Bench Marks

Last week, we looked at the current flatbed printer landscape, and in that discussion, we looked at some bench-/tabletop models. Last week, after the feature ran, Roland announced a new model in its VersaUV line of tabletop LED UV printers, the LEF-300 which joins the legacy LEF-10 and -20 printers. The new model is larger: 30x13 inches, and can hold items up to four inches high and weighing up to 17.5 pounds. As you would expect from next-gen machines, it is faster than previous models (up to 60% faster than the LEF-20, said the company). The LEF-300 prints in CMYK plus white and clear, and like its forebears is designed to print on a bewildering variety of three-dimensional objects—pens, mobile phone cases, awards, golf balls, hockey pucks, poker chips, you name it—and, like most UV and flatbed printers, can print on a many different surfaces, such as acrylic, wood, board, plastic, metal, glass, and even fabrics and flexible materials such as leather. The caveat when discussing all these surfaces of course is that many of the harder-to-image materials like glass and metal will require some kind of primer (remember my discussion of industrial printing, which involves the same basic issues of relative surface energy and dyne levels) to get the ink to adhere properly.

Tabtetop models often get short shrift, but an increasingly important application niche is in these personalized, specialized products. Awards in particular are a fast-growing area, and we’ll be looking at that market in an upcoming feature.

On a Roll

Two weeks ago, we looked at the roll-to-roll printer landscape, and this week—today, in fact—Epson is announcing three new models in its SureColor S-series of 64-inch roll-to-roll solvent printers. (Writing about the latest wide-format printers is rather a Sisyphean task sometimes.) Intended for signage producers, the new devices comprise three models: the entry-level S40600, the mid-range production level S60600, and the top-of-the-line S80600. All three models use Epson’s new UltraChrome GS3 inks: the S40600 prints CMYK, the S60600 prints 2xCMYK, and the S80600 prints CMYKLcLmLk, as well as orange and a new red ink (to help hit logo and brand colors) , as well as an extra channel that can be used to add white or silver. In addition to the usual boosts in speed and quality, Epson has also improved the basic structure of the machine, with better quality materials used to produce the stand to which the printer is attached. The new printer is said to be 100 pounds heavier than previous S-Series printers, and when you’re boosting print speeds, you need the extras support. (Printer vibration can compromise image quality, or at worst make the thing sound like an off-kilter washing machine.) Epson has also improved the media handling and redesigned the take-up system to create more accurate finished rolls. The S40600 and S60600 are due to rollout this month, with the S80600 due in April.

Ink Vehicles

There is a bit of news in the world of vehicle graphics, which is an application that has swerved into the fast lane. First of all, Roland has announced its “Born to Wrap” Workshop schedule. Led by Matt Richart, co-owner of Louisville, Ky.’s Digital EFX Wraps, the workshops are designed for newbies and pros alike. Vehicle graphics are another hot application area, but present challenges—technological, business, and logistical—that differ from more traditional graphics output. The number of players has increased substantially, aided and abetted by lower-cost printers and materials, and vehicle wrappers will tell you that pricing has become cutthroat, so it is absolutely vital for companies looking to be successful in vehicle graphics really know their stuff. Roland’s workshops are far from the only vehicle wrapping classes around; substrate manufacturers like Avery Dennison and 3M have their own training and certification programs, and the Professional Auto Detailers Association (PADA) also has a certification program. Be wary of random, unknown certification programs, though; unless its some kind of widely recognized certifying body, a certification may not have a lot of meaning. Still, any opportunity you can get to hone your wrapping chops from professional wrappers is valuable experience.

Once you’ve acquired a high level of vehicle wrap skill, why not compete in FESPA’s World Wrap Masters Competition? The European Wrap Masters competition will be held in Amsterdam at FESPA Digital 2016 March 8–9, with the winner proceeding to the Series Final on March 10–11. The winner will then proceed to the final competition and will have the chance to be crowned FESPA World Wrap Master 2016. Think of it as March Madness for vehicle graphics.

Direct to Ricoh

Earlier this month, Ricoh had announced that it was acquiring AnaJet, manufacturer of a highly successful line of inkjet direct-to-garment printers. (The AnaJet machines already used Ricoh printheads.) Ricoh has been concentrating on the office and production print markets and never pushed their wide-format/specialty graphics offerings as strongly as its other products, and the AnaJet acquisition nicely brings Ricoh into the garment-/fabric-printing space, one that—as I have mentioned many times—is fast-growing and expanding. I was always rather impressed with the AnaJet machines; it’ll be interesting to see how Ricoh builds on the brand.

2016 is off to a good start with new products and other initiatives.

This week, the WhatTheyThink team debarks to Las Vegas for EFI Connect, so look for live and post-event coverage of that event.