High-Volume Outdoor Printers Meet Growing Demand
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High-Volume Outdoor Printers Meet Growing Demand

The market for outdoor media is growing exponentially. Find out what options manufacturers are offering today.

By Jennifer LeClaire

If your growing sign shop needs the latest and greatest outdoor printing technology, then read on. Find out who offers what and how it will serve your needs.

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  • If you are looking into high volume outdoor printing, then you are not alone. Manufacturers are producing new wide-format outdoor printers due to the high demand.

    The worldwide outdoor advertising market is reaching nearly $19 billion with the U.S. market representing $5.2 billion in 2002, according to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America.

    So if your shop has a vision to capitalize on this market, you may want to consider investing in a powerful machine that will meet your printing needs over the long-term.

    In the first two parts of this series, we investigated eco-solvent inks and the entry-level machines that use them. In the series finale, we take a look at the printers with the most horsepower.

    Océ Arizona 180 leads the pack
    Océ Airzona offers a handful of models in its wide-format color solvent family of inkjet printers. With more than 1,300 units shipped worldwide (through January 2003), the Océ Arizona 180 is the undisputed leader in outdoor-durable ink jet printers.

    The Océ Arizona 180 is a 309 dpi, 54-inch wide inkjet printer that uses piezoelectric print head technology, which enables high-throughput production printing. Its production print speed is 90 square feet per hour, with a top print speed of up to 180 square feet per hour, depending on image. The machine prints directly onto familiar 3M screen printing vinyl films, eliminating the need for expensive coated media required of traditional inkjet printers.

    The Océ Arizona 180 comes equipped with ColorBlend six-color (Super-CMYK) printing technology, which provides greatly improved print quality by using two additional light-density colors (cyan and magenta). The result is smoother mid-tones and finer detail, without sacrificing any throughput performance.

    Océ’s T220 stands tall
    The Océ Arizona T220 is a production speed ink jet printer that uses Piezo printing technology and solvent-based inks to produce outdoor-durable output. It can print directly onto rigid and flexible substrates up 62” wide x 120” long x 2” thick. There is no minimum print size, which eliminates the need to use more material than necessary. With four print heads per color, the machine can achieve print speeds of up 17 square meters per hour in four-pass mode, and up to 8,4 square meters per hour in eight-pass mode.

    “The Océ Arizona T220 comes from a long line of robust, production-oriented ink jet printers,” says Rak Kumar, chief executive officer of Océ Display Graphics Systems. “It offers all the quality and speed that rivals the most expensive systems on the market, at an affordable price.”

    The Océ Arizona T220 holds substrates stationary on a flat, vacuum table while the print head assembly moves across the table to create the print, eliminating image skew problems associated with manual-fed systems. It can print full bleeds, saving time and labor costs in finishing.

    Auto-sensing of the media surface and size ensures that the print carriage is at the proper height for optimal printing. The Océ Arizona T220 can print directly onto a variety of uncoated or coated rigid or flexible substrates such as foam-core style mounting board, vinyl, tile, PVC sheets, carpet and more. It is ideal for producing exhibit graphics, point-of-purchase displays, proofs and comps, plus specialty items such as custom tiles and window blinds.

    Mutoh expands Toucan line
    Mutoh has long been known for it’s manufacturing of large format commercial inkjet printers. Last spring saw the company announce The Toucan 64.

    “The Toucan 87-inch six-color printing system has been so popular that we decided to offer it in a 64-inch format,” says Guy Cipresso, Mutoh America’s vice president of business development. “The Toucan 64 six-color provides photo-quality and outdoor durable images at best-in-class print speeds.”

    The Toucan 64-inch color ink jet printer provides dependable high volume industrial print speeds up to 800 square feet per hour and true image quality print resolutions up to 720 dpi for outdoor applications. Toucan industrial printers are well suited to meet a production run of 256, 36-inch by 48-inch posters in an eight-hour shift, printing at 400 square feet per hour.

    The new six-color solvent-based Toucan produces CMYKlclm high quality prints that are UV and water-resistant for up to three-years in outdoor applications without lamination on a wide variety of inexpensive, uncoated materials. The machine prints with six-colors and supports a print width of 62-inches and a top speed of 800 square feet per hour. In production mode, the Toucan 64 six-color can print a four-foot by eight-foot panel in less than five minutes.

    “Once the Toucan came along and after we tested it in our production environment, we scraped our four e-stat machines and replaced them all with two Industrial Toucan 64's - and doubled our overall output capability in the process,” says Rank. “We love our Toucans, they are very cost effective to operate. You just turn them on and they go!”

    The Toucan models include Mutoh’s Thunderbird Post Script print server and ISIS Print Manager software for large format image processing. The ISIS Print Manager is an advanced imaging solution designed to enhance productivity while complementing existing third-party graphics applications. This allows users to spool and RIP multiple jobs from multiple clients. It combines a PostScript-3 compatible interpreter, PDF 1.3 import and export capabilities, vector file support, and extensive image manipulation controls with an ICC color management system, as well as Mutoh’s proprietary raster screening technology.

    All Toucan models utilize Mutoh’s precision motion control and media handling and include a 21GB hard drive and automatic take-up system. The Toucan 64 can accommodate roll-to-roll or sheet mode printing and include digitally controlled, pre and post-heaters for quick media drying.

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    “The Toucan gives us the speed, quality and flexibility we need to manage our customer’s expectations,” says Ray Cowell, president of Clear Imaging Color Graphics in Denver, Co. “We do large poster runs, banners and vehicle graphics, as well as specialty requests. Mutoh has delivered with the product and the service necessary to keep our business going and growing.”

    Racing ahead with the Rockhopper II
    The new Mutoh Rockhopper II second-generation eco-solvent printer series comes in 50-, 64- and 87-inch models. Whereas Mutoh’s Rockhopper 46” and 62” printers are positioned as entry-level printers for lower volumes, Mutoh’s Rockhopper II printers are production-oriented printers, for volumes starting from 20 square meters a day.

    Equipped with a new set of 360 nozzles/color Piezo-electric drop-on-demand inkjet heads, the Rockhopper II combines high speed and high quality printing, with top engine speeds of more than 30 meters an hour. Print resolutions offered are 360 x 360 dpi, 720 x 360 dpi, 720 x 720 dpi, 1440 x 720 dpi and 1440 x 1440 dpi.

    Incorporating 8 color channels, the Rockhopper II printers are set up for both 4- and 6-process color printing. For photo tone output printing, Mutoh offers a 6-color eco-solvent ink set. For high speed printing, the user can simultaneously load two CMYK eco-solvent ink sets, offering 440 ml ink autonomy per color and the possibility to double the machine’s output speed.

    Standard features on the Rockhopper II are a 128 Mb buffer, a 20.3 Gb hard disk and, for dependable unattended printing, a motorized media take-up system and automatic ink level and media remainder monitoring. Rockhopper II printers will be bundled as standard with a PS-3 level RIP.

    Dynamic variable dot imaging
    The Rockhopper II features Dynamic Variable Dot Imaging Technology. This feature enables the Rockhopper II to independently produce multiple and unique dots and moreover to adjust the size of the ink droplets produced by each of the print head nozzles on the fly. This results in finer detail and smoother gradients in highlight areas and crisp colors in the mid-tones and shadows.

    Rockhopper eco-solvent prints are UV and water-resistant for up to three years outdoors (vertical application) when used in combination with Mutoh’s eco-solvent inks and eco-solvent tuned media. Lamination is required for heavy-duty applications such as floor and vehicle graphics. Rockhopper eco-solvent inks offer a wide color gamut, resulting in crisp, clean and photo-realistic prints.

    The tailored coating on Rockhopper eco-solvent media and the unique ink formulation keeps the color pigments on top of the media surface. Mutoh’s Rockhopper series eco-solvent media range consists of glossy monomeric vinyl for non-curved and non-structured surfaces, polymeric vinyl for slightly curved and/or structured surfaces and high-end cast vinyl for application onto curved, corrugated or structured surfaces such as cars. Next to vinyl, the Mutoh eco-solvent media range also contains white glossy photo-based paper and synthetic paper, heavy-duty PVC scrim banner, tyvek, and polyethylene film. Mutoh profiles all Rockhopper media in combination with the standard in-the box software. Rockhopper II printers are moreover equipped with software-controllable pre- and post heaters for instant drying and a wider media compatibility. Mutoh will also launch very shortly a self-adhesive polyolefin eco-film for the Rockhopper series printers.

    “The outdoor market is currently in rapid expansion. Whereas the Mutoh Albatros and the Mutoh Toucan series solvent-based outdoor printers offer the possibility of printing directly onto uncoated materials and are destined for print volumes starting from 20 square meters a day, the Mutoh Rockhopper printers have been specifically developed for those sign makers who have a need for an affordable outdoor printer for print volumes of less than 10 square meters a day,” says Arthur Vanhoutte, Mutoh Europe’s General Manager.

    Vutek’s award-winning superwide
    Vutek is the leading supplier of superwide format digital inkjet printers and its PressVu line continues to draw the attention of the industry. The PressVu 180/600 EC is its latest product and the only printer available today that offers eight-color capability with 600 dpi resolution on rigid or flexible substrates up to 1.8 meters wide. Past winner of the Digital Imaging Marketing Association (DIMA) Digital Printer Shoot Out is a notable accomplishment.

    “With a print width of 72 inches, the PressVu UV will print on virtually any rigid or flexible substrate from wooden planks to plastic bags,” says Kevin O’Connor, Enhance a Colour’s Managing Director comments. “This presents almost unlimited business opportunities for us, enabling product manufacturers previously limited by screenprinting or flexo technologies, to take advantage of short run personalization, made possible by digital inkjet using ultra violet inks.”

    This printer minimizes finishing requirements as well as other time consuming photo process steps and features the Auto Sheet Feeder 180, engineered to feed a stack of rigid sheets through the printer to facilitate fully automated material input. It is recommended for a wide range of rigid plastics and foam-centered boards. The feeder will accept a maximum of 144 sheets up to 72 inches wide, and has a unique telescopic platform, which extends to 96 inches in length to accommodate larger board sizes. The PressVu family of machines offers greater productivity with up to 10 times faster data transfer speed from the RIP workstation to the printer.

    “The PressVu UV 180/600 EC has given us a huge competitive edge. It enables us to offer a much wider range of printable materials, while eliminating steps in the printing process,” says Carmen Maria Amezua Espino, owner, Datch Producciones, an outdoor signage producer in Sinaloa, Mexico. “By printing directly to rigid or flexible materials, we can increase our job turnaround and offer a much quicker service to customers. What’s more, the speed and productivity of the PressVu UV 180/600 EC allows customers to enjoy much better quality products at affordable prices.”

    Meanwhile, for shops that don’t need quite as much firepower, the PressVu UV 180/360 EC is also available and offers 360 dpi resolution with print speeds up to 1,100 square feet per hour.

    “By using the PressVu UV 180/360 EC, not only do our customers enjoy a more responsive service, but by printing direct to the final substrate they also benefit from lower costs,” says Scott Childress, managing director of Atlanta-based Express Color. “[By] using VUTEk’s UV inks, graphics printed by the PressVu UV 180/360 EC give an outside life span of two years and eliminate the problems of delamination and adhesive failure, that have traditionally plagued the digital printing process.”

    These are just a handful of the increasing number of outdoor printers on the market. Whatever your brand preference, each manufacturer is developing machines to meet your price range and your productivity needs. The prices should continue coming down on older models as technology improves, allowing more sign shops to get involved in eco-solvent outdoor printing.

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