The quality coming off the flatbed is enabling his firm to tackle print jobs for his own team as well as a raft of clients including other football clubs and a range of demanding retailers. Switching to direct-to-board printing means faster turnarounds too, when compared with the firm’s previous practice of printing on one of its roll-fed HP Latex machines.
Crescent Press is a general commercial printer based in Solihull in the West Midlands. Its roots lie a little further north in central Birmingham and in litho print, initially in one- and two-colour work. Over time it has expanded its range of services firstly to full-colour litho and then to include wide-format. The firm employs 20 staff and has a turnover of £2.5m, with plans to increase that to £3m this year. It serves a mixture of clients directly and via print management, with locally headquartered firm InnerWorkings one of its customers. Other clients include retailers and sports clubs.
In 2010 it moved to the present site and installed a B2 10-colour Heidelberg SM 74 perfecting press, which replaced a straight six-colour. Having left a city centre location with the inevitable space pressures, when it moved it took a larger unit than it initially needed to allow room for expansion.
“We’d planned to diversify when we moved,” says operations manager Paschal Edwards.
Given the client mix it’s unsurprising that alongside litho print it was being asked for increasing amounts of wide-format print including internal and external banners and display boards.
Initially it was outsourcing that work to another printing business, Kings Norton-based Abstract. With the increased volumes it was being asked for it was obvious that its diversification plan would include its own wide-format production. So in February 2013 it acquired Abstract and brought wide-format production in-house to the Solihull site. Abstract’s kit included a couple of ageing solvent printer-cutters and a first-generation Agfa Anapurna UV hybrid. The firm’s first priority was to replace the roll-fed machines with something more suitable.
“We recognised that we needed to upgrade,” says Edwards. “Our first move was to replace the roll-fed machines and we opted for an HP L28500 2.5m-wide latex machine. We opted for the latex because of the print quality, the robustness of the ink and its environmental credentials. We’re IS0 14001, so that’s an important consideration for us.”
The L28500 was followed by a pair of HP’s third-generation latex machines, the 1.6m-wide Latex 360, bought primarily because customers “were loving the quality off of the first latex machine”.
While the customers loved the quality Edwards wasn’t quite so chuffed with the efficiency of the wide-format department.
“There was a lot of rigid work, and so we were doing a lot of mounting onto boards,” he says. “Hence the interest in a flatbed to eliminate a lot of labour.”
While the Anapurna was capable of printing onto rigid materials the firm didn’t feel the quality was quite good enough.
“We run all our machines at the high-quality setting,” Edwards says. “We produce high-impact high-quality graphics. We’re about producing results that the client is pleased with; it’s not about being the cheapest. Our clients demand higher quality and by focusing on delivering that we separate ourselves from the competition.”
Crescent assessed the range of entry-level flatbeds available before drawing up a short list of the EFI H1625 and HP’s FB910, which was a contender because the firm wanted to ensure consistency between its flatbed and roll-fed printers.
City & West End Solutions, who supplied the firm’s earlier HPs, showed it around the HP FB910, while CMYUK took managing director Matthews over to EFI’s European demo centre in Brussels to see the 1625.
“We looked at the consistency of the HP and the EFI flatbeds to our roll output and in the end there really wasn’t much difference between either,” he says.
Ultimately the EFI H1625 LED won out with its high quality. It is an entry-level hybrid machine, which was launched last year, receiving its European debut at Fespa. It’s 1.6m-wide and can handle boards up to 2.5m (8ft) long. It uses LED UV lamps, which are claimed to cut running costs due to their low power consumption. Another benefit is the ability to print heat-sensitive substrates as the high-efficiency of LEDs mean less heat is generated as a by-product of UV generation compared to more conventional lamps.
It has six heads, with four-colour CMYK plus two white channels. Dual white means the firm can produce a range of effects depending on whether the white ink is laid down underneath or above the CMYK. Maximum resolution is 1,200x600dpi with a range of lower resolutions from 300dpi up depending on the intended application. The printheads are greyscale with eight droplet sizes at all resolutions and four on some of the inter-mediate resolutions. Crescent runs the machine in its quality mode, which produces 23m2/hr in CMYK and half that if white is used too. It could be run faster at a lower quality setting but as Edwards stated the firm is focused on quality rather than whacking work through at the lowest cost. There are also options for even higher quality at lower speeds but if a customer needs the ultimate quality he would rather revert to a latex roll stuck onto board unless there is a need for white.
“Printing white does slow it down but if that’s what the customer wants then as it’s the only way to achieve that result I still consider it to be productive,” Edwards says.
Although it is not a Vutek, it shares many of its bigger brother’s characteristics, which was a big plus point for Crescent.
“It’s enabled us to effectively try out a Vutek without having to spend £300,000 upfront,” he says.
Installation was just before Christmas 2014 and went very smoothly. While the machine was sold by CMYUK it was EFI’s own engineers that came on site to make sure everything was up and running ready for the firm to hit the ground running in live production from the new year. The only preparation for the machine was to ensure there were three-phase sockets nearby to power it up.
At the same time as the EFI the company also installed a Zünd G3 2XL-3200 flatbed digital cutter, which with an eye to the future is a larger size than the 1625 in preparation for a bigger printer in due course.
However, that won’t be for a while yet. While the litho operations run 24/6 wide-format currently only operates on a single day shift.
“Our challenge is to increase wide-format sales and then increase production with our current kit to double shifts,” he says. “Our sales director and two salespeople are now actively selling the EFI, including cross-selling to litho customers. And if needed we will take on additional sales staff too.”
Crescent Press was one of the first of two UK printers to get the 1625 but Edwards wasn’t worried about support, especially with the EFI name and its wide-format pedigree with Vutek.
“We call directly to the EFI European HQ in Belgium for support and it has been very quick to get back to us,” he says. “As it offers next-day on spares and consumables we don’t need to hold stock, so we buy on demand, although we try to keep a full set of spare inks in stock.”
His overall highlights are the ease-of-use and the quality of the output.
“Our clients are very happy,” he says. “The majority of them are in retail and need high quality, and if they had a problem in that respect you’d hear about it straight away. There really are no downsides. It has increased our productivity and freed up the production team to get on with more print and finish work without us having to add any staff.”
It is fair to say that wide-format has become key to the firm’s diversification and growth and that the EFI 1625 is an important tool to further grow that wide-format business.
“It’s a big part of our plans to grow our turnover and it’s enabled us to do that with as little extra cost as possible. It’s done the job it was brought in to do. In the future we want a bigger one.”
Type Hybrid UV-cured printer
Max sheet size 1.6x2.5m
Resolution 300dpi, 600dpi, 900dpi and 1,200x600dpi
Greyscale Up to eight levels per drop
Colours CMYK plus dual white
Speed CMYK: up to 42m2/hr (productivity halved if printing with white)
Curing LED UV
Price £79,995; inks: CMYK £115/litre, white £119/litre
CMYUK 0118 989 2929 www.cmyukdigital.com
EFI 07887 842 786
Crescent Press is a general commercial printer based in Solihull, West Midlands. Its roots lie in litho print but over time it has expanded its range of services to include wide-format. It serves a mixture of clients directly and via print management, with local firm InnerWorkings one of its customers. Other clients include retailers and sports clubs. The firm employs 20 staff and has a turnover of £2.5m, with plans to increase that to £3m this year.
Why it was bought...
Having brought a wide-format production in-house and upgraded its roll-fed kit the firm still needed a more efficient method of producing rigid jobs.
“We were doing a lot of mounting onto boards,” says operations manager Paschal Edwards. “Hence the interest in a flatbed to eliminate a lot of labour.”
How it has performed...
“It has increased our productivity and freed up the production team to get on with more print and finish work without us having to add any staff. It’s done the job it was brought in to do. In the future we want a bigger one.”