Last September I moved to Germany to teach for a year at Hochschule München in the Print and Media Technology program. This is my second time teaching here. The program is very similar to the program at Cal Poly, where I taught for 22 years. There is an exchange program with both teachers and students trading places for one or two semesters each year.
In the first weeks after my classes began in the Winter semester I was invited by a colleague to visit a commercial printing company in Munich that had installed a Landa Nanopress, one of the first in Europe, and one of a few dozen of the machines in existence. I was excited to see one of these machines outside of the controlled circumstances of a trade show hall. I wanted to see a Nanopress in production.
The press is the brainchild of industry wizard Benny Landa, who in 2012 showed the machine to the world at the DRUPA exhibition in Dusseldorf. It was the most exciting new technology that year, and people stood in line to get a ticket to see the Landa team demonstrate the new machine.
This was not Mr. Landa’s first printing machine. He invented the Indigo printing press in the 1970s, and that machine became popular in the printing industry in the 1990s. Indigo is a toner printing system that is quite different from other electrophotographic machines in that its particulate is suspended in a liquid hydrocarbon called Isopar, giving the machine a higher resolution and greater control over the placement of microscopic particles of toner onto paper and other substrates.
While the Indigo had significant success, the company struggled to compete against other machines in the same category – Xerox, Konica-Minolta, Ricoh, Heidelberg, Kodak – and many feared that Indigo organization would fail. In 2002, Hewlett-Packard bought Indigo, not only saving it from failure, but creating a new division to improve and expand the Indigo offerings. Today, the Indigo press is one of the major players in digital printing and packaging. It has carved-out a large share of the market for short-run, exceptionally high quality printing in the digital field.
With the sale of Indigo, Mr. Landa started a new company in Tel Aviv, Israel, called Landa Group, specializing in nanotechnologies. The product of that firm is the Nanopress, a machine that combines production printing size (B1 size: 1000 x 700 mm), reasonable production speed (6,500 impressions per hour, perfected), and resolution of 1,200 x 600 ppi, making it competitive in the field of commercial printing. Offset presses typically print at twice that resolution, but the image quality and clever imaging techniques used by the Nanopress make an admirable printed product that is difficult to differentiate from offset without a microscope. Because of the excellent screening techniques, these sheets look like stochastic printing from offset presses.
The Nanopress in Munich is a model that features seven printing inks: the standard CMYK plus orange, green and blue/violet. Driven by an EFI Fiery controller, the press has a remarkable color gamut, and photos printed on the machine exceed normal process color printing in color range and brightness. Some of this is a result of the extraordinarily thin ink film thickness of just 20 nanometers, which allows light to pass through the ink and reflect back with less absorption than conventional printing inks with a thicker ink film thickness.
The press uses a stochastic halftone screen method to image photos and graphics, freeing images from the traditional rosette patterns of four-color halftones. This also eliminates any possibility of moiré patterns, a curse of printing with more than four colors of ink constrained by standard screen angles.
The imaging is done with ink-jet technology. The Nanopress has rows of Fuji/Dimatix ink-jet heads that produce their microscopic droplets, depositing them on a huge rolling belt that runs the length of the press. All of the colors of ink are deposited onto the belt, and then immediately dried by a row of air dryers, resulting in the ink being a flexible entity that is transferred to the paper (or other substrate) in one step, arriving there fully dry.
If the sheet is to be perfected, it is passed to a perfecting cylinder, which flips the sheet and feeds it under the belt a second time, the ink for the backside being transferred by a second impression cylinder. After the two-sided sheet is finished, it goes to the delivery – or it can be sent to a conventional coating unit for aqueous coating.
The press feeder, coater, delivery, and all paper handling components are made by Komori in Japan. The Nanopress itself is built in Tel Aviv. This machine is very large. It is as long as a four-color offset press, three times wider, and about as tall. In addition to the printing machine, there are ink pumps, heaters, humidifier units, and a formidable array of devices for moving the belt through the machine and then removing the nanometers-thick ink from the belt to transfer it to the paper. It is exciting to watch it run.
When the ink-jet heads are making images, they are positioned inline with the belt and paper. When not printing, they retreat into air-tight landing positions to protect them from exposure (the ink cannot be allowed to dry on the heads).
The machine is capable, as most digital presses are, of making just one finished impression. Theoretically there is no make-ready, and there is no need to run many copies to get the machine “up to color.” In practice, the machine does need to be run up to color and the register of colors must be checked before production begins. But, with far fewer sheets run to get to full production – compared to an offset press – the machine is very practical for short-run, very high-quality printing. It is also capable of variable-data and variable-image printing where every sheet can conceivably be unique.
An interesting characteristic of the Nanopress is that it has only one operating speed: 6,500 impressions per hour. No faster, no slower. A technician from Landa told me that the company is working to make the machine run a bit faster in future versions. That speed is acceptable in my opinion, based on its other capabilities.
The Landa machine is not alone in the market. Digital ink-jet presses from Komori, Fuji, Heidelberg, Koenig & Bauer and others are also making their way into plants around the world, edging for an opportunity to meet the demand for production size and quality printing using short-run ink-jet technology.
On our first visit to the Nanopress we received a tour of the machine and were dazzled by the test sheets provided by the printer – Blueprint AG. While we visited we saw sheets of routine short-run commercial printing for numerous clients. Germany is home to Porsche, VW, BMW, Audi, Mercedes Benz and other auto and truck manufacturers. We saw printing for several of those companies being run on the Nanopress. The work was extraordinary because of the expanded color gamut. This is a machine that calls out to graphic designers and photographers. There are greens, oranges and blues on these sheets that we almost never see on traditional presses, a result of there being seven colors available on the machine.
Another class of work that we saw was beautiful printing of menus. These were jobs that would be impractical to run on an offset press because the finished run would be shorter than the make-ready. Clearly it is practical to print 50 sheets on this machine.
The president of the company allowed us to take sample sheets that day, and we all walked out of the plant carrying our very special roll of paper with beautiful images printed on Mr. Landa’s new machine.
Read more about working with the Landa Nanopress!