High Volume Color Printing Advances

A consortium led by IBM has published a new open architectural standard it says will help usher in a new generation of high speed printers for companies that issue bills, statements and other high volume output.

While color output is hardly new, very high end black and white printing systems are typically used for high volume jobs. Pre-printed paper stock with logos and other color elements and type are then used in the printing process.

“We’re talking about being able to bring color to variable data where every bill is different,” David Scholes, a spokesman for IBM’s printing division told internetnews.com. “Utilities, telcos, banks and other large companies are getting pressure from their marketing departments to include more color because they know it’s a more effective way to reach people.”

The AFP Color Consortium created by IBM in October 2004 has been working on designing an architecture to help businesses develop device-independent color applications, resources and workflows that can be printed initially with high-quality grayscales and, eventually, in color.

Print giant Hewlett-Packard has a different architecture and is not involved in the AFP group, which does, however, include printer hardware vendors Kodak, Lexmark, Oce, Xeikon, and Xerox as well as several software vendors. Scholes said printers based on the new color spec should start to appear in the next two to three years.

“It’s clear full color is coming to statements, transaction documents and direct mail, replacing pre-printed color forms as well as adding new color elements where it’s cost effective,” said Andy Gordon, senior consultant, with InfoTrends/CAP Ventures. The printing consulting firm says that in the US alone, the variable color printing business is expected to grow from $4 billion in 2004 to $11 billion in 2009 — a growth rate of 22 percent a year.

The AFP (Advanced Function Presentation) architecture has been around since 1984, but for years was driven by IBM, which would license new technology to other printer makers. With the consortium IBM, opened up the design process to others so there can be joint development of new architectures.

“This marks a milestone in the evolution of high-volume business printing,” said Keenie McDonald, General Manager of IBM’s Printing Systems Division in a statement. “By addressing the full range of technical specifications associated with printing in color, the consortium is helping take the industry to the next level and is paving the way for future innovation across the AFP architecture.”

Also today, the consortium announced the formation of a new on-line community, Afpcolor.org. The Web site, which is scheduled to go live next month, is designed to provide information and documentation on the open color elements of the AFP architecture, which the consortium believes will help speed adoption of color transaction printing.

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