Photo of color swatches and a tablet.

The truth about the digital color evolution

by Mike Herold
It’s been said of the great artist J.M.W. Turner — renowned for pounding out his own colors to create seemingly incandescent oil paintings — that he “painted with tinted steam.”

We haven’t reached that point in high-speed production inkjet, but we’ve come a long way since 2007, when the technology was the realm of transactional printers and used primarily for black-and-white applications.

With today’s color capabilities, transactional and commercial printers alike have shed the limitations of the past and are embracing new opportunities for color-rich, completely variable and full dynamic printing. Much of the progress can be traced to new processes, inks, heads, coatings, substrate options and process management tools.

Let’s examine some contributing factors to see where digital color is right now, where it’s going and how it can impact your business.

​Proactive vendors are creating new inks that, like paper, will create a growth engine for inkjet applications.


In the infancy of high-speed production inkjet, paper options were limited to say the least. Not optimized for high-volume, piezoelectric, drop-on-demand inkjet technologies, the papers either absorbed too much ink or not enough.

Today, your customers want to use a variety of papers. Your paper mill partners know that and are working with inkjet print technology vendors to better understand the requirements of this rapidly growing marketplace. We are seeing the introduction of new paper types, including recycled, inkjet coated, inkjet treated and others. The new materials are attractive to customers who want to produce enticing output at affordable pricing on the many new solutions on the market today.
The paper industry is also designing papers with specific types of inks in mind. We’re nearing the point where its inkjet-specific papers are the most pervasive and can be used even with non-inkjet printing technology. The success of inkjet is driving that change. Users can choose which types of papers they want to print on without having to worry about the substrate being at odds with the color.

In many, if not all, of the markets your shop serves, whether direct mail, marketing, book production or many others, the new paper selections provide opportunities to use color in innovative ways that can help grow your capabilities.

Ink and Beyond

Paper isn’t the only important factor in this evolution. Inks are evolving as well. Most inkjet vendors are providing — and customers are leveraging — a variety of dye, pigment, MICR and other inks to meet the changing and growing demands for new applications. This diversity is enhancing color output and opening up a world of new applications to inkjet.

Proactive vendors are creating new inks that, like paper, will grow inkjet applications. These higher density inks provide more vibrancy. At the same time, their lower water content promotes faster drying. Color applications that dry quickly use less power for applications with higher amounts of ink — no simple task. Extreme care has to be taken when formulating inkjet inks to make sure that energy consumption, operating aspects of the ink, characteristics of the paper, color gamut and the finishing process are all taken into consideration. Ignoring any of these issues can result in inks that help with a single challenge, but create additional challenges elsewhere.

Beyond ink, optional features play a role in making the most of color and paper. Undercoating technologies, for example, enable printing on more types of paper. Undercoating exemplifies the flexibility and modularity provided by leading inkjet solutions. Customers can upgrade their systems with new technology and inks right on their premises, a cost-saving advantage.

Color and ink management tools

New controllers and workflows offer enhanced color management by side and object type, which lays the groundwork for more accurate color and consistent reproduction. Spot color dictionaries from Pantone and other color leaders enable spot color mapping (for both coated and uncoated stock), custom curves, and linked and unlinked advanced color management.

Ink management tools have also made it more profitable to run high-color applications on production inkjet systems. By simulating printing, these tools can estimate ink usage before printing. While a job is printing, actual ink usage can be tracked through the inkjet system’s controller. Some software tools even go so far as to determine how color ink usage can be reduced, while preserving the desired look and feel of the output.

Join the evolution of color

See how you can expand your capabilities while helping your customers deliver their messages like never before.

With color limitations becoming a thing of the past, the opportunity is at hand to become a valued, knowledgeable partner with your clients.

  • Introduce them to the new papers, inks and processes.
  • Help them expand their vision of how they can take color beyond direct mail and marketing applications into the world of customized publishing, versioned textbooks and more.
  • Show them how the possibilities rooted in high-speed production inkjet can help them step out in front of their competitors and generate new revenue streams.

Just as Turner set himself apart with his innovative color techniques, you can help your clients move forward and differentiate themselves in the marketplace with today’s innovative color technologies.

Mike Herold
Mike Herold is Director of Global Strategic Initiatives and Marketing for Inkjet Solutions at Ricoh Company, Ltd. with expertise in production printing technology. Herold has worked with printing solutions ranging from print and color management and workflow software to industrial printing solutions, and to a family of high-speed production inkjet solutions.