thINK Ahead 2021: Production Inkjet Has Arrived

Canon production inkjet customers and partners share learning



Greg Cholmondeley


I recently attended the thINK Ahead conference in Boca Raton, Florida, and it was as intriguing as always. Canon Solutions America was the Executive Sponsor, but the event was more focused on why and how to use production inkjet technology rather than on specific vendor products. That said, this was the first time I had a chance to see the Canon varioPRINT iX cut-sheet inkjet color digital press—and it is impressive.



The message rang loud and clear: High-quality, high-speed, cost-effective inkjet has arrived in production printing.


This blog is not intended to serve as complete conference documentation, which wouldn’t be possible for a single person covering a multi-track event (if more in-depth coverage interests you, click here and register for the thINK Ahead Virtual event on November 4). What I will cover are the general feeling and messages I took from the in-person event, which can be summed up in one word: Enthusiasm.


A Business Case for In-Plants

Linda Stelter (Manager, Print and Mail Services at Sanford Health) and Craig Seybert (Manager, Printing Services at Penn State Health) led a session titled “A Business Case for In-plants: The Power of Investing for Success.” Stelter has a Canon varioPRINT i300 cut-sheet inkjet color digital press, while Seybert has an iX. Switching to production has had a significant impact on both of their operations.


Inkjet enabled Stelter’s shop to shift larger jobs to print on demand, which meant saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in shell warehousing costs. The capacity of the press meant that three print shops could be consolidated into one, saving close to a million dollars. And by keeping more work in-house, the shop now provides better brand management, data confidentiality, and nimbleness. Stelter’s operation now uses toner presses for critical-quality work, with all the rest of the volume going to inkjet.


Last December, Seybert invested in the iX and has moved 95% of his work over to it, everything from business cards to marketing materials. The only jobs he still prints on toner equipment are those requiring synthetic media. With inkjet technology, he now offers color printing at the same price as black and white, and his workload has returned to pre-COVID levels. Like Stelter, brand consistency and data confidentiality are critical for Penn State Health.


Seybert shared an eye-opening story about printing an annual Diversity Department book for the first time on the iX. Like most printers, the shop didn’t tell its customers that it had switched technology, expecting that they wouldn’t notice. However, the Diversity Department did notice—in a good way! Historically, producing the book required five or six approval rounds to get the colors right. This time it was approved the first time, and the customer wanted to know what had changed. Seybert calculated the time savings on this one job at between $800 and $900 (or 30% of the job price).


Maximize Your Profit with Canon Inkjet

Ed Janson (VP of Marketing at Canon) led this session. Although it was far too packed with information to summarize justifiably, it included video clips from John Gaspari (VP of Operations at Specialty Print Communications), Clark Matthews (VP & General Manager at IPG Ink), and Christina Esparza (VP of Operations at InfoIMAGE, Inc.). All three discussed how inkjet has dramatically increased productivity, reduced cost and complexity, and improved their bottom line. The enthusiasm came across as all three shared how this technology delivers on its promises.


Commercial Print and Book Manufacturing

Marty McQuiston (General Manager at Taylor Corporation) spoke about how inkjet technology is transforming his company. He uses it extensively for direct mail postcards, which is a segment he sees growing since the pandemic. He also sees personalization increasing with QR codes making a comeback and extensively uses rules-based automation to produce jobs efficiently. McQuiston sees digital inkjet volumes growing and offers an intriguing perspective. He believes that decreasing offset and increasing digital volumes aren’t as tightly connected as they might seem. Instead, he believes that while some offset work is transitioning to digital, digital printing creates new work that is independent of traditional offset jobs.


Todd Roth (Vice President at Core Publishing Solutions) spoke about how his firm has migrated much of its book printing from offset to inkjet. Core Publishing Solutions does not offer Book-of-One printing, but inkjet has made Books-of-Few competitive. He explained that while inkjet and offset presses require two- to three-person teams to operate, offset teams require much higher skill sets. That’s an important difference, since his volumes have increased 40% this year and they’ve hired over 100 people.


Our Take

The excitement is out there and the transition to inkjet is happening now. There were other sessions as well. One of these included Chris Wells (Executive Vice President at DS Graphics), who shared a series of innovative ideas on optimizing direct mail responses with extended reality, augmented reality, mixed reality, and other techniques. There were also some other partner conversations and press demonstrations at the event. Enthusiasm about the technology and its impact on business was evident during every interaction, from one-on-one partner meetings, demonstrations, and dinner conversations. Everyone speaking with these attendees came to the same conclusion: Production inkjet has arrived!


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