Me & My: EFI Vutek FabriVu 340i

Simon Eccles
Monday, June 28, 2021

Like so many good ideas, Ottimo Digital began with a conversation over a pint in a pub. In 2009, Nick Lindwall and Lee Crew got together for a drink. They had known each other since college and were long-standing friends. Crew ran the in-house print department for a leading exhibition shell scheme provider, and Lindwall was running his own marketing and web design business.

Crew (left) and Lindwall: “Dye-sub is the only way to achieve a true black on fabric, and the colours really sing”
Crew (left) and Lindwall: “Dye-sub is the only way to achieve a true black on fabric, and the colours really sing”

Crew wanted to use his skills in digital print to create a standalone company dedicated to serving the exhibition sector, and Lindwall had the entrepreneurial skills to start and manage a new business.

Next they needed a company name, so they drew up a list. Lindwall, who had studied Italian and spent a year in Milan, proposed Ottimo, Italian for ‘great’ or ‘ideal’, a word with the same origins as ‘optimal’ in English. They agreed on this as the winning name, because it had interesting typographical possibilities, was a memorable, easily spelt word, with no existing connotations in English while retaining an appropriate meaning everywhere else.

The company took off and after three years moved to its current site in Newport, South Wales. “Newport has worked well for Ottimo, with its mostly British customer base,” Crew says. “Close to the M4/M5 junction, Newport offers motorway access to all four points of the compass, and rapid logistics to the UK’s leading event complexes in Wales, the Midlands, the South and London.”

Primarily Ottimo serves the exhibitions, conferences and events sector, but with a wide range of other customers from VIPs to blue-chip corporates. “We do confidential and discreet work for some very high-profile clients on a small scale,” says Crew. “These always come to us through personal contacts where we have been recommended by trusted third parties. It’s always a bit of a thrill to have a ‘secret project’ but it’s probably more frustrating that we can’t mention anything about these unusual and interesting jobs.”

One such was a major job for “a leading motoring association,” involving vehicle wraps for 1,400 breakdown vans. Last year it followed up with a building wrap of the organisation’s HQ. 

By the start of 2020 the main production equipment covered all the wide-format bases with high-speed flatbed, cutting, fabric print, dye-sub and UV inks. The printers included the EFI LX3 Pro (3m UV) EFI Quantum 5 LXR (5m UV) with finishing handled by a Kongsberg C Series digital cutting table plus other equipment for banner welding, eyeleting, stitching, etc.

Ottimo also kept its older pair of Epson wide-format eco-solvent printers and uses them for short-run work. “The investment in EFI equipment, starting in 2017, is part of our strategy to build capability to meet the increasing demand for fabric and 5m print in the events and exhibitions sector,” says Lindwall.

In late 2019 Ottimo expanded its premises by 230sqm to accommodate a new EFi Vutek FabriVu 340i 3.4m wide-format dye-sublimation printer, the subject of our story. Lindwall says “We were producing soft signage on the UV 5m machine, but finding quality for fabric print was not really sufficient, and coming up against the limitations of UV inks on fabric, particularly in regard to their longevity and resilience. Where necessary we outsourced soft signage work in the past.

“The leap to dye-sub was the last part in the jigsaw to put Ottimo’s capabilities ahead of demand from event organisers, and was on the company’s radar for some time.”

Why choose the EFI FabriVu 340i?

The FabriVu was bought through CMYUK, EFI’s exclusive distributor for the UK. “We have a very strong relationship with EFI, the after-sales service is also excellent, says Lindwall. “We didn’t consider the FabriVu 180 as we specifically needed a 3.2m fabric print capability, given our core client base of exhibitors and exhibition organisers.”

How did the installation go?

“We had the FabriVu 340i up and running within about a week, but had to climb a steep learning curve with the help of EFI trainers and dye-sub specialists from CMYUK,” says Lindwall. “Training included calibration and profiling for different materials, with top-up training regularly scheduled for the future.”

What’s an EFI FabriVu?

EFI introduced the 3.4m FabriVu 340i dye sublimation inkjet at Fespa in May 2018. It was a follow-up to the original 3.2m FabriVu 340 from 2016, adding a heated platen and vapour extractor for inline fixation of direct-printed textiles. Both models are still available and there is also a 1.8m model, the FabriVu 180. 

In October last year EFI added a pair of new high-speed 3.4m models specifically for soft signage work (as opposed to industrial applications such as garments or soft furnishings) called the EFI Colors 340 and EFI Power 340. These use new print engines with some technology developed by the industrial textile printer maker EFI Reggiani (the 340/340i are descendants of machines first built by Vutek, an EFI acquisition in the 2000s). They are offered with 8, 16 or 24 heads and are faster than the 340/340i which remain available.

The dye-sublimation process can print directly to the fabric using water-based CMYK colours. The 340i’s inline heated platen vapourises the ink so it forms a tight chemical bond with the fibres of polyester fabrics. This is the most efficient way to print dye sublimation, but not all polyester fabrics are suitable for tensioning for direct application of the ink. In addition, putting the wet ink straight onto the fibres does mean that the ink spreads a bit before being heat-fixed, so fine detail can be blurred. 

The FabriVu can also print onto paper transfer sheet, where the ink dries without spreading. The paper is then run in contact with the target fabric though a heated pressure roller or belt system called a calendering machine. The ink vaporises and is absorbed by the polyester fabric in direct contact, so this preserves all the print detail. 

Ottimo initially started by direct printing using the FabriVu’s built-in heat fixing process. However, says Crew, this limits what kind of fabrics can be used, so the company is investing in a Klieverik GTC belt calender to allow the use of paper transfers and a much wider range of stretch fabrics.

How has it been in practice?

Before installing the FabriVu, Ottimo was having to turn away 5m work from customers, and in consequence the 3m work too, through lack of capability. “The new EFI suite together with the Kongsberg and the Klieverik gives Ottimo the scale and scope to tackle current and likely future demand for wide-format and fabric print for the events industry,” says Lindwall.

What sort of work is it handling now? “We have experienced growing demand for fabric print that works with modular exhibition systems, hanging structures for exhibitions, flags, and lightbox systems,” says Lindwall. “These are all increasingly popular products for events and exhibitions, owing to their portability, reusability and visual impact. In conjunction with the new belt calender, the FabriVu allows us to introduce a whole new tier of wide-format, dye-sub products on a huge variety of fabrics, and expand our offering to our core market to include stretch fabrics and even textiles for the soft furnishings sector.” 

What makes the 340i stand out? “The results!” says Lindwall. “Dye-sub is the only way to achieve a true black on fabric, and the colours really sing.”

Any problems? “The machine needs steady temperature and humidity conditions to perform at its best. Ottimo has recently installed air exchange and air-con in the separate FabriVu facility to create an optimum (‘Ottimo’) operating environment.” 

EFI services and supports the FabriVu and Lindwall says that “Ottimo’s experience has been very positive so far”. 

And our usual final question, would they buy it again or recommend it to others? “Yes and yes!” 


SPECIFICATIONS

Process Piezo inkjet with aqueous dye disperse inks

Colours CMYK

Max media width 3.4m

Resolution 2,400dpi

Fabric weight 45-450gsm

Paper weight 57-110gsm

Throughput Production speed up to 500sqm/hr, production image quality 250sqm/hr, POP image quality 165sqm/hr

Sublimation method Inline by heated platen

Footprint 2.3x6.15m 

RIP front end EFI Fiery proServer SE

Price £250,000

Contact CMYUK www.cmyuk.com 0118 989 2929


COMPANY PROFILE

Ottimo Digital is a large-format printer based in Newport, South Wales, specialising in events and exhibition work. It was founded in 2009 by Nick Lindwall and Lee Crane, who remain directors. It currently employs 17 people. The pre-Covid turnover in 2020 was in the region of £2.2m. The pandemic has had a significant effect on events and exhibitions of course, but orders for events in 2021 are already beginning to arrive. Production equipment includes EFI LX3 Pro (3m UV) EFI Quantum 5 LXR (5m UV) and a pair of Epson SureColor SC-S30600s (1.6m eco-solvent), with finishing handled by a Kongsberg C Series digital cutting table. In late 2019 the addition of an EFI Vutek FabriVu 340i and Klieverik calendering expanded the range of soft signage products the company offers. 

Why it was bought...

Ottimo’s investment in EFI equipment is part of its strategy to build capability to meet increasing demand for fabric and 5m-wide print in the events and exhibitions sector.

How it has performed...

The 340i delivers better results on a wider range of fabrics than Ottimo’s UV-cured printers could achieve. 

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