There havent been the vast technological advances in signmaking that have variously ravaged and expanded other sectors of the print industry. Just 25 years ago, the majority of signmakers were still working mainly with paint. Most dismissed the first vinyl cutters on the market at that time as a passing fad, but they were proved wrong. Within five years, vinyl cutting had become the most cost-effective and accurate way of producing basic lettering and graphics. This continued up to the 1990s, when demand soared for four-colour graphics in signmaking, causing the industry to develop an overlap with the large-format and point-of-sale sector.
When, in 2003, Roland first launched its VersaCamm printer/cutters – roll-fed machines that could print a four-colour graphic and then cut it out – the Japanese giant wasn’t the first to market with that particular architecture, but it was the first to do it for under £10,000. This captured much of the entry-level signmaking and graphics/display sector.
Four years later, that sector is beginning its first round of upgrades. On cue, Roland has launched two revamped Versa- Camms: the VP-300 and the VP-540. They have a 50% speed bump over their predecessors, the SPs, and are 30in (762mm) and 54in (1,372mm) machines aimed at markets where four-colour graphics go hand-in-hand with cut-to-shape finishing.
“They are still very price-conscious and very low-cost in running,” says Mat Drake, Roland’s print product manager.
Conventional wisdom says it’s not the best of business sense to combine a printer and a cutter in the same machine; if either function goes down, the whole machine is useless. Most other manufacturers have ‘matched’ systems – separate machines that print and then cut – but this demands a larger capital outlay, plus some manual intervention. The VersaCamm argument centres on cost and versatility combined. And, for a price tag of under £15,000, replacing the VersaCamm isn’t going to break the bank.
Being roll-fed, the VersaCamms shuffle the vinyl under the printhead to be printed. The whole of the image is printed first, and then the image is spooled back through the printer while the printhead is parked at the side of the XY gantry and automatically ‘capped’ to prevent the nozzles drying out. The printhead is a dual-function head: as the print spools back through the machine, a magnetic coupling decouples the cutting head on the gantry, and the cutter then kiss-cuts the contour outline of the graphic. The graphic is then automatically sheeted off the printer at the delivery side, and is then ready for mounting.
The new VersaCamms use four piezo heads that are considered to be consumables, “but with a very high lifespan – they’re generally good for over 7,000m2 of print,” says Drake. The heads have a year’s warranty with a no-quibble replacement policy. Outside a year, each head costs £607 and an engineer’s call-out fee. Users can replace them individually, though, unlike some rival printer/cutters.
The solvent versus aqueous/UV inks debate rages in signmaking as much as anywhere else in the large-format industry. The VersaCamms are eco-solvent printers, using Roland’s Eco-Sol Max inks which Drake claims gives “low running costs, excellent durability and very little odour”. Eco-solvent used to be a byword for ‘doesn’t last long in bright sunlight’, but Drake maintains those problems have been solved. “Even without protection, the graphics last up to three years outdoors, and longer if you over-laminate.”
Being solvent-based printers, the VersaCamms aren’t much limited by their substrate – so long as it’s flexible, and within the 1mm maximum thickness that can go under the printhead. So it will print onto paper, canvas, banner materials, backlit media, heat transfer materials for transferring graphics onto garments, flexible face materials and a general material known as pop-up display material, which is effectively a banner material that’s suspended in a frame.
Making the VersaCamms ready to print is easy. Media must be loaded – a case of lifting the reel into position on the unwind and clipping it into place – and the printhead height set for the appropriate thickness of material (there are basically two settings, one for banner material and another for vinyl), and the side guides positioned to feed the material accurately into the machine. The VersaCamms don’t call for sprocketed material, so there are no costs for sprocketing or limitations on standard substrates.
Following this, there are no job changeover functions necessary unless the media is being changed; the VersaCamms wake themselves up from sleep when they receive the first line of command script from the RIP.
The VersaCamm comes with Roland’s own front-end software and RIP, VersaWorks, currently on version 2.4. This imports files from all popular design software packages and allows all the usual signmaking functions including resizing and nesting. Version 2.4 also has a built-in variable-data function, in case you want to produce a sheet of labels with different numbers or names or photographs on each. For data-shy signmakers, Roland has made the variable-data task simple: the data is put into a standard Excel spreadsheet, with individual columns for data strings.
Colour management is done on a basic but effective basis – the printers support ICC profiling and profiles are downloadable for all the popular media. Roland has also created RolandColour, a system that centres on a swatchbook printed by the individual printer complete with RolandColour references. The RolandColour library is available for import into CorelDraw and Adobe Illustrator (SignLab and FlexiSign to be launched soon), allowing designers to specify RolandColour matches that the operator knows will predictably reproduce on the VersaCamms.
The new VersaCamms are noted for their low maintenance levels: most of it is automatic. Built into both models is a system which constantly monitors the printer’s periods of usage, length of use and the ambient temperature in the room. Based on these measurements, the printer wakes itself up during the night to do its own maintenance. All the
operator has to do is a two-minute stint once a week. The automatic maintenance can also be triggered manually.
The new machines were launched at Sign UK in April, and already more than 170 have been sold in the UK alone.
VP-300: 12m2/hour @ 540x360dpi
VP-540: 16m2/hour @ 540x360dpi
Max print quality
VP-300/VP-540: 1,440dpi (3m2/hour)
VP-300/ VP-540: 300mm/second
VP-300/ VP-540: 1mm
Roland DG 01275 335540
Gerber Matched Technology System
The Gerber system spans two machines: the Solara UV2 inkjet printer (note this is UV and not solvent-based,
which straight away puts it in a different market and price bracket) and the Sabre flatbed router (again, a much heavier-duty option than the VersaCamm). Cutting paths are passed from one to the other using Gerber’s Omega 2.5 and GerberCUT software. The Solara uses an extended
CMYK gamut, adding violet and green to the standard
Max speed 7m2/hour
Max print quality 600dpi (six pass)
Cutting speed 254mm per second (feed rate)
Max thickness 12.5mm
Printing width 1,524mm
Price not available
Contact Spandex UK 01454 616 444
Mimaki Print and Cut
Another manufacturer offering two machines that are software-linked to perform the print/cut task.
Mimaki’s CG-FX range of cutters link with pretty much any of the Mimaki printers – the JV range of full- or mild-solvent four- and six-colour printers are the likely choice in this application. There are a range of print and cutting widths and prices compare well with the integrated VersaCamm.
Max speed 6.5m2/hour
Max print quality 1,440dpi
Cutting speed not available
Max thickness 1mm
Printing width 800–1,600mm
Price JV3-75SP printer and CG-75FX cutter: £9,995
Contact Hybrid Services 01270 501900
Mutoh Rockhopper/Ultima 1400
Again, two separate machines: Mutoh’s Rockhopper is a cost-conscious eco-solvent proposition that, when matched with the Ultima cutter, can produce contour-cut printed vinyl graphics (the Ultima automatically senses the image and registers it to a cutting path). The CutServer workflow controller coordinates the workflow between the two. There are two widths of cutter, the Ultima 850 and 1400; and several different widths of Rockhopper.
Max speed 7.2m2/hour
Max print quality 1,440dpi
Cutting speed not available
Max thickness 1mm
Printing width 1,168mm
Price Bundled Rockhopper 46” and Ultima 850:
Contact Mutoh +32 59 561400