It All Started with a Camera

A Brief History of Canon Technology, From Lenses to Print

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When you hear the name Canon, you probably think of a camera, and you’re certainly not alone. But there’s another side to Canon that has also played a major role in the innovation and development of offset and digital commercial print technology. 
In fact, Canon has ascended to the same level of brand recognition and thought leadership in the commercial printing press space as it has in the commercial photography space, and it’s become a driving force in advancing what is possible with digital press technology. 
Let’s take a brief look at Canon’s history and a couple of the major benchmark moments on the company’s journey from lenses to print.
Lights, camera… action!
Canon was founded in 1933 as Precision Optical Instruments Laboratory. Headquartered in Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo, the company’s original mission was to research and develop quality cameras. Precision Optical Instruments Laboratory produced Japan’s first 35 mm focal-plane shutter camera in 1934, the Kwanon, and a year later the company registered the Canon trademark. 
Canon quickly developed a reputation for progressive, ingenious advancements in camera technology, and the years that followed demonstrated Canon’s commitment to innovation with several important developments in the photography space, such as: 
  • 1940: Canon develops the world’s first x-ray camera technology

  • 1952: Canon introduces the IVSb, the world’s first speed-light, synchronized 35 mm flash-and-shutter camera, which produced some of the most clear, vibrant photographic images to date

  • 1965: Canon USA, Inc. is established, which not only helps the company cement a firm brand identity in the U.S. but also paves the way for growth and expansion, both in the photography equipment market and others

Getting down to business
By the early 1960s, U.S. companies were relying more and more on new technology to help increase productivity and reduce the manual nature of repetitive office-based tasks, evident in the rising popularity of devices like electronic calculators and copying machines. In 1965, Canon launched its first official product in the business machine market with the introduction of the Canofax 1000 copying machine. 
The introduction of the Canon NP System plain-paper copier in 1968 further established Canon in the business machine market, and also paved the way for more than two decades of success with a variety of business automation machines, including: 
  • The Canola 130 personal electronic calculator, which debuted in 1970

  • The BP-1000 billing machine, which was introduced in 1971 and demonstrated Canon’s first dip into the office computer arena

  • The PC Printer 70, which was introduced in 1984 and was the world’s first plain-paper reader and printer

Imagining new possibilities with inkjet printing
Throughout the early 1980s, Canon successfully launched several small printing machines designed for compatibility with office-based computers. And the research and development that went into these printing machines helped paved the way for Canon’s emergence as a pioneer in the inkjet printing space.  
The first major milestone in Canon’s inkjet journey occurred in 1985 with the introduction of the world's first inkjet press, the BJ-88. This revolutionary press used bubble jet technology, which utilized a small heating element to help direct ink and produced a higher quality image with a significantly reduced turnaround compared to laser printing, which was the standard at that time.
As the interest and market for inkjet presses grew, Canon launched the Excellent Global Corporation Plan in 1996 with a strong focus on researching and developing inkjet technology, but also with an emphasis on sustainability to help reduce the environmental impact of ink production and use. 
After three years of research, Canon launched the BJC-8200, a full-color inkjet printer that used MicroFine Droplet technology — a massive step in increasing the efficiency and quality of print using evaporative heat technology and precise ink droplets. The introduction of the BJC in 1999 helped set the table for Canon's continued growth and development in the inkjet space in the early 2000s and beyond. 
Canon continues its digital print prowess
The early 2000s brought unique challenges to the commercial print space. Printers needed digital presses that could print both color and black-and-white simultaneously without compromising production efficiency or sending print costs through the roof.  
Building on the success of Canon’s first color inkjet printer, 2007 saw the launch of Canon’s imagePRESS C7000UP, the company’s first full-scale entry into the digital commercial printing market. The imagePRESS series was able to print images up to 1200 x 1200 dpi resolution, producing sharp text, smooth gradations, and crystal-clear, detailed images. In addition, the imagePRESS series could print on a wide array of paper stocks with a variety of finishings. 
Canon’s varioPRINT i300 digital inkjet press was introduced in 2017 and furthered the advancements of the imagePRESS series by combining superior quality and cost reduction with the media and application flexibility of sheet-fed production. In addition, the i300 series made it simple and easy to execute monochrome and color print jobs on one engine and extend the crossover point for digital print versus offset, helping more projects migrate to digital print.
New solutions for new challenges in digital printing
The beginning of the 2020s made it clear the next frontier in digital inkjet technology was the need for data-driven printing that made it simple, fast, and cost-effective to create personalized print pieces that are compatible with a number of binding options like perfect bound and spiral. In addition, printers needed the capability to print quality, customized pieces on a wide variety of substrates as companies rediscovered the power of print, particularly for the highly sought-after millennial generation. 
The most recent addition to Canon’s digital inkjet press fleet, the varioPRINT iX, combines stunning image quality and a wide media range for superior versatility. Plus, the varioPRINT can print on coated and uncoated paper, incorporate a variety of media with matte, silk, and gloss surfaces, and print multiple paper stocks of various weights all in one run. The varioPRINT iX also streamlined the process of using customer data to execute quality, customized print pieces while reducing waste and increasing ROI.   

The old saying goes it’s not where you start, but where you end up, and that’s certainly true for Canon’s long, successful journey from cameras to digital inkjet presses. And whatever the future of commercial print holds, Canon’s storied body of work is pretty clear evidence that the digital inkjet press manufacturer will be able to meet challenges head-on, and help printers and designers unlock new levels of creativity and opportunity.