Digital newspaper press for $20,000

It sounds unreal, but at IPEX 2010 Riso showed a digital duplicator that prints A2 sheets at 100 pages per minute in a single colour.  The machine being shown was a prototype and the intention was to judge market potential.

The machine is effectively a stretched (sideways) version of Riso’s existing range.  Even the projected price of $20,000 is double that of the existing half size A3 machine.  The machine was demonstrated, and by comparison to the large digital and conventional presses at the show, this unassuming press just immediately started and printed.

Duplicator technology is over a century old, and used to be the province of schools and churches.  In my youth you typed a stencil.  My first job was with UK stencil duplicator manufacturer Gestetner.  The company founder supposedly watched a kite fall into a puddle, and then someone walked over it.  He noticed the water came through where the shoe had pressed much more than it did elsewhere.  So a stencil – a thin coated film – could allow ink through wherever the film was broken, for instance by a typewriter.

In the 1980’s came thermal stencils, using a thermal printhead similar to those within fax machines to melt the image on the film.  This brought stencil duplicators into the digital age.

The print quality shown was excellent – both on newsprint and a white ‘office’ type paper. Sure you can’t match a high-quality laser printer, but the beauty of this process is that it’s low-cost and fast.  Inks are fast drying without any need for a dryer.

The drawback? Well, like conventional presses you are printing from a master.  So there is no electronic collating, this is high-speed printing of the same page.  But add some off-line finishing equipment and you can easily collate, fold, stitch and trim.

So, what could it be used for?  Well, there are three other qualities that I haven’t mentioned.  Firstly it is relatively light at 152 kg, so you can easily put it into a small truck.  Secondly it has a low-power mode consuming only 400 watts.  Thirdly this is a robust process, not a sensitive laser printer process that needs a controlled environment, nor a fussy ink jet system.  So guess who has shown an interest?  The military!