Production Inkjet Press Buying Advice
So, you’re in the market for a high-speed production inkjet press. With this segment of the industry on the rise, it’s no surprise you might be looking to invest.
Evaluating and installing a digital press can be a complicated process. A lot can go wrong - or right. What can you expect as you start down this road? Is it smooth sailing or are their speed bumps along the way? We asked some early inkjet adopters for their advice on the challenges, pitfalls and triumphs they had when they first installed their high-speed production inkjet equipment.
How did you research and evaluate inkjet presses prior to making your decision?
Harry Herget: We focused on toner-based, cut-sheet printers. We identified four major brands of printers and began meeting with their sales teams and evaluating each company’s product lines ... knowing that color was a major move up that would give us the opportunity to broaden our deliverables and grow our markets, all the while knowing that transaction, monochrome printing was our core business.
Jeffrey Hernandez: Over the past five years, we have been evaluating inkjet technology utilizing peer groups, which we have been working with for more than 20 years. We wanted a machine that would complement our 40˝ offset machines and toner-based digital equipment. We visited some of our peer group members’ facilities to see the quality and throughput in an everyday operation, in addition to discussing the benefits and drawbacks of inkjet. Two years ago, we purchased the Fuji J Press after reviewing all the options available.
Joe Maloy: Research was conducted over a 3-year period by both direct interaction with manufacturers and current users. We also attended industry trade shows, individual manufacturer sponsored events and the Inkjet Summit. Presses were evaluated on the following metrics: image quality, range of acceptable substrates, press speed, unit cost and cost of ownership.
Todd Meissner: We talked to users of several different machines to obtain their perspective. We also conducted our own print tests and visited plants with machines in production. Consumables cost, uptime, cost of ownership, print quality, speed and operator skill level are all areas that we compared.
Kirk Schlecker: We looked at it from a quality comparison to cut-sheet toner devices on the market. We knew we couldn’t go backwards from a quality perspective.
Christine Soward: We decided we were spending a lot of money on service and maintenance on toner, and we needed to grow and that’s difficult when your equipment doesn’t run at the scale that you need. And adding equipment doesn’t add scale.
We wanted to make a capital investment instead of creating an expense that still limited our expansion. We looked at quality of print, which has long been a challenge of inkjet, as well as the expansion of sheet size available and reliability. Predictable uptime was also a major factor.
We looked at several options and spoke to different providers and other users. Our requirements were tied to quality, speed and reliable operation and support.
What would you do differently if you were buying an inkjet press today?
Herget: Today, we would focus only on inkjet, throughput capacity, footprint, price and click charges.
Hernandez: I don’t believe we would change our process of working with a peer group. Peer groups enable ideas to be exchanged and provide a live experience with processes and workflows. Most companies rely heavily on the manufacturers to show them how the machines operate and don’t get real-life experience learning the true pitfalls of the technology — and the most important workarounds to keep the machine running 24 hours a day.
Maloy: If I was setting out on the same project today, I would ask my clients to be involved earlier and have a formalized means of evaluating their needs. Working with the clients upfront on a digital workflow and engaging those vendors earlier would have been beneficial. Getting client feedback on the press output and its acceptability would have narrowed our search for the best solution. It would have also afforded more rapid transition once the machine was installed.
Meissner: I would do more thorough testing of compatibility regarding paper adhesion, laminations, coatings, foil stamping, etc.
Soward: Education should be the first step from your team to your clients for optimum success. If I were buying an inkjet press today, I would have my team train on how to create and sell inkjet products effectively. Inkjet print is different, and the way art is created has an impact on the final product from price to quality. You need to look at post-finishing on the sheet size and utilize the operator to do more of that work as they are running the press.
What lessons have you learned after using your inkjet press for a while now?
Herget: The biggest lesson we’ve learned is the importance of having the dual stacker from the outset. In fact, you shouldn’t operate a Rialto without one. The dual stacker eliminates periodic stoppages, allowing for continuous printing. This minimizes paper waste while increasing throughput, i.e., capacity. Very important when optimizing workflow efficiencies.
Hernandez: The biggest lesson we have learned over the years is to understand what the machine does great and sell the hell out of that. Too many companies try to use their equipment as a Swiss Army knife and spend countless hours trying to get their equipment to do what it was never intended to do.
Paper: Inkjet is limited to coated and uncoated text and cover (70-lb. text to 120-lb. cover) and requires no treated surface. We have found a few synthetic stocks that have run great. Test and evaluate paper types and keep your clients informed on which ones print the best. Please keep in mind that special finished stocks such as laid, linen, metallic and any uneven surface stocks have great limitations.
Inks: Inkjet ink tends to be one of the most consistent inks. We can send out press proofs and match them exactly with no effort, whether it’s next day, next month or even next year, which is quite amazing. Color consistency is a big plus being that there is no fluctuation of color over the whole sheet or from sheet to sheet. Front to back registration is perfect for offline finishing being that it uses a side guide registration.
Expectation: Currently, our expectations have been exceeded. We never anticipated such a smooth install and even more amazing, we are stunned by the total uptime of this machine.
Training: Surprisingly, the training was very simple. The automation on the front-end interface is so easy to use that once it is set, the operator pretty much sits there and runs the job. The biggest learning curve is learning to feed the press, but if you are familiar with offset presses you should be fine.
Maloy: The paper manufacturers have made great advancements in quality and availability over the past two years. And the press speeds, ink sets and uptime on the presses are also continuously improving. Working with both the mills and the press manufacturer, on an ongoing basis, is a critical component is providing superior products for your clients.
Meissner: Paper quality, preventative maintenance, upkeep, cleanliness, job planning and prepress workflows are all important factors that can severely impact the efficiency and throughput of the work through the press.
Nathan O’Neal: Two things we have learned, one in comparison to our toner-based printing fleet and one in comparison to our expectations of the workflow.
- We have found the consistency of inkjet printing more reliable than toner-based technology. We have far less print quality issues in comparison to light and dark fading issues we see from the toner/developer print fleet.
- Our reservation of the required PDF workflow was originally directed at the time it would require to get files from our systems to the press in order to maintain current efficiency. The interface and available tools have made that process seemingly instant. We have found that it takes windows print spooler longer to spool to our conventional printer than it takes the PDF conversion to prepare the files for the Rialto.
Schlecker: Papers: Inkjet-treated uncoated papers are our best quality option; they use considerably less ink than untreated, color consistency across the web is better and the sheet is cleaner.
Inks: They are much better than expected. Probably the most durable ink on the digital market and holds up to scuffing in the mail stream very well.
Speeds: We’ve had one speed upgrade to our press since purchase. Very pleasing … running 500 feet per minute at 600x600 on uncoated.
Training: Training is on-the-job learning.
Maintenance: Daily and planned weekly with vendor resources.
Soward: Because of robust color, speed and other capabilities, we are able to shift certain applications from a price standpoint, and from a quality point, it’s been a huge uplift.
Any other issues you can caution other managers about?
Hernandez: The Fuji J Press has had great uptime and required little to no service (think Maytag Man ... we never see them). The software is very stable and operates better than expected ... just calibrate and run. Training is very simple (think offset printing without all the variables). The press requires a pressroom environment and a humidity level of 40% or so for optimal quality. The inks need to be treated very similar to aqueous, as they dry through hot air and require oxidation. Please note that certain stocks can cause drying issues and require testing, but once you have done the testing you will find that you will have a large variety of stocks available to you.
The press will require special materials when foiling, laminating and coatings.
Inkjet technology will rapidly become the new printing technology for the future. Its upsides far outweigh the downsides, allowing printers to produce offset quality without all the current variation found in toner-based machines (even offset machines). We look forward with great expectations to what the next generation of inkjet will produce.
Maloy: Service, software and training options vary widely depending on which machine you select. Paper dust is the No. 1 cause of head issues, be sure that it is adequately remediated. Finishing is part of the client involvement and knowing what your end product will be. In-line versus near-line finishing.
Denise Gustavson is the Editorial Director and Special Projects Editor for the Printing & Packaging, and Publishing Group, which includes Printing Impressions, packagePRINTING, In-plant Graphics andWide-Format Impressions magazines, among other brands. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of Wide-Format Impressions.