Some might describe Océ’s ColorStream 3500, launched at Canon Expo in Tokyo in November and shipping from January 2011, as a bridge press, a passageway between the steady world of high-volume mono and the ever-growing adventure playground that is colour digital. And Océ would not necessarilly disagree. The 3500 is designed for those in the transpromo, DM, book and manual print markets that are looking to get into colour digital, but want to do so gradually, who want to take small steps up to the large colour volume leagues, not one giant leap.
However, the 3500 is not simply a set of stabilisers to be used until the confidence is built up to ride free onto Océ’s JetStream range – it is a product that can fit a company’s requirements for as long as the print volumes are within its scope, and for many printers, that will be for as long as the press lasts.
The ColorStream 3500, then, is an acknowledgement of a split in the digital colour market – an acceptance that there is a market in between those doing pure mono and those at the top end of colour digital print volumes.
"In the colour market there are two types of customer," explains Crit Driessen, vice-president of marketing and strategy for Océ production printing. "You have those migrating from black and white to colour, who will want to add colour volumes over time, and those already at the point of high-volume colour. The 3500 will meet the demands of the former, the Océ JetStream family already caters for the latter."
Horses for courses
So let’s talk volumes. The 3500 is targeted at volumes of 5m-15m A4 pages per month, but could be pushed up as far as 24m in duplex mode. Sitting in the volume range below is the ColorStream 10000 Flex, while above is the majority of the JetStream family, though the JetStream 1000, which Océ launched at Drupa 2008, sits in the same bracket as the 3500.
It may seem odd to have two presses competing for the same market share, but the 3500 and the JetStream 1000 are very different beasts. The JetStream 1000 has the look and feel of an offset press, whereas the Océ ColorStream 3500 is a digital printer. This is because the 3500 is focused more on data printing, so the printers in its market are likely to have been using toner-based machines, while the JetStream is aimed at customers more used to offset products such as brochures and journals.
To that end, the 3500 will squeeze into what printers in the data market are used to in terms of space requirements, infrastructure demands and workflow. It is also set up to integrate easily with toner-based units with, for example, a right-to-left print direction, so there is no need to amend paper logistics for the switch to inkjet colour.
Océ has also drawn inspiration from toner machines when it comes to drying. Most inkjet printers use a drum drier, with the drum being heated by infrared units. This, says Océ, creates heat waste. Instead, the 3500 uses fusing technology, taking the heat cells from toner-based machines to dry the printed page, along with heated air flow. Driessen says this consumes less energy and so boosts the environmental credentials of the press.
The borrowing is not just from the toner machines, however, the JetStream range has also been an inspiration. The 3500 uses the same DigiDot ink technology as the JetStream family (it can print at 600dpi, but also vary the size of the dot itself thereby creating images that are visually 1,200dpi) and also the workflow with IPDS, PCL and PDF ripping engines based on Oce’s SRA MP technology is identical to the JetStream. The same Kyocera inkjet heads are also present here.
Another familiar sight is the Océ Prisma software, which integrates the 3500 into existing workflows easily as it is compatible with any IPDS print server. Also recognisable is the user interface, which Driessen says keeps the same "look and feel" across all Océ products.
"Of course, when you go full colour, you get more functions. You need colour calibration, more attention to the media used, so the complexity increases, but the look and feel of the system is identical," he explains. "There is the touchscreen with all the menus and set-up parameters: there is the interface on the print server showing what is happening including error messages, warnings, and status and there is the interface on the paper itself – timing marks, registration marks and control marks."
But the 3500 does bring something new to inkjet printing, reveals Driessen, an aspect he believes hasn’t been seen on an inkjet press before.
"You can stop the web, inspect it or perform some action at the paper-handling end, press start, and the 3500 will continue where it left off," explains Driessen. "This happens without printing any blank pages. This really helps if, for example, the paper roll is being passed on to an envelope inserter. This is the first time this has been offered by an inkjet press."
Also innovative is the quick transition between colour and mono applications. When the 3500 switches from colour to mono, the colour heads are parked in special trays to keep them moist. When the operator resumes colour printing, the heads are re-activated from the parked position within one or two minutes.
"It incorporates additional technology as you have to be able to move the heads separately," explains Driessen. "The registration of the colours still has to be perfect, so it was a real engineering challenge."
To check that this, and all other quality issues, are performing properly, camera systems that can go from inspecting a small part of the web to inspecting the full web are an option available to those who require it. It can look at every single pixel that has been printed either to check print quality, to check colour management or to check specific information such as readability or microlines.
Room for growth
But behind all this technology is the basic premise that this should be a press that can grow with its owner, and hence flexibility of configuration is at the heart of the product. You can start with a basic, entry-level monochrome configuration and build up to full colour, and then a full colour plus a spot (MICR for example) – fifth and sixth colours can be added when the press is in situ. Also, you can go from a duplex configuration to two simplex configurations, so as a single unit, inline Twin or L-, H- or U-Twin for simplex and duplex productivity. Meanwhile, third-party products are enabled at both the front-end and the finishing end, increasing the ease at which the press can be worked into existing workflows.
Price wise, you pay for the configuration you choose and Océ tentatively gave a price for a 4/4 roll-to-roll twin configuration including controller as around €1.8m (£1.5m), but says for a firm price you would have to contact them directly with your specific requirements.
So the flexibility of the Océ ColorStream 3500 will appeal, and the ability to cautiously approach high-volume full-colour digital printing will be welcomed, but whether this will persuade a cautious and cash-strapped industry to part with its money remains to be seen.