As the economic climate continues to evolve, it is more important than ever for businesses to be savvy and strategic about operations. Businesses had to adjust to the unforeseen changes that came with the pandemic, and this continues with anticipated economic uncertainties. For dealers, it is a good reminder to stay apprised of the current landscape and anticipate any shifts that may come in the future. It is also a good time to seek out new growth opportunities with potential and existing customers, learning about their goals and challenges. Offering light print production solutions may be a viable way to help achieve all objectives.

When light production inkjet makes sense

According to a recent report conducted by Mordor Intelligence, the production printer market is estimated to have a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 5% over the next five years. This is fueled by new technology innovations, the growing number of profitable business models and the continuing shift to print on demand. 

With growth on the horizon, dealers have the opportunity to tap into this market. Specifically, the light print production market, which consists of devices printing around 40,000 to 500,000 pages per month, is a ripe market for dealers.

Currently, there are three different print production technologies available – offset presses, laser, and inkjet. 

Offset presses historically feature high printer quality, a wide color gamut, and workflow management solutions. They are used to print materials such as magazines, brochures, and books. These devices have a high upfront cost but have a very low operating cost because they are designed for large print runs. More time is needed to set up a print job as it leverages a printing technique that takes an inked image and transfers that from a plate to a rubber blanket and then to a printing surface.

Laser devices offer high productivity. It is the most frequently used print technology in the light production market today as it is perceived that toner has a superior image quality. However, it can be costly because of the energy required to run the device, as well as the number of replaceable maintenance parts needed due to the complexity of the imaging system. This also means frequent service and maintenance.

Inkjet devices come in two different flavors – production devices and high-speed office MFPs. Production inkjet devices are optimized for large print jobs and print volumes of approximately 1,000,000 pages per month and offer a large variety of finishing options, large size prints, and media flexibility. High-speed office MFPs (75 pages per minute and above) offer a lower upfront hardware cost and high reliability. They have a slightly higher operating cost than production inkjets but are a good fit for businesses that don’t require very high print volumes. Also, they have a less complex imaging system, and therefore, require minimal service and maintenance versus laser devices. 

Print on demand often involves variable data printing, and smaller print jobs. To offload these smaller print jobs from production devices, inkjet MFPs can also be installed as supplemental production devices. For businesses printing transactional documents such as financial, auto, insurance, healthcare, and billing statements, high-speed office MFPs are an option worth considering.

The promise of inkjet

For dealers, expanding their line of print offerings to include inkjet devices can open new business opportunities. It gives them the chance to offer customers a choice other than laser and offset presses, which might better serve their business goals and needs for the next few years.

According to feedback from dealers currently offering inkjet devices, inkjet technology that is simple and engineered with heat-free technology is attractive. They require fewer moving parts that can last longer due to less wear and tear from heat. There is no need for photoreceptors, corona wires, fuser units, or lasers, as with laser devices. This also can result in less waste since there may be fewer parts going into landfills. Additionally, using less heat is beneficial for print output quality. With laser devices, paper loses moisture as it passes through the fuser unit. As a result, the paper can be difficult to handle, fold or print on again. Inkjet also provides the ability to print on a wide variety of substrates, which can meet unique print needs for customers.

Inkjet has succeeded in niche light production segments such as education, faith-based organizations, nonprofit in-plants, and more. 

DivcoData, an industry-leading, all-inclusive print and mailing service provider based in Tennessee, processes many different types of statements, serving about 500 clients across 14 states. From variable data tax statements, utility bills, vehicle tag renewal notices, certified mail letters, direct mail marketing, nonprofit appeal letters, and even mortgage and refinance, DivcoData prints all its clients’ statements in-house and delivers them to USPS to mail out. In a quest to find newer technology to meet increasing print volume demands, and to counterpose the high fixed costs of its digital printers, they looked into inkjet MFP devices. After installing nine MFPs with finishing options, they increased output quantity and quality as well as saved time on manual intervention, serving about 75 utilities and waste management companies and processing for about 150 county vehicle tag renewals. DivcoData was able to gain and look for additional clients because the inkjet devices streamlined so many logistics. Instead of looking for particular types of clients, doors opened to additional clients that they would not have normally called in the past.

Another use case example is a notable cruise line. Functioning as a moving hotel, it has to be up and running 24 hours a day while traveling around the world. It is important for cruise lines to find ways to save on costs. They are required to pay to get rid of the waste accumulated on the ships. Cruise lines also need to generate their own power, which can be very expensive. And, with limited space, they don’t have storage space for duplicate equipment, parts, and inventory. In this case, the cruise line needed a reliable, economical, high-productivity, and space-efficient printing solution that would require low power. After evaluating several options, inkjet technology met all their requirements and the company installed more than 50 MFPs across multiple cruise ships. These compact devices leverage heat-free technology, use less power than comparable color lasers, offer the fastest print speeds in their class, use high-yield, large-capacity ink cartridges for reduced waste, and operate on a standard 110-volt outlet.

Expanding opportunities

There are additional inkjet features that dealers can offer to set them apart from the competition. Print on demand is a growing trend. Previously, companies would have to place large orders to keep prices down. Now, businesses can order only the amount required. This print on demand capability helps to reduce waste. Another opportunity is variable data printing. The capabilities allow customers to affordably create customizable prints. This brings value because, with smaller print runs, there is a shorter turnaround. It is also more impactful for the business as customers typically have a higher response rate to personalized documents. Lastly, with the advancements in technology, offering short-run printing is now an affordable option. Previously, printing a single copy or a small run was not feasible due to the high cost per print.

Dealers may not have considered offering inkjet solutions because of past familiarity with laser devices. However, with the reliability of inkjet technology, the lower acquisition price and the plethora of cost-saving features, inkjet should not be overlooked. Diversifying your product portfolio is an easy way to hedge your bets in an uncertain economy, and inkjet is an excellent option to meet varying customer performance and budget needs. 

Elliot Williams
Elliot Williams

Elliot Williams is director of product marketing, Business Imaging, Epson America.