According to María Renée Ayau, DPI Insights/FLAAR Reports, a UV-curable ink printer is a major decision for your company. It is advisable to arm yourself with independent information beforehand. This article appears in the latest Sign Africa Journal.
If you are seriously thinking of purchasing this type of printer, it is expected that you will visit trade shows and demo centres too. Before you make your actual purchase, it is essential that you visit companies that have UV-curing inkjet printers at work.
When you go to a tradeshow, you see many UV-curing printers in action; you see bright and perfectly printed images onto many diverse substrates. Finally, you see a few UV-curing printers that stand out, you like the samples and probably think ‘I did not know you could print onto that’. So you approach the sales rep and he tells you all the advantages of the UV-curing printer and hands you a brochure with the specs. This is the point where you should begin asking questions to complement the information you have on the brochure.
Let’s start with the printer’s brand and model. You might think there is not much to think about, but consider asking yourself these questions:
• Is this printer an original model or a re-branded printer?
• If it is a re-branded printer, who is the manufacturer?
• Is this a dedicated UV-curing printer manufacturer? Or do they specialise in other types of printers and have recently begun manufacturing UV-curing printers?
• Can you consider this printer mature or is it still in alpha stage?
• Was this printer originally designed to handle this type of ink, or is it a retrofitted printer?
Other basic characteristics such as printing and media width are self-explanatory, but it is also important to know whether the printer can achieve borderless or double-sided printing.
If the UV-curing system can handle rolls: the roll width, diameter, weight and size are stated, but it is also interesting to know if two or more rolls of media can be fed at the same time. It is also important to know how much media is wasted on each roll loading. This might be a decisive factor between buying one printer and another, since it translates into media wastage. For UV-curing roll-to-roll printers, ask the sales rep if you can add extension tables to print onto rigid substrates.
If you are choosing a UV-curing flatbed printer, does it come with an automated feeding system? Do you really need this? You have to consider that using automated systems also means you have to calibrate them every time you change media, so if you are using multiple types of substrates, it might not save you that much time. Also, can you add a roll-to-roll option?
On the subject of inks, it is important to know the brand and manufacturer of the inks. The better inkjet printers today are a joint venture between an ink company and a printer manufacturer.
Ink needs the following attributes desired by the end-user:
• Hardness, to resist abrasion and increase scratch resistance.
• Adhesion, to stick to a greater variety of surfaces.
• Flexibility, to flex without cracking on non-rigid materials.
• Surface finish (gloss or matte).
• Texture (preferably no texture).
• Colour gamut (problems obtaining some reds).
• Colour opacity and saturation.
• Chemical resistance to cleaning solvents.
• Minimal shrinkage.
• Minimal wrinkling.
It is also very important to know how green or eco-friendly these inks are. Are the containers recyclable? Is white ink available? If so, is there a system to stir the white ink so it does not settle? Does this printer have enough channels in order to also use white ink, varnish or primer?
Most printer manufacturers and distributors do not wish to share information about the printheads used on the printer but it is essential for you to find out the brand and model of the printheads, since some printhead brands are better with UV-curable inks than others.
Another essential factor to understand is the RIP and software aspect of the UV-curing printer. Which RIPs are featured with the printer? Are there RIP options? Does the printer come with a RIP included? Is this an entry-level version of the RIP or a complete professional version with all the options?
Some manufacturers also list the electrical aspects of the printer — you also need to know the average consumption and the peak consumption. When asking about power consumption, be sure to get the total power consumption. Some companies list only the printer power consumption, not the consumption of UV lamps.
Many brochures also state the printer dimensions and weight. This is important not only for the obvious reason of seeing if you have enough space for the printer. But here’s the tricky part, does the printer come disassembled or in one piece? If it comes in one piece, do you have enough space to get it into your facilities? If you have to assemble it, you need to know how much space you need to assemble it. Can you install this printer yourself? Do you have to pay extra to have the printer assembled?
It is also crucial to learn about what the printer price and warranty include:
• Besides the list price, are there any other costs involved?
• Does the warranty include printheads?
• Who provides technical support, the dealer or manufacturer?
• Are there distributors near your city?
• Is training included in the purchase price?
These are only a few of the basic questions you should be asking if you are considering buying a UV-curing printer. We recommend you get as much information about the printer, distributors and the manufacturers to really learn about the product you are acquiring.
DPI INSIGHTS/FLAAR REPORTS www.flaar-reports.org