Johnson's World: Flying with the Inkjet Set—or Not

Technologies come and go. Whether inkjet will transform the printing industry remains to be seen. In the meantime, there's work to be done.

January 1, 2014

Last year my company, Copresco, purchased five new digital presses. By the time you read this, we’ll probably have made it six. For those who don’t know us, Copresco is an all-digital on-demand producer of books, publications, and manuals.

We spend a lot of time evaluating presses before purchase. Said one equipment sales rep (who did get the order), “You guys do more due diligence than any company I’ve ever seen.” Yes, when presses cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, we do like to be sure that we’re buying the right equipment.

By the way, all of our recent purchases use the xerographic process. That’s electrophotography for those who don’t like to see an X in the name, even though it was invented by Xerox. It is also commonly called laser printing, even though LEDs are often used instead of a laser.

Is Inkjet All That?

At last fall’s PRINT 13 show a fellow industry commentator approached me to assure me that, “Switching to inkjet will cut your costs in half.”

Oh, really? Would you please direct me to the booth containing these inkjet presses that will halve my costs while still delivering quality acceptable to my clients? No, he couldn’t, because it wasn’t there. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

A competitor who is gradually making the transition from offset to digital asked me not too long ago, “Aren’t you worried about inkjet?”

No, why would I be? I’m not in the toner business. I’m not in the ink business. I’m not in the copier or printer business. I am in the business of producing printed materials, and to that end I’ll utilize whatever processes enable me to best serve my customers.

Those customers don’t think of my company as being inkjet or xerographic, just as they don’t think of my traditional competitors as offset, letterpress, or screen. In the 1990’s I could describe myself as a digital printer to differentiate. Now, everyone has digital. It has become expected rather than innovative.

My clients (and yours) are looking for benefits, not processes. As one customer famously put it, “I don’t care if you use monks with quill pens as long as you keep up the good work.”

Learn and Discern

I recently returned from a three day dog-and-pony show put on by a big player in the inkjet printing equipment market. My direct competitors from four continents were present. It was a well-conducted event, designed to convince us all that inkjet was our future. Perhaps it is. I’ve been hearing that inkjet is our future for several decades. We shall see.

Most attendees found the presentation interesting. Most of us agreed that we would keep our eye on developments in inkjet printing. And after sharing among ourselves, we realized that most of us are currently using toner-based digital presses for the lion’s share of our on-demand production.

Ten years ago I criticized all the hoopla surrounding JDF (a workflow integration format) that was being spewed out by manufacturers, their consultants, and their publicists. Everywhere we turned in 2004 we read about how JDF was going to revolutionize printing.

My article raised an outcry from those who mistakenly thought I was critical of the concept of JDF. I was skeptical—not critical—and correctly so, as time has proven. JDF has yet to revolutionize printing.

My point was that, for better or ill, until JDF was universally implemented by equipment manufacturers, ready for sale with all the bugs worked out, it meant nothing to us as print providers. We had to wait until we could take action. Our actions depended on the prior actions of technology developers.

So it is with inkjet, 3D, nano, or any other new technology.

I’m not a toner fan (or foe.) I have no vested interest in one process over another. I’m just a busy printer with customers who need my services. When a manufacturer figures out how to reliably harness the inkjet process in such a way as to benefit both me and my clients, I’ll buy.

Right now, I have things to print.

Steve Johnson is president of Copresco in Carol Stream, IL; a pioneer in digital printing technology and print on demand. Contact him at, or send direct feedback about this column via