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

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.

Xeikon 8000

Designed to excel, Xeikon’s revolutionary digital printing press, the Xeikon 8000 will surpass all your expectations. The machine’s state-of-the-art technology has been developed to optimise print productivity and quality. Aside from providing real 1200 dpi imaging quality, this member of the Xeikon family offers an extended roll width and guarantees upgraded printing speeds of up to 230 A4 pages per minute, making it your ideal partner for fast printing without compromising on quality. Transcend the limits of your production capacity, enjoy superior image quality and deliver a wider range of applications to your customers with the Xeikon 8000.

The Xeikon 8000 has the best there is to offer in terms of quality, no matter how you look at it.

Dry toner electrophotography

Engineered to perfection, the electrophotographic imaging process remains the quality and reliability standard in digital colour printing.

True 1200 dpi imaging quality

There is one specific LED for every 21 micron width of the paper, optimally conditioned and perfectly calibrated. Each LED can be addressed with 4 bits of information. The combination of real 1200 dpi and 4 bit makes this imaging technology unique. Xeikon offers the exceptional sharpness essential for today’s demanding customer.
Refined screening library
To exploit the 1200 dpi to the full extent Xeikon’s specialists designed the Pericles, a set of four different screenings, allowing screen rulings of up to 240 lpi. This way you can reach a higher level of quality with your Xeikon 8000.

Colour consistency

Two in-line densitometers and high-performance process algorithms provide uniform and accurate colours.
Press-to-press linearization, even for presses in different locations is guaranteed. Xeikon assures the perfect colour consistency over time and in-between presses you need. What’s more, the Xeikon 8000 running the Xeikon PA-toner is Pantone certified (pending).

Front-to-back registration

The renowned One-Pass-Duplex™ concept enables perfect registration and simultaneous double-sided printing, ensuring data integrity which is crucial for documents containing critical financial information.

In its class of graphic arts printing quality there is no other printing press that offers you the same level of productivity.

Web fed press

Like all Xeikon presses, the Xeikon 8000 is a high-speed web-fed digital colour press created for profitable printing. Reducing your production costs and time is our primary concern.

Astonishing printing speed

The Xeikon 8000 prints multi-page documents at an impressive speed of 230 A4 pages per minute, which translates into 244 letter size pages per minute and a duty cycle of 8,5 million A4 pages per month.

Unparalleled uptime

Speed alone is not enough to upgrade your productivity. The robust parts combined with Xeikon’s long-time experience and the best designers in the field result in a superior uptime of over 90% for real volume applications.

Transcend the limits of your production capacity and streamline your workflow with the Xeikon 8000.

Xeikon’s long history in the development of digital workflows becomes clearly visible in the latest generation of our X-800 front-end.

Fast and intelligent.

Thanks to Xeikon’s focus on industry standards, the X-800 enables the implementation of fully automated workflows while ensuring great operator flexibility. Xeikon’s own unequaled streaming technology guarantees top-notch performing throughput, while the integrated engine controller takes care of continuous output quality.

Open and transparent.

Because of its unique features the X-800 can be seamlessly integrated within your existing workflow and grow, depending on your current and future requirements. A modular and scalable approach in combination with a workflow partners program makes sure it fits in small environments with web-to-print solutions, as well as in those high-end variable data production plants.

Ease of use.

The X-800 has an easy manageable user interface that ensures an operator friendly use of the functionality that is comprised in the digital front-end. The easier the operator has access to its capabilities, the more the functionality is deployed.

Authentic and continued growth comes from securing new print jobs and offering real value to your customer. The Xeikon 5000plus is a web-fed press that handles scalable paper widths of 320 – 500 mm with virtually no restriction in sheet length. It can help you find and fulfil those new business opportunities because it accommodates standard formats up to A2 full-bleed or B2 as well as non-standard formats. Ready to print the longest jobs on a wide range of paper stocks from 40 to 350 gsm, it can also print on a wide choice of other substrates such as polyester film, transfer material, and label stock adding a wide assortment of value-generating applications.

It can help you find and fulfil those new business opportunities because it accommodates standard formats up to A2 full-bleed or B2 as well as non-standard formats.

A drive for eco-friendliness

When designing new products, Xeikon takes key environmental issues into account.

  • The digital principle. Follow our lead and ‘print only what you need, reprint when needed’ reducing waste through minimal production, downsizing storage space and thus decreasing costs.
  • Eco-objectives. Reducing the recycling cost of Xeikon products and solutions, meeting environment related product standards and customer requirements and minimizing the environmental impact during product life cycle are Xeikon’s eco-goals.
  • Design strategies. Xeikon aims to attain its eco-objectives through raw material substitution or reduction, process efficiency improvement and energy usage, as well as life cycle and product disposal optimization.
  • Xeikon digital press versus offset. Digital printing guarantees a significant reduction in raw materials as well as energy and water savings. What’s more, this printing process doesn’t cause water pollution and enables easy paper recycling thanks to its ‘good deinkable’ grade.
  • Eco-friendly approach widely recognized. Xeikon was granted the Belgian Environmental Award for sustainable product development in 2003-2004 and honoured for its specifically designed and reusable packaging in 2007.

Choose a Xeikon, make your contribution to eco-printing.

Xeikon’s printing presses share some characteristics that are unique in the printing industry. The most important ones are:

  • One-Pass-Duplex™ functionality, assuring data integrity.
  • A choice between roll-to-roll or roll-to-cut sheet configurations.
  • The X-800 digital front-end, standard with every Xeikon press.
  • No limitations in sheet or image length.

Additional eye-catching attributes of the Xeikon 8000:

  • An easily replaceable 5th colour station on either printing side, restored in just a few minutes with standard spot colours, available of the shelf.
  • Extended printing dimension. The new 1200 dpi print head enables a larger printing width of up to 504 mm; it can run a substrate of up to 512 mm wide.
    Print technology:
    LED array-based, dry toner electrophotography
    Xeikon 8000 with PA-toner, Pantone® certified (pending)
    4/4 or 5/5 hardware configuration (5th stations easy replaceable)
    One-Pass-Duplex™ printing
    Fully automated in-line density & registration control
    Clean and environmentally friendly press operation
    Print media:
    Web-fed:
    Media width:
    Media weight:
    Media formats:
    paper (coated and uncoated), paperboard, synthetic media, label stock
    320 – 512 mm (12.6” – 20.15”)
    40 – 350 gsm (27 lb text to 122 lb cover)
    Covering a wide range of printable formats including: A4, A3, A3+, A2, B3, B2, banners 
    Press throughput:
    Web speed:
    Printing speed:
    up to 17 m/min (28,5 cm/s; 56 ft/min)
    (A4 full-colour pages, when printing double-sided):
    230 ppm (13,800 pages/hour) for 40 – 100 gsm paper
    195 ppm (11,700 pages/hour) for 40 – 150 gsm paper
    160 ppm (9,600 pages/hour) for 40 – 200 gsm paper
    130 ppm (7,800 pages/hour) for 40 – 250 gsm paper (paperboard up to 200 gsm)
    100 ppm (6,000 pages/hour) for 40 – 300 gsm paper (paperboard up to 250 gsm)
    70 ppm (4,200 pages/hour) for 40 – 350 gsm paper
    Duty cycle:
    up to 8,500,000 pages/month
    Imaging:
    Spatial resolution:
    Imaging width:
    1200 dpi with variable dot density (4 bit)
    504 mm
    Digital front-end:
    Xeikon X-800 included, IPDS controller optional
    Console:
    proofing and control desk with proofing light
    Output unit:
    cut sheet stacker with removable cart (optional)
    Rewinder (optional)
    Power requirements:
    universal 3-phase
    Compliance:
    CE, GS-pending, CB-pending, FCC-pending

Xeikon 330

The Xeikon 330 now offers you all the advantages for narrow-format digital label printing beyond compare. Its unsurpassed flexibility stemming from an unbeatably short and easy set-up, guarantees truly simple planning and a short time to market, which is rapidly becoming a must in today’s ultra-fast moving competitive world. It means the Xeikon 330 is ideal for just-in-time label printing, making costly storage of label overstock a thing of the past.

Thanks to the fully digital workflow your turnaround time per job is reduced considerably so more short-run jobs can be produced per shift than on traditional presses. 

Intro_330

The web-fed Xeikon 330 label press sets a benchmark for image quality and consistency. It offers a resolution of 600 dpi whereby every dot has variable density levels in combination with professional screen rulings from 85 lpi to 170 lpi to produce pin-sharp photographic images and smoother shades that outmatch the possibilities of screen and flexo printing. Moreover, it incorporates enhanced technology that virtually eliminates ghosting. Not only does this improve quality, but it reduces the number of rejected labels, thus increasing productivity.

The Xeikon 330 uses enhanced dry toner to produce clean and solid colours that guarantee perfect character reproduction, even in the smallest of print. The application of varnish for a perfect glossy finish is smooth and easy and brings out the full depth and warmth of this new toner. The Xeikon 330’s fifth colour station ships as “white” to allow for easy and matchless label printing on transparent surfaces and create that “no-label-look” label. But it can just as easily be used for the application of custom-made spot colours or security toner.

The Xeikon 330 offers precise image positioning in combination with a full-rotary printing mode and accurate step-and-repeat functions, necessary for perfect and accurate finishing. Furthermore, a special optical sensor allows you to print images precisely in register on pre-printed stock or security materials.

The Xeikon 330 enables you to be highly competitive thanks to its low Total Cost of Printing for short to medium runs. Its full-rotary technology brings easy print management and cost calculation while offering an unbeatable actual top speed of 14.7 m/min.

Naturally, the press has a user-friendly interface with advanced process controls that queue jobs electronically, allowing instant switching from one job to another.

When it comes to short-run or variable data label printing, the Xeikon 330 leaves traditional flexo, screen and offset printing completely behind. Its fast turnaround and powerful value added applications will help you successfully meet the increased service requirements of your customers, today and in the future… while variable information and data printing add even more value.

X330_002_large

The Xeikon 330 comes with the truly open, scalable and modular X-800 Digital Front-End (DFE) that combines extensive pre-press functionality including a fast RIP with impressive variable data printing processing.

In addition, the Xeikon 330 DFE is designed to deliver the highest print quality level, a practical die marker function and precise step-and-repeat, while smoothly dealing with typical challenges such as sequential numbering and barcodes.

X330_005_large

Just like most label presses, the Xeikon 330 is web-fed. It easily prints regular as well as oversized label formats and can handle a wide and flexible range of substrates with widths of 320 or 330 mm, available from vendors such as FASSON, Raflatac and MACtac. Pre-coating or any pre-treatment of substrates is not necessary, which saves you considerable time and money. At your choice, jobs can be printed on self-adhesive material, both paper (coated and noncoated stock) and synthetic based (PP or PET) and transfer material – varying between 60 and 250 gsm. Basically, you are spoilt for choice.

Since the Xeikon 330 easily tackles barcode printing, sequential numbering and the likes, it creates clear opportunities in the Variable Information Printing (VIP) market. What is more, it even broadens the horizon to include variable data printing, which allows you to completely vary each impression during the printing process, thus enabling you and your customers to exceed generalised printing and smoothly create value-adding versioning products.

Typical applications handled by the Xeikon 330 include all kinds of pharmaceutical labels, labels for alcoholic beverages, wine, food and cosmetics, as well as household, industrial, security and decorative printing.

The Xeikon 330 is one of the most environment friendly digital colour presses in the business. It is dry toner based so no solvents are used, which makes it not only a friend of the environment but also of your health.

The Xeikon 330 offers easy installation and start-up. No external hook-ups are required and no special environmental permits or exceptional safety precautions are necessary for its use.

What is more, its hard-wearing components make it last a lifetime. Its environment friendliness qualifies it for investment subsidies offered by the governments of certain countries. Finally, the Xeikon 330 complies with an extensive list of international regulations such as UL, CE, GS and FCC.

X330_003_large

X330 - 3D
Print technology: LED array-based, dry toner electrophotography
5 colour hardware configuration
Yellow, Cyan, Magenta and Black
5th station opaque white, security toner or spot colour
full rotary printing
clean and environmentally friendly press operation
Print media:
web-fed: label stock, paper and synthetic media
media width: 320 or 330 mm (12.6″ or 13″)
media weight: 6 0 – 250 gsm (40 lb text to 90 lb cover)
media calliper: 20 micron – 200 micron
Press throughput:  
web speed*: 7.35 m/min (24 ft/min)
14.7 m/min (48 ft/min)
*: depending on the substrate
Duty cycle: up to 200,000 m/month (650,000 ft/month)
or up to 60,000 spm/month (640,000 sqft/month)
Imaging:
spatial resolution: 600 dpi with variable dot density (4 bit)
imaging width: 307.6 mm (12.11″)
repeat length up to 55 m
Output unit: roll-to-roll output standard, re-winder optional
built-in cutter (optional)
Console: proofing and control desk with proofing light
Optional modular
finishing
solution:
in-line or off-line
– UV flexo varnish
– laminating
– hot foil
– spot varnish
– digital semi-rotary die-cutting