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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.


By Michael Flippin

There is no question that the global growth of the digital-printing side of the wide-format-graphics industry has been significant. And the adoption of inkjet technology has been vast across many types of users. Historically, the sales of inkjet printers for wide-format technical applications has often been more than four times the sales volume of printers sold to produce conventional graphics. Today, the ratio of aqueous inkjets for graphics to technical printers on a worldwide sales basis is nearly one to one. And if you think that aqueous inkjet technology is no longer significant, I beg to differ. Including both the sales of wide-format printers for graphics and for technical applications, aqueous inkjet still captures more than 90% of global wide-format-printer sales.

"We are all alike, on the inside."

So you may feel that I am looking through rose-colored glasses to make my point about aqueous inkjets. And you might be correct, as I am only talking about the number of printers sold or in the installed base. I have not taken the volume of printing or the productivity of machines into account—factors that obviously vary from one imaging technology to another. But while it is true that non-aqueous-inkjet technologies are capturing a larger share of wide-format output, I feel that a place will continue to exist for aqueous technology for many years to come. Even though I can't see aqueous inkjet holding on to the lion's share of the entire market, I see no reason why aqueous inkjet can't continue to capture most of the volume for photographic enlargements, fine art, proofing, and other applications that require high-resolution or glossy output.

The real question, however, should be: "How do I continue to make money at this?" In taking an objective view of the printers on the market, there are probably hundreds of different models using a limited number of inkjet printheads. Many of these printers therefore make use of the same core technology as dozens of other printers on the market. So the key for both manufacturers and print shops alike is to successfully differentiate themselves and their products from the competition. Opportunities certainly exist in the marketplace, though they—and their related applications—are fragmenting and becoming more specialized as the market for wide-format printed graphics grows.

As a frequent speaker at industry trade shows and conferences, I need to make sure that I understand not only what the numbers mean, but also what's the whole story and why. In this ever-changing and complex market it is important to make critical and calculated decisions. Twain said, "It is wiser to find out than suppose." Using an aqueous inkjet printer for all of your graphics-printing needs may not be as popular a move as it once was, but the technology has its place and continues to serve admirably there.

About the author

Michael Flippin is the president of Web Consulting, Inc. The company was founded in Oxfordshire, UK, in 1993, and serves a global consultancy to the digital-printing, screen-printing and industrial-decoration industries. Web Consulting has offices in Boston, MA, Shanghai, China, and Oxfordshire, UK. You can learn more about the company at www.web-na.com.


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