The history of digital print is relatively short compared to printing as a whole, which dates back to 1439, when German businessman Johannes Gutenberg created a press that started the mass production of books. The first digital printing presses came onto the market in the early 1990’s.
Digital printing assembles each image from a complex set of numbers and mathematical formulas. These images are captured from a matrix of dots, called pixels, and this process is called digitising. The digitised images are then used to control the deposition of ink, toner or exposure to electromagnetic energy to reproduce the data.
Digital printing uses a colour management system, which keeps images looking the same despite where they are printed.
In 1993 the world’s first digital colour printing press was launched called Indigo. Overnight it triggered a transformation in the printing world – customers were able to choose short-run, personalised, high quality print straight from desktop.
The name of the printing press series comes from a company formed by Benny Landa in 1977 to develop the world’s fastest photocopier. Landa later discovered that the ink developed for the photocopier, called ElectroInk, could also be used in printers. ElectroInk uses small colour particles suspended in imaging oil called Isopar that can be attracted or repelled by a voltage differential. The ink forms a thin and smooth plastic layer on the paper surface.
In 2000 the Hewlett Packard Company made a $100m investment in Indigo, which represented 13% of the company’s outstanding shares. A year later, on 6 September, HP announced that it was to acquire the remaining shares for $629m.
Speaking at the time of the takeover, Landa said:
“Our vision has always been to lead the printing industry into the digital era and to see Indigo technology pervade the commercial market. Now, a part of HP, that goal is in sight.”
Since the launch of the first digital printing press, the market has continued to grow steadily and in 2010 the digital print markets were valued at $85.2bn, the equivalent of more than 225 billion A4 prints, and is forecast to account for 18% of all print by 2016.
Printing industry expert Chris Baker, who worked as vice-president at HP and Indigo for five years, predicts that this growth will continue into the future.
“Digital print will be everywhere in the future. Digital printing will not just be used for commercial printing; it will be used for publishing and packaging. I believe that digital presses will be developed to go after the packaging market - the personalisation of packaging will be huge in the future. Digital presses will also become faster and be designed to handle more types of printing,” he says.