Almost every printing industry show these days is labeled “the inkjet show,” and there are now so many color continuous feed inkjet printers on the market that it is difficult to keep track. A few years ago, the color continuous feed market barely existed. Today, an ever-increasing range of suppliers, often with multiple models, are battling for a piece of this rapidly-growing market. Installations increased from about 20 engines in 2006 to more than 200 in 2010. By the end of 2013, the number of installations is expected to be more than double those of 2010.

With their high productivity, compelling cost of operation, and quality levels that greatly exceed what was previously available from high-speed inkjet systems, today’s color inkjet continuous feed devices are creating new market opportunities. They also produce much higher volumes than other types of digital color printers. By 2015, InfoTrends anticipates that color inkjet will account for about 40% of digital color pages. In fact, color inkjet printing is the fastest-growing sector in the printing industry.

The shift toward high-speed inkjet color can be partially attributed to print technology advances that allow high-speed color printing at higher quality levels, combined with strong cost metrics. It is important to find the right applications that match the capabilities of today’s technologies as there is no guarantee that an inkjet printer will fill the order books and create profit. It is also important to understand the evolution of the technology and what applications will be addressed by the next generation of devices. To obtain a better idea of the impact that these systems are having on the market, InfoTrends published a new multi-client study entitled The High-Speed Continuous-Feed Color Inkjet Opportunity: Global Insights from Leading Customers. This research includes interviews with 52 sites using this equipment in 15 countries around the world. The case studies record the responses of company Presidents, Senior Managers, and Production Managers who were interviewed through a combination of on-site (face-to-face) and telephone interviews. The information gathered provides a unique insight into the opportunities and challenges within in this rapidly-growing segment of the market.

To date, it has been difficult to quantify the actual application split produced on these machines. InfoTrends’ research has clearly shown that the majority of installations occur at transaction printing sites or sites performing a combination of transactional and direct mail applications. Pure direct mailers are still rare in Europe, as are installations at book printers, commercial printers, and newspaper printers. Transaction is the leading application, accounting for 44% of all color inkjet prints. Direct mail is the second largest application as transaction sites are increasingly adding direct mail to the application range. Books and TransPromo tie for the third largest application. The share of TransPromo (statements with added personalized messaging) is substantial, and it is now estimated that every fifth transaction page is currently a TransPromo page. Now that TransPromo is gaining ground, documents are increasingly becoming enriched with personalized messages. Book printing might not be the main application for many user sites, but it has gained popularity in filling up spare capacity. A number of diverse applications are produced on inkjet devices as well, but volume shares across the base are small (see figure 2).

It is no surprise that transaction is the leading market for color inkjet. Replacing offset color pre-print and monochrome variable data imprinting on toner printers with a clean sheet inkjet solution offers a strong potential for savings. These savings benefits stretch far beyond not needing to purchase pre-printed rolls. Having a white paper solution can offer savings in storage and logistics. It also reduces the number of paper rolls for inserters, allows better postal code pre-sorting, and enables faster throughput.

This post was originally featured in the Océ Digital Printing Insider Newsletter, March 2012.