A burgeoning range of profitable new applications, including printing onto slate, can be chalked up to The Graphic Station’s latest addition, a Mimaki JFX200-2513 flatbed UV wide-format printer.
The Romford, Essex-based firm started out in 2007 when the two directors, Paul Fox and Stuart Vaile, set up together following redundancy from their previous print firm. Fox looks after sales and marketing while Vaile is the production expert. Initially it was just the two of them, but over time the business has grown, with turnover hitting £325,000 last year and an expanding team that is now seven strong.
The business serves a range of clients in Essex, London and beyond including retailers, shopping centres, care homes, finance firms in the City, colleges and universities and London advertising agencies with a broad range of print materials, including wide-format graphics.
To generate contacts and leads Fox networks like mad.
“I go to a couple of local networking groups and get a lot of business from contacts made there,” he says. And more work comes from recommendations and repeat business. “It’s about providing a service. You try not to let people down, and when you need to, you go the extra mile to get the job done,” he adds.
In addition to The Graphic Station there is a sister business, The PhotoGraphic Station, a photographic studio that offers a range of services including event photography.
In the early days the firm outsourced the printing work, although it always handled pre-press, including making the plates, in-house. Over time, profits have been reinvested in production equipment, starting with post-press kit. And when it came to adding printing capabilities, the company decided that digital was the way to go.
“We were putting a lot of wide-format out and we couldn’t see a future in litho,” says Fox, explaining the firm’s decision to invest in digital and wide-format presses.
At the beginning of 2013 The Graphic Station moved into its current 250sqm premises and invested in cut-sheet colour and roll-fed wide-format printers to bolster its in-house production, which joined a room full of finishing kit. The wide-format kit chosen was a Mimaki JV33 130 printer and CG-160FXII cutter, while the cut-sheet colour machine was a Konica Minolta Bizhub Pro C6000. With the in-house digital print capabilities things took off and by the end of the year the firm was looking at bolstering its wide-format production.
“We were mounting or laminating a lot of work, probably 50%-60% of our wide-format,” says Fox. “So we started looking at flatbed UV printers that could eliminate the need for mounting and laminating and open up new markets.”
A shortlist was drawn up of potential machines, both new and secondhand, which included the Jetrix, Canon’s Océ Arizona and “a Chinese machine”. Initially the Mimaki wasn’t even in the frame until I-Sub Digital, who had sold the firm its original Mimaki, flagged up the forthcoming compact flatbed.
“It was definitely a selling point that we had a Mimaki already,” says Fox. “And I-Sub really looked after us – the staff there went over and above.”
The price of the JFX200-2513 was also a decisive factor. “We could have bought the bigger one but it’s our philosophy to start slowly and not get things unless we can afford them,” he says.
Quality was also a selling point. “There really wasn’t much in it between the Mimaki, the Canon and the Jetrix, but with my photographer’s eye the Mimaki was that little bit better,” says Fox. “The richness of the prints is unbelievable.”
It was at Sign & Digital UK back in May when the firm made its final decision and signed on the dotted line, and later in the summer, the company’s platesetter went to make room for the new flatbed. “We got the first one in Europe after being walked through the machine and meeting the guys from Mimaki,” he says.
While cutting out a lot of mounting and laminating has been a big boon, it’s the range of new applications and customers that have really opened Fox’s eyes – and those of his customers – to the potential of UV flatbed.
“We want to target the more bespoke and more creative markets,” he says. “There’s more money in it, especially when every man and his dog is producing Foamex panels.”
That said, when there is a Foamex job to be done, Fox pronounces the machine is “great for it – and Dibond too”.
When it comes to printing on rigid materials the firm has gone to town. Slate is booming for photographs and for gifts. It is also moving into packaging by personalising the wooden boxes that fine wines are packed in for a client doing a roaring trade in importing organic wine, which adds weight to Fox’s sales slogan: “If you want print outside the box, ask the Fox.”
Other projects the firm is involved in include bespoke wardrobe doors with a furniture firm. It is using the ability to print onto glass to print mirrors and is talking to kitchen and bathroom specialists about projects to print glass splashbacks and ceramic tiles.
“There’s also a nice crossover where clients are now able to order a range of photos printed onto some of the more special substrates the Mimaki enables,” he says.
White ink has been indispensable. Both for backing images on dark substrates such as slate, but also for window clings where the firm is using white between two CMYK images to give different results from either side, or to boost the density of backlit displays and produce day-for-nights.
Like many firms that have invested in a flatbed printer, near the top of the firm’s wish list for the next bit of kit is a cutting table. Although having gained some contacts in the furniture sector through it’s discussions about producing personalised printed products on the JFX, Fox thinks it may make more sense to partner with another firm that needs cutting rather than investing all by itself.
When it comes to the next printing investment the Fox thinks it will be another flatbed, although whether the next machine will be bigger or smaller than the JFX200-2513 has not been decided.
“Some clients do want bigger work, which at the moment we still print on rolls and mount,’ he says. “On the other hand, the work we’re doing on slate and other uneven surfaces doesn’t lend itself to laying up multiples on the big bed, so we’re considering whether the smaller Mimaki might be more suitable for that work, freeing the 2513 for the bigger stuff.”
When the machine was installed, the biggest challenge was getting it into the firm’s first-floor premises, which involved opening up a wall and craning it in.
Primed and ready
After installation the company faced a few teething problems while getting to grips with a new technology. The biggest problem was that ink would flake off some materials. The reason turned out to be that the firm wasn’t priming the panels.
“We learned how to prime and that fixed that problem,” he says. “Now we prime everything just to be safe, even though they say you don’t have to. Primer is expensive but we want to do a proper job, not be the cheapest, or the fastest.”
“Mimaki offers a range of LED UV inks for the JFX200, which include printable primer,” says I-Sub Digital sales executive Emma Plant. “While UV ink is renowned for adhering to the majority of substrates, some are more testing than others. Mimaki UV ink is remarkably adherent – challenging substrates such as corrugated plastic sheets don’t need priming when printed on a Mimaki, which is not the case for most UV printers. Priming substrates prior to printing – or as part of the printing process with Mimaki’s unique jettable primer – ensures the ink bonds perfectly to the material.”
Another challenge was working out how to charge. “With the flatbed that’s actually the hardest thing – you need to consider the set -up and the cost per square metre of the materials,” Fox says.
Having got a taste for more exotic materials the one thing the firm would like is the ability to handle thicker materials. The 2513 can handle substrates up to 50mm, but Fox would like to double that.
The next step on from white is the spot varnish option, which it plans to add as soon as it’s available to provide another means of enhancing the standout of its client’s print.
“We’re very excited to see the creative routes that Graphic Station is taking,” adds I-Sub Digital’s Plant. “The work is testament to its confidence in the printer’s capabilities and its keenness to push the boundaries appears to be paying dividends.”
Overall Fox is as contented as one of his namesakes let loose in a chicken coop. “I’m more than happy. I’d recommend the machine to anyone.”
Max speed 25sqm/hr
Max resolution 1,200dpi
Print technology UV inkjet
Bed size 2.5x1.3m
Max substrate thickness 50mm
Number of colours CMYK, white and varnish
Contact I-Sub Digital 01536 415511 www.i-subdigital.com
The Graphic Station was formed by Paul Fox and Stuart Vaile in 2007 after they were made redundant. In the early days they handled pre-press and outsourced production, then over time they added finishing and small-format digital printing. At the start of 2013, increased demand for digital and wide-format led them to install a Konica Minolta c6000L cut-sheet colour press and a Mimaki JV33 wide-format roll-fed printer.
Why it was bought...
At least half the firm’s wide-format output needed mounting on board or laminating, so it was looking for a machine that could handle rigid boards and produce print that didn’t need protection. Fox was also keen to expand the range of applications and materials the firm produced, so flatbed UV was identified as a sound investment.
How it has performed...
As a photographer, Fox is blown away by the quality of the print; and as a salesman, he’s yet to find the limit to the new applications and substrates the JFX has opened up. The firm learned the importance of priming early on, having experienced flaking on some materials.