Outdoor Eco or Low-Solvent Printing Market 2005
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Outdoor Eco or Low-Solvent Printing Market 2005

Manufacturers are beginning to introduce entry-level outdoor eco-solvent printers. Are you ready to take the plunge?

By Jennifer LeClaire

Explore the market for entry-level eco-solvent outdoor printers and make a wise investment in your outdoor printing equipment.

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  • >From long-term building-sized banners to promotional vehicle graphics, large format printing for outdoor applications is a booming trend.

    Leading manufacturers are launching printers for various production uses. Some commercial graphics and sign shops need high volume machines with all the bells and whistles, while others need more affordable or lower volume options.

    However, new environmentally friendly legislation means that not just any printer will do. Since solvent-based ink is volatile and releases chemicals into the air, health concerns are coming to the fore. Laws mandating the reduction of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are leading printer manufacturers to develop less volatile inks ­ and special printers to go along with them.

    In fact, Web Consulting estimated that eco-solvent printers captured about 15 percent of the U.S. printer installed base by the end of 2004.

    In part one of this series we examined eco-solvent ink options that are being introduced to the market. These inks contain little or no dangerous solvents, greatly reduce VOCs, and eliminate the need for elaborate ventilation systems.

    In this second of three articles we will look at the growing number of machines that use these eco-solvent inks, what they have to offer and what end users are saying about them.

    Agfa’s :Grand Sherpa Universal AM
    One of the new players in the fray is Agfa with its 8-color :Grand Sherpa Universal AM digital printing system.

    “Agfa is rapidly expanding its range of high-quality inkjet printing systems,” says Agfa’s Willy Van Dromme, worldwide director of wide-format inkjet business solutions. “:Grand Sherpa Universal AM allows us to deliver the high productivity, unwavering quality and best cost-to-performance ratio our customers require.”

    The :Grand Sherpa is engineered to allow signmakers to generate a range of high-quality products, including indoor and outdoor displays, point-of-purchase displays, banners, and backlight outdoor signage. The systems come in 50-, 64-, and 87-inch sizes to meet the specific needs of smaller, medium-sized and large companies.

    :Grand Sherpa Universal has a high-powered engine for fast printing speeds of up to 40 square meters per hour and variable drop prints at 360, 720 and 1440 dpi. Its print heads use piezo-electric, drop-on-demand technology to place each drop of ink correctly on the page.

    Customers say the :Grand Sherpa is ideal for replicating photographic images in large sizes. Aerial Cartographics of America (ACA), a leading aerial photography and mapping firm in Orlando, Fla., installed its system in May 2004. The machine allows ACA to offer prints, murals and displays up to 64 inches wide to customers. The same feat can be applied to large banners.

    “The plots we produce on the :Grand Sherpa Universal have extremely high detail. We’ve compared the output side-by-side with conventional enlargements and the quality is exceptional,” says ACA’s photo lab manager Kurt Griffel. “The archival inks add extra value as well, because we don’t have to laminate the prints.”

    Mimaki goes eco-solvent (sort of)
    Mimaki USA has chosen not to develop a new printer and ink set in response to environmental regulations because executives believe the demand for solvent inks will still outpace eco-solvent. But the company has added a new ink set for its JV3 Series printers. Users can now choose between mild and standard solvent inks.

    Mimaki’s Mild Solvent 2 (MS2) ink is a non-hazmat, ecologically safe ink that requires no ventilation. It can be used on the 63” and 98” solvent JV3 Series inkjet printers and prints on untreated media.

    MS2 ink is designed primarily for the sign market with inks that will last up to three years outside without lamination, but the company says it can also be used for the more demanding interior displays.

    Mimaki calls the JV3-160SP a low-maintenance, 63” solvent inkjet printer that prints at speeds up to 422 square feet per hour at 360 X 60 dpi and photo quality print modes up to 1440 X 1440 dpi. The company also introduced the eco-solvent compatible 30” JV3-75SPII last year that prints at speeds up to 478 square feet per hour at 360 X 360 dpi and photo quality print modes of up to 1440 X 1440 dpi.

    SolJet Pro II series offers affordable multi-tasking
    The SolJet PRO II models are the latest generation of Roland’s revolutionary solvent inkjet devices. They use low volatility SOL INK to produce durable outdoor graphics without the dangerous vapors and caustic chemicals normally associated with solvent devices.

    Roland introduced the 104” SolJet SJ-1045 Grand Format Printer, an updated version of the company’s largest and fastest inkjet, in March 2005. The SJ-1045 builds on Roland’s grand format inkjet technology with the company’s new V Technology, a combined hardware and software solution engineered to take advantage of Roland’s digital printing, RIPs, ink and media.

    With a maximum print speed of 484 square feet per hour at 360 dpi resolution, a maximum print area of 102,” and a maximum print resolution of 1440 x 1440 dpi, Roland says the SJ-1045 is well suited for even the largest applications including billboards, banners, vehicle wraps and large production runs.

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    The SJ-1045 also features a range of enhancements including the new IS-1000 high capacity ink delivery system, newly added print modes, a heavy-duty media handling system and VersaWorks, a RIP software developed by Roland engineers to optimize the company’s inkjet technology.

    “The SJ-1045 represents the ultimate in Roland inkjet technology, combining acclaimed SOLJET speed and performance with new upgrades that make it faster and easier than ever to produce grand format graphics,” says Barry Johnston, color products division manager. “In particular, the addition of VersaWorks increases the performance of this new model, simplifying the RIP and print process and allowing users to fully maximize all the features of the SJ-1045.”

    V technology hardware upgrades keep printers going
    To help ensure uninterrupted performance, the SJ-1045 includes the option of a new IS-1000 high capacity ink delivery system that includes a total of 24 ink cartridges. An automated ink-empty warning indicates when a cartridge needs replacement, and cartridges can be replaced easily without pausing the printer.

    Other new SJ-1045 hardware features include the option to run in two different ink configurations: four-color CCMMYK and six-color CMYKLcLm. The CCMMYK configuration is designed to achieve the highest print speeds possible while maintaining vibrant colors in a wide gamut.

    The six-color CMYKLcLm helps ensure optimum photorealistic reproduction and color gamut even when viewing graphics from a short distance. For fine art and other precision applications, a newly added Artistic Mode allows the SJ-1045 to print graphics in true photorealistic 1440 x 1440 dpi resolution.

    The SJ-1045 also includes an automated media feed and take-up system to facilitate precision printing, even when unattended. This pre-assembled unit includes front-mounted feed and take-up rollers and a dual idler roller system that applies tension to the media to ensure accurate feeding. The system supports rolls weighing up to 220 pounds and offers front access for convenient loading and unloading of both feed and take-up rolls.

    VersaWorks in action
    With more than 100 technical enhancements, the Pro II Series can print up to 300 square feet an hour at 450 dpi to produce POP displays, signs, banners and exhibits. It can also print up to 1440 x 1440 dpi with a huge color gamut for fine art reproduction and photography. Roland offers multiple onboard high-speed CPUs and a bundled state-of-the-art software RIP.

    Roland also introduced the new SolJet Pro II V series of wide-format inkjet printers and printer/cutters in February 2005. The SOLJET PRO II V line includes the new 54” SC-545EX printer/cutter, Roland’s fastest and most robust print/cut solution to date. The new line also features the 74” SJ-745EX and 64" SJ-645EX precision inkjet printers.

    Mutoh’s Falcon flying high
    Mutoh’s Falcon line has been a popular choice for the sign industry. The Falcon II Outdoor is a high-speed, wide-format, mid-volume production printer for outdoor applications. The machine is available in 48-, 64- and 87-inch models and offers a variety of advanced features that meet the demands of outdoor production printing.

    “Based on the popularity of the Falcon Outdoor, the Falcon II Outdoor was developed to fill the needs of customers printing outdoor, commercial grade applications in moderate volumes,” says Guy Cipresso, Mutoh America’s Vice President of Business Development. “The productivity of the Falcon II Outdoor is well suited to meet a production run of 128, 36-inch by 48-inch posters in an eight-hour shift printing at 200 square feet per hour.”

    The machine uses four or six-color eco-solvent ink or the newly developed eco-plus ink. Both inks produce prints that are UV and water-resistant for up to three years in outdoor applications. The Falcon II Outdoor uses piezoelectric drop-on-demand Dynamic Variable Dot imaging technology, which produces multiple dot sizes. This allows the printer to adjust the size of the ink droplets in its nozzles instantly, resulting in finer detail, smoother gradients and solid, crisp colors that are closer to true continuous-tone imaging.

    “We decided to purchase a Mutoh Falcon II commercial printer because of its reported speed and quality, but what we got was more than we bargained for,” says Daniel Chaddock, president of E&E Exhibit Solutions, a Tempe, Ariz.-based company that designs, coordinates, consults and sells trade show booths.

    The Falcon II Outdoor features a throughput of up to 300 square feet per hour at 360 by 360 dpi and can print a full color poster in just over one minute and a three by five foot vinyl banner in three minutes. The printer offers a maximum resolution of 1440 dpi and includes a Mutoh version of Onyx RIP Center software.

    “Inkjet solvent fumes are an industry wide problem,” says Mutoh America’s director of sales Randy Rickert. “We are extremely happy to now offer a solution to our customers that create an even safer work environment.”

    In part three of this series, we give you a closer look at some of the higher-end eco-solvent printing options. You may need these more powerful models sooner than you think.

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