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NORTH COAST -- Palo Alto-based HP, maker of the Indigo line of digital offset printing presses commonly used by wine label printers, plans to release a new version of the press late this year that may provide the speed local wine label printers say they need to take better advantage of digital printing.

HP debuted the Web Stream 6000 press in the U.S. at the Labelexpo trade show in Chicago early this month and plans to start selling units by the end of this year, according to spokesman David Lindsay.

A big difference between the WS6000 model and the WS4000 series models currently in use by wine label printers serving the North Coast is the speed of the press. The WS6000 press is supposed to print in four colors effectively at about 100 feet per minute and up to 200 feet per minute in two colors. Compare that with the 52-foot-per-minute four-color speed and double that for one or two colors on the WS4000 series presses. Both lines can print up to seven colors.

Many factors go into figuring the break-even point for digital printing versus conventional offset printing, such as required press and ink changes during a job, but the forthcoming Indigo press could make digital printing more attractive for more jobs, according to Dan Welty, who runs the Petaluma-based MPSDigital group of New York-based Multi Packaging Solutions. He quizzed the HP representatives about the WS 6000 press for an hour at the trade show.

"For a particular account, the break even was 50,000 labels, but with that press we could do 100,000," he said. The WS4500 press, the most recently upgraded version, is designed to break even compared with conventional printing for jobs up to 6,500 linear feet per job. The WS6000 press is supposed to have a break-even point of double that, or about 1 million feet per month.

Among the advantages of digital printing is a number of small jobs can be sent to the press together without plate changes and cleaning between jobs, increasing job throughput and reducing labor. Because a digital plate can be changed via software with each impression, designers can customize labels with sequential numbers, vineyard grape sourcing coordinates and brand security features.

Part of the speed increase of the WS6000 press comes from the larger imaging area, which is the maximum possible coverage area with each printing impression. The repeat area of the new press is 12.48 inches by 38.58 inches, compared with 12.1 by 17.7 for the current line.

Another potential source for increased throughput is better opacity of white underprinting with less ink for process colors for clear and metallic media, according to Mr. Welty. Less ink means faster drying time in the press before the process colors are overlaid.

He’s also eager to see whether the new simplified user interface of the WS6000 press will truly make it easier to train press operators. Yet the speed upgrade comes at a premium. Prices for the WS4500 model can start at more than a half-million dollars for four colors, and existing WS4000 series presses may be able to be upgraded at no extra charge. Quoted prices for the forthcoming WS6000 press can start at $800,000 for four colors and up to $1 million for seven colors plus inline accessories.

“You can’t do it on an ‘I’ll buy it and they will come’ basis,” Mr. Welty said.

MPSDigital has two WS4000 series presses in Michigan and a newly acquired WS4500 press in New Jersey, operating at about two-thirds capacity all together. Mr. Welty’s plan is to continue to build business on the existing presses before adding a WS6000 press in spring or summer 2009.