Digital printing pioneer upends the industry, again
Benny Landa, who invented digital printing at Indigo, now has a new technology he believes will become the next industry standard
It’s been 20 years since Israeli Benny Landa revolutionized the printing industry with the advent of digital printing, and industry watchers say the inventor may have repeated the feat with a new product unveiled this week.
At this week’s Drupa international trade show in Dusseldorf, the world’s largest printing equipment exhibition, Landa pulled the covers off his latest innovation — a nanotechnology-based print system, which, according to Landa, provides cheaper, higher quality, more efficient, and more environmentally-friendly printing.
In the industry, digital printing is seen as a great way to produce short-run jobs, and has allowed almost anyone to produce high-quality graphics and documents with full-color photos. Digital printing, for example, allows authors to print out individual copies of full books on services like Lulu.com. But for larger print jobs, offset printing (lithography), which uses metal plates, water and ink to produce printed matter, is the preferred method. In the industry, offset printing is usually considered the cheapest method of producing 5,000 or more copies.
Among his aims with the new system — which he calls “nanography” — is to reduce the cost per page of digital printed matter, to meet or beat the low prices offered by offset printing, Landa said. “In order to really become mainstream, digital printing must be competitive with offset in terms of quality, speed and cost, not to mention format size and the ability to print on virtually any kind of ordinary untreated paper.”
Digital printing has been around for a couple of decades. But for those who don’t remember, digital printing — which enabled printing directly from a computer file, expanding print possibilities beyond the older plate process print system — was an Israeli invention. The first digital printer was designed and built by Landa, who established the Rehovot-based company Indigo, which in 1993 sold the first commercially popular digital printer.
The new printing process changed the industry, and companies like Xerox and Canon rushed to market with their own printers. Indigo was bought out by HP in 2000, in a deal that would eventually be worth nearly a billion dollars. As an HP unit, Indigo went on to dominate the world market; three out of four commercial digital printing presses sold today are made by HP, and the company’s Kiryat Gat-based local R&D division is Israel’s second-largest private sector employer.
Landa, meanwhile, took a break. But not for long; in 2002, he established a new Rehovot-based printing technology company, which began working on a new approach to printing. Considering Landa’s background and accomplishments, printing industry mavens have been waiting with bated breath to see what he would come up this time.
At the heart of the process is a new ink invented by Landa, comprised of pigment particles only tens of nanometers in size (a human hair is about 100,000 nanometers wide). These nano-pigments are extremely powerful absorbers of light and enable unprecedented image qualities, the company said. As a result, images are ultra-sharp, very glossy, more colorful, and longer-lasting than can be attained with other printing processes. In addition, the company added, the system can print on any off-the-shelf surface, including coated and uncoated paper stocks, recycled carton, newsprint, and plastic packaging films, without requiring any kind of pre-treatment or special coating, as offset or other printing methods would require. And, unlike with other methods, Landa’s system does not use water, which saves not only the water but the electricity required to generate the heat used to dry off the paper in offset printing, he said during his presentation at Drupa.
“Nanography is a truly ground-breaking development,” Landa said, adding that the technology introduced at Drupa “places Landa Nanographic Printing presses squarely in the heart of mainstream commercial printing. For the first time, commercial printers don’t have to choose between the versatility and short-run economics of digital printing and the low cost-per-page and high productivity of offset printing. Now they can have both.”
Although the first printers are unlikely to be available for sale until next year, the company said, industry observers say they are excited, with writers and bloggers saying that Landa “stole” and “highjacked” the show – and the correspondent for printing industry publication PrintWeek tweeting that he “can confirm the Landa show is a must-see. Worth booking in for if you’re coming to Drupa.”