Mimaki JFX 1631
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Speed and quality are the twin pillars upon which the success of this large-format flatbed unit is based, says Barney Cox
Mimaki is one of the leading suppliers of roll-fed solvent wide-format inkjet printers and its JV series is one of the most successful products.
However, the market is moving on and while roll-to-roll solvent still makes up the bulk of the market, the future is very much with UV ink and flatbed printing or, for more versatility, the hybrids that combine flatbed and roll-to-roll functionality in one machine.
The good news is that Mimaki is no stranger to flatbeds or to UV, having had a machine that fits the bill since 2003.
Its original 600x500mm-sheet sized, 1,200x2,400dpi machine with white ink, the UJF 605C, was developed for speciality industrial printing. In Japan, it is widely used by the auto industry to print dashboards while in the UK it has found favour printing pump clips for pub suppliers, as its high resolution means it can produce smooth vignettes that just aren't possible with screen printing.
"It was lightyears ahead of its time," says Duncan Jeffries, marketing manager at UK Mimaki distributor Hybrid Services. And when it comes to understanding flatbed architecture, Mimaki's heritage in cutting tables - where it competes with the likes of EskoArtwork's Kongsberg and the eponymous Zund cutters - gives it a good grounding.
The latest result of this knowhow is the JFX 1631, which pitches the firm into a higher end of the market than it has played in to date. The 1.6x3.1m static bed and the price tag of more than £100,000 puts it into the sector that has been carved out and dominated by Océ with it's Arizona range and Fujifilm Sericol with the Acuity, itself based on the Arizona. It's also a market that Agfa has made inroads into with its Anapurma M series.
For this sector of the market producing predominantly rigid work for POS and POP, the machines need to deliver speed and quality. When it comes to quality, a key factor is the accuracy of the dot placement, which is why the static bed is crucial. Like many of its rivals Mimaki offers a more affordable (£39,995) hybrid UV machine, the UJV-160, which can be fitted with feed tables front and rear to handle flat sheets. However, it uses friction feed, as used in roll-to-roll machines, which, although good cannot deliver the highest image quality. The feed mechanism means it can only handle sheets up to 10mm thick and 12kg weight. There's no such handicap with the JFX 1631, which can handle boards up to 50mm thick and up to 200kg.
Mimaki built on its industrial flatbed by showing a prototype graphic flatbed at Ipex 2006. The IP1324 had a 1.3x2.4m bed, but following feedback from the market it was re-engineered to1.6x3.1m - the size of the biggest display boards, and the firm's biggest routing tables - and once these tweaks were undertaken, the firm's first large-format flatbed, the JF 1631, was launched.
The JFX 1631 is a next-generation product, with higher quality and, thanks to the use of LED UV lamps, the ability to handle an expanded range of substrates with lower running costs.
"Traditional UV metal halide lamps have several disadvantages," says Jeffries. "They take time to warm up and produce a great deal of heat, which has a lot of implications. Heat causes materials to warp, yellow or even burn, especially thin foam boards and papers."
By opting for LED curing, Mimaki can widen the range of substrates that can be printed on and simplify the handling of others. Rather than having to tape down materials likely to warp, the vacuum bed can hold them in place. Jeffries says the time saved by doing away with taping is "quite a consideration". The elimination of warping also means expensive head crashes are avoided.
LEDs also offer an economic and environmental advantage - the energy consumption of the lamps is 10% that of metal halide and as an indication of how much energy is used for curing, the machine uses half the total power of its predecessor.
With the switch to LED curing, Mimaki has also had to modify its inks to ensure their sensitivity is optimised for the lamps' output. There is a choice of two inks for different applications: a hard ink, for rigid media and the type familiar for UV applications, and a flexible ink. The flexible ink is important for a wide range of applications, including flexible substrates, thermoformed jobs, membrane switches and anything that needs folding or conforming. The LF-200 flexible ink can be folded around 180 degrees, making it suitable for POP and even packaging mock-ups. It is also applicable for rigid sheets.
"Normally UV inks crack and craze when cut," he says. "We've realised that you can print a bleed and cut through it. This makes flexible ink really exciting in the display market."
Inks cost £90 per 600ml cartridge. Jeffries says Hybrid and Mimaki have worked hard to bring the cost of UV ink down to near the price of solvent inks, but adds that even when the ink costs more per litre, UV machines use less, so the cost per square metre of print is lower. He quotes a figure of from 80p/m2 dependent on the image.
The JFX 1631 is a CMYK machine with the option for white and clear varnish if required, although the clear has yet to ship. Unlike many inkjet machines it doesn't use light cyan and light magenta. Jeffries says this is due to the use of high-resolution (1,200dpi) printheads with variable droplet size in seven steps starting at just 6 pico litres (pl), which produces smooth gradations and highlights detail without the added complexity of additional inks and printheads.
With its high resolution and variable drop-size, reproduction is crisp - with text legible down to 3pt, even reversed out. Another key to the high quality is the accurate dot placement; in addition to its fixed flatbed architecture Mimaki uses twin linear encoders to "ensure ultimate registration".
Although the machine can produce a class-beating 28m2 per hour, throughput is 13m2 per hour in CMYK production mode and drops to 7.6m2 in highest quality mode. Speed drops to 6.5m2/hr for standard quality and 3.8m2/hr for high quality respectively when printing white.
The biggest problem with increasing speed in UV curing is the appearance of the ‘mown lawn' appearance caused by the ink lay-down and curing of different printhead passes, particularly with UV-cured inkjet. Mimaki has configured the printheads to minimise these effects, and to achieve the 28m2/hr developed a ‘shark tooth' interleaving pattern, that reduces the appearance of the stripes and offers an impressive productivity boost.
While the headline speeds aren't as high as solvent systems, turnaround time can be much quicker as you can print direct to substrate rather than needing to mount or laminate. And even for jobs that still require lamination, UV ink doesn't need to be out gassed like solvent, so lamination can occur straight after printing.
While the printer sits at the heart of things, Mimaki also offers pre-press tools and cutting and routing tables. Its RIP RasterLink Pro 5 offers 16bit rendering to ensure smooth gradations without tone jumps. Jeffries says that with the JFX 1631 colour management and profiling is greatly simplified as the UV inks have a far more consistent dot gain across different substrates than either solvent or aqueous machines.
Mimaki's cutting tables include the CF2 series for materials up to 20mm thick and the CF3, which has a routing head and can handle rigid boards up to 50mm thick. Hybrid is offering these tables in special bundle prices when bought with the JFX 1631.
Mimaki's reputation in roll-fed solvent machines and experience in flatbed technology for high-quality industrial printing along with its ability to provide a complete solution from pre-press through printing to finishing is a compelling package, making it well worth thinking about by anyone considering adding high-quality flatbed direct to substrate wide-format print to their portfolio.
Print size 1.6x3.1m
Max media thickness 50mm
Max media weight 200kg (50kg/m2)
Inks LF-200 flexible ink for flexible substrates LF-100 hard ink for rigid substrates
Ink colours CMYK, white and clear
Curing UV LED
Max resolution 1,200dpi
High speed 28m2/hr
High quality 7.6m2/hr
High quality 3.8m2/hr
LF-200 £90 per 660ml cartridge
Per m2 cost from 80p/m2 depending on image
Contact Hybrid Services 01270 501900 www.hybridservices.co.uk
Agfa Anapurna M2
With the Anapurna M2, Agfa has upped the speed and quality of the M series thanks to the latest Konica Minolta printheads that double the nozzle density from 512 to 1,024 per head. The M2 is a CMYK only machine, and for white printing there is the Anapurna MW, which uses the older heads and is therefore slower.
Curing UV metal halide
Contact Agfa 020 8231 4929 www.agfa.com
Fujifilm Sericol Acuity Advance HD 2545
Fujifilm Sericol's Acuity range is based on the Océ Arizona and shares its specifications, although it uses Fujifilm's Uvijet ink. It supports substrates up to 48mm thick and has a roll-to-roll option that is the same speed as flatbed printing. The X2 version offers a bigger 2.5x3.05m bed.
Size ,1.25x2.5m (X2 2.5x3.05m)
Speed 22.2 m2/hr
Colours CMYK (white option)
Curing UV metal halide
Price from £93,000
Contact Fujifilm Graphic Systems 01234 245 245 www.fuji.co.uk/gs
Océ Arizona 350
With more than 1,500 Arizona's installed worldwide, Océ can claim an unrivalled install base as testament to its kit's performance. It also has a 16-strong team of engineers to support the Arizona in the UK to ensure uptime. The 350 uses variable drop sizes from 6-42pl to produce high quality. Océ offers a complete solution with its Onyx RIP and a partnership with Zund for cutting tables.
Size GT 1.25x2.5m XT 2.5x3.05m
Colours CMYK (white option)
Curing UV metal halide
Price GT £105,000 XT £150,000
Contact Océ 0870 600 5544 www.oce.com