You know how it is. You go to a trade show to find out about the latest print technology, and how it might improve your production process. What you invariably get is a barrage of specifications thrown at you: print head this, variable dot size that. Frankly, it’s just datasheet brinkmanship.
Whilst at HP’s Sign & Digital UK press briefing, held to officially launch the new Latex 300 series machines in Europe, a question was asked by one of the journalists present. Step forward Rana Raychoudhury, Worldwide Principal Technical Consultant for HP Large-Format Production and HP’s resident expert in Latex technology.
Rana stands out from the crowd courtesy of his ability to explain highly complicated technology clearly and concisely in layman’s terms - for the uninitiated it was a revelation. This ability seems fairly unique within the wide format print industry, so we spoke to him at Sign & Digital UK and asked him to explain exactly what makes the new HP Latex technology so good. Rana, who has been designing printers since 1994, sat down and explained the tangible benefits that the new HP Latex 300 series brings to the sign and display print professional.
Rather than compare HP’s latest technology to its predecessor at HP - or indeed competitor offerings - LFR asked Rana to explain how HP set out to make Latex 300 the solution of choice, or in HP’s own words: “the default solution when selecting a wide format machine”.
Rana explains, “Prior to its launch, there was a huge amount of research done by HP with end user customers - and indeed non-HP customers - as to what could be improved with the previous generation of HP machines. The general consensus was that end users wanted a machine that gave them sellable output, both quickly and consistently. The key message was that it was not just about the speed of output, but how quickly you could then use that output and make money from it.”
So HP set out to reinvent its Latex technology, resulting in the launch of the HP Latex 300 series comprising the HP Latex 360, HP Latex 330 and HP Latex 310 models.
The HP Latex 360 Printer has been designed to help medium-sized Print Service Providers (PSPs) expand their businesses and boost their capacity; The HP Latex 330 Printer is targeted at helping small PSPs expand their businesses without blowing their budget; The HP Latex 310 entry level machine is targeted at smaller PSPs and quick printers.
What unites all three models are the cornerstones that they were built on: Versatility, Ease of Use and Green Credentials.
The new Latex 300 series has been designed from the ground up to be as versatile as possible. The new machines are suitable for a broader range of applications than ever before - including banners, vinyl, back-lit and non-permanent textiles - thereby enabling print service providers (PSPs) to capture more of their customers’ business needs and keep more of their work in-house.
Due to the versatility of latex technology, choosing a printer model is no longer a restricted choice - one Latex printer can now meet multiple application demands. HP is offering far more than a simple vinyl and banner printing solution.
Simply put, the Latex technology enables PSPs to print more - more easily, more reliably, and on more media - and all on the one device. Rana explains, “If you know how to print a banner on one of the new machines, you’ll know how to print textiles.”
The media landscape for Latex has also changed dramatically of late. With the first generation of Latex printers, there was little incentive for third party media manufacturers to develop product for the HP Latex platform.
“At the start of the Latex revolution, we had to work with what media was available on the market. That’s very different today,” explains Rana. “Now, with nearly 20,000 HP Latex printers installed worldwide, media manufacturers are queuing up to get their media certified. In some cases, businesses are actually developing Latex-specific consumable lines - they are optimising their media for HP Latex machines.”
Ease of Use
The new intuitive touchscreen is key to the simplicity of operating the new series of machines. On the 360 model, it’s 8” wide; on the other two machines there’s a 4” panel. New profiling features have been added, alongside automatic alignment and colour calibration. A QR code also sits on the screen which offers instant access to online videos should the need arise for a little support.
The printer automates many of the things that previously a specialist would need to do. Rana explains, “Many of the important controls have been moved from the PC to the printer itself. When printing output, there is no excuse not to do it correctly.”
The printers are pre-populated with data. HP-branded media and generic media profiles are already preloaded and other substrates from other manufacturers are in the cloud and can be readily downloaded from the printer’s touchscreen. Of course PSPs can also create their own media profiles for the media they use most commonly - very easily in the case of the 360 model.
There is no need for daily maintenance or cleaning of the printers, leaving more time for the PSP to produce print and make money. The output comes out of the printer dry and ready to use, which eliminates any drying bottleneck. This is achieved with a new drying system akin to hairdryers! The heating units - four in the 310 and 330 machines; six in the 360 - warm up quickly and efficiently and the hot air is recirculated for further operating efficiency. In short it gets up to operating temperature quickly, and printing starts sooner.
Rana says, “The new printer controls measure more, and measure more accurately. Also, as the heat units have been moved outside of the printer, there is less heat inside the printer - which then extends the lifecycle of the print head. Additionally, since we have less heat within the printer itself, we are now able to use more substrates without risk of cockling the media.”
HP has spent a lot of time and effort in ensuring that the new Latex 300 series printers are as ‘green’ as possible. The company went through an extended process of gaining the relevant environmentally-focused certifications for the printers, the accompanying OEM inks and the HP media created for the Latex machines.
Any prints produced on recyclable media using HP’s OEM inks are fully recyclable - there is nothing hazardous in the ink formulation.
The HP Latex 300 series printers are also more efficient due to improved speeds. As well as being fast, they are also economical. HP says that - on average - PSPs can achieve 100sqm of output per litre of ink for typical applications such as poster printing.
Additionally, the printers switch into an energy-saving ‘sleep mode’ after just twenty-five minutes of inactivity - yet they take fewer than two minutes to warm back up. When PSPs are not using the printer, they can switch it off at the power source - there is no need to leave the power running overnight for maintenance purposes.
To summarise, the new HP Latex 300 series offers PSPs high quality output at fast speeds, outstanding durability (up to five years outdoors laminated; three years without lamination) and is suitable for almost unlimited applications. The range offers superior productivity, and easy operation and maintenance. The output is odourless, meets and exceeds tough environmental standards and ultimately leads to an altogether healthier working environment.
So what next?
With the introduction of the three latest models, HP now has a significant portfolio of Latex printers starting in price from £10,500. HP says that the latest generation of machines has been developed in order to make Latex the de facto technology of choice for the wide format print market.
Feedback from often-cynical HP resellers at the recent Sign & Digital UK 2014 show also suggests that HP’s confidence might be justified. “They’ve got it right,” said one reseller we spoke to. “Latex has fully matured now.”
On that note, it will be very interesting to watch the market over the next few years to see if Latex really does become “the technology of choice”.
For more information on the HP Latex 300 series, please visit HP's original press release, covered here on LFR: http://www.largeformatreview.com/large-format/4707-hp-announces-hp-latex-300-printer-series-and-hp-designjet-z-series-production-printers