Wide-format inkjet printer review 2012

Why Buy a Wide Format Inkjet Printer?

Leading forecaster IT Strategies projects that the worldwide retail value of wide format inkjet output, in the 2010-2015 period, will increase at a CAGR of eight percent, from $36 billion to $51 billion, with POP signage accounting for about 40 percent of all wide format volume.

Another leading forecaster, InfoTrends, expects worldwide revenue for signs and graphics companies to grow at a 5% rate over the next five years, while the overall printing industry is expected to grow 1% during the same period.

If you put these two growth factors together, you have a compelling reason to investigate adding or expanding your wide format printing services. Printed posters, banners and retail signage are definitely not suffering and there is more wide format printing being done than ever before.

Wide Format Inkjet Printers: What to Look For

When considering the purchase of a wide format printer, be sure you consider more than just the price of a given device. The features of the device, its potential ease of use, its capability for indoor and outdoor usage and what kind of customer support you get after the sale are all key factors in selecting a device that will not only produce high-quality posters and banners at a reasonable price, but will give you the flexibility to produce a wide variety of printed media for a wide range of applications. We have consolidated the many factors you will need to consider into the following four categories of inkjet printers: solvent, UV-curable, durable aqueous and aqueous.

Printing Features

Wide format solvent inkjet

Solvent printers have really come down in price over the last few years, becoming more affordable to buy. One of the biggest benefits of solvent printers is the ability to print on uncoated media, which reduces media cost. But there are other factors to consider. InfoTrend reported that “Wide format solvent inkjet is under attack as a production technology. On one side there is the development of the durable aqueous segment which promises high quality and durable output yet without the harmful environmental characteristics of solvent inkjet. On the other side there is UV-curable inkjet, which offers faster production speeds, instant-drying performance, printing directly onto rigid substrates, as well as improved environmental characteristics. Overall, these alternative wide format technologies are driving customers away from solvent inkjet devices.” Yet there are some applications to which solvent inkjet printers are well suited, like billboards, vehicle graphics and building wraps. Outdoor durability on flexible roll media has always been better with solvent printers. When considering a solvent printer, keep in mind that special ventilation is required and this could also add to the cost.

Eco-solvent printers also fall into this category. To most people, “eco” means ecologically or environmentally friendly. But these inks generally contain glycol esters or glycol ether esters – both derived from mineral oil – hardly a renewable resource or an ecologically sound process. Perhaps the terms mild and aggressive might best be suited to describe these two groups of solvent inks. Finished prints often come in contact with harsh chemicals, particularly in cleaning agents. Glass cleaner or specialty vinyl-cleaning products can remove mild and less aggressive-solvent-based inks, so durability is not as good. Before considering any solvent or eco-solvent printer, request a Material Safety Data Sheet from the supplier to help you more fully understand the health concerns. Epson, HP, Mimaki, Roland, Mutoh and Vutek are some of the better known solvent printer manufacturers.

Wide format UV-curable inkjet

UV-curable printers are more environmentally friendly compared to solvent-based printing. One of the biggest benefits of UV inks is the ability to print directly on a variety of rigid media. Direct to rigid printing reduces waste, simplifies the print workflow and greatly improves the opportunities for print recycling. InfoTrend reported earlier this year that the “UV-curable inkjet market today is the smallest segment of the overall wide format digital printing industry but is also the most dynamic and fastest growing technology”. Because the curing of UV ink requires less than a second of exposure to a UV light source, this enables UV printers to print at higher speeds than solvent printers. UV-curable inks may be more expensive per millilitre than solvent inks, but because the inks sit on top of the media rather than penetrating it, ink consumption is reduced compared to solvent printing.

UV curable printers save sign print shops money by reducing the number of hours of labour, while lowering ink and substrate costs. Yet some printers still prefer to print using regular solvent ink as opposed to UV-curable ink when printing on flexible roll media, because of better durability and colors that are brighter. UV-curable inks have come a long way and are still improving. The advantage of direct printing on numerous substrates is by far the greatest strength of UV printing. OCE’s line of Arizona UV-curable printers have been the best selling UV-curable printers worldwide, and so we were thrilled to see a new entry level Arizona released this year. The new OCE Arizona 318 GL printer is a highly capable, introductory UV flatbed model which offers small to medium sized shops an entrance into UV-curable printing. OCE, Agfa, Durst, HP and Mimaki are some of the better known UV-curable inkjet manufacturers.

Wide format durable aqueous inkjet

The most important technological advancement in the graphics market over the last few years has been the addition of durable aqueous (or latex ink) print technology, which enables prints to be used indoor and outdoor with lower print costs and diminished environmental considerations. These durable aqueous inkjet printers are expected to be the major driver of growth in the wide format aqueous graphics market. The fact that durable aqueous ink does not smell as bad as solvent ink and has less VOCs is a very positive start. The primary benefit of latex ink is instant drying, unlike solvent ink which can take up to 24 hours to fully cure. If you roll up a solvent print for shipping, it will outgas and have quite an odor. Durable aqueous latex inks are fully dry once they leave the printer, yet massive heaters are required for these printers resulting in high electricity costs. “This technology has grown quickly because of the high image quality on a wide range of substrates, low operating cost, and the low VOC emission it offers which enables the technology to be billed as a ‘green’ printing solution,” InfoTrends reported. “Sales of printers in this category are attracting a lot of attention and InfoTrends expects several major vendors to enter this segment of the market in the coming years.” Currently HP and Mimaki have durable aqueous latex printers on the market.

Wide format aqueous inkjet

InfoTrends reported last year that the “Aqueous inkjet is the most flexible wide format printing technology, able to print the widest variety of applications onto the widest array of media. The printers also have a low initial investment level, some with prices as low as $2,000-$3,000. Combine this with a steady stream of technological advancements and you broaden the appeal of aqueous inkjet to new market segments creating a large and relatively stable market over the forecast period.”

Wide format aqueous printers are used mainly in three primary market segments—Technical, Creative and Production.

The worldwide market for these printers is expected to continue to grow, driven by trends in photographic, fine art, trade show display, graphic design, pre-press proofing and general office markets. One reason for this growth is the trend toward environmentally friendlier printing processes, due to increasing concerns regarding the sustainability of printing. This trend has been gaining momentum, with no signs that it is likely to stop any time soon.

Printer manufacturers like Canon, Epson and HP have launched new aqueous inkjet systems with increased speeds, improved image quality, higher print resolution, expanded colour gamut and longer outdoor durability when using the right media. Wide format aqueous inkjet systems typically provide the fastest output with the highest resolution, yet require the lowest capital investment.

For all of these reasons, aqueous inkjet printers appeal not only to commercial printers, photo labs, graphic designers, advertising agencies and poster printing companies, but also architects, engineers, professional photographers and companies’ internal marketing departments. Some manufacturers like Canon target general office needs with software that makes it easy for just about anyone, regardless of experience, to create appealing posters.