LFR's visit to FESPA last week was made with a keen eye on the launch of the new Mimaki JV300 printer series, the latest evolution of the hugely popular Mimaki JV3 and JV33 range. Mimaki already enjoys a 30% share of the international solvent graphics market, so not only is the new Mimaki solvent printer an important release for the industry in general, it is also a printer that carries the considerable responsibility of cementing and consolidating the position of dominance that Mimaki has established.
With that in mind, we spent time at FESPA taking a very close look at this latest iteration of Mimaki solvent print technology.
Before we do that, it might be pertinent to highlight some information that will be of broad interest to anyone plying their trade in the wide format print for pay marketplace. We've all had to tighten our belts over the last few years as the global recession has hit everyone hard – so it is with some degree of interest that we can report that Mimaki has seen sales grow by 29.68% from 2013 to 2014. This comes on the back of four previous years of slower but still steady positive growth for Mimaki worldwide – for example growth from 2011 to 2012 was 4.9%.
Whilst credit clearly goes to Mimaki for developing a product range that is capable of bucking a worldwide trend of austerity and fiscal sobriety, this is hopefully also an indication that the confidence has returned to the sign and display print sector in general. In summary, with annual growth of near 30% in the last fiscal year, Mimaki's sales performance is hopefully a sign that things are finally looking more positive for us all.
OK, without further ado, let's now take a look at the machine that Mimaki believes will allow it to continue this profitable trend: the new JV300 series. In a nutshell, the JV300 offers new printheads, new inks, new improved firmware control, new intelligent drying, improved print density, improved quality and improved user controls. The upshot of these new features is a low-cost printer that can deliver print performance of up to 105 square metres every hour.
There is obviously a caveat there, the 105 square metre an hour speed is a draft mode, but interestingly, whilst previous draft mode print speeds were typically used by printer manufacturers primarily for brochure brinkmanship, the complementary technology residing within the JV300 means, for certain applications at least, sellable print is achievable at this super productive speed.
More typically however, you will be using your JV300 to produce 720 x 720 dpi output, at high visual quality, onto vinyl and POS materials at over 20 square metres an hour, and 720 x 540 dpi output – again at good quality – onto banner materials at over 32 square metres an hour. As a high quality banner printer, the 1.6 metre wide JV300-160 is something of a beast, and the overall price/performance ratio is undeniably good.
How has Mimaki achieved high production speeds without attaching a restrictive purchase price?
In short, the speed is achieved with new two new 8-channel printheads – in staggered configuration – that enable a single pass to lay down a print swathe of over 50mm in size. You can immediately see where the initial capacity for superior print speed comes from.
This is supplemented by the ability of these printheads to produce a highly accurate dot ranging in size from 4 picolitre to 35 picolitre – offering a combination of the finest detail at lower speeds whilst the larger 35pl dot enables high density print at high speeds.
The final piece of this speed puzzle is new printhead control firmware that Mimaki has titled MAPS3 (Mimaki Advanced Pass System 3) which all but eliminates banding through the dispersing of ink drops between printhead passes; the diagram below offers a clearer visual explanation.
It's all great in theory – but importantly it also works in practice. I stood in front of a JV300-160 printer that was printing onto banner at over 30 square metres an hour, and the output was perfectly sellable for typical banner applications.
If superior print quality is your preference...
When choosing between outright print productivity and quality, the first important choice is in the ink configuration. You can swap between the different configurations, but this does require a flushing process to be carried out – it is not an on-the-fly swap. This will mean that for most users the printer will be pre-configured in a particular mode using one of the ink configurations illustrated below. This choice will be defined primarily by the typical applications of the user. In short, you opt for all-out speed, or optimal quality, and that is how your JV300 will then typically lead its life.
As you can see above, Mimaki has now introduced a new inkset that includes a Light Black and an Orange ink into the equation.
Some of you will recall previous printers launched to the market using Hexachrome inksets that added Orange and Green to the CMYK default. However, these never really caught on, not least because of the added complexities of preparing artwork using a Hexachrome colour space. In short it was a great idea poorly implemented.
Mimaki has rectified that situation by making the whole process far easier and seamless – you simply prepare image files in the usual manner and without any special considerations or additional plug-ins. On completion the artwork is then passed to the RIP, and using the Mimaki supplied input profile, the Orange ink is introduced where necessary to add vibrancy and punch. For point of sale production where eye-catching colours and visual impact are a necessity, the results are excellent.
In purely numerical terms, the Mimaki JV300 using the 8-colour inkset can now hit approximately 92% of the PANTONE colour chart. In real terms it means skin tones and pastel shades are brighter, spot colour accuracy is improved, and the colours in highly saturated photographic prints are intense and vibrant. It's a very real visual win for absolutely minimal additional effort.
White ink that doesn't hinder print performance
White ink is one of those things that is great in principle. It broadens the versatility of your production portfolio, and allows you to create visually attractive effects. Historically however, using white ink has meant the user accepting that the printer will produce output at a fraction of its standard production capacity. In some cases this meant white ink prints being priced higher to compensate for their 'nuisance' factor, and in other instances the white ink was dismissed altogether in preference for keeping the printer churning out regular work without interruption or compromise.
Mimaki has taken note of these issues and addressed the situation well. With a JV300 printer you can now produce white ink prints at 17 square metres an hour – exceptional performance levels for such a relatively low cost printer. Furthermore, through the aforementioned higher density printing made possible by the larger dot sizes and other ink jetting improvements, the density of the white ink laid down by the JV300 has been increased significantly – transmission density is up from 0.31 to 0.39. Those in the know will realise this is a significant improvement far in advance of the simple 25% numerical improvement. In the real world it means the white that is printed is more opaque, with less show-through, allowing brighter, more accurate colours to be printed on top of the white layer. Visually, the improvement – as already said – is significant. All told, Mimaki has done a sterling job of making white ink printing a better integrated and altogether easier option, which should in turn lead to its increased use on a wider spectrum of profitable applications.
Dye-sublimation option for textiles and soft signage
Yet again we find ourselves writing about how far behind the UK market is lagging in terms of its uptake of print solutions for the production of soft signage and textile applications. Perhaps the introduction of a low-cost dye-sublimation specific printer from a mainstream manufacturer like Mimaki could be the kick-start we need here in the UK.
The Mimaki JV300 is now available from the factory pre-configured as a rapid dye-sublimation printing solution – offering all of the aforementioned speed and quality benefits.
We’ll be watching with interest, and actively looking for success stories to report on. It remains, for us at least, inconceivable that the UK will not start to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of its increased usage of textiles and fabrics as a viable replacement for PVC banners and signage. Hopefully Mimaki will help to pave the way – because its expertise in fabric printing is significant. It’s certainly an expertise that Mimaki’s resellers and customers should be tapping into more.
You've got mail...
Some might call it a gimmick, but through years spent watching a busy production environment in action, I think this is far more than a fluffy feature: the JV300 will automatically send an email to your mobile phone on completion of a job, or perhaps more importantly in case of an error in the print run. The printer can also be monitored remotely, for live feedback on the printer’s status from any location. Mimaki printers already have a well-earned reputation for their ability to produce work unattended – this new feature simply adds further to the overall peace of mind of the busy multi-tasking operator. Who knows, perhaps even lunch-breaks are a possibility now?!
Other improvements created in response to customer feedback
Right across the board it seems to me that Mimaki has taken a printer with a solid pedigree (JV3 and JV33) and made it better, with many of those improvements coming as a direct result of feedback from existing Mimaki users. The most notable of these additional new features and improvements are as follows:
- A patented 3-way intelligent heater has improved ink drying times, which means less time for prints to sit idle whilst drying, and it presumably also means reduced degassing times. New forced air drying will also improve performance by allowing the faster production of darker or highly saturated colours that might previously have led to smearing or ink running.
- Auto-nozzle checking and a new Nozzle Recovery System will reduce jobs being wasted through nozzles dropping out mid print. In basic terms, any single nozzle can be registered with up to 10 other nozzles, so any detected nozzle drop-out simply leads to the printer utilising another registered nozzle to continue printing without visual defects and without any reduction in print speed.
- The cleaning cycle has also been significantly reduced – from minutes down to seconds. This means improvements to print start-up time, overall productivity and obviously reduced ink wasted through prolonged automated cleaning.
- Media handling is improved, with bigger and heavier rolls – diameter of up to 250mm (8") and weight of up to 40kg – now handled with ease.
- Independent pinch rollers that can be deployed or dismissed dependent on the length of print run, or the type of print being produced.
There is also a full colour LCD control panel that displays information and status graphically. One cute little touch is the main status light is in the shape of a smiling mouth – it shines brightly blue when the printer is happy, and red when it's, dare I say it, angry. The smiling face of the JV300 is perhaps most indicative of how pleased Mimaki itself is with its new printer. From what we've seen so far, if it delivers as reliably and effectively in the real world as it does on the specification sheets and during our brief introduction, there is every reason to believe Mimaki has got, in the JV300, another winner on its hands.