It's not every day you're offered a free jaunt to a posh town near Barcelona, but that's just what HP had in store for Readyprint managing director Syd Reading and his son and employee, Stewart. Granted, it was November so they probably didn't have to stock up on the factor 60; still, it must have been to nice to swap Kidderminster for San Cugat del Valles, even if only for a couple of weeks.
There was, however, a practical purpose to the journey: HP had invited them to visit its training centre to learn about the new HP Indigo WS4600 digital label printer that Readyprint had invested in.
"It was for theory and safety on the machine", says Reading senior. "The first week was about what to do with the consumables from a health and safety point of view; the second week was about learning to use the machine; what to do with it and how to set it up. It was rather good."
While father and son were getting to grips with their new printer – and perhaps enjoying a Sangria or two of an evening – staff were holding the fort in Kidderminster, where Readyprint has made self-adhesive labels for over 20 years.
"It was just me when I first set up the business," says Reading. "I started in a garage and progressively increased turnover and customers. I had just one main customer back then and have since built that up and now have a customer base of around 320, but we still have the same customers from 17 or 18 years ago. Readyprint has grown with them."
The company now produces labels for various well-known brands, including those who produce foods, car components and chemicals. With 13 staff currently under him, it’s safe to say Reading has expanded his operation significantly.
He is also aware that a successful business must move with the times – which is perhaps how he’s kept going for so long – and recently started looking for a digital label printer because "if you don’t go digital in the next five years or so, you’re going to struggle to compete".
Reading argues that label printers who ignore the rise of digital will soon end up having to become print managers – taking orders from clients and "farming the work out" to firms with digital presses. "I didn’t want to do that", he says, "because I want to stay in control of my business."
And so, a year ago, Readyprint began weighing up its digital options and came up with three potential machines: the HP Indigo WS4600, the Xeikon 3030 and the Epson SurePress L-4033A.
Reading says that although the Xeikon looked good on paper, it couldn’t match his quality requirements. The Epson, meanwhile, was not commercially available at the time and would have been installed as a beta product – and Reading was uncomfortable with being a guinea pig.
"Obviously, Epson was trying to be really helpful, but being a beta site wasn’t for me, because the manufacturer was still testing. It worked okay, but it was too slow for what we wanted to do," he says.
And anyway, says Reading, the Indigo outstripped its rivals in terms of both quality and speed. Readyprint’s customers have benefited from being able to see high-quality proofs prior to the commercial run, while colour-matched digital displays provide an accurate representation of what will be printed.
"The purchase of the Indigo has enabled us to break into markets that were previously out of reach and we can process jobs with substantial savings in time," says Reading. "It works alongside our four-colour press and I envisage that one day the WS4600 may fully replace that, just because of the speed."
According to Reading, the installation went well. The WS4600 slotted in nicely alongside that four-colour press and on the whole, there have been few difficulties – just "bits and pieces", as Reading puts it – that HP dealt with swiftly.
"We’ve had HP out three times," he adds. "But those were to help make sure that the machine was working properly. For example, the machine was not printing on certain substrates, but it turned out that was because the material needs to be primed so the surface is ink-receptive. That’s just a learning curve, going from conventional printing to digital printing."
All in all, then, Readyprint’s installation of the HP Indigo WS4600 seems to have been a positive experience. Reading is pleased with his new digital press and can barely fault it. Pushed to find a potential area for improvement, he says HP could perhaps increase the speed of the WS4600. "But that’s something all label companies want – presses that run faster and wider", he explains. "That will never change, regardless of the press in question."
Reading finds the positives much easier to rattle off. "On the plus side, you have ease of set-up and, with a digital press, you get less waste than with conventional label printing. All the consumables are included in the price too, which means you’ll keep the machine in tip-top condition. With equipment where you have to pay for consumables, some printers try to make them last longer, to get every last job out of them rather than pay for more; in my opinion, that can be damaging."
One feature in particular that’s popular with clients, he says, is the WS4600’s ElectroInk Invisible Red feature. This gives the option of adding invisible barcodes and anti-counterfeiting security measures to the substrate. Reading explains that it comes in handy when, for example, a batch of products is created and manufacturers want to invisibly brand each one as belonging to that batch.
This places security printing among the services with which Reading says the WS4600 has broadened Readyprint’s customer base. Along with general speed, there is also the machine’s ability to print on a wide selection of substrates because all colour separations are laid down at once. "On the whole," he concludes, "the HP has enabled us to reach other markets that maybe with our current equipment we wouldn’t have been able to reach."
With these multiple benefits on offer, it may comes as a surprise that Reading is loath to recommend the HP Indigo WS4600 to other label printers. "Why would I want more competition?" he laughs. "But that’s the only reason I wouldn’t sing its praises."
He is willing to admit, though, that he would invest in another digital label press "if the work was there". But he adds that it won’t automatically be an Indigo WS4600. "The problem with digital is that the technology get superseded so regularly. Someone, whether it’s HP, Xeikon or Epson, will eventually bring out something that’s faster or wider or quicker or easier," he explains.
You could say this is typical of the attitude that’s kept Reading’s business expanding for over 20 years. Or maybe he’s just angling to be wooed with another Spanish trip. Either way, as this Kidderminster firm keeps adapting to survive in an ever-changing industry, it seems both Readyprint and Reading himself are unlikely to stay still for very long.
up to 15.2m/min
Enhanced productivity mode: Up to 21.3m/min
One- or two-colour mode: 30.5m/min
Line screens 144 (sequin), 160, 175, 180, 230 lpi
Max image format 308x450mm
Substrate type Pressure-sensitive label stock and films
Web width Max: 330mm / Min: 200mm
Max roll diameter: 1,300mm
Core inside diameter: standard: 76mm / optional: 152mm
Output system Max roll diameter: 700mm
Price From £379,000, including HP Labels and Packaging print server.
Kidderminster’s Readyprint, which specializes in self-adhesive labels and describes itself as "the label-printing company for Europe", was founded by Syd Reading in 1991. Back then, it was a one-man operation run from a garage with one contract. Over the past 20 years, the business has become a 13-person operation with more than 300 clients.
Why it was bought…
Reading wanted to invest in a digital label press to keep Readyprint relevant to the changing marketplace, without the need to outsource work. After looking at three candidates, Readyprint opted for the Indigo’s mix of speed and quality, which, the company felt, put it ahead of the Xeikon 3030, and the Epson SurePress L-4033A, which was still being beta tested at the time.
How it has performed...
"The HP has done everything we wanted it to", says Reading, "enabling us to reach new markets and speed jobs up. It’s particularly good for short-run, quick-turnaround work, but whatever you want, the HP machine will be capable of printing it. The quality is excellent."