What’s Really Behind the Growth Of Inkjet — for Dealers as Well as End Users?

Let’s start with what may seem like an outrageous statement: We live in an inkjet world. Don’t believe me? Think about your mail (and while you may wish we lived in a paperless world when it comes to mail, there is still plenty of snail mail in our mailboxes every day). As you open the mail, have you ever stopped to think about whether the documents were printed with toner, offset or inkjet? If asked to decipher between the three, could your spouse, parents or kids tell them apart? Does it even matter? In reality, when it comes to credit card statements or utility bills, all we care about is, “how much do I owe?” 

Colored Arrows Up Design

Here’s a challenge: Let’s all put our industry hats on the next time we empty our mailbox and actually measure how much of it is toner, inkjet or offset. You’re probably aware that inkjet output is flat, since the ink blends into the substrate, unlike toner that sits above the paper. When you really pay attention, you may be surprised to find that in all likelihood, a lot of your mail is printed using some form of inkjet technology. 

We are surrounded by inkjet output, and yet many salespeople continue to raise eyebrows and wrinkle their noses with skepticism when asked to sell inkjet, questioning whether their customers would accept the different look — the same customers who regularly scrutinize their cell phone bills for unfamiliar charges without ever batting an eyelash at the nature of the printed material. One might say that the argument, “What works for me at home can’t possibly work for my customers in the office,” is interesting at best and self-defeating at worst.

The production push

Regardless of perception, however, it’s hard to argue that there is a push toward inkjet technology. Where is it coming from? It’s certainly not in the office space, as toner-based MFPs continue to have a stranglehold on this segment. Other areas, though, are making up for that. Inkjet is growing exponentially in the production print arena, and several vertical markets are helping this along. The education market has thoroughly embraced inkjet, as the idea of adding color to the curriculum is one whose time has come. (Our sympathies to those teachers forced to teach biology using monochrome workbooks). While schools may have individual MFPs, inkjet printing for education is in large part printed at the school districts’ centralized in-plant print shops, where the heavy color volume is handled. The same can be said for universities, colleges, state, municipal and county in-plants — while these institutions are transitioning to inkjet-printed documents, the actual printing takes place at the in-plant. Financial groups like banks and insurance companies, many of whom have their own embedded in-plants, are actively converting offset and toner jobs to inkjet. This versatile technology has not only taken hold of production print operations but is digging in deeper.

If it’s proof you seek, consider that all of the major toner manufacturers have expanded — and continue to expand — their production inkjet offerings. Where manufacturers with inkjet technology were once few and far between, the anomaly today is the handful that don’t have any inkjet units in their product lineups.

Offloading offset

All of this begs the question, why are print shops redirecting their jobs to inkjet devices? The offset press left a big hole in the pressroom after it completed its vanishing act. The lack of ink on the floor forced the outsourcing of envelopes, NCR forms, and other unique applications. Inkjet reintroduces ink, but on a digital platform. Gone is the need for a dedicated operator. Ink-based output is now generated by an individual with skills in color-matching software and a proficiency with Fiery. Inkjet has made printing with ink easy and accessible to all.

Beyond ease of use, we have the benefit of growth and profitability for many commercial print operations. Let’s face it, monochrome jobs yield very low margins for print shops as well as the dealers who service the devices, and yet, monochrome has long been a required service for customers whose budgets demand the lowest production cost. Inkjet changes the dynamic, as it offers color printing for much less than color toner and at a price that is only slightly higher than monochrome. In other words, it offers affordable color for the customer that increases margins for the print shops — an absolute win-win. And you wonder why there is a rush to implement inkjet at the commercial production level.

In-plants, like their counterparts in the commercial market, face growth, profit and savings challenges, all while trying to meet the needs of the organizations they serve. They, too, have welcomed production inkjet into their operations and are generating manuals, workbooks, employee or student handouts, direct mail, forms, and envelopes of all sizes using affordable color thanks to inkjet. A production inkjet device on the floor of an in-plant will, in many cases, reintroduce ink to the operation and put an immediate end to all forms of outsourcing. For example, outsourcing 1,000 variable data envelopes can cost about $500, while the cost of printing the same envelopes in-house on a production inkjet device is a mere fraction of that. Other benefits for an in-plant include the fast color print speeds that inkjet offers, smaller footprints, heavy duty cycles, and lower power requirements and emissions, as inkjet doesn’t have the heat requirements laser does.

Many print shops are today split in three, with monochrome and color presses on opposite ends of the room and a finishing section to round out the plant. A production inkjet unit will blend into the mix, increasing productivity, versatility, profits and savings. It is a perfect complement that will add a new dynamic to a strained workflow.

Capturing clicks 

Once you see how and why production print shops have engaged with inkjet presses, you can see that there are major benefits to both the print shops and their customers, many of whom now see a path to increased color printing even on a tight budget. But how does the dealer community gain from the growth of inkjet at the production level? Meter clicks. Now more than ever, this influx of meter clicks and ink sales is urgently needed to make up for the negative impact of COVID-19. 

This is an opportunity for dealers to capture some offset print jobs transitioning to inkjet or seize the millions of monochrome copies converting to affordable inkjet color. The office space, pre-COVID, was populated at 80% of capacity. Post-COVID expectations have that number at 60% capacity. Working from home has grown on people, and where the average office worker once spent four out of five days at the office, in the future, it will likely be only about three out of five days. How will your dealership address the 20% permanent drop in monthly meter clicks? 

Turning to production inkjet sales can help make up the shortfall and then some. Consider the impact of selling 10 units in the next three months that yield an average of 400,000 monthly impressions each. That would average an additional 48 million annual meter clicks. Think of the possibilities.

There are hundreds of in-plants and commercial printshops making investments of seven figures into production inkjet devices, and where the need and volume justify the investment, it’s a smart move. But there is also opportunity in the thousands of smaller print centers, CRDs, in-plants, etc., that cannot justify that type of commitment but would still like to invest in inkjet. Find a solution that works for them. The printshop wins, their customer comes out ahead, your salesperson is giddy and your service manager is ecstatic. And you wonder why production inkjet is taking off. The only remaining mystery is, when will you implement a “complement to toner” as part of your product offerings? 

Andre D’Urbano is director of RISO’s dealer channel and corporate marketing department. He has been in the business a little over 30 years, having spent 18 years with RISO and five years each managing sales branches for Konica Minolta and Canon.