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Xerox has previewed a cured gel-like ink that enables digital printers to print on foil and plastic, common materials in packaging.
As a result, the new technology is expected to make digital printers an option for more work within the traditional offset printing market.
Xerox showcased the ink Thursday at the Drupa printer conference in Dusseldorf, Germany. At the show, Xerox also unveiled print heads that work in conjunction with the new ink.
"Today digital systems shine in many applications while offset presses are selected for others," Steve Hoover, VP and director of the Xerox Research Center in Webster, N.Y., said in a statement. "The ability to print on nearly any surface will bring a world of new applications within reach of digital printers."
The new ink, based on Xerox's proprietary technology, holds its shape on nearly any surface because it's not water-based like traditional ink-jet technologies, Xerox said. Rather, the ink has the consistency of peanut butter and turns rock hard when exposed to ultraviolet light. The result, according to the company, is a "crisp, vivid, and long-lasting image" without using dryers or vapor recovery systems.
Working in conjunction with the ink are newly developed print heads that determine the drop size and imaging speed. The heads, which are made of stainless steel, have 10 times the life of thermal ink-jet print heads, according to Xerox.
The ink gel is still in the research phase, so no timetable was released for when it could be available in products. Hoover, however, said the technology holds the promise of setting a "new benchmark for performance, print surface options, and image quality."
The ink is expected to expand the use of digital printers, which are less expensive to operate than offset printers, for high-volume printing jobs such as brochures, posters, and catalogs. Because the new ink has no bleed-through, it can be used on thinner, less expensive paper. For packaging, the ink is suitable for cardboard without pre-coating, plastic films, or foils, Xerox said.