Custom Printing: Kodak’s New Production Inkjet Press

by | Mar 29, 2021 | car wraps, digital printing

Syndicated by One Source Media, Long Island City, New York

Photo purchased from … www.depositphotos.com

I’m not a gearhead. I don’t get excited about car specifications or even computer specifications, but when it comes to custom printing, I’m actually getting very excited about the developments in digital printing. In this arena, I do get pumped about equipment specs.

Why? Because I remember the 1990s, when inkjet printer output was garish. We had an inkjet printer in the design studio, but we used it only to give clients a general idea of how the printed product would look. Now, digital printing is running neck and neck with offset printing.

Back in the 1990s when I was buying commercial printing and managing the art and production unit of a nonprofit foundation, I first heard a printer say, “Quality, Price, Schedule. Choose any two.” Well this has changed a bit in the ensuing years. There’s a print book I found several years ago called Free, Perfect, and Now by Robert Rodin. I think this motto is closer to the demands of today’s print buyer, given the ability of digital printing to produce short runs of variable-data work immediately. Customers expect this now because it can actually happen. Maybe not always. But most of the time.

Background on the KODAK PROSPER ULTRA 520 Press

In this light I was pleased to read “An Interview with Randy Vandagriff, Senior VP of Print on the New KODAK PROSPER ULTRA 520 Press.” It’s a press release from Kodak dated 03/10/21, and it has a number of far-reaching implications.

To quote from the press release, “Offset print volumes are in decline, yet offset remains the benchmark for quality, speed, paper choice, and long runs. But offset cannot print variable content and struggles to economically print small quantities as press runs have become shorter and more targeted” (“An Interview with Randy Vandagriff, Senior VP of Print on the New KODAK PROSPER ULTRA 520 Press”).

This press release touches all the bases:

    1. Current shorter runs (and the need for some longer runs)


    1. Variable data capability


    1. Substrate (paper) flexibility (as it pertains to both overall image quality and the tactile differences between various papers)


    1. Speed (digital presses run much more slowly than offset presses)


  1. And, most importantly, quality. This means everything from the nuances of tone in photographs to ink holdout on printing paper to the breadth of the color gamut (or how many distinct colors a press can print).

Hitting all of these targets at once has been difficult. Quality of digital output hasn’t matched offset quality. Some digital inkjet presses can’t print on glossy paper. Others can print on glossy paper but the inks are expensive and the process slows down the press (making digital even slower when compared to offset).

Kodak’s Answer: The KODAK PROSPER ULTRA 520 Press

So this is what Kodak has developed in response to client needs: the KODAK PROSPER ULTRA 520 Press, a digital inkjet press that runs at “production” speeds (which means the technology is gradually becoming fast enough to compete with offset printing). Moreover, as the speed increases, the point at which it becomes economically prudent to switch from digital to offset moves to longer press runs. In short, that means digital is becoming competitive with offset in terms of quality and speed, allowing printers to opt for digital technology (for its variable data capability, for instance) for longer press runs than heretofore.

To quote again from the press release: “In order to close the gap, we designed and built a revolutionary new inkjet press that offers offset quality at a speed of 500 fpm, (150 mpm), can print on glossy papers with high ink coverage at top speed, and achieves a higher run-length cross-over with offset for low cost production” (“An Interview with Randy Vandagriff, Senior VP of Print on the New KODAK PROSPER ULTRA 520 Press”).

This quote addresses one feature I had not mentioned above: heavy ink coverage. If you’re printing heavy solids on a marketing piece, for instance, you want the ink to dry quickly and sit up on top of the paper’s surface. This involves not only the printing equipment technology but also the ink formulation, the paper choices, and the ink drying technology.

Heavy (and perfectly even) coverage of solid inks has been one of the more important attributes setting offset print quality above digital print quality, as well as the source of many past digital printing limitations. Kodak has addressed all of these issues with the new KODAK PROSPER ULTRA 520 Press.

Kodak’s new press includes special drying units to cure the ink at production speeds. Kodak’s Ultrastream Inkjet Technology allows for 200 lpi image screening and press speeds of up to 500 fpm with high ink coverage on coated papers.

At the same time, Kodak has improved the inkjet printing process, allowing for smaller inkjet drops, less random spraying around these inkjet dots, higher image resolution (600 dpi x 1800 dpi), thinner ink films provided by the nanoparticulate, water-based inks, and a wider color gamut (able to match 93 percent of PMS colors, which is particularly useful for printing corporate brand colors), all with superior ink drying capability.

In addition to these advances, the precision of Ultrastream Inkjet Technology allows for thinner, straighter lines, crisp details in type and images, consistency from press run to press run—all with a single array of print heads (which allows for much faster print speeds than prior technology).

The faster drying capability allows for thicker ink films (heavy coverage) on glossy printing stocks, which are capable of drying quickly and thus speeding up the entire print production process (and making the process even more competitive with offset commercial printing).

Kodak’s drying system involves infrared technology to dry the low-humectant inks. (To explain this term, “A humectant is a molecule that holds on to water and can prevent evaporative loss from the nozzle. As a result, they are important for nozzle health”–from “Inkjet Ink and its Important Additives,” by Mark Bale, 10/19/18, published on www.inkjetinsight.com.) This allows for faster drying, a quicker overall production process, and heavier ink coatings.

The KODAK PROSPER ULTRA 520 Press allows for up to a 20.5” image area, placing the technology in direct competition with B1- and B2-format offset printing press sheets. Larger press sheets (than the older digital inkjet technology could accommodate) yield larger press signatures, fewer press runs, and, again, overall faster throughput. What this sheet size capability also means is that printers can use their current post-press finishing equipment to more easily and quickly cut, fold, and bind the commercial printing press sheets.

Flexibility with paper substrate choices is another benefit. The equipment can print on standard inkjet substrates and, using inline pre-coating equipment, the KODAK PROSPER ULTRA 520 can print on standard offset printing press sheets as well. All of this allows printers to keep their paper costs down when using the KODAK PROSPER ULTRA 520.

Finally, using Kodak’s Intelligent Print System allows printers to constantly monitor color fidelity and consistency as well as to ensure accurate back-to-back registration of inks (positioning of images on both sides of the press sheet), thus minimizing paper waste.

What You Can Learn from This Press Release

Granted, this is just one press release from Kodak. It will be fascinating to see if the process lives up to the promises. But I am very encouraged, based on Kodak’s reputation for the highest quality output. Also, I’m seeing the physical proof on a regular basis. Inkjet commercial printing quality is getting better and better, as are its speed and cost. Now, with paper size increasing and coated papers available, I think inkjet is the wave of the future, possibly even more so than electrophotography (laser printing).

Granted, I’m also seeing good things in the realm of offset custom printing, including quicker make-ready technologies and automated quality control that allow for cost-effective short press runs. So offset printing is moving toward convergence with digital printing as well. And it’s still great for long-run print work of static (non-variable-data) commercial printing.

So the upshot is that you should read everything you can get your hands on, online, about digital commercial printing (sheetfed inkjet, web-fed production inkjet, large-format inkjet, nanography, laser printing). Everything. Don’t get left behind. This is revolutionary in scope.

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* This article was originally published here
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