By Louella Fernandes, Quocirca
On 6th November 2013, OKI addressed European media and analysts on its vision for the future of printing. Whilst in the SMB office space, OKI is still essentially developing its solutions and services offering, its new 5 colour graphic arts LED printer, showcased at Viscom in Düsseldorf, promises to help it to access the lucrative and growing graphic arts market.
LEDs (light emitting diodes) have drawn increasing attention for their potential to help save energy and money. They have become more familiar in recent years in applications ranging from lighting to TVs. Printers based on LEDs are a viable alternative to those laser-based technology, particularly for smaller businesses.
OKI launched its first generation digital LED-based printers in 1989 and has continued to refine and improve the technology over the past two decades. Conventional LED and laser printers both function based on the same principles of electro-photography the difference lies in the image writing process. LED print uses a print head consisting of an array of solid state LEDs which flashes light across the entire width of the drum, creating an entire line of dots at the same time.
In contrast laser printing uses a single light beam to scan and create an image. The light beam is directed across the drum, using a complex combination of rotating mirrors and lenses, creating each line of dots, one dot at a time. Recent advancements in LED printing technology have seen significant improvements in print quality, making it a practical alternative to laser printing. The short optical path for the LED print head allows LED printers to be compact in size and with simple mechanical parts, LED printers can be more reliable with low noise levels, compared to complex rotating mirrors and lenses used in laser printers.
As the technology has developed, more manufacturers have released LED based printers, for example Brother and Xerox. OKI plans to sustain its SMB presence through a broader managed print service (MPS) offering – an area where it has lacked a strong presence. Its three pronged approach range include Smart Managed Page Services, an entry-level basic MPS; Smart Managed Print Services, an optimisation and management service and Smart Managed Document Services a customised document workflow service. With OKI relying on the channel to deliver these services, it will need to work hard to transition its partners from a traditional hardware-centric focus.
Although OKI is in the office SMB services and solutions space, it is the lucrative and growing graphics arts market where OKI hopes to make a big impression. In Europe alone, the market is estimated to be worth €25bn (source: LightWords Imaging)
Following the launch of its white toner product range last year, OKI is touting its new 5 colour, A3 digital LED printer, the ES9541 as a real “game-changer”. The ES9541 offers spot colour in white or clear gloss and the ability to print on an extensive range of media, at speeds of up to 50 pages per minute. White toner can be used when printing on coloured paper, and transfer printing can be used for non-paper media for example fabrics (t-shirts), hard surface example or wax (candles). The use of clear toner for instance, enables the application of diverse gloss effects on various types of paper. OKI is initially introducing white or clear printing as a fifth colour, but in the future there may be opportunities for special spot colours such as UV, for instance.
Up to now, 5 colour printing has been the preserve of the high production printer manufacturers, with capital costs often reaching in excess of £100,000. With entry level costs for the ES9541 at £17,000 (RRP in the UK), OKI hopes to make graphic arts printing more accessible to smaller creative businesses and reprographics studios with short run printing needs such as packaging and proofs, brochures, stationery and business cards.
OKI is wisely looking beyond the relatively flat office printing market to further opportunities. To establish itself as a credible player in the graphic arts market, OKI will need to significantly push it’s messaging around the price and performance of its LED technology for 5 spot colour which is clearly a critical differentiator for the digital small-scale production segment of market.