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May 1, 2001 12:00 AM

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There was a time when copiers were copiers, and presses were presses. But somewhere along the way, copiers became copier/printers, printers became printer/copiers, and presses morphed first into digital presses and then into direct-imaging (DI) presses. Confusing, isn't it?

The machines released by Xeikon (DCP-1) and Indigo (e-Print 1000) in 1993 were clearly in a class by themselves. No one could imagine spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a copier, and no known copier could produce comparable image quality or formats. But the DCP-1 and e-Print 1000 were not typical printing presses either. They used toner (or toner-like liquid ink), lasers and LED imaging, and yes, they appeared to work on principles similar to copiers. They were perplexing, but the industry seemed fairly content to nod in both directions and call them digital presses.

Comparing the devices
Canon CLC 5000 50 ppm 18 ppm 400 × 800 ~200,000 ~$100,000+
Indigo e-Print Pro+ (AB Dick Colour) 70 ppm 35 ppm 800 × 800 ~50,000 ~$190,0002
Heidelberg Digital NexPress 2100 70 ppm 35 ppm 600 × 600 ~700,000 ~$350,000
Xeikon CSP320D 16 ppm 32 ppm 600 × 600 ~100,000 ~$150,000
Xerox DocuColor 2060 60 ppm 30 ppm 600 × 600 ~100,000 ~$250,000+
14/c letter-size pages 2with duplexing option

Just as we were getting used to this new equipment category, along came new machines. Initially there was a gaping hole between the speed of a digital press (about 70 four-color letter-size ppm) and the fastest color copier (about 40 ppm). But then Xerox (Rochester, NY) introduced the DocuColor 2060 (60 ppm) and Canon (Lake Success, NY), its CLC 5000 (50 ppm). The release of Heidelberg Digital's (Rochester, NY) NexPress 2100 (70 ppm) is expected later this year. These machines have narrowed the gap between “color copier” and “digital press.”


When is a copier no longer a copier? Copier/printers, production copiers or whatever else you choose to call them, are getting better and better. Heidelberg Digital insists that the NexPress 2100 is in a different class than the Xerox 2060, which it characterizes as a copier. Xerox, however, describes the 2060 as a color digital press that just happens to cost less. Canon, on the other hand, seems content to classify the CLC 5000 as a color copier, albeit a production copier. As for Indigo (Woburn, MA) and Xeikon (Wood Dale, IL), both have introduced entry-level digital presses that are closer in price to a copier.

Although the debate over production copiers/digital presses can't be resolved, it offers some insight into future digital device developments.

All the machines listed in the table below incorporate copier-like technology. The only reliable test for determining if a machine qualifies as a digital press is whether it's dynamic — can it print variable data?

(Keep in mind that many in the industry use the terms “digital press” and “DI press” interchangeably, though they are not the same thing. The terminology can be confusing — consider, for example, that the DocuColor brand includes the 2060 as well as the 400 DI and 233 DI offset presses.)

Digital presses have rechargeable imaging units and can dynamically change the content of a print job on the fly. Beyond the ability to alter images during a print run, the factors that have traditionally distinguished digital presses from full-color copiers include speed, paper-handling ability, image quality, monthly print volume and price tag.


Even when reviewing these specifications, it's still difficult to arrive at a clear categorization. Furthermore, if there is a distinction between a digital press and a color copier, why would Xeikon and Indigo offer scaled-down versions of their machines that are likely to compete with production copiers?

The most probable answer: because customers are looking for solutions, and are indifferent to labels. The largely unknown factor in this debate is the commercial printer. To date, the majority of digital presses or production copier/printers haven't been sold to commercial printers. Buyers include corporations, service bureaus, franchise operations and other businesses — the majority of which have different needs than those of commercial printers.

Nonetheless, the key players are designing their machines with printers in mind. Heidelberg Digital, for example, stresses sheet-to-sheet color consistency, no meter click (the unerasable tattoo sported by all copier/printers), an imaging blanket and so forth on the 2100. All of these features are designed to appeal to commercial printers.

The NexPress is obviously designed for high-volume printing. While the absence of a meter click sounds advantageous, it remains to be seen if this savings will be offset by a monthly maintenance fee.

Xerox's 2060 also has features typically not found on copiers: decurling devices, belt transfer, closed-loop image inspection, side-to-side and front-to-back registration. What's more, the recommended monthly print volume for the 2060 — and in fact, for all of these machines — generally exceeds the average monthly print volumes that are being produced on digital presses/production copiers.


The only thing certain about the copier/printer/digital press debate is that it will probably grow louder and more complicated as time passes. Océ Printing Systems USA (Boca Raton, FL), for example, is now reselling Xeikon digital presses, and at Hannover CeBIT 2001, finally launched the 3125C color copier, now called the CPS700. Océ had shown this machine as a technology demonstration at trade shows around the world for the past five years. It uses Océ's DI technology and looks nothing like a copier. It can print on a variety of substrates for a low cost per page, maintain the same speed regardless of the paper weight and doesn't require calibration. The system will be launched in the U.S. in August.

When asked to address the overall digital device classification situation, David Sigler, director of on-demand print and publishing for Océ, waxed philosophical. “Consumers of print really do not care about the manufacturing process, just as when you go to buy a new car, you probably do not care what kind of machine tool created the engine mount,” says the exec. “End users view the printing process in a similar way. They don't really care if it was lithography, flexography or some other process that printed the New York Times; they're really there for the content.”