This Week in Imaging: Too Late for the Office-Inkjet Bandwagon?

Photo credit: Kathy Wirth

A recent article from The Cannata Report indicates that the “big six” copier vendors – Canon, Konica Minolta, Kyocera, Ricoh, Toshiba TEC, Sharp, and Kyocera – are devoting research and development efforts, among other things, to bringing inkjet printing to office copier/MFPs: “Emphasis on R&D will be with inkjet technology as opposed to conventional toner. While the current emphasis on inkjet is in wide and large format, that technology will be moved downstream to provide highly competitive products to be employed in the office.”

As noted, several of these vendors employ inkjet for commercial, production, and large- and wide-format printing. Back in 2015, for instance, Kyocera introduced its own inkjet print head for textile printing, and markets a range of inkjet print heads for non-office printing. Ricoh, for its part, markets a GelJet inkjet-printer line that use Ricoh’s patented GELJET Viscous Ink, which is said to be particularly fast-drying to eliminate smudging and waiting for ink to dry on printed pages. With Canon, the company pioneered inkjet printing decades ago, but the furthest it’s taken its inkjet printing into the office is with its Maxify inkjets for SMBs.

We don’t know how far along these vendors are with bringing inkjet to copiers, or where even they may market them. A key question will be how their dealer channels in North America will react to them. As we’ve pointed out before, one key advantage with inkjet is that it uses fewer moving parts versus toner-based systems (there are no imaging drums or fuser belts, for instance), so that they require less service. And replacing supplies (inkjet cartridges or packs) is so simple that users can easily do it. This should be a big selling point for dealers. On the other hand, dealers may have to re-educate customers, some of whom still associate inkjet with home inkjet printers from years ago that had turtle-like print speeds and image quality not as good as laser. However, vendors HP Inc. and Epson have probably done some of that heavy lifting convincing customers otherwise with their business inkjet introductions over the past several years.

HP for its part, has hedged its bets with toner and ink, offering both HP LaserJet and Samsung toner-based copiers, and PageWide inkjet copiers. Copier vendors entering the market with inkjet will of course have to contend with the already well-established HP PageWides. And although it might be argued that copier vendors would be too late entering the inkjet copier market, remember that many said HP Inc. entered the 3D-printer market too late – but HP wisely took that time to precisely formulate a 3D-printer strategy, which seems to have paid off. Could copier vendors be looking to do the same with inkjet? As usual, it’s wait-and-see – but what we might eventually see is likely to be really, really interesting.

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