Inkjet Press Buying Tips
How did you research and evaluate inkjet presses?
Mike Lincoln: I was very intrigued by the evolving presence of inkjet in 2012. I read most of the trades and absorbed all I could through that medium. I also reached out to industry peers — some who had already made the investment, and others who were in the same place I was, looking at making the move. We shared intelligence, lessons learned and best practices. The most valuable resource was the first Inkjet Summit where I gathered the most information when I was looking to learn more about inkjet technology.
Chuck Werninger: I’m an equipment buff and love reading industry trade press to stay current on what’s out there. Attending the Inkjet Summit really helped convince me that it was right for us.
Judy Graden: Xerox approached us with its new Brenva HD production inkjet press. We explored the benefits of adding inkjet to our workflow and then travelled to see demos on two occasions.
Jud Posner: The first step in our process was to locate a press and the necessary finishing equipment which would be able to handle the specific product and volume that we needed. Once we narrowed down our options, we then contacted each of the manufactures and brought them in, sat down with each and laid out what our expectations were and what we were trying to achieve. We also reviewed what other work we could potentially move off of our offset presses and HP Indigo digital press which would be better suited to run inkjet. Test files were then sent to each vendor and samples were reviewed from a quality standpoint. Each manufacturer’s service team was also reviewed to ensure that they would be able to offer tech support, both remote and onsite. In the end, I would summarize our research and the subsequent decision to purchase was based on speed and volume, quality, service, capital investment and unit cost.
Jimmy Vainstein: We found out that the best way to learn about new technology and a brand-new market was to go straight to the source and visit as many vendors and site installations as we possibly could. The most valuable was to talk with actual users and learn about the good and bad of their production lines.
Why inkjet and not a toner-based printer?
Lincoln: We were simply looking at a continuous-feed solution. While in the early stages of the evaluation process, the price points between a toner-based monochrome solution and the business color inkjet solutions were comparable. Given this fact, I felt we could reach the break-even points while taking advantage of the extreme reliability of the inkjet platforms and adding a 4/4 solution.
Werninger: Substantially better running economics. For our work, there’s no question it was right for us.
Graden: Pekin Insurance is interested in adding four-color to customer mailings in the future.
Posner: The two biggest factors were speed and quality of inkjet versus toner-based. We did look at various toner-based solutions and found that the quality of the inkjet presses was far superior.
Vainstein: We were seeking to expand our toner-based offering. We were looking to print faster and less expensively than our existing digital presses. Quality is very different than toner, and as long as you understand the differences, toner and inkjet can play very well together in your shop.
What would you do differently if you were buying an inkjet press today?
Lincoln: I would have spent a lot more time researching paper and ink. When you look at the attributes that most of the platforms share, the real differentiators fall to resolution, ink types and substrate flexibility.
Werninger: I would have involved my customer service and sales team in the selection process much earlier.
Graden: I would have done more research on the availability of replacement circuit boards and parts.
Posner: I would have liked to have talked to other users before making our decision as I feel this could have saved us some time in the beginning. For example, when we first started, our idea was to be able to use the same papers that we were using on our heatset web and HP Indigo web presses. When the machine was installed and we started printing, we were not getting the quality that we had hoped and expected. This is when I found out about inkjet-treated papers, and I then tested every paper I could get my hands on. Had I known the difference that inkjet papers make in terms of the printed product, I could have done the bulk of this research while the press was being shipped and installed.
Vainstein: I would have spent less time trying to find a solution to all questions and be more connected with the actual added value it was bringing to our operation.
What lessons have you learned?
Lincoln: The most important lesson learned in our journey was in the substrate world. Just because you get great results with the paper and ink combination, doesn’t mean it will work well on your finishing/postpress equipment. In our application, in the transactional space, we experienced a lot of growing pains in finding a paper that would run well in our friction-feed production inserters. If I could do it again, I would take a very holistic approach in researching the solution, taking a deeper dive into postpress performance.
Werninger: While it gets much better every week, papers are still a much bigger challenge than we’ve all learned to expect with toner.
Graden: Documents with a lot of ink coverage would often jam. We redesigned some marketing pieces with less ink coverage and have had better results.
Posner: I can say that inkjet printing is nearly plug and play. We have had no mechanical issues with our press and have been very pleased with the output. The paper issue was the biggest learning experience for us.
Vainstein: After a few years with inkjet, we slowly transitioned our clients toward the new press, teaching them about quality expectations, but they have gotten used to our very quick response time. Our print jobs are now designed with inkjet in mind and our clients are loving the results.
Have you gotten the types of work and the volumes that you expected?
Lincoln: Yes, we have taken what some would call a very slow approach to growing our customer base. I rather look at it as being strategic and methodical. We took what we knew, got comfortable with the new platform and slowly added work along with complexity. I feel this approach is what has made us as successful as we are today.
Werninger: We continue to keep growing at an exciting pace, but I expected to see an even faster migration of work.
Graden: We have transferred volume from our highlight color printers. We are impressed with the quality difference between toner and inkjet.
Posner: Our volume has grown significantly since installing the press. We installed the press for a specific application — magazine wraps on one of our main monthly magazines. We were printing these wraps two-color on our HP Indigo 7200. It was just not keeping up with the volume; 3.2 million magazine wraps take a long time to print on an Indigo. It took about a month or two before our designers realized that they were no longer limited to just two-color when it came to printing on an inkjet and quickly designed the wraps in four-color. Production-wise, this meant nothing as an inkjet press prints the same speed no matter how many colors it is printing. But, from a design and marketing standpoint, it is a huge upgrade. Now, more and more of our magazines and mailings get wrapped in a printed wrap, which is not only more aesthetically pleasing, but it also saves money on postage.
Vainstein: Our volumes are now much higher than we anticipated when we were building the initial cost savings models. Our initial target was to transition the largest toner jobs to inkjet to minimize run time and cost. But we later realized how valuable inkjet was to our operation as we started seeing jobs that we couldn’t do before — projects that were typically done by our clients with outside offset printers in the past.
Have you done as much variable data printing as you initially expected?
Lincoln: Yes, we are actually turning away work, not as a result of the press, but rather the bottleneck we have in the mail department. Once we have that resolved, we will continue to grow the work.
Werninger: We’re still pretty new at variable data so we don’t do as much as I would like. It’s fast and easy with inkjet so I would like to do more.
Graden: Almost all of the jobs on our Brenva are policy print, which includes data.
Posner: Variable data on our inkjet is an area we have unfortunately not fully tapped into yet although this is very much in the works.
Any unexpected installation issues?
Lincoln: Yes, two areas related to power. We did not have clean consistent power in our location. We also did not have a back-up power solution. We had to quickly procure a solution. While in this early stage, we actually had a brown-out, which took out several control boards. That had us down for a couple days.
Werninger: Our machine is massive, and it mostly uses new lines of paper. So, it’s taken more space than expected. The install was slow because the freight company damaged our first finisher and a new one had to be built and shipped, but the second one works great.
Graden: Installation did take longer than we anticipated. Because the technology was very new, engineers were flown in to assist.
Posner: The only issue we had with our installation was in the placement of the data box. When the space plans were drawn up, we missed the fact that the data box had to be a certain distance from the press, as it is hard wired directly. We were planning on putting this in another room, but the cables weren’t long enough. Although not a major setback, we did lose six feet of space that we were not originally planning on.
Vainstein: We had a pretty innovative inkjet installation that included a U-shape finishing line. The main purpose was to allow one operator to run the entire line. With innovation comes hard work, so our install required a lot of testing and validation. This is a stage that we recommend paying attention to, as many improvements can be achieved during the installation and testing phases.
Other issues to caution in-plants about?
Lincoln: Dust and finishing were big issues in the first several months. Installing better air filtration was a must. I would recommend installing a vacuum waste solution out of the gate. I would also avoid going with remanufactured pre and post equipment. Our experience was not the best.
Werninger: Our Océ VarioPrint i300 cut-sheet production inkjet press produces much more work than I expected, and it’s more efficient if you queue up lots of work instead of lots of starts and stops. If operators will program and load many jobs and stay ahead of it, it will run for days without ever stopping. Toner machines have taught us to expect down time, while inkjet runs better without it. That’s a big adjustment.
Graden: Training and service are key. Ask how many service representatives are qualified for your printer. Also have an analyst who will work with your team for extensive training.
Posner: The only real issue that we have had since installing the inkjet press is an issue with jet-outs or lines in the print. These can be a problem at times, and I know newer presses now have more sophisticated quality-control systems built in, which catch these jet-outs and adjust neighboring nozzles to compensate. When we first started using an inkjet treated stock, we were getting an excessive amount of jet-outs. We made the decision to partner with Mitsubishi as we found their papers to be the best. The disadvantage with Mitsubishi is that its papers are produced in Japan, and with our volume, there was not enough paper locally to support our needs. We therefore started [a different] paper while the mills in Mitsubishi were producing the paper we needed. We had one batch of paper come in that had an excessive amount of slitter dust, and the dust was getting into the heads. So as a word of caution, be aware that just because it is an inkjet paper, that does not always mean it will work. We also found that if you take care of your heads they will take care of you. Follow the manufacturers’ advice on the care and maintenance of the heads. These are, after all, the most important components of the press.
Vainstein: Plan a good amount of time to re-think your workflow and impositions to maximize your output. Web inkjet is very different from cut-sheet, and there are many areas of improvement that could be ignited from the prepress side.
Related story: Key Drivers to Production Inkjet Adoption