Why buying secondhand could be your first choice

By Barney Cox, Monday 19 February 2018

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There’s no such thing as a cheap machine,” cautions Mark Sheldrick, managing director of secondhand specialist DPM. That said, there is no doubt that the canny printer working with the right partners can significantly reduce its capital expenditure without exposing themselves to undue risk by choosing used equipment.


Gemini Print Group invested in a secondhand 10-colour Heidelberg XL 105

Reducing capex can free up cash that could be used to benefit the business in other ways. 

“The market for presses has changed, says Sheldrick. “A lot of printers are no longer on a standard five-year replacement cycle. People decided to wait a few more years or have bought secondhand because they couldn’t get finance on new.

“Firms are more cautious; why spend £1.5m on new when you can get the same for half that used? Buy used and you could also invest in bindery or digital printing. 

“Printers are thinking more broadly about what they invest in, not just machinery but business services too. Buying a late used model keeps your options open leaving cash for acquisitions such as a design company.”

While it is possible to buy used equipment directly from another printer or via an auction house most machines are sold via dealers. A dealer will take their cut, but trying to cut out the middle man can be a false economy for a number of reasons.

“For a private sale it is hard to raise finance and hard to do a deal,” says Sheldrick. “The seller won’t want to part with the goods until they get the cash, the buyer won’t want to hand over the money until they are sure they have the goods.”

He adds that: “We do our due diligence, making sure a machine is not encumbered by finance and that the vendor has the
right to sell.“

Online used kit service PressXchange enables printers to scour the globe for equipment from hundreds of dealers and also lists auctions. Director John Roadnight cautions that if buying via auction “you have to be very sure of what you’re buying”. He highlights some of the benefits of using a dealer: “They can arrange the dismantling and relocation, including the insurance. Decommissioning is crucial, especially of the electronics. And they can help put you in touch with finance.”

Global reach

Sites like PressXchange have played a part in making the market for used equipment global, which has both advantages and disadvantages. 

“UK buyers need kit that is less than 10 years old and there is a world shortage of machines,” says Steve Nyland, director of used post-press specialist Nyland Graphics.  “We now have to source from the rest of the world including North America, Asia and Australia.”

Roadnight has also seen this trend and highlights how it is being exploited: “A UK printer might use PressXchange to find a machine overseas they are interested in and then get a UK dealer to help with the deal, shipping and installation.”

While used printing machinery is less expensive than new, it is still a significant investment in the tens, hundreds and, for some machines, millions of pounds, which few firms are willing or able to self-finance. Fortunately finance is available, either via your bank or sector specialists.

David Bunker, assistant managing director of industry specialist Close Brothers Asset Finance, says: “A customer buying a young machine essentially has the same options in terms of a finance period as new – for example seven years – and, where needed, we can look at structuring deals that work for a company’s particular needs.

“For larger investments the customers will have invariably have produced a 12- or 24-month forecast to show the benefits of the investment, including a profit and loss account, cashflow and balance sheet.”

In terms of the best type of finance for used equipment he says: “Hire purchase creates the ability to utilise capital allowances, where appropriate.”

Bells and whistles

One concern about buying a secondhand machine is that it won’t have the latest features to ensure maximum efficiency. While the vendors trumpet the advances of new, dealers suggest that often the difference isn’t really so big.

“10 years or so ago there was a big jump in press technology with the launch of machines such as the Heidelberg XL,” says Ian Bendy, UK sales manager at Exel Printing Machinery. 

“Over the past decade the developments have not been massive, so a four- or five-year-old press is not that different to new. There will be some minor differences mechanically and it won’t have the latest software, but it won’t be that big of a jump. Such a machine will cost 50% of a new one and the productivity gains of new can’t make up for that difference in price. 

“The sort of super efficient factory that might benefit from the very latest technology is not the norm.”

One strength of used machines is the lead time – if necessary, say due to winning a major contract, a machine can be found, financed, installed and commissioned in three months, whereas it could take a year to 18 months for a brand new machine.

Given by their nature secondhand machines have been used, there may be a need for servicing and/or refurbishment, although the consensus is the latest generation of machines, many of which are available used, are more robust than older units.

“Machines are good for 700 million impressions these days,” says John Worsley, sales manager at BBR Graphics, which specialises in refurbishing and reconditioning machines. “People may see one with 200 million impressions and think it’s knackered, but with proper engineering it could go on for a lot longer. If you invest in maintenance and engineering you’ll get a lot more mileage out of the press – it’s exactly the same as for a car. 

“We’ve currently got a 2013 Heidelberg XL 106 with coater for sale with 90 million impressions – that’s nothing. A machine that age won’t need a really deep refurbishment – you’re looking at an interim level, changing things like cam followers and rollers.” 

Plan for the future

Worsley says that while a young machine may not need much work, when it is being sold is a good time to take a look at what might be necessary. He adds that older machines may benefit from a more thorough look, and in some cases refurbishment of an existing machine is an even more cost effective alternative to new or secondhand: “If I were a printer with a 2006 machine I’d look at refurbishing it.

You find issues when you do a deep clean that need attending to. It is a good time to change the pipework, which if you don’t may lead to leaks. “

Nyland says that the situation is similar with post-press kit: “Late machines can be refurbished rather than rebuilt.” Adding that another advantage of using a dealer is that once the work has been carried out “we run it in our factory and go through extensive quality assurance”. 

Just like new machines most dealers will offer a warranty on used machines, and there are other options too, which can held protect the buyer.

“Breakdown insurance offers security and is often offered by the dealer instead of an extended warranty,” says PressXchange’s Roadnight. 

Buying secondhand doesn’t mean second-rate. While it may be more complicated than buying new, the cost savings can be significant, however you need to do your homework, and be prepared to defer to experts in areas where you lack knowledge. Keep your wits about you and remember if it looks too good to be true it probably is. 


Sheetfed stalwart, Gemini Print Group

A dramatic cost saving over a new machine, speedy installation and a configuration suited to its Shoreham-on-Sea site made Gemini Print Group’s investment in a secondhand 10-colour Heidelberg XL 105 a sure thing.

The five-year old machine with 90 million impressions replaced a 13-year-old Speedmaster 102, which was becoming “untenable” according to managing director Steve Cropper.

“In an ever-more-demanding market we have to invest to meet clients’ needs,” says Cropper. “No manufacturing company can afford to ignore the need for ongoing capital investment.”

There were several clear advantages to going for a secondhand machine according to Cropper: “It’s not just cold hard cash, another factor was the speed between making the decision to invest and the installation. But at 50% of the price of a new machine how could you go to the board and justify the cost of a new machine?

“We required the XL to go into a particular location in the factory to ensure the most efficient workflow including access to finishing and despatch. It wouldn’t have been a standard configuration if we’d bought new.

“All the main features are entirely comparable to a new machine other than the software version and some minor hardware changes, of which the impacts on production appear to be absolutely minimal.” 

The machine was sourced and supplied by Kent-based Exel, which specialises in late model machines.

“Before we went to Italy to inspect the press they had already inspected it, carried out an engineers report and conducted print tests,” he says. “We also got a 12 month warranty. “

Close Brothers financed the machine, and he says the process was exactly the same as financing a new machine.

Superwide option, Rocket

Exhibition firm Rocket used to outsource all its print but has gradually moved into print production as it has grown, lowering its costs and improving its flexibility in the process. It was still outsourcing bigger print jobs until a move to bigger premises meant it had space for a superwide machine. 

“We had been turning work away in part due to the increasingly short lead times,” says director Noel Reeves. “With our own kit we can print at any time – even Friday evening or Sunday if needs be.”

The firm recently invested in a secondhand Agfa M3200i RTR, a roll-to-roll UV printer, which was supplied by Josero with a 12-month warranty.

“It is practically brand new, and the quality of the print is better than what we had been buying in,” says Reeves. ”We didn’t look at new. I was talking to Loic Delor [managing director] at Josero about something else and the Anapurna came up. We had a space and the stars aligned.”

Rocket funded the machine, which was half the new price, with a bit of cash, an EU grant for a third and the remainder on asset finance.

“Companies were queuing up to fund it, we had a few options, and with the EU grant, it really hasn’t cost us a lot of money,” he says.

In addition to doing its own work the firm can now offer a print service too. “It is opening up new opportunities,” he concludes.

Post-press, First 4 Print Finishing

Whenever possible in its 14-year history Blackburn based trade-finishing firm First 4 Print Finishing has always preferred carefully chosen used equipment over new. 

“The margins are not in trade finishing for companies to go out with a blank chequebook,” says managing director David Nestor. “If the business had bought all new it wouldn’t be in the good position it is today. We’ve always operated mainly used machinery, going into new technology when there is no alternative.”

Savings over new prices have been significant, with two-year-old machines generally costing less than half the price of new, with some incredible bargains available on occasion.

“When we retooled the stitching floor four years ago we found one machine, a Heidelberg ST 450 with that many extras including log feeders, cameras and ink jetting, if new it would have been over half a million where it cost us less than a hundred grand,” he says.

The firm only buys warrantied machines from dealers or manufacturers that have been lightly used and that it has seen in production.

“We run 24/7 but we wouldn’t buy equipment that had been run like that,” he says. “We look for equipment that has come from sheetfed printers and run on single days.”


There is a secondhand market for digital equipment; however, due to the nature of the technology there are differences to offset equipment. Cut-sheet printers are tightly controlled by the equipment suppliers, who offer remanufactured machines. It is rare to see a machine on the open market and it can be an issue to get support. 

In the wide- and superwide-format markets it is different again, with a divide between the two. 

“Superwide machines don’t travel or store well, and if they are going to be inactive for a long period, need proper mothballing,” says Loic Delor, managing director of Josero, a specialist in secondhand superwide-format equipment. “It is very difficult to sell a machine that isn’t in operation, and it can cost £1,000 in inks alone to get a big machine running. 

“In the wide-format market it is much easier – there’s more demand, there are more machines and storing them is not a problem.”

Like other secondhand markets, machines can be obtained for half, or less, than the price of new. 

“I’ve sold machines for anything up to £300,000. At the upper end you’re talking about big 5m-wide Vuteks and Dursts that are a couple of years old,” says Delor.

You get what you pay for and a low-priced machine may be less of a bargain than it first appears.

“Direct from a printer an early Océ Arizona can be as little as £2,000,” says Delor. “If you go that way, and you don’t know exactly what you’re doing, you may as well just put it straight in a skip. If you want the manufacturer to have a look at it, you’re looking at £10,000-£15,000, and an independent engineer probably won’t touch it if they don’t know that machine. Don’t expect to get a flatbed UV machine from a dealer for less than £15,000.”

Delor recommends using a specialist dealer to ensure getting a good machine and redress if anything goes awry.

“We look at the service history, usage, printheads, upgrades and software version when assessing the state of a machine,” says Delor. “The quality can be extremely variable. There have been pleasant exceptions. One machine I gave an estimate over the phone, and then when I saw it – it was seven and a half years old and spotless – I told the seller that he’d earned an extra £10,000. On the other hand you might go and see a three-year-old machine and it’s a wreck.” 

While the cost of moving a sheetfed press may pale into insignificance compared with its price, that’s not the case with inkjet. Delor cautions the machines need careful handling and can cost between £2,000 and £7,000 to decommission, move and reinstall within the UK, a far higher proportion of the value compared with conventional printing and finishing kit.

High image quality is a must for most markets, which places later machines with greyscale heads at a premium over those with binary heads. The earliest machines with greyscale heads are first generation Océ Arizonas from 2007-08 and other manufacturers machines from 2010-12.


Albion Machinery 01527 517928 www.albionmac.co.uk General

AMS Graphic Machinery 01737 774186 www.amsgraphicmachinery.co.uk General

Atlas Machines Direct 01924 381999 www.atlasuk.com Book binding

BBR Graphics 01924 263339 www.bbrgraphics.com General

Belfar 01924 290263 www.belfarltd.co.uk Envelopes

Bindery Machinery Services 01875 616767 www.bmsuk.co.uk Post-press

Care Graphic Machinery 01977 695500 www.caregraphic.co.uk General

DDJ Graphics 01977 668986 www.ddjgraphics.com General

DPM 01959 569900 www.dpm.uk.com General

Exel Printing Machinery 01322 550055 www.exelgoc.com General

GAB Supplies 01767 691970 www.gabsupplies.co.uk General

Global Graphic Equipment 01924 332425 www.globalgraphic.co.uk Coaters & laminators

Grafitec 01924 223883 www.grafitecplc.com Post-press

Graphic Line Machinery 01482 645645 www.glm.co.uk General

Icon Global Services 020 8150 6150 www.iconglobalmachinery.com General

IES (Independent Equipment Services) 0141 354 8899 www.iesmachinery.com General

IGS (International Graphic Supplies) 01291 570580 www.igs-digital.com CTP

Impress 01355 266586 www.impress-graph.com General

Itec Graphic Macheinery 020 8206 1618 www.itec.uk.com General

Jerry Curtin 01425 619191 www.jerrycurtin.com General

Josero 01954 232564 www.josero.com Wide-format

Marlowe Digital 0870 777 0920 www.marlowe.co.uk CTP

Matoria 01202 430733 www.largewideformatprinters.co.uk Wide-format

Mechagraph 0113 4001100 www.mechagraph.com Laminators

MF Polar Sales 07850 804524 www.mfpolarsales.co.uk Guillotines

Midland Machinery Supplies 01296 711130 www.midland-machinerysupplies.co.uk General

Norman Haynes 01274 545115 www.normanhaynes.co.uk Post-press

Nyland Graphics 01773 764160 www.nylandg.co.uk Post-press

PDS International 01226 770772 www.pdsinternational.com Wide-format

PGM (Printing & Graphic Machinery) 01628 527372 www.pgm.co.uk General

Prepress Express (PPX) 01242 577104 www.prepressexpress.co.uk CTP

Press-tige 01235 798454 www.press-tigesales.co.uk General

PressXchange 020 8004 1174 www.pressxchange.com General

Print & Finish Group 01524 35036 www.printandfinish.com Post-press

Print Finishing & Bindery Equipment (PFBE) 01992 666360 www.pfbe-ltd.com Post-press

Redkite Machinery 07393 982601 www.redkitemachinery.com Post-press

Repro Sales & Repairs 01268 784999 www.reprosales.co.uk CTP

Roberts Graphics 01924 890157 www.robertsgraphics.co.uk General

Specialised Graphic Machinery (SGM) 01133 931999 www.sgm.co.uk General

Speedmalt 01924 265423 www.speedmalt.com General

Stanley Press Equipment 01625 429211 www.s-p-e.co.uk General

The Pinheiros Corporation 01924 280111 www.pinheiros-corp.co.uk General

Turner Graphic Services 01274 561100 www.turnergraphics.co.uk General

UV Printer Buyer 01202 430733 www.uvprinterbuyer.com Wide-format

Wayne Graham 0113 282 8122 www.waynegraham.com General

West Highland Services 01751 417937 www.west-highland-services.com General

West Park Graphic Equipment 01977 681125 www.westparkgraphic.com General

White Horse 01132 870440 www.whitehorsemachinery.co.uk General

Windward Used Printing Machinery 01977 705808 www.windward.co.uk General

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