There have always been, and probably always will be, benefits and drawbacks in printing technologies. With printing, I have always said, and most will agree, that there is no “perfect” technology. In today’s Digital Print environment print providers, both Commercial Printers and In-Plants, are faced with the dubious task of making the decision of whether or not to go with a toner based product or with an Inkjet press. Many are trying to ascertain which of these print technologies is best for their shop. As is the case with most things in the printing business, picking inkjet over toner, or vice versa, can be quite perplexing. How do they compare? Is one better than the other? The answer: “It Depends”.
It depends on any number of variables; Quality, Quantity, Substrate, Application, Vertical Market, Document Life-Cycle, Turnaround times, and let’s not forget, Cost. It also depends on what side of the argument you are on. Inkjet pundits will tell you Inkjet technology can be maintained at a lower cost and the inkjet consumables are much less expensive than toner. The Toner devotee will tell you it depends on picoliter size, ink types (Pigment or Dye based) substrates, and skill set of operators.
So who do you trust and how do you choose the right technology? Again, “It Depends”. The major point of difference between laser and inkjet printers is of course, their technology. In an effort to avoid all the technical jargon, (since we all know there is no perfect technology) and since there are now so many different vendors selling a variety of technologies, I have highlighted the key points of each below:
Web Width – up to 42”*
Speed – up to 600 linear feet per minute / 5200 pages per minute*
Volume – up to 150 million letter sized Full Color Image per month*
Superior Quality and higher optical density – up to 1200x 1200 dpi*
* Up to is another way of saying “It Depends”
Consistency and Predictability of image quality
Constant throughput speed
Predictability in cost structure
It’s easy to get caught up in all the pros and cons that each of these technologies offer in selecting the appropriate technology. But it’s not about ink or toner, it’s a function of the variables mentioned and ultimately it comes down to the volume, applications, and substrate requirements.
Inkjet presses need volume and lots of it! Many of the new Inkjet presses are targeted at volumes ranging from 20 to 100 million pages a month, (month in and month out) to make the economics work. Toner based presses can begin to make sense at 2 million pages per month but usually have a top end production of 20 million pages per month. As for applications, toner can be ideally suited for transpromo, short- to medium run lengths for books, newspapers and newsletters, but inkjet has carved its own niche in full-speed variable data/variable imaging for one-to-one direct mail as well as transpromo work. Either Inkjet or Toner will do for most common applications but to really figure out which applications are best suited for which technology you must take a deep drive into the application’s document lifecycle. Not just how it is printed but how it is finished, warehoused or mailed. If it’s mailed, what type of inserters are used, where it is going to and what environmental issues might there be. As for substrates, the largest barrier for inkjet right now is the inability to print on economical coated papers, plain papers or even lighter weight stocks. Inkjet presses use predominantly water based inks therefore there can be bleed through issues. To overcome this issue, often more expensive and specially-treated papers are required. This is the reason that so many ink jet papers have one sort of coating or another.
At the end of the day, given all the variables, it boils down to best meeting customer needs.
To your customers and their customers, the type of print technology used to produce a document is probably irrelevant as they are only looking at their documents as a way to visually translate content in a printed form. Ultimately, your customer should be aware of the differences in quality, cost and the ability to customize associated with each printing technology. For you as the provider, you must understand how the needs of your customer base are met by each technology. So which technology is right for you . . . “It Depends”