Mimaki JV5-320DS dye sublimation printer
By Jenny Roper Friday, 22 June 2012
Blowing up Michael Jackson's face to over three quarters the size of the pitch at Wembley Stadium, and the length of six Routemaster buses or Nelson's Column, is no mean feat. But this is exactly what "huge-format printers" Macro Art did to smash the Guinness World Record for the world's largest poster in 2010.
Also holding the record for the world’s largest advent calendar, Cambridgeshire-based Macro Art clearly doesn’t do things by halves. And this was precisely the ethos behind the decision, in response to textile signage’s increased popularity for store dressings and exhibitions, to diversify from UV and PVC banners, vehicle wraps and building wraps and add textile printing.
"We decided not to push for the trade market with our textile offering, so not the high-volume, low-price, third-party/fourth-party side of things," explains production manager Matt Tibbitts. "We wanted to go into high-end retail stores and high-end exhibitions, producing products for very prestigious customers."
For this reason, quality results were top of Macro Art’s shopping list when it started a thorough research exercise, which included trips to Holland, Germany, Israel and Spain, in 2010. The company looked at a range of textile printers, including a Dgen printer, the HP Designjet latex printer and Agfa’s Jeti Aquajet, but decided Mimaki’s JV5-320DS dye sublimation printer from reseller i-Sub was just the job.
"The Mimaki wasn’t necessarily the fastest machine we saw, but it was producing the best quality and consistency of print," explains Tibbitts. "The high quality was important because of where we were trying to position ourselves within the marketplace."
He adds: "You can’t buy a fast machine and make it high quality, but you can make a high-quality printer produce more by buying more machines."
And investment in more Mimakis came sooner than Macro Art expected. The company had deliberately left space to buy more when the time was right, reports Tibbitts, but demand for high-end, high-quality textile banners rapidly outstripped Macro’s capacity, and so a new machine was installed four months after the first, and then another earlier this year.
Tibbitts attributes this success to getting in early on a high-end market that few people in the UK cater for, and the fact that Macro also offers supporting services for large-scale textile projects, such as framing and installation.
"We bought the first Mimaki with the idea of future investment in the same area but it’s come a lot quicker than we imagined," he says. "That’s because we’re hopefully leading the way within the UK marketplace with this sort of high-quality work and offering these sorts of services alongside the textile product."
Very little downtime
And it’s not only the quality of the finished pieces that has allowed Macro to quickly establish itself as a front runner in high-end textile printing, and gain such prestigious textile projects as the Shell Eco Marathon. The reliability of the machines has also been good, reports Tibbitts, with very little downtime.
"In the whole of the 18 months that we’ve had the Mimaki machines now, we’ve only had one jet issue on one of the machines," he says. "That was caused by us delaminating one of the jetheads by keeping it too clean. We were shown a different way of keeping the heads up to scratch and we’ve had no further problems."
I-Sub was very helpful in sending an engineer out within 24 hours for this slight hitch, says Tibbitts, and in fact no downtime was suffered. "Of course, the fantastic thing about the Mimakis is that, because you’ve got a variable print pattern, while that head was unusable we could just switch it off and carry on printing with three," he says.
I-Sub was also helpful in providing training, reports Tibbitts. "We were fairly well versed with this sort of machinery anyway, so we didn’t need much training," he says. "We had a show day at Mimaki Europe just to take us round the machines, then on the first install we had a trainer for the week."
Particularly useful was i-Sub linking Macro Art up with a couple of experienced dye sublimation printers who visited and were available on the phone for the first month to offer hints and tips, says Tibbitts.
The supplier has also been helpful, he says, in helping Macro develop the one aspect the company feels is missing from the printer.
"One thing that the DS doesn’t have that the original JV5 has is a vacuum bed and we’re trying to build one ourselves," says Tibbitts. "The machine prints absolutely fantastically direct to textile, but it doesn’t print so well on to the transfer paper used to print on woven products. We’re not able to produce these items in the sort of volumes and quality that we’d like because the machine doesn’t handle the paper as well as we’d hoped."
Director at i-Sub John Purse admits that this can be an issue with lightest weight papers, which is why the company is helping Macro to find "additional ways of increasing the performance of the printer." But this shouldn’t be a problem for most, says Purse, with the printer’s "sophisticated media path" usually ensuring simple and good-quality printing.
But this is still something someone investing in the machine would have to bear in mind. As is the fact that, though the printer was around the same price as competitors’ machines, says Tibbitts, a prospective buyer would have to factor in the cost of a separate sublimator, a machine which uses a heat process to activate and lock in the dyes.Another outlay the wide-format printer looking to get into textile printing might not have considered is the heating, air conditioning and humidification system needed where fabric is involved.
"We’ve learnt that textiles are much more delicate substrates than we imagined," says Tibbitts. "If the fabrics dry out they print differently; if the fabrics become too humid they print differently. So we basically have to balance the whole area with a humidification system and a heating and cooling system."
"Everybody said the UK environment should be okay, even though there might be a few fluctuations in humidity and temperature," remembers Tibbitts, "But, of course, the first year we put it in, we had one of the coldest winters. So we soon realised we couldn’t do without this kit."
The investment in this special environment has been well worth Macro Art’s while, however, says Tibbitts.
"Within 12 months of getting the first machine in, it’s looking like we’ve gone from a zero to a £1–£1.5 million textile marketplace," he says, reporting that Macro’s textile offering is rapidly growing to become as large a part of the business as the UV and PVC side of things.
So while Macro Art has enjoyed numerous monster installation successes in the past, it’s certainly not all about bigger is better for them. As the company’s success in adding textile signage to its portfolio shows, attention to quality outcomes has also been the key.
Print width 3,250mm
Inks Mimaki Sb52 – CMYKcm / BMYKbm (440cc and two-litre containers)
Speed Up to 60.3m2/h at 540x720dpi
Warranty Two years
RIP software included Yes
Contact i-Sub 01536 415511 www.i-sub.co.uk
Hybrid 01270 501900 www.hybridservices.co.uk
Macro Art was established in 1992 to specialise in wide-format printing, including banners, trucksides and, on the ‘huge-format-printing’ side of things, building wraps. The company prides itself on there being no challenge too big to consider, with an ethos of continuous machine reinvestment to continually expand on its offering. Among Macro Art’s more notable accomplishments is an 8,000sqm wrap for Harrods, a 10,000sqm wrap for the Millennium Dome as part of the London 2012 bid, and two Guinness World Records for the world’s largest poster and world’s largest advent calendar.
Why it was bought...
With more and more exhibition organisers and store designers going for textile signage, Macro Art decided to invest in this area in late 2010. After some thorough research, the company decided to go for a Mimaki JV5-320DS, installing another in 2011, and then another earlier this year. "The Mimaki wasn’t the fastest machine we saw but it was producing the best quality and consistency of print," explains production manager Matt Tibbitts.
How it has performed...
The print quality of the Mimaki has been superb, reports Tibbitts. Macro Art has also been impressed with the reliability of the printer and the support provided by supplier of the machine i-Sub, a specialist dye sublimation reseller of Mimaki suppliers Hybrid Services.
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