St Marys Road is one of the major routes into Liverpool with “thousands of potential customers passing every day”, according to owner Peter Kennedy. Enough of those passing end up popping in to make the location a valuable asset – and one he claims is unique in Liverpool.
“Our customers are Joe Public, and it works out that we get about five or six jobs per day from passing trade,” says Kennedy.
As important as the location is the company’s use of its own output to promote itself. You don’t need to go to Liverpool to see that though, Google Street View offers a driver’s eye view from which you can see the shop front, the company’s van, which it has wrapped, and even one of the team putting up its display board in the central reservation. The last two are examples of the output from its wide-format printer, a Colorific Lightbar UV640 Print & Cut. In addition to the wide-format work it also offers general commercial print including stationery, which it outsources.
Kennedy, a former joiner, set up the three-strong firm eight years ago. It put the first Colorific Lightbar in two years ago, initially opting for a Lightbar Revive, the retrofittable version, which was fitted onto a Roland SolJet Pro II eco-solvent wide-format printer. This machine served as the production mainstay of the business’s poster, banner and vehicle wrapping work.
Adding the Lightbar Revive and swapping the eco-solvent inks in the Roland for Colorific’s SUV inks enabled Smartprint to upgrade its production while protecting its investment in existing equipment.
Kennedy had been struggling with the inherent problems of eco-solvent prints – the need to leave them two days to fully dry and outgas before they could be used or further finished.
“I saw the Lightbar at a show and that was that,” he says. “The next week it was installed and running.”
There was no drawn-out process of assessing rival technologies. Kennedy had an unmet need and happened across the solution, deciding to take the plunge there and then with the original Lightbar. While there are other SUV printers out there from Fujifilm and Mimaki, Colorific’s Lightbar is the only one available as a retrofit, enabling firms to solve the problems of eco-solvent printing without having to buy a completely new system. The Lightbar Revive cost the firm £2,495 including installation and the first set of inks.
The ability to sell work straight off the machine is a USP for the firm, as it is something no one else in the area has, according to Kennedy: “I put posters up all over Liverpool saying we could offer a same-day service.”
However, a year on from the installation of the Lightbar Revive the original printer, which was 12 years old, was starting to show its age.
“It was costing me a fortune to maintain the SolJet. In the last two years it had cost £6,000 and £7,000 respectively to keep it running. That was just money down the drain.”
Not only was he spending a fortune on it to keep it running, it also needed constant attention, meaning it couldn’t be relied upon to run unattended. So he decided to invest in a replacement.
When it came to the time to upgrade at the start of this year he saw no need to mess with a winning formula and went directly to Colorific to buy a new machine with the Lightbar fitted from the off. He opted for another Roland, this time the VersaCamm VS 640i, a 64in-wide printer-cutter.
Installation was a cinch both times. The original unit clipped onto the SolJet, and with the inks changed over the firm was in production. The unit itself is a low-energy UV light source. Unlike the mercury lamps or latterly UV LEDs fitted in dedicated UV printers, which are mounted on the printhead carriage, the Lightbar’s lamp is fixed in position a fair way away from the printheads.
It is this much simpler configuration that keeps the cost of the unit down and enables it to be retrofitted. Colorific offers the Lightbar Revive, which is available for Roland printers, and what it terms a roll-up unit that can be used with other vendors’ eco-solvent machines. It cites Mimaki and Mutoh conversions in the field. Roland machines make up the bulk of its business though, and are the only machines that it will supply from new with the Lightbar conversion.
One in, one out
When it came to upgrade the SolJet to the VersaCamm it was a drop-in replacement. The old machine was moved out the way, and sold on and the new one plugged in and it was in production.
Kennedy’s experience of the machine has been all good. “I can do nothing but praise it. It’s a lifesaver, a dream. I come in and pat it each morning.”
He struggles to find anything at all to complain about. The install went smoothly, the machine is really reliable and has had no issues with servicing. If it needs more ink it arrives the next day, ensuring it can remain in production and the firm doesn’t have to keep a stack of ink in stock. He jokes that that’s the only real issue – the Colorific ink reps are if anything too attentive, seeming to be competing to sell him as much ink as possible.
The instant drying has added a USP and enabled it to take on additional work with tighter deadlines than before. It’s also enabled it to keep work in-house that it would previously have had to outsource.
“I’m just printing an order for 50 posters,” says Kennedy. “Before we’d have had to send that out because we just haven’t got the space for that much work to hang around for two days drying.”
There are now customers regularly picking up work a couple of hours after ordering it. The robustness of the SUV inks has also saved costs by reducing the need to laminate.
“We don’t laminate anything now,” he says. “We used to laminate quite a bit. The Lightbar has meant we could sell the laminator off.”
One of the biggest benefits of the new machine is its reliability, which means he is confident to leave it running unattended, including overnight.
“I can just send a whole load of jobs to print and go home now,” he says. “I can be having dinner with my kids and be making money at the same time.”
Having already opted for a faster and more robust printer, again with a Lightbar, Kennedy is in no hurry to buy another for now. With the high-street location putting pressure on the available space there’s no room at present for another machine.
“If I moved to a bigger yard and had the space I’d get another machine.”
But given the business benefits of being on the high street there would clearly have to be a really good reason to move.
Print width 1.6m (64in)
Max resolution 1,440dpi
Max speed 21m2/hr
Configuration Dual CMYK (CMYKKYMC)
Price £15,495; 440ml ink cartridges: £80; roll-up unit for other vendors’ machines: £2,495; Lightbar Revive (retrofit for Roland machines): £2,495
Contact CSL 01628 560890 www.colorificink.com
Smartprint is based in Garston, Merseyside. The customer base is broad, with the high-street location a key for attracting passing trade helped out by the use of examples of its bread and butter wide-format work in the form of displays boards and its wrapped van parked outside. Former joiner Peter Kennedy set up the three-strong firm eight years ago.
Why it was bought...
Smartprint had been struggling with the inherent problems of eco-solvent prints - the need to leave them two days to fully dry and outgas before they could be used or further finished – especially as space was tight in its high-street shop. So when owner Peter Kennedy saw the Lightbar, offering instant drying using his existing printer he was sold on the spot.
How it has performed...
The Lightbar didn’t disappoint, although his venerable Roland SolJet started to show signs of age, hence replacing it with a new machine that came fitted with a Lightbar from new. The robustness of the SUV inks had an added benefit of enabling the firm to eliminate lamination too.