No one can accuse the print manufacturing industry of standing still. Every now and then, a major revolution or innovation would shake it up and get everybody guessing and thinking.
In the past few years, the talk has revolved around digital printing technology and how that computer company (yes, HP) took a bold step into the industry with its futuristic-looking inkjet Web presses and retooled the whole printing proposition. Since then, printing and publishing companies have aligned themselves along three lines: innovatively pro-digital, stubbornly for offset, and best-of-both-world hybrid.
And what else is new or hot? Here are four innovations to bowl you over.
Creating white text or graphics on a darker background has never been easier, thanks to HP’s white ink, which is specially developed for its Indigo presses. The ink’s opacity and translucence depends on the number of hits applied. More hits produce a more opaque white, which is therefore more expensive, while the opposite is true in creating a translucent result.
In digital printing, more hits simply means applying more drops of white ink, and not multiple passes as in offset printing, where darker stock will require at least five passes to obtain sufficient color. While this is a cheaper substitute for white foil-stamping, silk-screening or vinyl transfer, it does not have the tactile effects of the more laborious and costly postpress techniques. However, a different number of hits does create a different impact to the eyes, especially on different colored stocks.
For designers, the white ink technology opens up a lot of possibilities. Applying it on a transparent substrate for labeling and packaging is now a reality. For production directors, it is time to do away with using white stock and covering it up with darker inks while leaving specific areas white for text or images. However, producing white thin text or elements still faces the same registration nightmare, whether on digital or offset presses (especially when multiple hits are applied).
Developed by Benny Landa, founder of Indigo and father of digital printing, the revolutionary nanography occupies the space between offset and digital printing. This is how the technology works: ink heads inject Landa NanoInk, a proprietary water-based ink with nano-pigment particles, onto a heated blanket first before it is transferred onto the selected media, be it standard untreated coated or uncoated stock, plastic packaging film or label stock.
Much of the beauty (and strength) of nanography is found in the super-small ink particles. When reduced to nano-size, a material’s properties often change. In this respect, NanoInk is super hard, and therefore abrasion- and scratch-resistant. It absorbs more light and hence, offers a broader CMYK color gamut (about 15% more than offset printing). The small particles also make for high uniformity on print, resulting in sharper images. Moreover, once NanoInk is transferred to the heated blanket, its water base evaporated, leaving behind an ultra-thin dry ink layer that bonds to the substrate without penetrating it. So there is no need to wait for the ink to dry—as is often the case with offset and inkjet printing—before applying the next process, and it allows more colors to be added to the printable area without risking saturation. Nanography can print up to eight colors and from 600 dpi to 1,200 dpi, at speeds up to 13,000 sheets per hour for sheetfed and up to 200 meters per minute for Web.
The first Landa Nanographic press, showcased at Drupa 2012, generated a lot of buzz and many letters of intent of purchase. However, at the time of writing, it has not been installed in or delivered to any printing facilities yet. For more current information, visit www.landanano.com.
Also called additive manufacturing, it basically involves creating a solid object out of a digital model using thin layers of materials such as plastic, metal and ceramic. The process starts with the 3D rendering of an object, which is then sent to a 3D printer for the layering, from the innermost layer to the outermost. Laser or light is then applied to harden the material.
This technology (and its future development) brings endless possibilities in many areas. In medicine, for instance, prototypes of the lungs or heart can be created to bring the subject to life in class. In architecture, students will benefit from seeing and studying prototypes generated from their own designs. Parents can print the toys or props that come with a children’s book for more edutainment benefits.
The application of 3D printing seems limited only by the imagination and budget. The good news is that the cost of 3D consumables and systems is coming down, especially since big players are vying for a piece of the market, estimated to hit $4.5 billion by 2018. Just weeks ago, Microsoft announced that making a 3D object from the PC will be as easy as writing a Word document and sending it to print. Its Windows 8.1 update is said to include a 3D printer file format support. In short, we could be looking at the start of affordable desktop manufacturing just like what we experienced with desktop publishing.
While biodegradable packaging is not new, its demand has spurred more application within the printing industry and the production of more eco-friendly materials with which to package a product. And while the word plastic brings to mind landfill issues, bioplastic is different. Made from vegetable fats or oils, or plant starch—that is, renewable biomass sources and not fossil fuel—bioplastic decomposes at a much accelerated pace, thereby skipping the conventional recycling process and avoiding the accompanying pollutants and byproducts. That means it should be cheaper, safer and greener.
There is, of course, non-biodegradable bioplastic too, which has in it a certain amount of PET (polyethylene terephthalate, the usual ingredient in plastic). Many bottling and soft drink companies, including Coca-Cola, are developing a green polyethylene, mostly because oil is getting expensive and a different alternative—one that provides sufficient durability to withstand the drink’s carbonation—has to be found for healthier bottom lines.
But since bioplastics are made from food crops, one has to consider the usage of fertilizer and pesticide within the bigger picture of environmental impact. In the meantime, there is no stopping more companies or innovative people from making bioplastics from familiar foodstuff. There is Elif Bilgin, a 16-year-old Turkish student, who used banana peels (which is cellulose- and starch-rich) to make bioplastic, which led to a Scientific American’s Science in Action prize along with $50,000 in cash. Chinese designer Ivy Wang, on the other hand, collaborated with Leeds University to produce a range of bioplastic accessories made of (get this) potato cell walls.
So the next time you see a clamshell, blister pack or plastic container, you may actually be looking at bioplastic (which may be derived from what you have in the kitchen).