Agfa Anapurna L/XL

Simon Eccles
Sunday, April 22, 2007

Agfa's Anapurna flatbed inkjet is finally with us, though not in the way Agfa originally planned. The Anapurna L and XL models are sensibly priced, fast, medium-quality printers. They started reaching customers in July and so far, 11 have shipped - mostly the 2.5m XL size - with delivery eight or nine weeks after orders, says Steve Collins, Agfa's account manager for industrial and wide-format print.

However, these are completely different machines to the original Anapurna 100 announced in 2005, intended to combine very high quality with high speed and high reliability. In February, Agfa Graphics UK managing director Laurence Roberts said this kit was delayed until 2007 and since then, Agfa has steadfastly refused to comment any further.

Anapurnas are an addition to the booming market for wide-format UV inkjets, which can print on practically anything, from thick rigid materials to roll-fed flexible media. UV is an attractive alternative to solvent inks for outdoor display, where they have a two- to three-year life.

Development problems
Although a prototype Anapurna 100 was shown at a 2005 exhibition, it ran into development problems. Based on a Mutoh chassis with Agfa’s Universal Print Heads, it was billed as offering up to 1,440dpi with eight-picolitre droplet and up to 16 grey levels, giving near-photographic quality and speeds up to 97sqm per hour. Other new technologies included a multi-section “walking floor” for accurate media transport, “flush brush” for clean nozzles and closed loop ink recirculation with temperature control and degassing.
This isn’t the first ambitious flatbed to hit development delays. However, the Agfa name and exciting specifications attracted a slew of dealers, customer enquiries and even pre-sales, so the lengthy postponement caused embarrassment.

Having already developed UV inks for Anapurna 100, Agfa looked around for alternative kit to consume them. In February, it announced the Anapurna L (1.6m media width) and XL (2.5m). These use proven technology and 128-nozzle Spectra Nova print heads, without the experimental aspects have plagued the Anapurna 100 (now renamed XLS).

Performance is very respectable at up to 40sqm per hour at 363x545dpi. Image quality is acceptable, even if it doesn’t approach the photographic levels predicted for the XLS.

Anapurnas are hybrids, able to print roll-to-roll as well as onto rigid flat materials. Front and back roller tables are supplied for rigid materials, but these can be unbolted and wheeled away so the built-in reel holders can be used instead.

There are six colours (CcMmYK) plus opaque white in two channels either side of the colour set, allowing for bi-directional printing. The white can be printed as an under or overcoat, though you have to choose one or the other when you order the printer as it can’t switch between them. It can also print white as part of the tonal image.

The printhead can be set to uni-directional printing for maximum quality, or bi-directional for more speed. Anapurna can print full bleed images up to all four edges of a job.

A transport belt moves the media under the heads, with a vacuum to flatten it. This can be switched on in zones to suit different media widths and when printing rigid materials, it can handle two items side by side. There are pin guides for manual alignment of both items.

The front and back covers prevent leakage of stray UV light and the head has an ozone extractor, which can be vented outdoors or piped through a filter unit.

The control panel on the right side is basically a PC running Windows XP. Below that are readouts for ink levels and temperature. Front end software uses the Wasatch RIP.

The ink tanks are kept in a swing-out compartment on the right of the printer and can be refilled mid-run. Coloured ink costs £85 per litre, white is £129 per litre and flushing fluid is £62. UV printers use less ink than solvent- or water-based kit because nothing is wasted in evaporation or absorption.

Sherpa secrets
While Agfa happily talks about the connection for its Sherpas, it has been cagey about the origins of the Anapurnas. It isn’t saying anything beyond: “it’s manufactured to our specifications”. However, the basis of the chassis seems to be the NeoPlus printer from Dilli Precision Industries in South Korea. Photographs show that the NeoPlus chassis bed, reel holders and ink compartment are the same as the Anapurna, though the top covers are slightly different.

Involvement seems to be in the integration of the Spectra print heads. It showed a 1.6m version at Ipex, named Cobra S65uv. It’s now delivering both widths, with the S65uv priced round £100,000 and the S100uv at around £130,000. Visit www.mutoh.com for more information.

Agfa sells Anapurnas through specialist dealers with wide-format experience. So far, these include B&P Graphics, I-Sub Digital, McLink and Robert Horne Group in mainland UK and Allied Graphics and Reprocentre in Ireland.

B&P Graphics has adopted the Anapurna into its own range of Uniform-branded printers, inks and media. The only difference is a change of name to Chieftain and a blue and grey paint job rather than Agfa’s distinctive red and grey. B&P will supply the Agfa UV inks, not a Uniform equivalent.

B&P sales director Andrew Wilson says the Chieftain will probably replace the company’s previous flatbed, the £70,000 Commander, built by Neolt in Italy. “The Chieftain performance is so much higher that we’ll concentrate on that. It’s twice as fast as and it can run at up to 725dpi, where the Commander is really built to run at 300dpi. We also like the ability to print up to all four edges.”

B&P is running its Chieftain demonstrator with real jobs as part of its commercial trade services operation, so it’s building up experience. Wilson says as long as the printer is switched on it keeps its nozzles clear. “We’ve had it for two months and only ever needed to do a quick purge in the mornings, and never a full head clean,” he says.

UV flatbeds are often used for point-of-sale work, which can require shaped cutouts, so many flatbed users also purchase a plotter-cutter table to handle one-offs or short runs. Agfa has a distribution deal with Kongsberg to sell its tables. The main alternative is Zünd’s tables – think in terms of £35,000 for a table to suit the 2.5m Anapurna XL.


SPECIFICATIONS
Resolution
• 363x725dpi
Speed
• 40sqm per hour
Number of colours
• six plus white
Max print width
• 1.6m (L)
• 2.5m (XL)
Media clearance
• 50mm
Price
• £110,000 (L)
• £140,000 (XL)
Contact
• Agfa Graphics UK 020 8560 2131 www.agfa.com

THE ALTERNATIVES
DuPont Cromaprint 22UV

This is a 2.2m-wide flatbed/roll convertible with 14 Spectra 256 printheads. It has a five-zone vacuum bed and front-to-back registration. The price includes DuPont’s Cromanet colour server with Adobe PostScript RIP.
Resolution 800x600dpi
Speed 41sqm per hour (400x400dpi)
Number of colours six plus white
Max media width 2.2m
Media clearance 50mm
Price about £140,000
Contact DuPont 01438 734000 www.dupont.com

EFI Vutek PressVu UV 200/600
This 2m, four- or six-colour flatbed/roll UV kit is popular for photographic work thanks to its 600dpi resolution. Vutek rates it at a very respectable 33sqm per hour. The 1.8m 180/600 model offers up to eight colours and 360x800dpi, but can hit 51sqm per hour in double four-colour mode.
Resolution 600dpi
Speed 33sqm per hour
Number of colours six, four or four plus white
Max media width 2m
Media clearance 44.5mm
Price £107,000
Contact EFI 020 8476 7676 www.efi-vutek.com

Keundo Technology SupraQ UV
Due for launch in November, this Korean printer with Spectra heads will have very high image quality and build quality, says Allan Ashman from distributor Atech. It has a 3.5m bed and can also print rolls up to that width.
Resolution 720dpi
Speed up to 60sqm per hour
Number of colours six plus white
Max media width 3.5m
Media clearance TBC
Price about £150,000
Contact Atech 01707 373738 www.atech.co.uk

Mimaki IPF
Mimaki showed a prototype high-res UV flatbed at Ipex. Following requests for something bigger, it’s being redeveloped into a wider format and is likely to be launched early 2007. UK distributor Hybrid says the price is likely to be less than Anapurna L.
Resolution 1,200x1,200dpi
Speed TBC
Number of colours six
Max media width TBC
Media clearance TBC
Price TBC
Contact Hybrid Services 01270 501900 www.hybridservices.co.uk

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