Which entry-level roll-fed printer should you buy?
In our growing repository of print machinery round-ups, it's time to turn our attention to the market for roll-fed printers.
There is far more variety amongst roll-fed printers than there is with flatbeds, which all use UV-curable inks so that it’s relatively easy to compare one to another. But the market for roll-fed printers is considerably more complex, not least because there’s a choice of four major ink systems – aqueous, solvent, latex and UV – each aimed at different types of applications but with some crossover.
As a very rough guide, the aqueous printers give very high image quality and wide colour gamuts, but are only really suitable for indoor use, while the solvent inks will work with most media, and are suitable for outdoor applications for several years.
Latex is often marketed as an environmentally-friendly alternative, because the inks are mainly water-based, though they use an enormous amount of heat energy to dry the water out of the prints, while UV-curable is much more expensive. But there are other stories here on the Fespa website that have explained the differences between these ink types, so for this story we’ll break the market down by width and volume.
Most of these machines are offered in 1.3m and 1.6m widths, with the smaller size being popular in regions such as North America, while most Europeans tend to prefer the larger size, the difference mainly being down to the amount of floor space available.
Starting with the aqueous ink printers, there are a number of wide format printers that use Memjet printheads, which offer exceptionally fast print speeds, and which we’ve already covered in more detail elsewhere on this site. These include the Xerox iPF2000, Canon Colorwave 900, and the Vortex 4200 from RTI.
They are becoming popular with CAD applications and are also suitable for some indoor banners and posters. But they are limited to aqueous inks, which rules out their use for outdoor applications, and the image quality is not quite up to the level that the other aqueous ink printers produce.
Canon has developed the ImagePrograf range of aqueous ink printers, which include 432mm, 610mm, 1118mm and 1524mm wide models. These are mostly aimed at the photography and fine art market, but with variations for proofing and point of sale work and with some also having optional spectrophotomers for colour management. They all use Canon’s own printheads.
Some, mainly aimed for the CAD and poster market, use a five colour inkset. But the majority use the Lucia EX pigment ink, though there are several inksets, with some using six inks with CMYK plus a matte black and red and others using eight colours, usually CMYK plus light cyan, light magenta, light grey and matte black.
Then there’s a 12-colour inkset, as used in the 610mm iPF6400, the 1.1m wide iPF8400 and the 1.5m wide iPF9400. This includes CMYK, light cyan, light magenta, light grey, photo grey and matte black, plus red, green and blue. These printers have two printheads, with a maximum resolution of 2400 x 1200 dpi.
Canon also still sells the Océ CS9350 and CS9360, four colour eco-solvent printers with a 1.3 and 1.6m print width respectively. Productivity goes up to 29 sqm/hr though Normal production mode is 10 sqm/hr. Maximum resolution is 1440dpi.
Epson also has a number of aqueous ink wide format printers under the Stylus Pro name, including the 1.6m wide 11880, the 1.1m wide 9900 and the 60cm 7900, which is widely used for proofing and has an optional spectrophotometer. There’s also two desktop models, the 4900 and 3880, both capable of 280mm print widths for A2 prints.
Epson produces a number of aqueous ink printers, such as this Stylus Pro 11880, that are suitable for fine art, photography and proofing applications.
All of these printers use Epson TFP printheads, with resolution typically up to 2880 x 1440dpi. The newer models use Epson’s UltraChrome HDR inks, which typically include Light Black, Light Light Black, Photo Black, Matte Black, Cyan, Light Cyan, Yellow, Vivid Magenta, Vivid Light Magenta, Orange and Green.
Epson also has a number of solvent printers, all 1.6m wide, starting with the SureColor SCS 30600. This is capable of producing up to 29 sqm/hr with four colours. It uses a greyscale Epson print head with a minimum drop size of 4.2 picolitres and maximum resolution of 720 x 1440 dpi.
There’s a slightly faster model, the SCS 50600, which has a second printhead and can print up to 51 sqm/hr and also has a white colour option. But the top of the range is the SCS 70600, which has a choice of eight or ten colours, including CMYK plus light cyan, light magenta, light black, orange, white and a metallic effects ink. It can print at 27 sqm/hr and has a maximum resolution of 1440 dpi.
Seiko Infotech produces the ColorPainter series of solvent printers, which include the M64s, a 1.6m wide printer with up to 900 dpi resolution that prints in CMYK plus light cyan and light magenta and with an optional grey channel. It can produce up to 66 sqm/hr.
There’s also the faster H2 series, available in 1.8 and 2.6m widths, and capable of producing up to 100 sqm/hr. There are eight channels that can take CMYK plus light cyan, light magenta, grey and light grey or two sets of CMYK to double the print speed.
Seiko also makes the older, cheaper W-series, available in either 1.3m or 1.6m widths, with a choice of four or six colours and capable of producing upto 17sqm/hr.
Fujifilm has developed the Acuity LED 1600, a rollfed UV printer capable of 20 sqm/hr that uses LED curing to deliver good quality at a reasonable price point. It will also accept rigid materials up to 13mm thick. It uses Fuji Dimatix Q class heads with one head per colour, and uses light cyan and light magenta plus white and clear inks as well as CMYK.In the second half of this story we’ll cover the rest of the entry-level roll-fed printers and discuss the variations in productivity and prices across this sector.
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