by Cassandra Balentine
Production inkjet—specifically cutsheet inkjet—is a hot segment in print. Cutsheet inkjet options shine in terms of initial investment cost, supported substrates, and print quality.
These systems continue to advance, targeting markets where digital electrophotographic products meet their limits and before offset or continuous inkjet make economic sense. Two common press sizes for cutsheet inkjet include B2 and B3.
B2 is the larger configuration, which offers sheet sizes around 19.7×27.8 inches. This sheet size is attractive to offset users looking to add digital as a complementary offering. B3 sheet sizes come in at around 13.9×19.7 inches and are well suited for existing digital environments with a desire to invest in or increase inkjet capabilities.
Cutsheet Inkjet Advantages
Both continuous and cutsheet inkjet solutions have a place in the modern print world. Here, we focus on the advantages presented by the latter.
Charlie Lahr, manager, inkjet technology, Komori America, says there are many benefits to cutsheet inkjet, including the ability to print on a range of non-primed or pre-treated substrates as well as consistent quality across the sheet—sheet to sheet and job to job.
Depending on a print provider’s product offering line up, existing printing and finishing equipment, and familiarity with inkjet, they may find one configuration more suitable than the other.
While the benefits of cutsheet inkjet are true for varied configurations, there are certain areas where B2 is better suited.
Bill Troxil, SVP, industrial print and inkjet, Konica Minolta Business Solutions, U.S.A., Inc., points out that in general, cutsheet inkjet solutions are able to print on a range of non-primed or pre-treated substrates, adding that some B2 cutsheet inkjet presses are able to produce an extended variety of printed products on a wider range of substrate types and weights.
He says cutsheet inkjet presses are built off of offset press transports and therefore utilize the same bindery and finishing processes and equipment that commercial printers use today with offset presses, enabling a smooth integration and less capital investment. “Print quality tends to be superior from cutsheet inkjet to that of continuous fed inkjet systems.”
Further, Lahr says devices with LED-UV ink curing—like the Komori Impremia IS29—are able to print and go directly into finishing, producing output that will hold up in the mailstream for direct mail applications and offer a wide color gamut and consistent quality.
In the case of the Fujifilm J Press 750S, Ed Pierce, product marketing manager, Fujifilm, says the B2 press offers a high level of productivity running at 3,600 sheets per hour with an uptime reported at over 95 percent by J Press owners, as well as a positive cost-in-use model that addresses not only increased industry trends of shorter runs, but also a post-COVID-19 industry that he believes will see this trend accelerate.
“Press flexibility is also a key selling point,” says Pierce. For example, the J Press runs stocks ranging from 60 lb. offset text weight up to 24 pt. board, making it an ideal platform to tackle the highest quality commercial work as well as the lucrative and growing market of short-run folding cartons.
Packaged with Fujifilm’s ColorPath SYNC Brand Color Optimizer, the J Press 750S also allows users to predict in a matter of minutes how closely they will hit an important brand color. “Another key point of the J Press 750S is not only its capability to hit specific colors but the ability to repeat colors on demand—whether it be the following day or a month later. Without any operator intervention, the press perfectly matches colors time and time again, which is a major challenge with traditional offset and toner devices,” says Pierce.
According to Mike Herold, director, global marketing, Ricoh, the B2 sheet-size supports more cost-effective, multiple-up jobs with less waste compared to traditional offset or toner devices, and high print quality and consistency on both coated and non-coated stocks to meet customer application requirements that focus on maximizing revenue growth. “We have taken special care to work directly with customers to build technology that will meet their needs and the needs of their customers, such as the ability to migrate existing applications from other technology and bring in new, value-added programs,” he shares, adding that the Ricoh Pro Z75 is designed to deliver segment-leading productivity, high image quality, and media flexibility.
Lahr admits that to take full advantage of B2 digital press technology, it requires a work mix of variable printing and point of purchase (POP)/signage, as well as offset replacement. “Many of our customers have plenty of two of the three, but they need to add more value-added capabilities of variable data printing,” he offers.
Pierce feels that today’s B2 cutsheet inkjet platforms are so advanced from just a short time ago that most challenges have been addressed, including color, repeatability, quality, and substrate breadth. “I think the most common request I hear from the market is for increased speed. However, considering that only over a year ago the speed of the J Press increased by over 30 percent, we find that even this has been addressed. I can only imagine that press speeds will continue to increase as long as quality can be maintained at levels required in the marketplace,” he notes.
“The biggest challenge is for organizations to understand the full range of cost factors and savings opportunities that are applicable in a transition to inkjet to generate the true return on investment,” says Troxil.
B3 cutsheet inkjet devices also present certain advantages.
Glenn Toole, VP, sales & marketing, MCS, Inc., says workflow simplicity and integrity are strong selling points for these devices. “From file preparation to paper procurement and finishing, there is less intervention and manual steps involved to run common jobs that have output sizes of letter or tabloid. Operators can load paper sizes matching the exact final piece size.
“This eliminates paper cutting and final bindery work. Prepress impositioning can be eliminated, which reduces proofing needs as well as bindery and layout errors. Paper grain direction can be managed at the paper procurement stage to optimize finishing. Grain direction can be specified to the paper supplier so that folds are optimized and cracking is minimized. The operator interactions with the system are much simpler than roll-fed systems. This results in a shorter learning curve and easier-to-train labor,” he shares.
Quality assurance is another benefit. “Transactional work—including statements and invoices—require high integrity. Producing them in their final size—and in final collation order by a sheet-fed press reduces problems associated with missing and out-of-order pieces,” he continues.
Toole cites quicker turnaround time, smaller footprint, redundancy, and scalability as additional benefits of B3 cutsheet inkjet.
Lisa Weese, director of marketing, Canon Solutions America, points to advancements that lead to reliable production and uptime with minimal operator intervention, along with attractive running costs and increased productivity compared with B3 toner presses.
For example, the Canon varioPRINT iX-series was designed to keep its running costs low. She says its hardware features pinpoint accuracy to reduce misprints and waste. Additionally, it prints on commodity coated and uncoated stocks so printers can make a cost-efficient media selection.
B3 format cutsheet inkjet presses largely target the commercial print and graphic arts markets.
“The varioPRINT iX-series revolutionizes the graphic arts business experience. It combines stunning image quality and a wide media range with the high productivity and attractive cost efficiency of inkjet. So, printers can say ‘yes’ to virtually any job based on the agreed turnaround time and price, resulting in more profit and more business,” shares Weese.
In general, cutsheet inkjet devices present extensive application opportunities.
For B2, Lahr points to direct mail, packaging, signage, and offset replacement as some of the most attractive markets fueling adoption—driven by the durability of the ink, format size, and overall production economics.
With the LED-curable ink and format size features, the Komori Impremia IS29 is well suited for direct mail—printing six-up 8.5×11-inch size sheets. It is also ideal for point of sale (POS); for example stanchion signs. The format size and substrates allow for some typical wide format replacement. “We see a rise in packaging and synthetic substrates. The key is to look for the value-added applications utilizing the format size,” notes Lahr.
Pierce notes that markets vary and the primary applications depend on the customers’ core applications as well as market position. He says Fujifilm finds success in general commercial environments, direct mail, as well as the short-run folding carton market. This is due to the sheet size, media support, and the color gamut that the J Press delivers along with Fujifilm’s ColorPath SYNC Brand Color Optimizer.
He explains that the first generation J Press was initially launched in 2008. Back then, Fujifilm’s market focus was high-end general commercial, where quality mattered for marketing collateral and high-end product brochures.
“What has been the reality of the J Press is that the applications are endless and the only barrier is the creativity of those that own and operate one. Not only has it experienced great success in what Fujifilm originally had in mind, but also finds customers using it for pocket folders, direct mail, postcards, and business cards along with other common applications in the web to print environment including book covers, retail displays, restaurant menus, retail POP materials, promotional materials, and short-run folding cartons.”
Troxil believes B2 cutsheet inkjet presses are attractive to commercial printers due to the flexibility to run coated and uncoated stocks from lightweight bond to board stock for the production of letterhead, brochures, direct mail, signage, posters, POS/POP displays, books, and other publications. “With the Konica Minolta AccurioJet KM-1e, commercial printers can run general lithographic grade stocks without pretreatment and without applying a pretreatment in the printing process.”
He says the direct mail market benefits from producing personalized letters, inserts, and postcards on one device in one pass, as opposed to printing shells on offset and later overprinting the variable.
Further, Troxil sees packaging benefiting from the technologies’ ability to print on label stocks and board stocks including 24-point for some inkjet press models.
Additionally, variable data and short-run applications are effectively produced, combining the versatility and flexibility of digital technology with the productivity and reliability of an offset press. “Personalized pieces and versioned print runs are profitably produced with zero makeready or waste,” shares Troxil.
B3 format cutsheet inkjet presses are great at producing catalogs, books, magazines, and manuals along with direct mail and postcards. Transactional documents and collateral are also common applications for these presses.
The high speeds and the ability to leverage personalized data in a secure environment make B3 presses ideal for transactional documents, especially if monthly print volumes vary to the point where a continuous-feed press is not as ideal, notes Weese.
On the Market
A variety of B2 and B3 cutsheet inkjet presses are on the market today. Here we present some of the latest products and advancements.
In April of 2020, amidst the global pandemic, Canon introduced the varioPRINT iX series. “Market reaction to this press was strong and we sold out of our 2020 inventory in record time. We are now taking orders for 2021 and our customers are telling us ‘this machine does the selling for us,’” exclaims Weese.
“In the past, printing customers had to make tough decisions when buying digital printing equipment,” she says. “Toner technology looks good and is relatively fast depending on the specific brand and model, but the running costs are high and downtime for service more frequent. Inkjet technology has attractive running cost, speed, and uptime, but some models may have substrate restrictions and/or image quality limitations. This is no longer the case with new Canon sheetfed inkjet press. The varioPRINT iX-series offers the highest sheetfed inkjet speed in the industry, low operating cost, incredible uptime, and the ability to print on digital and offset coated and uncoated stocks up to 350 gsm with offset-like quality.”
Fujifilm’s J Press 750S is the third generation of the J Press line. Classified as a B2 press, the J Press 750S incorporates all of the features and capabilities of previous generations such as quality, color repeatability, uptime of over 95 percent, inline quality control scanning and automatic nozzle compensation correction, standard coated and uncoated offset stocks, a growing line of synthetic media, and Fujifilm Dimatix Samba printheads.
The J Press 750S introduced further advancements in paper drying technology, full sheet scanning abilities, and greatly enhanced productivity from the introduction of the larger sheet size of 23×29.5 inches. The faster speed of 3,600 sheets per hour for both static and variable jobs as well as the exclusive active head retraction system keeps the press running seamlessly while protecting the printheads.
MCS, Inc. offers the Merlin K146c. With print sizes up to 11×17 inches, the cutsheet production inkjet press is based on piezoelectric technology from Kyocera.
Komori’s digital offerings are focused on inkjet technology. Its B2 offering is the Komori Impremia IS29. “One of the key strengths of the press is the inkjet technology and software that drives the devices. Existing customers can take advantage of advances to the technology without a forklift upgrade,” says Lahr.
The Konica Minolta AccurioJet KM-1e LED UV inkjet press is built on the success of its predecessor, the AccurioJet KM-1e LED UV inkjet press. A B2-plus—23×29.5-inch sheet size—cutsheet inkjet press that prints 3,000 sides per hour, it automatically duplexes up to 18-point stocks at 1,500 perfected sheets per hour. With the ability to print six-up, full-bleed, letter-size pages on one sheet, the press produces 18,000 single-sided and 9,000 four-over-four letters per hour.
The KM-1e supports the widest variety of substrate types and weights in its class, all without the need for pretreatment or drying time. Coated, uncoated, smooth, and heavily textured substrates are supported, including text and cover-weight stocks as well as synthetics and canvas. KM-1e print production immediately goes to bindery and finishing after printing. Konica Minolta’s UV ink and printheads achieve 1,200×1,200 dpi image quality and expansive color gamut.
Enhancements on the KM-1e include the ability to run transparent and mirror-finish materials, as well as dark colored or even black stocks. New technologies in the KM-1e maximize operator productivity and the newest generation of high-definition Konica Minolta printheads yield double the printhead life.
The Kyocera TASKalfa Pro 15000c launched in the Summer of 2019. A letter-sized press, the high-speed inkjet system utilizes water-based pigment ink and features speeds of up to 146 letter sized pages per minute at a resolution of up to 600×1,200 dpi. The device handles paper sizes of 5.5×8.5 to 13×19.2 inches.
Ricoh announced its plans to enter the B2 cutsheet inkjet space with the debut of the RICOH Pro Z75 in December 2020. The press is designed to harness Ricoh’s efficient drying technology, auto duplexing, reliable paper transport, and a new digital front end controller architecture. More details on the press will be announced in the coming months.
The Screen Truepress Jet520HD series of high-definition inkjet web presses deliver realistic images that expand the boundaries of inkjet printing. With its 1,200 dpi true resolution and precise droplet size control, the Truepress Jet520HD family of printers achieve the colors, textures, details, and solid ink areas expected for high-end publication and commercial work. For direct mail advertising, the enhanced design opportunities that improve response rates of personalized marketing campaigns make each of the Truepress Jet520HD systems an appealing alternative to offset/digital hybrid and toner-based production.
The B3 Xerox Baltoro High Fusion Inkjet Press platform is a cutsheet inkjet device that now includes a field-upgradable module to expand its range. The Xerox Color Accelerator for Xerox Baltoro HF Inkjet Press enables increased print quality, expanded media options, and automation to make inkjet printing viable for applications such as direct mail, postcards, and catalogs. According to Xerox, with intelligent automation, Baltoro uses 50 percent less ink than competitor presses to purge inkjet printheads, increasing uptime and productivity while delivering consistent, reliable quality.
Cutsheet inkjet solutions are intriguing for print providers that may be hesitant to invest in digital and are interested in inkjet technologies. For those with its digital capabilities, some of the latest advancements may make it enticing to add or upgrade their inkjet offerings.
Regardles of the sheet size, cutsheet production inkjet presses offer benefits including a lower initial investment cost, easier compatibility with existing finishing equipment, and ample substrate options.
To learn more about specific advantages to B2 and B3 cutsheet inkjet solutions, be sure to check out our webinar, which was broadcast in December.
Mar2021, Industrial Print Magazine