The impact of ink jet technology on general commercial printing products will be minimal over the next five years says IT Strategies.

The firm of market analysts bases its forecast on the basis that ink jet is still a young technology currently incapable of matching the performance of traditional offset printing.

But there is no denying that ink jet can do things that traditional printing cannot – short runs, large sizes and customising to name but a few. Consequently, it has found incremental print markets similar to traditional printing.

Over the next five years ink jet technology is not expected to match the speed, quality and cost of offset lithography and create a digital press that will challenge offset presses. Instead, the digital printing market growing around wide format ink jet graphics printing will be incremental to commercial printing markets.

A key reason for the success of ink jet technology recently is that the incremental cost of moving from monochrome to colour is minimal compared to any other direct digital printing technology.

It has carved out a niche in wide format graphics that is expected to generate $7.5bn in retail revenues for print providers in the US in 2002. For the most part commercial printers are missing out on this revenue.

The print community that has accepted format ink jet printing is for the most part outside the traditional offset printing com-munity in a variety of channels such as photo labs, reprographic houses and service bureaux.

“Commercial printers are currently losing out on this opportunity and could be headed for a ‘technology lockout’ if they continue to let this digital market coalesce around them,” says consulting partner Patti Williams.