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BY JEFFREY STEELE ON JAN 1, 2017

Over time, symbols of durability have included the Rock of Gibraltar and the California Redwoods. We might have to add the aqueous printing sector to that list.
Aqueous printers have survived since the genesis of the wide-format industry. Today, they remain just as relevant as they ever were. New technologies like single-pass advancements have placed aqueous top of mind with print service providers. Add in other strides — like the ability to produce short-run, highly customized packaging applications — and aqueous printing shows signs of world-class staying power.
Read on to learn the technological breakthroughs helping make aqueous a staple in the market, the key developments impacting aqueous inks and printers today, and the most important trends likely to buffet the segment in the next several years.
How Aqueous Has Retained its Value
Driven by technological advancements, price points of an initial investment in aqueous have declined and ease of use has increased, allowing large-format aqueous printing to retain its identity as a unique, high-value offering, says Andrew Vecci, director of marketing, Large-format Solutions for Canon Solutions America.
The decline in initial cost over the last several years has aided accessibility, and customers have turned to large-format for more innovative, head-turning ways to promote their brands, both indoors and outdoors, Vecci says. “Recognizing this need, Canon continues to expand the application range of these systems with even greater media options to further expand application versatility and capability,” he adds.
The major technological advance in aqueous printing has been the move to single-pass capability. So, says Kevin Shimamoto, general manager for Memjet’s wide-format and packaging business. “By advancing the print speed, that technology is opening a lot of new business opportunities that will keep aqueous relevant,” he says.
“With the speed that print shops can now gain from single-pass technology, it’s opened new growth potential, new segments and new applications that weren’t available to them before. Gift wrap paper and real-time photo integrated signage are examples. Custom print-on demand wasn’t possible before, based on the footprint, capital and the running cost and speed of aqueous printers in the past.”
Today’s retailers can print new signage in the morning that’s intended just for that day’s hours of operation, and is based on inventory levels and even such variables as weather. At stadiums, posters of a key play during that day’s game can be output and marketed to fans as they depart – and can be customized with the date and the fan’s name. These are examples of how technology advancements focusing on speed, cost and durability can benefit print shops and end users by allowing greater variety and specialization.
“Some of the applications and executions will be new,” Shimamoto says. “Many new areas of growth exist simply based on single-pass aqueous technology . . . With our single-pass technology, we’re allowing a lot of new, creative business ideas, applications, and business models to help print shops grow their businesses in a wide variety of ways.
“They include new products, increased productivity, increased work flow, and reduced cost. You’re reducing from 10 printers to one and reducing your spatial needs, real-estate costs and staffing, while boosting productivity and efficiency. And you improve your turnaround time, letting you print on demand when someone comes in.”
Mark Swanzy, chief operating officer of Xante, agrees. The amazing speed, quick drying time, and higher resolution afforded by single-pass processes, he says, have allowed digital inkjet to invade markets that would not accept the more primitive aqueous roll-to-roll printers of bygone days.
“Using single-pass printheads on a flatbed has really opened up new substrates, such as corrugated sheets and boxes, to more closely duplicate flexible printing processes,” Swanzy points out. “Also, uncoated substrates such as corrugated sheets and boxes work better with aqueous ink because it bites the media, dries quickly, and more closely duplicates the flex look versus UV or litho printing quality. The single-pass higher resolution printheads using aqueous can be jetted so much faster and [drying can be done] without adding fans or UV LED lights for curing.”