By Jeanette Clinkunbroomer
While it may take researchers years to successfully develop an innovative technology, once the breakthrough comes, it opens the floodgates to many more. One level of know-how serves as a platform for further advances, which seem to appear more and more quickly. Such is the case with color copier/printers. Basic monochrome xerographic technologies first were refined to produce better image quality, then were stretched to include decorative, then pleasing, and now realistic color. Combine these developments with borrowings from traditional offset printing and with a wide array of inline finishing capabilities, and what results is the latest generation of color copier/printers. These devices offer software utilities and applications in their mix of features, and now are scaled down to fit within office workgroups.
Production-level color copier/printers increasingly are being redesigned and resized as color copier/printer/fax/scanners, multifunction printers (MFPs), for centralized office usage. These, in turn, feed demand for more color in higher volume production environments. It’s a self-sustaining cycle, and the product list is still growing to serve the growth in demand. New capabilities from leading suppliers are laying the foundation for an even wider breadth of options and functionalities that are still in the pipeline.
Among the new offerings are two models from Xerox Corporation. Xerox started out decades ago designing its analog copiers for office users, and they also offer the iGen3 and iGen 110 digital color presses to compete against offset for short-run color work in commercial print shops. Xerox has such a broad line of copiers, copier/printers, and digital presses, it has divided its products into Office Group, with WorkCentre and Copy Center product lines, and its Printing Systems Group, with devices catering to commercial printers, smaller print-for-pay businesses, and in-house corporate reproduction departments (CRDs). However, even the lower-end office products are beginning to include some of the speed and very high quality of the production systems.
Unveiled in June, Xerox’s new DocuColor 250 is rated at speeds of 50 pages per minute (ppm) for full-color and 65-ppm for B&W, with a duty cycle of 200,000 copies per month. The unit can be used as a scanner, copier, and/or printer, and it’s housed within a small footprint that seems too modest for its capabilities. Its most amazing feature may be its 2400 x 2400 dots per inch (dpi) resolution.
"The base engine, the image acquisition terminal, as well as the printing capability is extremely high quality," notes Jon Renault, product marketing manager, color MFP marketing, Xerox Office Group. "It uses our VCSEL technology—vertical cavity surface emitting laser. This is the same laser used in the DocuColor 8000, and has the same 2,400 dpi resolution. It gives fantastic fine-line definition, and the text is razor sharp. It also gives the customer smooth transitions from shadow to highlight areas. You’re not seeing the contouring, or an abrupt change in color or density."
The DocuColor 250 uses a Linux-based Fiery server from EFI and a PostScript interpreter. "It has an Intel Celeron processor, which is about twice as fast as whatever else is in the marketplace," Renault says. "With 50 color pages and 65 B&W, we want to make sure we’re building up a print queue because the machine is constantly printing."
Three finishing options are available, including a Professional finisher with a booklet maker and trimmer. Yet, for all of its high-level features, the DocuColor 250 also is designed for relatively simple operation and the uncomplicated replacement of toner cartridges and other consumables. It’s being targeted primarily to certain office markets—particularly those with a special need for color—as well as to print-for-pays.
"We see this inside graphic arts companies for creative professionals," Renault says, "ad agencies or design firms, people doing comps and proofs for jobs going on an offset press or a DocuColor, or even for short production. We’re also approaching markets that may be shying away from color devices because they haven’t been fast enough. The DocuColor 250 also fits inside CRDs or multifunctional printer pools."
Xerox isn’t neglecting the higher volume production market, either. They have launched the DocuColor 7000, with capabilities very similar to the DocuColor 8000, including the high-resolution VCSEL laser engine. The DocuColor 7000, however, runs a bit slower, outputting 70 color ppm vs. the DocuColor 8000’s 80-ppm.
"The DocuColor 7000 provides a transition for new businesses and for people who maybe aren’t ready for an iGen," says Jerry Murray, VP, production industry markets, Xerox Printing Systems Group. "We have some customers growing volume on the DocuColor 6060, and the DocuColor 7000’s price point allows them to make the leap to the kind of quality you get from the DocuColor 8000."
With an SRP of $245,000, the DocuColor 7000 does cost less than the $300,000 DocuColor 8000. However, these DocuColor models are clearly destined for high volume enterprise or commercial operations. Karen Page, worldwide manager, product marketing, entry production color at Xerox, stresses another of its high-end features, "We now have the ability to do screening technology. In our DocuColor 6060 products and 2000 series, we printed with line screens, and now we’re printing with dots. That’s why you see such beautiful output, better blends and things like that. VCSEL is going to be used in our future technologies."
Last year, Konica and Minolta joined forces, establishing the combined Konica Minolta brand and providing the opportunity for further co-development of what had been two different product lines. In February, Konica Minolta unveiled a 50-ppm color copier/printer, the C500 bizhub Pro, created by bringing together the best features of what were the Konica 8050 and the Minolta 2001.
"Overall it’s a much more cost effective product," says Dino Pagliarello, manager of product marketing, Konica Minolta office workgroup, comparing the C500 to the competition. "When we introduced it, it cost about half as much as our competitors’ products, based on a combination of the equipment and operating costs. The footprint is very small, so it’s more compact. It’s much easier to use, too, so it really took the market by storm, and we are the leader in this product category right now."
"The C500 might fit into the marketing department, but it’s really more production oriented," he adds. "Customers are doing a lot of mailers, or outputting a lot of small booklets and things like that."
Finishing options, including a multi-position stapler, hole punch, and a booklet finisher with a trimmer unit, support the C500’s high-end capabilities. With a monthly recommended duty cycle of 150,000 pages per month, the copier/printer is marketed to CRDs and large enterprises for light production.
Konica Minolta’s new C450 color MFP is a bit slower at 35-ppm color, 45-ppm B&W, and was designed primarily for office workgroups.
"The trend is that people are consolidating their printer and copier, fax, and scanner devices and bringing them into one MFP," Pagliarello notes. "MFP usage is easily tracked, and its cost per page is a lot lower than desktop color devices."
The C450 incorporates a new technology called bizhub OP (open platform), which drives all of the device’s functions. "You have fax, scan, copy, print, all in the system architecture," Pagliarello says. "The advantage is that you get printing and PostScript printing standard, and many common capabilities. It gives us the ability to introduce products later on that will have the same interfaces, the same control panels, and the same drivers. Our customers will be able to get up to speed much faster."
In early August Konica Minolta released its newest bizhub model, the C351, with 35-ppm B&W and color copy and print speeds. The C351 also features 38 originals-per-minute scanning and an optional Super G3 FAX.
Focus on Corporate
Ron Potesky, director of product and field marketing for Ricoh Corporation, says his company focuses on products primarily for the corporate environment and also is seeing the migration to color, from color MFP devices to production-level color copier/printers.
"We give corporate users the features, price points, and capabilities that allow them to do color and B&W at a very reasonable cost," he says, "and we’re giving them output quality that they’re happy sending to customers. They don’t feel like they’re compromising."
Ricoh has just introduced six new color copier/printers, including the Aficio 3260C, outputting 45-ppm in color, 60-ppm B&W, and the Aficio Color 5560, producing 55-ppm color and 60-ppm B&W for light production. Both provide 600x600 dpi resolution. Though relatively high-speed, the Aficio 3260C is an MFP device designed for workgroup usage and like lower-volume models, offers scanning, printing, and copying. In addition, it can be configured with a range document finishing capabilities, including a booklet maker, stapler, folder, and three-hole punch.
Potesky describes the Aficio 5560 as more oriented to the CRD or print-for-pay market. It can be operated with the Fiery E-7000 or E-8000 controller from EFI, and Ricoh is targeting the model to customers with greater need for color control and job management capabilities. A 100-sheet feeder, trayless duplexing unit, and 3,400-sheet paper capacity are standard. Various optional finishing capabilities are available.
"We have a very broad line of B-to-C products," Potesky adds, "meaning B&W-to-color. Most user output is printed, and our color copiers do everything a Ricoh monochrome MFP would do. We have currently four-color MFP products in our line, expanding to seven, and we sell thousands of those per month. Customers aren’t buying them to print B&W. They want the same cost-per-page that they have on a B&W copier for black, and they want an aggressive cost, but they want color."
Making Color Practical, Affordable
Canon U.S.A., Inc. recently added some key enhancements to its imageRUNNER C3220 color copier/printer and MFP. "It’s a very scalable product," says Hiro Imamura, assistant director, product marketing at Canon. "We don’t like to say it’s a departmental or print-for-pay model, because we have so many front-end options for it."
Using the newly-released Clustering Kit-A1, two imageRUNNERS can be operated as a pair to produce virtual 64-ppm. When users send a job to the devices, the Clustering Kit-A1 automatically handles job-splitting and print workflow, and can send the job to both printers to share RIPping and printing, or to whichever printer can process the work most quickly, depending upon what is already in the queue.
For higher-volume environments, Canon offers the colorPASS Z3000 server for the imageRUNNER C3220. The server provides a number of options traditionally available only on high-volume production systems, such as support for the PPML language used for variable data printing.
Imamura notes that for users with light production requirements, an imageRUNNER C3220 with the colorPASS Z3000 is a much more affordable option than a full-blown production system, retailing for about $30,000—less than half of what a similarly-equipped production color copier/printer system would cost.
Canon has built some practical features into the imageRUNNER C3220, including fast file transfer and internal/external communications. "We apply some very special compression technology methods to documents and compress files to very small ones for transfer and email," Imamura says. "A 10MB file might become a few hundred K, and with no loss of image quality."
In July, Canon introduced three new enterprise color MFPs. The 26-ppm Color imageRUNNER C2620 and the imageRUNNER C3170 Series—31-ppm B&W and 7-ppm color—MFPs were designed to increase the level of workflow customization, information security, and document process control options.
Migrating to Color
Océ Digital Document Systems is also targeting the light production, enterprise, and print-for-pay markets with its full-color CPS 800 and CPS 900 models, as well as bringing some of the capabilities of these production systems to the office workgroup. Corey Patterson, color systems product manager at the company, sees the shift to color for mid-range and volume office documents as the result of changing expectations.
"In everyday business applications, and where color devices are charged per-print, the cost of color may still outweigh its advantages," he says. "For the business owner, that doesn’t seem to matter. They’re paying for it anyway, because there are a number of factors driving people toward using color."
People see color everywhere, he notes, and common business applications like the Microsoft Office suite make it easy to incorporate color into otherwise mundane documents. "What that leads to, is that when people ask their administrator to order a printer for their desktop, they order a BubbleJet or other color printer," Patterson says. "But the per-page cost on those items is pretty high. You can pay one dollar per print when you get down to real supply costs."
"It’s a replay of what we saw five to seven years ago, when office workers had an analog copier down the hall, and had a B&W laser or inkjet on their desks," he continues. "They would print files, then walk down the call and make copies. Then someone figured out, Gee, I’m paying a lot for printers, and they’re a lot to manage on the network. That’s when these people began migrating to shared workgroup devices." And, as volumes increased, the CRD also moved to the higher-volume models that use the new technology.
Like Konica Minolta and Xerox, Océ is offering color devices for both workgroups and light production, creating an easily-followed path to what Patterson calls ubiquitous color. The company’s CS 220 is a 31-ppm printer, copier, and scanner, marketed to workgroups of 16 to 20 people. The MFP uses patented Océ technology, the same used on higher-end CPS production models, and maintains the same output speeds for both color and B&W, and while printing on a range of paper stocks and weights.
"When you look at CPS technology, we are literally a revolution in the way color is printed," Patterson says. "Every other device is a four-color xerographic engine. Our job was to create something that overcame the weaknesses of the xerographic engine, and we did that with our seven-color direct imaging technologies. We’re the only printer in the marketplace that is 100 percent guaranteed color-consistent without calibration. You don’t have to adjust the machine. You can run the same file today, next week, or next year, and as long as it’s the same file, you’ll get the same output. We also maintain engine speed on all media."
"The CPS 800 and 900 technology is definitely going into CRD and quick print environments," he adds. "Probably 80 percent of our placements are CRDs or small commercial print shops. Those devices are targeted for about 20,000 to 200,000 color impressions per month. And the CS 220 and the CPS are interrelated, because if you have someone using a CS 220 in a workgroup, they get spoiled with color, and that drives the volume to the production center. They say, ‘Now I need 5,000 copies of these things, and I don’t have time to sit here and run it. Let me just send it to the CRD.’"
Though admitting that color still costs more, Patterson and others note that the per-page costs for color become more manageable with the adoption of workgroup and volume production devices. These offer centralized tracking and control of what gets printed and how much is printed in color, as opposed to the largely unmonitored use of desktop color inkjet or laser printers. In addition, all suppliers offer packages that may include the leasing or purchase of the hardware bundled with fixed and predictable costs for consumables like toner. And printing B&W on color devices often is in line with per-page costs for printing B&W on a monochrome system. Virtually all the new color models produce black with black toner rather than using a four-color toner process.
In a sense, the suppliers’ savvy of color markets and what drives color adoption appears to be an orchestrated scheme to prod users along the color highway. But there’s no denying that color is everywhere and that it adds appeal and draws attention to even ordinary office documents. With easy-to-use and cost effective systems, color can add value to the bottom line as well. dps