Imaging Chemicals and Materials: Electrophotography, Thermography, Photography
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Published: June 2011
Products made by imaging and printing technologies—from newspapers, magazines and books to photographs, films, transparencies, reports, currency and credit cards—have become a very important part of everyone's life. Traditional or conventional imaging and printing technologies include offset lithography, gravure, flexography and screen printing as well as impact printing and silver halide photography. All these technologies are mature and have changed very little over the past few decades. A half-century ago, silver halide–based papers and films performed every task from image capture to document copying. Today, silver halide emulsion is still being used as an image-capture medium for visible light, infrared and x-ray photography; however, the market for alternative technologies for image capture and hardcopy output—digital still cameras and photo-quality ink-jet printing is rapidly increasing. Silver photography was replaced many years ago in document copying and in many other areas of black-and-white and color reproduction, in microfilm duplication and in graphic arts. To serve the many markets that the imaging industry comprises, a host of new imaging technologies has emerged over the last fifty years.
Imaging energy forms include light, heat, electricity, impact and magnetism. These imaging technologies can employ an energy-sensitive element, such as an array of heating elements and coated paper, or a light-sensitive surface to create an image, or a surface that is susceptible to magnetic forces.
The following pie charts show world consumption of the chemicals and materials used in the imaging industry.
Traditional printing technologies, such as flexography, gravure, and offset lithography, and imaging technologies, such as silver halide photography, will be around for many more years. There are no technologies on the horizon capable of competing with offset lithography or flexography for doing large-run printing (millions of prints) at the same cost and at the same speed, quality and reliability. Therefore, newspaper printing will continue to use this technology until well into the twenty-first century. Similarly, silver halide photography will remain the dominant photographic technology—for image output, not for image capture—for the medium term because of its unsurpassed combination of image quality, archivability and cost per print.
Imaging technologies are facing an ongoing change from analog to digital processes in many applications and markets. At the beginning of the 1990s, monochrome laser printers started to replace impact printers, such as typewriters and matrix printers, in the home and office environment, and were followed shortly by color ink-jet printers. The installed base of monochrome laser printers has reached a plateau, and so have multifunction printers (MFPs) combining scan, fax and print devices, as well as cheaper and smaller electrophotographic color printers. Analog copiers have been replaced by digital copiers that can be linked to network communications. Diazo printing for the duplication of engineering drawings has been replaced during the same period by large-format electrophotographic laser printers, electrostatic plotters or ink-jet printers. With the increased demand of customized, short-run print jobs, offset printing is being increasingly challenged by digital electrophotographic printing presses.
Point-of-sales is an ever-growing market for thermal printing. Applications include printing of bank statements, car park tickets, receipts from credit card payments in restaurants, hotels and supermarkets, and issuing of tickets for lottery, travel, leisure and sports events. The operation of these printers can be unattended at locations such as gasoline pumps, highway tolls or bus ticketing. The main uses in manufacturing applications are product labeling, inventory control, tracking, shipping as well as receiving, and maintaining of work in progress. Warehousing, transportation and ticketing are also major application areas. Airline luggage tags and boarding passes as well as medical charts have also become interesting markets for the thermal printing industry.
The tremendous success of digital photography and the downfall of analog photography and the silver halide film business has led to a major change in the structure of the imaging and printing industry. The traditional photo film market has been falling by more than 20–30% per year during the past several years, more than double the industry's initial estimates of about 10% per year. Unable to grow their digital businesses as fast as their conventional silver halide businesses declined, Eastman Kodak, Agfa-Gevaert, FUJIFILM, Konica Minolta and Ilford suffered huge losses and have struggled to find solutions for recovery and survival. As these photo companies needed to migrate capital quickly out of the declining conventional photo industry and into digital-imaging technologies, each did this with a different strategy. Most new activities of these companies have been related to ink-jet technology.
This report analyzes electrophotographic, thermal printing and photographic technology; markets, trends and opportunities; and industry structure and operating characteristics for the United States, Europe, Japan and China.