Xerox is announcing today a new flagship digital commercial printing press, the Xerox igen4, a $640,000 machine that can handle millions of high-quality print jobs in a month.

The machine is the successor to the igen3 of 2002 and is 25 percent to 35 percent more productive than the earlier model. Maybe you could call it a valiant last stand for print, or the dawn of a new era in printing. The company is unveiling it at the Drupa 2008 printing show in Dusseldorf, Germany.

The company hopes to extend its 50 percent plus market share of the digital commercial printing market and help take market share away from the $400 billion analog offset printing press market. The igen4 is aimed at commercial printers, photo finishers, book printers, direct-mail houses, and digital printing service providers. It can produce short runs, personalized brochures or long runs as needed. Thanks to these new kinds of publications, printed pages have been growing, even as mass-printed publications such as newspapers are in decline.

The Internet, of course, threatens print businesses of all kinds. But I wouldn’t expect the “paperless office” to rise again, even in this age. But the Xerox move continues a trend where printers combine computer technology with advanced printing techniques to digitize the print process so it’s more efficient, allowing quick switching between small and big print jobs with maximum efficiency.

Xerox is also showing off a new technology for printing in the future. It calls it “cured gel ink,” a form of inkjet printing which it will use for commercial printing presses in the future. Traditional ink uses water, which soaks into a paper and doesn’t adhere well to surfaces like alumninum foil or plastics. The cured gel ink has the consistency of peanut butter as it is spread on a press. It turns rock hard after exposure to an ultraviolet light.

The new inks were developed by scientists at Xerox’s Canadian research unit and were derived from Xerox’s solid-ink printing business. Xerox foresees a wide array of uses for the ink, combined with its new printing heads which can jet 40 million drops of ink in a second. The uses include “transpromo applications” that combine a marketing message with a bill in a single document. It can print on cardboard, plastic, or foils. It’s not clear when the new inks will be available.

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