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Ink-jet Printing : All Applications Accepted

April 2010 By Erik Cagle
Senior Editor
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WANT TO discover the true measure of a technology's value to a printer and its customer base? Take that technology for a road test.

That's exactly what Galal Ramadan did. The president of GR Marketing & Graphic Design of Tampa, FL, knew he was sitting on a niche powder keg when he acquired a UV ink-jet printing solution from Kirk-Rudy, the WaveJet UV system.

GR's sweet spot is the medical space. The WaveJet can print 22 lines of type, up to 2˝, with two print heads, and features UV ink and drying for identification card personalization. The shop produces membership packets and ID cards for HMOs, medicare and medicaid programs. The ID cards, of course, feature highly variable data relevant to the holder's insurance coverage.

A recent GR sales call proved the technology to be applicable well beyond the health insurance sector.

"We just came back from a life insurance company that's considering solicitation mailings," notes Ramadan. "And, the other day, we got an inquiry from a casino using membership cards that are inserted into slot machines. Medical has been our niche for a long time. We do membership and fulfillment, including ID cards and member kits.

"But now, we're starting to take that technology out to other companies in Florida. Life insurance and casino clients are both users of laminated cards, which need to be durable and include variable data on them."

Hold the Cheese

Previously, GR produced member cards on a lightweight synthetic stock with a laser printer. Ramadan points out that an ID card can look "relatively cheesy" when it's produced on a thin and uncoated substrate. The printer can now churn out cards in 30- to 40-mil thickness with any type of surface, including UV coating, lamination and PVC.

Ramadan's system has some impressive bells and whistles, including XJET and XMATCH, self-contained camera lighting system for log file and read and write with date and time stamp. Other capabilities include data trafficking verifications, matching 1D/2D image patterns, data matrix, Intelligent Mail barcoding and OCR symbologies. It also offers missing and duplicate piece detection and in-line card and carrier personalization.

If personalization is the heart of ink-jet printing, then surely variable data is the brain. Be it membership or reward cards, kits and packages, fundraising mailers or other direct mail campaigns, ink-jet printing is not viewed as a poor stepchild to offset printing. Trackability and integrated media potential, in fact, make the technology more than a little sexy.

The doubting Thomases of the printing world will be able to appreciate the efforts gone through by Wilen Direct, the Deerfield Beach, FL-based affiliate of the Wilen Group. Wilen Direct decided to beta test the Kodak Prosper S10 imprinting system before inking a purchase agreement late last summer. According to Wilen Group President Darrin Wilen, the Prosper has been a true game changer.

"Getting involved with this technology has helped us stay relevant," he says. "At 600 dpi, it's laser quality. To some degree, the 600 dpi [resolution] creates a new marketplace. In areas where you need to have small fonts or type for legals, it's not something that can be done at 240 dpi because of the quality—you couldn't read it."

One product that's seeing heavy rotation for Wilen, so to speak, is an in-line letter pack with variable data, consisting of a full-color envelope and letter, fully duplexed at 600 dpi. The Prosper enables the company to produce 80,000-plus in-line letter packs per hour, and it's not out of the ordinary to do 1.6 million direct mail pieces in a day.

Wilen sees great potential in Quick Response (QR) codes. "It's integrated media that's driving the success of the business," he says. "We're an agency, so we offer creative services and strategy, tracking and reporting. All of these other services are what allow you to become a single solution for the client.

"The most important thing about variable data printing is that everything can be tracked," Wilen adds. "We're successfully doing PURLs. You're now able to measure print media, able to bring recipients from print back to the Internet. We have mobile communication strategies now that we're starting to apply with QR codes."

Maximum Coverage

For some companies, it's all about the coverage area of the print head. That's what prompted Cleveland-based Consolidated Graphics Group (CGC) to install a four-head Kirk- Rudy WaveJet UV ink-jetting system. According to Neil Gallagher, vice president of operations, the company wanted to space out the four heads and cover as much area on the printed piece as possible.

Using the WaveJet as an alternative to laser printing means CGG can use an aqueous coating coming off the press, but not laser devices, he notes. Most of the time, the WaveJet is handling self-mailers that include ink-jetted company logos, mailing data and perhaps an offer code. The pieces are often driven into a Stahl folder with in-line gluing.

"The work we've been able to move so far has allowed us to take (the load) off laser printing, which is driven primarily by clicks," he adds. "We're able to go to a final finished size rather than do a two-up for laser, followed by cutting and folding."

CGG has had much success running the UV coated pieces with the drying system. With in-line folding and gluing, the company has been able to run more traditional work through the WaveJet. If anything, Gallagher would like to see even bigger print heads to allow for more coverage, setting the stage for doing dual-sided ink-jet printing.

Aside from needing more head space, Gallagher is quite pleased with what the machine has allowed CGG to accomplish. "It's low maintenance; once we got it started, it was operator-friendly. We've been successful in training our laser setup people to create the files properly, so that they're ripping them on-the-fly. And the print quality is good. We've been able to reproduce logos that are equal to laser quality."

Doing the Job Right

Quik Print, of Oklahoma City, provides regional clients with mainstream ink-jetted products, including postcards, flats and bound printed material. According to Chris Gravley, operations manager of the family-owned business, his diverse customer base ranges from educational and fundraiser verticals to ad agencies.

"We do variable data letters that we match to either windowed envelopes or #10s that we run through out Secap Jet 1," he says. "One time, I was able to save a customer more than $12,000 in postage. Now, that customer loves me."

Gravley describes the company, which boasts seven locations in Oklahoma City, as a turnkey, one-stop shop that handles projects from cradle to grave. It has managed to avoid its share of cradle rashes in the process, ferreting out mail pieces that don't meet postal regulations. The reason? While some customers may be seasoned mailers, others are just small businesses with an Excel mail list, which may or may not have a world of flaws. Getting the job done right is paramount—whether it's just name/address/city/state or 20 fields of information that is being used.

"We had our share of personalization issues when we first started up," Gravley admits. "You really need to have a good data processor. The data set is what's key.

"Most customers are not marketers or mailers. They just want to get a good product out quickly and not deal with all of the minutiae. It's really just a matter of communication and building the processes to be able to talk about NCOA, changing postal regulations, errors and omissions on the list that they provide us." PI


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