Written by Howard Fenton
Senior Technology Consultant

In a recent blog we talked about the impact of competing printing technologies including digital, inkjet and offset printing and asked if one printing technology will displace another. Although the speed of change is increasing, my opinion has not changed on this subject in the last few years. Here is what I wrote about this a few years ago, when the controversy first appeared.

While tremendous advances have been made in inkjet printing technology, inkjet simply does not have the potential in the near future to become the dominant printing technology in the face of new advances in electrophotographic (EP: laser, or toner-based printing) and offset printing.  However, the new announcements blur the advantages of each technology more than ever before.

  • Of course this is just one guy’s opinion, but I think we will continue to see inkjet printing nibble away at specific markets and applications as it has done with books and transaction printing. High-speed inkjet printing will grow in specialty printing areas such as books and transactional printing, as well as in new markets such as newspapers, packaging and labels. While longer runs have typically offered cost efficiencies and customization, we have not yet seen the higher quality that is comparable to what other printing technologies offer.
  • Toner printing technology’s quality and speed continue to improve, resulting in a reduced price per page, even for longer print runs historically reserved for offset printing.  Toner printing has always offered the same ability to customize as inkjet.
  • Offset lithographic technology will continue to automate the make-ready process and remains the dominant printing technology for the foreseeable future for the highest-quality printing and longer-run lengths.

There are two obstacles that need to be overcome for inkjet to become more dominate. First, companies need to overcome the prohibitively high cost of entry. This will occur but it will take time and it’s hard to predict when this will occur. Second although quality has increased dramatically, it has not yet approached the “tipping point” in which the quality is “comparable” to offset or so much cheaper that it is impossible to ignore.

Although demand for offset is declining, it still remains the best technology for most of the long run printed jobs. In addition, advances in offset help companies replace aging equipment and continue to drive down manufacturing costs to compete better against digital printing equipment.

Many people, including this author, have been concerned over the last few years about a slowing of the advances in the digital—specifically the electrophotographic printing technologies. But the latest electrophotographic B2 presses shows that it is still advancing.

These are some very tough issues. What are your thoughts?

  • Do you think inkjet will steal market share from offset or toner?
  • Do you think that toner printing has hit its peak in terms of quality and productivity?
  • Do you think that offset printing technology is advancing fast enough to remain relevant?

Howard Fenton is a Consultant and Business Advisor at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers and in-plants on benchmarking performance against industry leaders, increasing productivity through workflow management, adding and integrating new digital services, and adding value through customer research.