Frankly Speaking: The Rise of the Full-Color Book
The Xeikon roll-fed printer in 1993 was the first of these devices to use full color. The machine was also unique because it printed on both sides of the roll at virtually the same time. I have a copy of the first color book printed on the machine—a volume on European tourism. Xeikon's full-color books helped to establish the market.
Then came Océ, which evolved the broadest range of roll-fed color printers and pioneered the transpromo market, which allowed for enhancing transaction documents with color imagery, turning bills into marketing pieces. Both dry toner and inkjet versions are available. Dainippon Screen's TruePress Jet inkjet system found a partner in Ricoh and they now have the largest population of roll-fed full-color printers. Many are used for book printing. King Printing in Lowell, Mass. was among the first users.
HP changed the paradigm with its Inkjet Web Press in 2008. There are now more than 100 worldwide users and the roll can be 20, 30 or 42 inches wide. It is popular with book printers. Courier Corp. in Chelmsford, Mass. has three of them at present.
Despite this advance, most full-color books continued to be produced on small format (12" x 18" or 14" x 20") duplex printers. Canon, HP Indigo, Kodak NexPress, Konica Minolta, MGI, Ricoh and Xerox helped to create the on-demand printing market because they specialized in smaller-format printers. One-off and very-short-run book printing became a primary market for vanity presses and self-published authors, but not ideal for publishers looking for longer short runs. Toner printers use organic photoconductors which have limits in width which is among the reasons some of these machines could not print a larger sheet.
That brings us to a second approach to digital color printing: the so-called B2 printer, also known as a 4-up printer, because the sheet size is as large as four standard sheets, which greatly increases output. Indigo demonstrated a prototype in 1998 but did not introduce a machine until 2012. They call it the 10000 (yes, machine names are now going to 5 digits). The HP Indigo 10000 is now in beta testing, and early users are singing its praises.