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Aqueous Inkjet: Is the Glass Really Half-Empty and Leaking?

(July 2006) posted on Tue Aug 15, 2006

Examine aqueous inkjet technology's current position in the market and consider its future stake in imaging.

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By Michael Flippin

I can only imagine Twain's amusement when he sent this message via telegraph to the US press upon reading his own obituary while in London. However, less amusing were the predictions made over the past ten years about the rapid demise of several markets and technologies. While some were accurate, many have yet to—and may never—be realized. The three that immediately come to mind are graphics screen printing, wide-format aqueous inkjet printing for graphics, and the market for cut vinyl. One false market explosion is the digital printing of textiles, but that's another story for another time. Since my thoughts on the US cut-vinyl market and the future challenges facing graphics screen printing have already been published in the pages of this magazine, I will focus on aqueous inkjets here.

With all of the attention placed on solvent and UV inkjet printing over recent years, one might think that the days of wide-format aqueous inkjet printing are numbered. But the bottom line is that aqueous inkjet technology is not extinct; nor is it quickly disappearing from the wide-format market. Is it losing share? Without a doubt. But to be fair, aqueous inkjet technology captured 89% of the active US installed base of wide-format inkjet printers in 2003, so there was only one direction that aqueous inkjet's position could realistically take. Nevertheless, aqueous inkjet still captured 71% of the US installed base of graphics printers two years later.

My statement that 71% of wide format inkjet printers are water-based machines could be open to challenge. While that finding is absolutely true when applied only to the US market for inkjet-printed graphics, is it still accurate when looking at the entire market for inkjet printers 24 in. wide and up? The answer is no. In fact, that statement would no longer hold water (sorry, I just had to). And I would venture to guess that most reading this article saw that 71% and thought only of graphics printers. But what about technical (CAD) printers? I realize that technical printing may not impact many businesses, but it should not always be omitted from facts and figures. Including those technical printers in an assessment of the marketplace puts the aqueous inkjet in very different place among all wide-format printers.


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