This machine combines printing, proofing and coating, but the market for its products has yet to form

Canon’s nifty C1+ caused a stir at Drupa last year, with its three-machines-in-one positioning as a proofer, light production printer and fancy finisher. It builds on its predecessor, the C1, with the addition of clear toner, which opens up a range of new digital applications. The clear toner can produce matt or gloss flood varnish finishes, spot varnish and a pseudo-metallic effect.

Canon Middle East professional print production manager, Ayman Aly says: “This press is truly an industry first and is the result of a large investment in research and development. In these difficult economic times, businesses need to really differentiate themselves and the clear toner will give businesses a value-added service to offer new design opportunities.

“With the right applications, the clear toner technology on the C1+ will enable digital printers to vastly increase the range of work that they do, all at the press of a button.” He said Canon was specifically targeting digital printers in the region.

“The imagePRESS C1+ is designed to be a complete solution as a proofer and a light production colour press with exceptional finishing options and complementary solution with other Canon digital colour presses,” said Aly.

According to him, among the advantages of clear coating with C1+ is that it could be used for watermarks, spot matt or gloss coating, reverse matt coating, flood matt coating and metallic effects.
There are, however, customers using the gloss coating and the spot varnish as a design feature for applications including greeting cards and estate agents’ documents.

Coating digital print is a hot topic as firms look for an alternative to laminating. Presently, it is achieved with UV-cured flood coaters from finishing stalwarts such as Morgana, MGi and Duplo, as well as those ‘direct from digital developers’ including HP and Xerox. If you want something more sophisticated that can do short-run spot varnish, then two routes present themselves: the toner way, as taken by the C1+ and by Kodak with the NexGlosser option for the Nexpress; or the inkjet way, as demonstrated by the FFEI Emblaze and the MGi JetVarnish.

Cheaper option
The problem with the more sophisticated options comes down to cost. Apart from the C1+, the others come in at a higher price, which means you need a hefty volume of short-run spot coating to justify the price – and as an untapped market, you’re unlikely to have people beating a path to your door for the service just yet. If Canon gets its way, then maybe a few pioneers will create a market with the C1+, and open the door for the higher throughput machines. At about $58, 000, the C1+ is less than a quarter of the price and you get a digital colour printer chucked in that can churn out proofs and low-volume print with impunity.

Canon doesn’t envisage any problems using the C1+ to spot coat litho, or for that matter other digital print output, but cautions it has yet to test it.

Clear toner, however, does cost a bit more than output from the flood coaters. However, it’s unrivalled for spot coating, as there are none of the origination costs associated with using offset with either a custom coating plate or cut blanket.

The C1+ isn’t going to win any awards for speed. As a standalone coating/varnishing unit, it can output 40 A4 pages per minute (ppm), or 1,200 SRA3 sheets per hour (sph), which is less than half that of most flood coaters. However, even if it’s coating the output from its bigger 70ppm brother, it’s unlikely that the majority of the output will require coating, so a higher speed isn’t a necessity. As a printer, it can churn out 14 ppm in CMYK or 11ppm in print and coat mode.

Different approaches
The machine handles the different finishes in different ways. For metallic effects, it prints CMYK plus varnish (L) in one pass. Gloss can be achieved in one- or two-pass mode, while matt coating requires two passes. The metallic effects are achieved by halftone screening the varnish, with eight screens to experiment with for different effects.

Beyond its clever coating capabilities, the other two markets for the C1+ are ultra-short run print and proofing. To some extent, this is two applications for the same audience of creatives and publishers, that Canon believes will buy the machine primarily for low cost per copy proofing, but also for ultra short runs of up to 100 copies. The optional finisher unit includes a saddle stitcher that can handle up to 15 sheets, making it possible to produce a 60pp A4 stitched book in a single pass.

Proofing is where Canon is really pushing the C1+, particularly to replace inkjet in the page proof market. It claims that the difference between the output from the C1+ and an inkjet is “negligible”, whereas the difference in cost per spread is significant .

But it is slightly more complicated economically when you consider the low cost of acquiring an inkjet, typically about $5,000 or 10% of the C1+ for a 17in machine capable of outputting the same size proof, versus the lower running costs of the toner-based machine. The C1+ with the finisher can also produce a stitched book proof, which no inkjet can deliver.

Says Aly: “The image PRESS C1+ is certified with the ISO 12647-7 Validation Print certification in collaboration with FOGRA, which is a big step for digital print technology and for Canon within the proofing arena for the Professional Print market.”

But some colour specialists also question whether the repeatability and consistency requirements of the validation print specification are tight enough for many proofing applications. If your workflow and client relationships allow the C1+ to be used for proofing, then it’s certainly a boon to be able to predict the impact of varnish effects, and even metallics. Canon claims that the matt coating capability may prove to be particularly popular for packaging proofing applications.

Due to its coating capabilities, speed and price, the C1+ sits in a class of its own. Its speed makes it the lightest of light-production colour engines around – 14ppm is less than half the Xerox 242 and a quarter of the Konica Minolta and Océ machines.

Those coating capabilities are a unique way to offer creative techniques in short runs, but any potential buyer will have to find a market for them. For those that can, the C1+’s proofing, printing and coating prowess prove that three into one can go.

With increased competition from other media pushing print runs down and making it work harder through techniques that highlight its unique tactile qualities, the C1+ won’t be in a class of its own for too much longer.