Me & my: Kodak NexPress SX3900

By Jenny Roper, Friday 27 September 2013

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You'd expect an invite to Buckingham Palace to be just a bit fancy. And you'd expect that, as such, it would probably have had all manner of special finishing techniques lavished upon it, either through extra units on a litho press or a specialist foiling machine for example.

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And yet this wasn’t the case for the couple of hundred invites Gemini Digital produced for just such an occasion back in July. The invites on behalf of the Manhattan Furniture Company to the Coronation Festival, marking the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s coronation event, were certainly posh. They certainly reflected the prestigious nature of this showcasing of 200 Royal Warrant Holders’ wares to the public, and of its exclusive evening gala.

But the prints didn’t make it anywhere near parent group Gemini Press’s two B1 Heidelberg or Komori machines, or into the hands of a specialist decorative finisher. Instead the invites were run through just one digital press: the most recent addition to the Gemini Digital family, the NexPress SX3900. Not only did this ensure the quality of the print was extremely high. Most importantly, it meant a special raised, tactile effect could be applied.

"You could never have done those effects on a digital press before; on seeing it lots of people probably thought it was a litho job," says Lynn Brazier, director at Gemini Digital. "That created a really prestigious looking invite."

The ability to offer such an unusual and high-end effect on personalised and short-run work was exactly what attracted Gemini Digital to the new NexPress when it installed it last August. The company already had two NexPresses and needed to replace one of them. Having been made a separate digital arm of Gemini Group just a couple of months before, Gemini Digital was keen to establish a reputation for being at the cutting edge of digital print.

"We just wanted to make it clear that Gemini did digital so it just made perfect sense to get the Gemini Digital name out there," explains Brazier of the logic of separating this part of the business out from Gemini’s other three branches, Gemini Press, Gemini Brighton and Gemini West (formerly Ambassador Litho until February this year).

"Other manufacturers were considered when we were looking at the new NexPress, both Xerox and HP. But at that time they weren’t doing anything different," she says. "When we were considering the new press 18 months ago, the Kodak was really the only one on the market that had anything different to offer."

This dimensional printing has certainly been popular among a wide range of Gemini’s financial, motoring and tourism clients, being used to add a special touch to brochure covers, invites and even press releases. But this isn’t the only trick up the NexPress SX3900’s sleeve. There are a whole range of features that enable the press to produce the kind of print previously synonymous with litho.

"It has produced results that were never associated with digital printing," says Brazier. "You could never do A4 landscape brochures before digitally, there was just never a machine big enough – it’s created a whole new spec. Digital printing used to be very plain. It was CMYK and that’s all you could do. So this just adds that little extra."

Kodak adds that label stock, transparencies, foils, synthetics, and other speciality substrates can also be processed on the NexPress SX. Standard papers supplied from twin feeders can range in weight from 80gsm to 350gsm board – the latter heavy enough for packaging.

Fine details

The quality of the prints consistently being turned out by the SX3900, have impressed right across the board. "Because it’s a toner-based machine, the toner being finer enables you to get more detail into the images because it’s not laying down such heavy particles, so you can hold nice contrasts. And you can get really good high-quality prints on skin tones," says Brazier.

She adds: "We’ve produced artwork where some customers can’t believe it’s come off a digital press."

The press’s fifth unit is also key to offering top-quality print. Used for dry ink, the fifth unit can mix red, green or blue toner with the CMYK for Pantone builds and other colour matching. "The fifth unit enables us to match up to 85% of Pantone colours. That’s great for certain companies with corporate colours.

Orange is very hard to create with CMYK – it can go very muddy. But this keeps it nice and vibrant and matches the Pantone reference," says Brazier.

The new machine has also been very reliable.  "The installation was plain sailing, it settled in very quickly and was up and running in a few days," reports Brazier. "We’ve only had the usual teething problems that you would get with any digital press, but all digital presses are quite temperamental and they just need time to settle in. It’s just been things like registration and colour consistency – all things that you’d expect."

And so there haven’t been any major service issues to report. "It’s only been the usual sorts of maintenance issues that will occur over a period of time, no major issues, just things like new rollers, tension wires, etc," says Brazier. "We’re on a four-hour call-out and Kodak engineers are usually here within that time. We don’t really get a lot of downtime – Kodak really pulled out a load of stops for us."

Kodak says that the NexPress platform is built for extensive onsite maintenance and parts replacement. It adds that operators should be able to use simple tools to change an imaging drum or a blanket cylinder in about 15 minutes.

Maintenance demands

Those thinking about going for this press need to be aware, however, that staff do need to put the time in to keep the press in tip-top condition, warns Brazier.

"It is a more complex machine because of the HD, so there are certain things you have to do differently," she says. "There’s a lot more maintenance because the HD toner is quite fine, the maintenance is slightly longer each morning. It’s maybe only an hour a day, so it’s not a downside exactly, but it has to be done. That’s just cleaning the units, because the HD toner gets in everywhere. You have to make sure the wires and rollers are clean."

Kodak marketing manager, UK & Nordics, David McGuiness adds: "The maintenance time is slightly longer than running the previous Dry Ink generation machines. We see an average 30-45 minutes per shift for this task compared with 30 minutes before. In exchange for the increased time, the HD toner delivers a better image quality and the additional maintenance task is worth the effort. Also If the maintenance procedures are not followed precisely, this could result in a decreased performance."

Despite this, Brazier would recommend the NexPress SX3900 to anyone thinking of investing in digital. The slightly higher price tag is well worth it for the impressive range of high quality work it can process, she says: "I think anyone going into the digital print market and existing printers should consider it; I think it’s one of the most cost-effective machines."

Unsurprisingly, then, Gemini Digital has further NexPress-related plans for the future. "I think metallic ink is in the pipeline, and we’d be very interested in that. People will put that on their high-end brochures, invites and even business cards. So there will be a market for it," says Brazier.

She also expects the company to soon be generating enough NexPress work that adding another SX3900 might be on the cards within the next 12 months.

The relationship between Gemini and Kodak, and specifically the NexPress range, looks set to continue long into the future, then. With Gemini happily turning out high quality and arrestingly finished prints fit for the Queen.


SPECIFICATIONS

Speed 131 A4 ppm

Max imageable area 340x510mm (standard feeder)

Max sheet size 356x520mm (standard feeder)

Min sheet size 279x200mm (standard feeder)

Stock weight range uncoated: 60-350gsm; coated: 80-350gsm

Substrates

Paper uncoated, matt-coated, gloss-coated, cast-coated and textured, wood-free and recycled, including a wide selection of standard offset papers; Special substrates uncoated, matt-coated, gloss-coated labels, paper-backed transparencies, select opaque foils, magnetic, photobook paper, synthetics, pre-perforated and scored specialty stocks

Price from £450,000

Contact Kodak Graphic Communications Group 0845 602 5991 www.graphics.kodak.com


COMPANY PROFILE

Though its origins can be traced as far back as the 19th century, the Gemini Group as we know it today was established in 1991 when the company merged with Blackburn Print. Today the company consists of four arms: Gemini Press, Gemini Brighton, Gemini West in Bristol (known as Ambassador Litho until February this year) and Gemini Digital, which was established as a separate branch 14 months ago but still shares its West Sussex site with Gemini Press. The group as a whole has a £14m turnover, with Gemini Digital turning over £1m in the past year.

Why it was bought...

Gemini Digital decided to replace one of its Kodak NexPresses with the most up to date model, the NexPress SX3900, in August last year. This model was chosen over competitor models principally for its dimensional printing, which allows the company to add a raised, tactile effect to a whole range of brochure, invite, press release and business card products.

How it has performed...

The NexPress SX3900 has brought plenty of new business Gemini Digital’s way from people keen to add a special, raised ink effect. The press has proved very reliable, reports Gemini Digital director Lynn Brazier. "It’s been brilliant. It’s reliable and because it’s an HD machine the quality is exceptional."


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