Targeting folding carton packaging and retail signage applications, Ascend is one of Kodak’s latest innovations as an electrophotographic (EP) press engineered to print heavyweight substrates at long lengths, with high-margin CMYK and flat foil embellishments in a single pass.

Ascend runs Kodachrome Foil Dry Ink, for more sustainable and recyclable print. These inks are indirect food contact rated. The press runs 13 eco-friendly Kodachrome inks for embellishment, enabling a spectrum of special effects including opaque white, foil, antimicrobial dry ink, matte finishes and spot coatings. With rearrangeable ink stations, ink can be ready to use in under eight minutes.

It prints with a maximum 600dpi resolution and offers production speeds up to 572sqm/hr (5280sqft/hr). A large sheet length of up to 1220mm allows the press to offer 23% more print area than a B2 sheet.

A new oil-less imaging system facilitates the use of heavier substrates up to 762 micron/30pt, as well as two-sided (duplex) printing on synthetics and the application of new embellishment inks. A further benefit is noted as better lamination and gluing performance of printed output off the press. The machine has a total capacity of 5000 sheets/500mm pile height. Feeding is done by two sheet feeders, each with 100mm pile height; two sheet feeders, each with 450mm pile height; or one sheet feeder for up to 711 microns (30pt), with 570mm pile height.

Randy Vandagriff, senior vice president, print at Kodak, notes that in developing Ascend, the company identified that the retail/POP signage and packaging markets were being served by digital technologies not best suited to the applications at hand.

‘In the retail signage space,’ he examples, ‘producers are using large format UV inkjet systems, which are both slow and expensive to produce lighter weight smaller signage and POP displays. In packaging production, folding carton short-run prototypes are printed using small commercial presses that lack the robustness for real production, while larger digital production devices lacked the embellishment abilities of the smaller presses, leaving a gap.’

Developed with commercial printers and digital service providers in mind, who want to boost their profitability and capitalise on new business opportunities in the growing retail/POP and packaging markets, Ascend features substrate handling and embellishment abilities that permit the creation of high margin speciality work in these market segments.

For Mr Vandagriff, this means, ‘In the retail/POP area, Ascend is an ideal solution for the production of retail signage with sizes of up to 120cm (48in) in length with a throughout of 572sqm/hr.

‘Packaging jobs for which the machine is ideally suited are, for example, small folding carton boxes, blister cards, food boxes and belly bands. The press can also show its strengths of combining high-quality printing and inline print embellishment in the production of commercial jobs, such as book covers, greeting cards, and trading cards to name a few.’

Levelling up

Whilst sheet-fed offset printing has been the predominate technology in the folding carton sector for many decades, a growing number of applications are opening up to the benefits and potential of digital printing and converting (see page 40 for more). In this light, Ascend can serve as a viable complement, or even replacement, for many existing technologies and processes. The press can produce complex folding carton prototypes and short runs in fewer steps than most other technologies. This in turn reduces turnaround times, not only of short runs but also for longer offset runs by reducing the design phase and removing ambiguity by producing real physical samples.

Mr Vandagriff goes on, ‘Ascend not only leverages its flexibility of inks and substrate handling, but it is also built on an extremely robust platform capable of reliable high quality long-run production of millions of impressions per month, setting it apart from other speciality machines.

In addition, Ascend has a larger imageable area than most devices in its class, allowing for printing the complex marks most retail signage finishers and packaging converters require. This opens up a range of finishing options without sacrificing usable printing area.’

With much of the hubbub around the future of digital print for packaging centred around developments in inkjet – not only for cartons and corrugated packaging but also labels and flexible packaging – Ascend’s toner-based technology provides an alternative perspective on the future of digital print for packaging.

‘EP technology enables many more embellishment opportunities than comparable inkjet solutions in the market,’ states Mr Vandagriff. ‘Printers can therefore use the press to produce a wider range of highly profitable signage and packaging applications in a single pass.

‘Kodachrome Foil Dry Ink allows foil and CMYK to be applied in one pass, resulting in higher productivity. Printed sheets don’t have to go through the press a second time for getting foil as they have to with the competitors’ methods. This also means an end to registration problems while allowing features traditional foil stamping cannot, like variable data printing and designs too intricate or costly for traditional foiling die creation.’

Such capability is complemented by opaque white, clear, dimensional, antimicrobial, numerous Pantone inks, and a growing line of speciality inks. These inks can be placed in the first, second or fifth imaging unit of the press, enabling the press to meet production requirements for different ink sequences. The oil-less dry ink imaging system then comes into its own again, as Ascend supports additional lamination and coating/varnishing of printed sheets, and gluing for packaging applications.

Continuous improvement

Ascend debuted as part of a raft of updates and product launches brought to market by Kodak earlier in 2021. This included the new water-based Prosper Digital Varnish for highly flexible digital coating of paper-based packaging. This can be jetted as an area or spot coat to printed packages using Kodak’s Prosper S or Prosper Plus imprinting systems. Also introduced was Kodak Prinergy On Demand Access, as an affordable means for more printers to gain access to the Cloud-based workflow tool; and an enhanced Kodak Mobile CTP control app, offering more management and reporting capabilities.

Of these developments, and Ascend, Jim Continenza, executive chairman and CEO at Kodak, comments, ‘The innovations reflect Kodak’s continued commitment to developing breakthrough solutions that enable our customers to improve their productivity and profitability and successfully expand their customer base. With innovations like the Ascend digital press, we are opening up new profitable application opportunities for printers. We continue to deliver on our promise to provide a complete range of solutions that offer ‘Print that Pays’.’

This article was first published in the November/December 2021 issue of Digital Labels & Packaging, which you can read online here; register here to receive future issues of the magazine, for free