Me & my: Riso ComColor FW5230

Jez Abbott
Monday, April 23, 2018

Sometimes you just want a no-nonsense machine for no-nonsense jobs. Spectrum Graphics is a small company with a big reputation for all kinds of digital material.

At the top end this means lavish personalised print and large-format banners for corporate clients. At the lower end, however, there’s plenty of bread-and-butter work for the five-staff family firm: NCR papers, letterheads and envelopes. 

Running such jobs off on premium-performance digital printers with high click charges can throw up serious cost issues. Not only is it a questionable use of expensive kit on such low-key, low-cost, text-on-paper printwork. But all that heat-based digital technology can curl paper, crease envelopes and melt the windows on those envelopes. So partner Dave Norris started asking himself how he could make this sort of work more viable.

Then, on a visit to a print expo at the end of 2016, a potential solution emerged. Norris, who runs the business in Kent, with his wife Jan and brother Paul, had been weighing up this issue for some time when he found himself on the Riso stand – not his first encounter with Riso.

Five years earlier, the Japanese manufacturer’s UK sales team pulled in to Spectrum Graphics’ base on Alder Close, Erith. The printer demo from the back of a lorry didn’t quite do it for Norris, who recalls the print was washed out in appearance. But times change and the ComColor FW5230 inkjet system he saw in late 2016 was a different beast altogether. Just like his company.

Spectrum Graphics has transformed itself from a repro house that supplied printers with film and plates on its launch 20 years ago. As four-colour litho printers adopted CTP and PDF technology, the prestige jobs for magazines and other high-end clients dried up. The company looked at digital printing and became an early adopter of Xerox equipment.

Now Spectrum Graphics runs two Ricohs, a C751 and a 7110 with a fifth colour for white, clear and other colour options for leaflets and personalised mailings. A large-format Mutoh ValueJet 1624 eco-solvent machine rolls out posters, banners and pop-up stands. Meanwhile a Roland LEF-300 direct-to-media flatbed machine produces jobs such as USB sticks, golf balls and pens.

The new Riso ComColor FW5230 cannot – and does not try to – compete with these machines. For this reason it costs around £14,000 against the six-figure sum of higher-spec digital printers. But Norris still pushed for a two-month trial period instead of the one month offered on the Riso stand with A4 and A3 models running off envelopes and wire-bound booklets.

“The low cost of the machine meant this purchase would not break the bank. But printers are always very busy people. If we’d taken it on for just a one-month trial period we could have been swamped with work. This would have given us only a few days to test, and get to know, the new equipment – not long enough for even a small investment.”

Slotting in

Spectrum Graphics took delivery of the machine in April 2017. The printer was installed to a standard power supply and configured on Thursday, with staff training taking only half a day. The ComColor FW5230, reckons Norris, is like a desktop printer with a basic RIP – compact, unfussy, easy to use. And so unlike operating a big digital press.

Users import PDF files or print across the machine itself. All they do is choose paper settings, tee up colour profiles, input the number of sheets required, and hit ‘Print’. Norris was offered an envelope feeder as an upgrade on the standard tray, but went without: the £5,000 price tag was “disproportionately” expensive – “you would have to do a fair old whack or run it on an all-day basis for that kind of money”.

That usage conundrum sums up the work profile for many one-stop-shops like his, he says: “There’s nothing we can’t do – we do everything including complicated garments. So by its nature, a one-stop shop rarely does mega amounts of one type of work on one machine. We do different jobs on all kinds of equipment. But having the FW5230 gives us the confidence to say ‘yes’ immediately to a job for 400 or 500 envelopes.”

In the past, Norris recalls, he might take a chance on just such a job, running the material through one of his other digital printers. Four hours – and several jams – later he would be scratching his head, asking himself ‘why did I bother?’. With the new machine, this kind of job is a hassle-free “doddle”, giving him the flexibility to squeeze down prices for his customers.

“It gives us the confidence to be able to price a job with tighter margins, knowing the kit is reliable and will deliver good quality quickly. 

“Without this machine we might have come to the conclusion it just wasn’t worth taking on smaller jobs for NCR pads and such like – there’s nothing worse than having to check each piece of paper for curl where every numbered page must be in order. Even if we did take on these jobs, and run them through a bigger machine, the click charge is higher.”

Flexibility and functionality of the new kit saves time in other ways, he says. In the past, a job for mailings could involve printing labels and separately sticking them on to the envelopes. With the Riso kit, Norris’ team can print everything directly on to an envelope, saving on labour. 

He adds: “Reliability is important. We sell ourselves on quality and service. If we can’t turn something around because a machine is down for a day, it’s no good. And the Riso machine hasn’t broken down once, which marks another difference from more expensive digital gear. With those machines you often need two models because one is often down.”

This is no disrespect to Ricoh, Xerox or any other big-name manufacturer, insists Norris. They produce totally different machines, and are being asked to perform totally different tasks. 

That’s not to say his new printer cannot be faulted: it cannot print onto coated stock. When the machine was installed operators had initial problems with the paper feed, but this was a simple settings issue, solved with a quick visit from the Riso technical team. There was also a small issue with click charges with his A3 output.

“These machines tend to be targeted at schools, which work mostly to A4. But A3 is more standard for our industry, and we almost got caught out because the click charges were slightly incorrect – they gave us an A4 price instead of A3. But these are the only quibbles. The machine is a workhorse and the sales staff are very quick to respond to any queries.”

Norris concludes: “Being able to shift work from our ultra high-quality machines has been a cost-effective blessing. We can produce some of our booklet work on the new Riso too, and print envelopes more easily than before. Print is a low-margin business, so it is about speed of turn-around and quality of service. We have to be able to respond, and Riso has helped us do just that.” 


Print type Line-type inkjet system 

Print resolution Standard: 300x300dpi Fine: 300x600dpi

Speed A4 120ppm; A3 66ppm

Paper size Standard: 90x148mm to 340x550mm

Paper weight range 46-210gsm

Ink type Oil-based pigment ink (CMYK) 

Operating system Linux

Footprint 1,030x725mm

Weight Approx 135kg 

Power Consumption Max 1,000W

Cost £14,000-£15,000

Contact Riso 020 8236 5800

Company profile 

Spectrum Graphics was established 20 years ago by brothers Dave and Paul Norris. It started as a reprographics company but over time expanded into a full in-house digital print company, also offering website design and hosting. Today Spectrum Graphics is a five-staff company with a £400,000 turnover and kit including Ricoh, Mutoh and Roland machines, laminating and foiling kit. 

Why it was bought…

Spectrum has a number of small customers who wanted volume printing but not necessarily on high-gloss paper. Partner Dave Norris wanted to free up high-end digital printers by running this kind of work through a reliable, low-cost machine.

How it has performed…

The new kit is fast, reliable and well priced, says Norris. It can turn around jobs quickly and open up new revenue streams. Spectrum Graphics now routes mainstream work to the FW5230 leaving the larger printers and presses for more suitable work, saving time and money.



© MA Business Limited 2021. Published by MA Business Limited, St Jude's Church, Dulwich Road, London, SE24 0PB, a company registered in England and Wales no. 06779864. MA Business is part of the Mark Allen Group .