about digital printing today.

An artistic view of the inner works of an HP Indigo ws4500 digital press

The year 2007 is a mere dozen years past the introduction of the Indigo and Xeikon digital presses into this industry, though it seems like decades. Digital printing and prepress is so thoroughly entrenched in the imaging culture today that one rarely hears the question: “Will I ever have a digital press?” It’s simply a matter of when that acquisition will take place.

One sign of the growth trend will be visible next year at Labelexpo Americas in Chicago. One section of a hall will be devoted to digital products, including both presses and prepress equipment. In Brussels at Labelexpo Europe 2009, an entire hall will be set aside for exhibitors of digital print equipment and systems.

Growth of color digital printing in the narrow web packaging sector started small, which was to be expected. Indigo, an independent Israeli company now owned by Hewlett-Packard, was first on the block with its digital offset machine that employs electrostatic inks (still proprietary and available only from HP). Xeikon soon followed with its toner based tower, which attracted the attention of Nilpeter, the Danish press manufacturer. Nilpeter put its logo on the Xeikon engine for several years.

The Xeikon 330 digital label press

Penetration of these systems was slow and steady, though it seemed to retard a bit in the early part of this decade during the recession. Meanwhile, inkjet printers began bulking up, and development of this process was undertaken both by Mark Andy and by the former Webtron-Aquaflex group in conjunction with 17 converters who called themselves the Digital Label Alliance. Both efforts, now apparently moribund, involved the installation of a digital inkjet machine into a flexographic press, so that the benefits of variable printing in color could be incorporated into the flexo process. The Mark Andy version, developed in conjunction with Xaar in Belgium, featured a four- to six-color unit that was shown at Labelexpo Europe.

Digital means that several aspects of the conventional printing process are replaced by computerization. Designs produced in the prepress department are sent directly to the printing machine, which translates the digital image into instructions for the ink or toner application equipment. Digital means no printing plates, which removes a great many challenges that flexo operators encounter daily. Moreover, because the images come directly from the computer and are not restricted to images on a plate, each can be different. This presents broad opportunities for personalization and other variable information.

Inkjet growth

Inkjet has resurfaced in the arena, not strictly as a facet of a larger press, but rather as a stand-alone printing machine that can produce process color. EFI Jetrion was first out of the gate with its 4000 press, a machine described by Vice President Ken Stack as “cost effective for short to medium runs”. The 4000, introduced at Labelexpo in Chicago last year, comes in a 4″ (102mm) wide version, with an 8″ (203mm) model to come next year. It prints using up to six colors at speeds ranging from 50 to 100 feet per minute.

Sun Chemical has its own digital four-color inkjet press, similar in structure to the EFI Jetrion machine, which was seen for the first time in public at Labelexpo in Brussels this year. Called SolarJet, it offers a variety of print widths to meet the application requirements of converters and utilize their existing inventory of dies and converting equipment. Chris Faust, director of North American sales for SolarJet, says the press has “virtually no press setup time, and combined with print speeds of up to 80 linear feet per minute, it makes short work of most digital job requirements.”

Nilpeter’s new Caslon digital inkjet press unit

A rather quiet appearance at the rear of one of the halls of Labelexpo this year was made by Epson, which presented a prototype of its digital four-color inkjet press. The machine prints on a 13″ wide web using high density pigments in an aqueous solution. Its 17 print heads can produce a printed area 13″ x 36″ in dimension. According to Marc Tinkler, senior business development manager, the press prints on normal gloss stock that does not require pre-treating, as other digital presses do. Speed is about 33 feet per minute. Tinkler adds that the Epson press is still about a year away from commercial launch.

Nilpeter, which no longer markets the Xeikon machine under its brand, made a major introduction in September of the Caslon unit, a module that prints four-color inkjet that can operate as a stand-alone press or run inline with the FA-Line UV flexo presses or the Nilpeter MO offset machines. Depending on the choice of grayscale levels, the Caslon (named for the 18th Century English type designer) prints from 25 to 50 mpm (82 to 164 fpm). “That makes it one of the industry’s fastest inkjet printers of its type,” says Jakob Landberg, Nilpeter’s vice president of sales.


Xeikon, owned by Punch Graphix of Belgium, says the pace of sales of its large digital presses is on the rise. The company reports “impressive sales results during the four days of Labelexpo Europe. This includes the sale to customers buying an additional machine to their existing Xeikon label presses: S. Lerner from Israel, JoDi Etiketter from Sweden and X-label from Germany, to name a few,” says Siegfried Trinker, chief sales officer.

Sun Chemical’s SolarJet inkjet press

“The market for digital label printing is growing rapidly and customers appreciate the variety of pre- and postpress solutions we can offer,” he says. “When customers choose an additional Xeikon, it confirms that they appreciate the quality and outstanding performance of our solutions and the first class service we offer to them.”

Overall, 2007 shows a highly increased sales activity of the Xeikon 330, says Trinker. “Due to our increased focus on the label industry, installations of the Xeikon 330 in 2007 so far already doubled the installations in 2006. The Xeikon 330 is a top product and we are committed to play a leading role in the label industry by continuous innovation and first class customer care.”

HP Indigo

By far the HP Indigo press is the leader in the digital print field in the narrow web label industry. Since the acquisition several years ago by HP, the Indigo press has become ubiquitous, and is one of the best selling machines world wide in this segment of the printing and packaging business. The company says that sales throughout 2007 escalated, and growth from August 2006 to August of this year was 44 percent.

Epson’s prototype digital color inkjet press,
shown at Labelexpo Europe 2007 in Brussels

The company has begun to stress its relationship with industry partners, publicly announcing alliances with other suppliers, such as AB Graphic International and EskoArtwork.

“The end-to-end offerings from HP and its partners make digital label production both cost-effective and highly efficient,” says Alon Bar-Shany, vice president and general manager of the Indigo Division. “We have more than 500 HP Indigo presses for the label market installed worldwide, and by the end of this year more than 20 percent of our total install base will be for our most recent press, the HP Indigo press ws4500, launched just a year ago. The number of customers installing multiple presses is testament to the market trend toward shorter runs, variable data, security, and on-demand printing.”

Many companies throughout the world own and operate more than one HP Indigo label press. Stralfors of Sweden has four. Rako, based in Germany, has six of them. Lightning Labels, in the US, has two new ws4500 machines, and no other types of presses.

A rendering of the inside
of a Xeikon digital press

HP has worked with many companies on finishing solutions that can be used offline or inline with the press. By and large the post-press work is handled offline. This year the company made the announcement that AB Graphic was its sole strategic partner and preferred supplier of finishing equipment.

AB Graphic launched its new Omega Digicon series 2 label converting line in September, offering an expanded range of processing technologies for digitally printed webs. The fully modular Digicon series 2 features automated pre-positioning, resulting in minimum waste and quick make-ready.  The servo driven web tension control is capable of handling a wide range of substrates; both paper and non-paper. The semi-rotary web motion with dial-in repeat lengths and only one cylinder size means that there are no gears or shafts to change. The basics of the machine include unwind/rewind units, electronic web guide, infeed roller, semi rotary flexographic printing station, air cooled UV curing, mid press dance roller to allow for combinations of rotary flexo and semi rotary die cutting, servo driven out-feed nip roller, waste matrix and HMI touch screen control.

Black only

Nipson makes high speed digital presses that print only in black ink. The VaryPress 200, the latest generation, is built for continuous production and can operate at speeds up to 295 fpm (90 mpm) on a printable width of 18.45″ (web width of 20.5″). The range of materials the machine can use includes coated and uncoated paper, pressure sensitive stocks, foils, and plastic affixed cards.

The Nipson machines utilize a magnetographic printing process, which incorporates toner and allows for reproduction of images at 600 dots per inch.

HP Scitex X2 print head technology

HP Scitex has come up with a revolutionary, brand new concept in print head design that promises a leap forward in print capability. John Taylor visits HP in Barcelona and lifts the lid off the new technology.

With a clean sheet approach to pioneering new technology to take piezo inkjet printing on to a new stage, HP Scitex, looking to bridge the productivity divide with more m2/hr output at highly sellable quality, has developed a stunning new print head, the X2.

Key to the new print head development, says HP’s Dr Ross Allen, is to take output levels to the hundreds mark in m2/hr with potential for the future in thousands. The route to that particular Xanadu he sees as via rapid dry inks, more nozzles per print head, higher reliability, longer print head life and easier maintenance and service, all revolving around the head and ink system for reliability. For the head: brand new technology and for the inks, UV curables.

The resultant new generation X2 print head is indeed a new generation in piezoelectric inkjet technology for industrial inkjet applications and, just for starters, using UV curable ink, it takes industrial wide format quality, productivity and reliability to that much vaunted new level. X2 boasts high durability and reliability, delivering the high ink flows needed for high speed printing, with necessary quality to boot.

In a definitive move to new manufacturing techniques, Scitex turned to silicon chip technology, moreover, wafer fabrication as the basis for producing the new head. The concept is truly stunning and Scitex promises the results to match! Key to the revolution is Silicon based MEMS, Micro Electro Mechanical Systems.

The resultant design features print head parts that come into contact with the ink fabricated in silicon, glass and epoxy, thus making it highly resistant to corrosion. Furthermore the wafer fabrication-based MEMS process delivers extremely high accuracy and repeatability manufacturing, ensuring uniformity and performance. This, says Ross Allen, is important as print heads are used in arrays of tens, hundreds or even a 1000 or more. For that, he adds, mounting and imaging accuracy, as well as speed are also benefits of the technology.

X2 is patented and destined for major integration. They feature on the newly previewed HP Scitex FB6500 flatbed and the forthcoming HP Scitex XL2200 wide format inkjet. Both are expected in the first half of 2007 for applications ranging from high quality, durable PoS and PoP displays to outdoor signage and building and vehicle graphics. The print head silicon chip features a two sided side shooter design. Sixty four nozzles, ink channels, and piezo actuators are formed on each side of the chip, delivering up to 30,000, 50pl drops per second per nozzle in a 32.5mm swathe.

Native resolution of the X2 is 100 nozzles/in and by assembling into multi-print head modules, resolutions up to 800dpi can be readily achieved. Measuring up at just 8x64mm at the delivery end, the slim, under 1mm thick profiled X2 is, says Ross Allen, ideal for building multiprint head modules with very high nozzle density. An ink channel at the top edge of the print head supplies all nozzles and ink up to 15cP viscosity can be delivered. Ink delivery, states Ross Allen, is incredible, quoting 100min to deliver one litre of ink.

The electronics packaging of the print head design uses anodic bonding and not adhesives, forming a permanent chemical bond and hermetic seal between the constituent materials. The result, as mentioned, is only silicon, glass and epoxy touch the ink, and the piezo actuators and electrodes within the assembly are completely isolated from the ink. The print head is reckoned to deliver dependable imaging performance over 15-45ºC.

Compact and modular in design, the heads snap accurately together to form banks and also snap accurately into place on to the machine. These are secured with just two screws, for precision location and hence accurate printing repeatability. Two location pins provide precision head location accuracy said to be better than 10microns without adjustment. X2 can deliver over 10ml of ink per minute at linear print speeds up to 2m/s. Notably, the new design increases the number of nozzles in the print zone by a factor of three over any other head in the industry, says Ross Allen.

Ink connections to the print head are via two ports, each sealed with an O-ring and without the need for tubes that have to be attached and tightened. Power and communications to the head are via a standard 26pin connector.

In operation, the piezo actuator deflects the glass plate a fraction of a micron into the ink channel when a voltage pulse is applied, ejecting an ink droplet. Nominal drop velocity is 8m/s, providing precision dot placement at high linear printing speeds. The piezo actuators and electrodes on the head are outside on the surface of the glass, completely away from the ink. Because the nozzles are formed in a polished silicon surface, there is no nozzle plate to align during print head manufacture or to delaminate with use. Silicon, says Ross Allen, provides an ideal surface for the nozzles because it is hard and durable, resisting abrasion and corrosion, even with low pH inks.

With the silicon design and the anodic bonding approach – restricting where ink can get to – ink capability of the X2 is tremendous – water based to highly corrosive solvents are said to be not a problem for the new design. In making a start for using the new technology, though, HP Scitex has plumped for rapidly growing in demand UV curable to hit the button on fast drying, high quantity, quality production. However, according to Scitex’s Itai Halevy, other platforms such as solvent, will be very much considered for X2 as and when they come along.

On its existing machine line up Itai Halevy points out that there are no plans to replace the existing heads on existing machines with X2. Changing to the new head is not easy, it needs a ground up development of new machines. But notably, he adds, that now with its own head, HP Scitex indeed feels comfortable not having to rely totally on anyone else’s head.

In developing a new UV curable ink for the new head, the company returned to basics. Essentially UV curable inks fall into two categories of free radical and cationic. Compared to aqueous and solvent inks, UV curable as complex. Around 95 per cent of UV curable inks are free radical based, produced using a wide range of raw materials and photo initiators, to deliver formulations that cure only under UV light exposure.

Cationic UV inks are more complex than free radical inks and also need heat to fully cure. The problem with cationic formulations is that they continue to cure through dark curing until all the ink is totally cured.

HP UV inks are free radical in formulation, produced from 100 per cent solids and invoking no evaporation. That means curing solidifies all the solids without producing VOCs. The ink stays where you put it says Ross Allen, delivering pin sharp edges and lines. The inks are plastic, forming a mechanical bond with the media, penetrating and keying to its surface as they dry. The result is a highly durable print where rapid curing under UV also minimises spreading and feathering of the ink.

With no VOCs generated, UV curable inks deliver a major health and safety advantage over other ink formulations. And in energy savings terms, no drier is needed. UV inks do not dry inside the head and thus the machine is easier to keep running, with real advantages in terms of ink efficiency. Ink supplies do not need capping and nearly all the ink delivered, says Ross Allen, ends up on the media.

The new HP Scitex water based, pigmented UV curable inks, as used on the new FB6500 flatbed and XL2200, are free radical curing and monomer based, solidifying with a photo initiator that polymerises the ink. Oligomers are added to keep the dry ink flexible on the media, producing very flexible print that otherwise would be brittle. The four, six and eight colour formulations deliver a wide colour gamut and are reckoned to be 24 months outdoor durable.

In production of its inks, HP carries out total end to end quality control. HP, according to Ross Allen, is the only manufacturer of inkjets that does it all: machine; head and inks, all end to end engineered and quality controlled. The inks can be used on rigid and flexible uncoated media at low cost per copy, high quality output. Print is water fast and fade resistant for two years or more on outdoor displays, whilst also resisting abrasion.


Gandinnovations to Unleash Jetstream at ISA and drupa Shows

Gandinnovations to Unleash Jetstream at ISA and drupa Shows
Gandinnovations Press Release
Gandinnovations will launch its newest grand-format UV digital printer the Jeti3348 Jetstream UV RTR in the Gandi booth at the ISA ’08 Show ‘booth #922’ and Drupa ’08 in ‘Hall 5a booth #23’.

This latest addition to Gandi’s grand format UV digital printers portfolio is the Jeti3348 Jetstream UV RTR, which is a 3-meter roll-to-roll printer with a 4 Color configuration, featuring 48 (80 picoliter) Spectra print heads.

This grand-format digital printer is the best in its class, maximizing speeds and cost effectiveness for end-users. Capable of printing fast images at speeds of 2,500 sqft/hr (232.25 sqm/hr) in 2-pass billboard production mode at 300 dpi, which is perfect for Outdoor application.

The Jeti3348 Jetstream UV RTR lightning fast speeds have been tested for acceptance in different applications and on a variety of materials including 100% PE eco-friendly polyethylene.

The Jeti3348 Jetstream UV RTR will also be available with a back-lit option enabling printing on both sides of the material with perfect registration which allows for brilliant backlit signage. Designed for 24/7 productivity with single operator intervention, the Jeti3348 Jetstream UV RTR is the best productive digital print solution for outdoor applications in speed and quality for billboards and building wraps. The Jeti3348 Jetstream UV RTR gives the perfect print every time, with brighter images and solid colors using our dedicated, environmentally friendly, branded UV-curable inks, these specially formulated inks yield a wider color gamut and exhibit excellent flexibility and superior adhesion on a variety of materials including 100% PE eco-friendly polyethylene. This complete printing solution provides an economic advantage for our customers.

Demonstrations on the Jeti3348 Jetstream UV RTR are currently available at Gandinnovations headquarters in Mississauga, Canada.