Our Digital Press Research

When we were setting up our factory, we had to make a decision on which cut-sheet digital press we were going to invest in (as well as all the other bits of equipment and machinery).

We’ve always been huge fans of the HP Indigo digital press but we like to keep abreast of the best technology available so we embarked on a bit of research to ensure the Indigo was still the best technology available, particularly where uncoated stocks are concerned. We were quietly hopeful that we might find something every bit as good as the HP Indigo, but at a lower price, as the investment in an Indigo press is not insignificant. I think it will be useful to step you through the process we went through, as you’ll see here a lot of detail that will be of interest to a professional print buyer:

The Ricoh C901 was the first machine we looked at. It’s much cheaper than the Indigo, so we really hoped it would do what the salesman promised, and deliver an offset like result on uncoated paper. Sadly, it didn’t. The problem is that the toners fuse on the surface of the paper and even though the paper is matte, the toners sit on the surface and bake into a shiny finish. It basically turns an uncoated paper into a paper that looks like it’s coated.

The interesting thing we noticed during this process was that when we told any salesman we wanted to see a demonstration on uncoated paper, they would invariably do a test print on a highly calendared stock – so whilst it was technically uncoated, it was so smooth and shiny due to the calendaring process that it might as well have been a coated paper. We soon learnt to specify what paper we wanted to see the test done on. Advance Laser Offset was our standard for our comparisons.

Our conclusion was that the Ricoh prints were slightly more matte in appearance than Xerox prints, but you really couldn’t call it an offset-like result and we certainly wouldn’t have wanted to offer up the result to professional print buyers.

Next up was the Konica Minolta C1060. Once again, the salesman promised an offset-like result and like the Ricoh, this machine also failed to deliver. In some areas it was slightly better than the Ricoh, but in fairness, it was probably more to do with the fact that the Konica Demonstrator was more clued up on his machine than the Ricoh Technician was with his – but many of these other issues were to do with colour management. Our conclusion with the Konica was that whilst very good on coated papers, it still wasn’t any better than a Ricoh or a Xerox on uncoated papers and whilst colour was easily adjustable, it wasn’t consistent throughout the length of a run.

The next machine we looked at was the Xerox Versant, along with the Xerox Igen and the Xerox 1000. The Versant was a typical result that we would expect from a Xerox machine with that familiar “Xerox Sheen” to the image area. The sheen was prominent in any area where there was toner (even light amounts) but in areas where there was no toner the paper was matte and it contrasted quite horribly with the sheen of the toner.

We held out a lot of hope for the Xerox 1000 and the Igen, as Xerox had told us the machines used a matte toner. The result was slightly more matte than the Versant,  but still not a nice result on uncoated stock. If you were only interested in printing on coated papers, and if colour management wasn’t an issue, then the machine would probably satisfy most print buyers. From the colour management perspective, the machine was a nightmare and just wasn’t capable of nailing the test sample we took along.

Canon was our next port of call, testing out their C800. They were adamant that their machine would give the elusive offset-like result we were looking for. It didn’t. But a few days later the Sales Rep delivered to me some prints she had played around with and proudly exclaimed that she’d managed to get an offset-like result. I have to admit it looked pretty good – until I touched the prints. The toner just scratched off. In order to get the toner to look more matte, they had turned the fuser temperature down, but of course that meant that the toner didn’t fuse onto the sheet properly.

All this talk of toner and fusing leads us into what the problem (and the solution) is. The machines we had tested so far all used toner as a means of developing an image, but if we look at the HP Indigo Press it doesn’t use toner, it uses liquid ink. The ink is electrostatically charged and is encouraged on to a master cylinder. From there, the ink is then transferred onto a blanket (sound familiar to any of you offset printers?) and the image is impressed onto the sheet as the sheet passes between the blanket and the impression cylinder.

This is a very similar process to offset printing and why the Indigo is often referred to as a Digital Offset Press.

To complete our testing of available machines on the market, we didn’t need to run a test on the HP Indigo – we’ve been using this machine for years and have been incredibly happy with the result – the purpose of our test was to see if there were other machines in the market that could take the place of the HP Indigo (afterall, it’s an expensive piece of kit, and if we could find something cheaper that was every bit as good, we’d be very happy).

Based on the machines we’ve tested so far, we remain convinced that the HP Indigo is the best digital solution for printing onto uncoated stocks (or any stock for that matter) and it’s also exceptionally reliable for colour matching, registration, durability of print and a great alternative to offset printing where the run quantity makes offset printing impractical. And not least of all we love the fact that we consistently get great feedback from our clients from the results we deliver off the HP Indigo.

We’ll continue to keep an eye out for new technologies, but for now we’re happy to report we have the best gear for delivering the best possible results.