Mar 182011

Published in Image Magazine (Australia)
Dec 08 / Jan 09

When looking for a new wide format printer for your business you will typically hear the same response from most vendors “oh you need a solvent printer”. The reality is that this is not the full story, Solvent is not simply a newer or better technology as is often assumed these days and in fact there is far more amazing technology available in other places these days.
So the questions remains why does everyone assume solvent is the only answer these days? Let me clarify the differences between available ink & printer technologies for you.

Solvent is the most commonly promoted technology to the “Print for Pay” marketplace (copy & signage shops etc). Solvent offers the cheapest print cost on adhesive vinyl and banner because you are able to print onto almost any uncoated vinyl or Banner product, however it is not often made clear that for durability with Eco-Solvent technology you still need to laminate the print, or that other products such as backlit films or photo papers are the same cost or even more expensive in solvent that for other technology. Also the colour results that can be achieved from solvent are far less than other technology such as water-based inkjet, or that it is extremely hard to produce as vibrant backlit with solvent as water-based inks.

UV Curable technology is the next big thing and it seems all of the manufacturers now have something available and there are clear advantages over solvent, including immediately ready to use print because the UV lamps set the ink without requiring additional drying times. Also the ability to print a white layer below or above the image that creates opportunities to print onto substrates that would not be possible with solvent technology.
The restrictions with UV technology is that it is prone to static build-up causing dot placement problems, and also that some products such as coreflute require a pre-treatment for the ink to actually stick. The inks are also similarly to solvent, not able to achieve the gamut available to water-based printers or have the range of specialty media available.

Finally the oldest kid on the block is Aqueous inkjet, or water-based printers. I come across a lot of people that think that because this is where it all started that the technology is simply “old or obsolete”. This is not at all the case and in fact some of the technology available in these printers is nothing less that jaw dropping.
The ink technology in these water-based printers can actually be in some cases more durable than solvent when laminated, and as an example both 3M and Avery have matched component media and laminate combinations for HP pigment inks that are guaranteed for 3 years externally*. Also because of the density of ink on solvent and UV printers we have as of yet ever been able to get these printers to illuminate even remotely as vivid or accurate on backlit film as with water-based inks.
For fine-art, photographic or canvas printing, water-based technology is worldwide recognised as the best way to reproduce high quality prints, and while on the Wilhelm Imaging research website (an independent testing organisation that evaluates printers for quality and durability you will discover water-based photographic print results far in excess of 300 years durability in real world conditions.
An example of exclusive technology in the aqueous printers is that the HP Z-series printers have an embedded I1 Spectrophotometer that is used to calibrate each media that is loaded into the printer, and then generate a new custom on-board ICC profile. This technology gives the ultimate consistency and control to the printer owner, because anytime a new media is loaded a new custom setting can be created with great ease, and then kept stable with regular internal “closed-loop calibration”. This is absolutely the future in wide format technology and in a few years time I would expect to see this in a much wider range of printers but for the moment the implementation by HP of this solution is very refined and a must have for anyone that cares about colour accuracy but isn’t interested in becoming a rocket scientist of colour.
As another example of exciting times in this range, HP have just announced the new HP Designjet Z3200 printer and recently I had the opportunity to work with a beta version of this printer. The new ink set on this printer includes multiple black and grey inks, along with red, green, and blue inks that extend the gamut (quantity of colours achievable), and a gloss enhancer that eliminates bronzing. This printer makes the best neutral black and white prints that I have seen from any manufacturer, and incomparable to other technology. But the most amazing thing about this printer is the new Chromatic Red ink in this release produces the most amazing red in a print that I have EVER seen, and we work across all brands and types of printers. This is also the first printer that has been verified capable of achieving greater than 95% Pantone coverage.

If I can summarise, if you intend to do predominately external short/mid-term adhesive vinyl or banners, or car wraps, then solvent is your printer. If you print onto sheets or boards then UV is your printer. But if you require high production of posters, extremely high quality reproduction such as fine art or photographic, or vivid backlit results then you must look at the latest water based technologies on offer.

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