by December 4, 2007 0 comments

The paperless office is a myth, and to a lesser extent, so is the less paper
office. The advent of paperless methods of communication like email has not
reduced the world’s appetite for printing. Industry numbers suggest that 45
trillion pages were printed in 2005 and the number is expected to grow to 53
trillion by 2010. Interestingly, the percentage of digital printing within this
(compared to analog printing like offset) will go up only marginally from 9 to
10%. The digital printing market worldwide is growing steadily at a CAGR of
around 9% and is currently hovering around $200 billion. Home and office
printing needs, marketing requirements, photos, packaging, book publishing and
signage are the major contributors which will make digital printing a $221
billion business by 2010. Clearly, the history of digital printers now just over
half a century old, is still in its infancy.

Key developments this year
Many key developments occurred this year in the print industry, which would
have a tremendous impact in shaping its future.

Outsource your printer management
The concept of print services gained ground this year, which allows an
enterprise to outsource its printer management, just like any other part of the
IT infrastructure. This helps take the headache of printer maintenance,
cartridge replacement, repairs, etc away from the CIO.

All that’s required is to define the overall printing volume requirements
that an enteprise requires, and the service provider does the rest, such as
deciding the most suitable printer model, determining how many printers are
needed, maintainance and repairs, etc.

If a printer is phased out, then the print service provider replaces it with
the latest printer.

New developments in color lasers
Color lasers also became a reality in the corporate office this year, with
costs coming down and speeds going up. Today, an organization can opt for a
color laser instead of an inkjet for its routine color printing needs. Some
other developments like improving the color and monochrome laser print quality
output and technologies to make printers quieter were also developed this year.
For instance, most color lasers today support inline or single pass printing,
wherein all four color toners are applied at one go on the paper. In the past,
each toner was applied separately, due to which color laser printer speeds were
three to four times slower than their monochrome counterparts.

The story so far:
  • Outsourced printer management has become
  • Color lasers have become better, faster,
    and more affordable for the office
  • Trendy inkjets and even lasers were
  • Universal printer drivers have become
    common, saving a lot of admin hassles
  • Compact, color laser-based MFPs have hit
    the market

Printers become trendy
Another key trend we observed this year was that the world of printers is
also learning lifestyle. Quite a few lifestyle printer models were introduced
this year for the digital lifestyle segment. We could even say that inkjet
printer, which were being considered as a technology giving way to MFDs, made a
come back thanks to this new trend. Many trendy looking inkjet printers were
introduced this year, which were perfect  companions for digital camera
owners. Even laser printers couldn’t resist this trend. We observed several new
models being released for the lifestyle segment.
If you think that’s all, then we have more excitement coming your way from the
printing world.

Individual Memjet printhead: It
uses a technology that will take inkjet print speeds to 60 ppm

Universal printer drivers
This year, we’ve seen a trend toward developing combined printer drivers,
something that would be a big sigh of relief for just about everyone. With a
universal printer driver installed for a particular brand of printers, a user
would be able to print to any printer model of that brand. We expect further
developments in this area in the future.

MFPs-Printer as a Swiss army knife
This field needs no introduction. Instead of buying a separate printer,
scanner, and fax machine, you could go for an all-in-one that does it all. You
save both space and cost. New developments in this include color laser-based

Printers and document mgmt
There has even been a lot of development toward using printers for document
management. Many printer manufacturers are concentrating on developing software
that would help organizations manage their print documents.

Plus, at the enterprise end of digital printing, the products on offer go
beyond mere reproduction at high speed. They now include such features as
collating (preparing a document for binding by introducing ‘inserts’ in the
right place), variable data printing (the ability to insert a small amount of
variable information into a fixed template), etc.

These features require the printer engine to work hand-in-hand with smart
software which often works in conjunction with a database of addresses, or other
variable information. Managing such software options as well as controlling the
interfaces between printer and binder, or stapler, has created a new niche
called document management, and printer players, who offer products for the
corporate printing or enterprise printing market, often partner with product
companies specializing in document management to ensure that they can offer
their customers a turnkey solution which combines hardware and software

As web-enabled printing becomes more popular, allowing users to control a
printer that may be at a distant location, many of these document management
solutions are likely to evolve as one more ‘software as a service’, which users
can access on the Internet and pay by use.

Printers, in the near future,
would eject 3-dimensional objects

VDP-printing personalized
Just as the Internet is going through a small revolution with its latest
avatar, Web 2.0, the printing industry too, is experiencing sharp technological
change. In 2007, for the first time, the phrase Print 2.0 has been used often by
leading print players. In the narrowest sense, this means Web-enabling the print
experience. Using software tools to edit content available in Web pages, drag
and drop the items of interest so you print only what you want. But on a wider
sense, Print 2.0 involves a new flexibility in the hands of the user.

One attractive new feature is what is called VDP or Variable Data Printing.
By driving every printer with a PC engine, it is today possible to operate
digital printers at high speed, churning out 1000s of pages an hour, with no two
pages looking the same. The trend has already allowed regional newspapers in the
US to personalize every single copy in a print run, by inserting the
advertiser’s address or location that is most convenient to a particular reader.
It is possible, for example, to print 10,000 copies of a flier for direct
mailing and ensure that each one addresses each potential customer by his/her

One technological change that is likely to impact consumer inkjet printers in
2008 is the ability of manufacturers to fabricate print heads as wide as the
width of the paper. This immediately improves print speed and efficiency by
cutting to half, the mechanical movement associated with printing one line of

Instead of the print head zipping to and fro across the width of the paper,
it remains stationary, and only the paper is required to move, one line at a
time. This technology, which theoretically can increase the speed of inkjet
printers by almost a factor of three, is likely to be introduced by multiple
printer makers in the consumer space, and we can expect to print full colour at almost a page a second in a year or two.

Carving new markets
At the Frankfurt book fair, a few years ago-the world’s largest book
industry gathering, a few publishers ventured into the new arena of
print-on-demand. They had sample copies of a large number of specialist
publications whose print runs tended to be fairly small.

On receipt of a firm order, they undertook to print, bind, and supply the
required number of copies in the customer’s own country, thus saving shipping
overheads. Print-on-demand especially in the scientific and academic world is
seen by the printer industry as a promising new industry for their products.

By combining some of the features of multi-function printers, they are able
to offer tabletop-sized machines that can scan an existing document at high
speeds and print limited copies (below 1000), insert any art plates or
illustrations, and provide output ready for binding.

The other emerging opportunity lies in extremely large format printers,
mostly inkjet, which are already offering a strong challenge to color offset
printers. The booming business of outdoor signage provides the large format
sector of printers, with the promise of steadily growing business. This is one
sector, which is directly hitched to the consumer boom, hence there is only one
way to go-up and away. Technologically speaking, this translates into hardware
improvements like larger print-heads, efficient ink flow mgmt and lesser power
consumption, all the while, striving to increase efficiency in terms of no. of
pages per minute.

Future Predictions Fast forward
What to look out for, in the
months to come:

  • Wireless printing: Eliminating even
    the Bluetooth dongle. Universal printer drivers will allow printing from
    any device-printer, PDA, laptop, mobile phone-as long as they are placed
    at a certain distance from the printer.
  • Variable data printing: Large-scale
    use of VDP to provide ultra-personalization beyond compare, arising out of
    a capacity to print 1000s of copies within minutes, each page different
    from the other.
  • 3D printing: So far, you print on a
    flat paper. In the future, you print out paper ‘boxes,’ and structures,
    the way you have ‘seen’ them-objects, buildings, and everything in

Fact meets sci-fi?
The final frontier in the saga of digital printing may take it to the realm
of science fiction. It may be possible in a few years for lay users to print
solid objects using resins and powders instead of ink. A handful of companies
are already offering 3D printers, though these remain costly options used by
engineering designers to create rapid prototypes of the parts they design.
However, the day is not very far off when one can ‘print out’ a replacement
spectacle frame or the casing of a mobile phone without having to buy

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