Product of the Week: HP Scitex LX800

Barney Cox
Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The green credentials of HP's latex machine make a compelling case, especially when you look at the quality, says Barney Cox

HP set the cat among the pigeons when it launched its latex technology two years ago with claims that it offered a ‘win-win-win-win’ with good environmental credentials, high image quality, productivity and wide substrate and application flexibility. The LX800, a 3.2m-wide, roll-to-roll machine, is the third generation to use latex, pushing it up further into the industrial space and challenging solvent and UV-cured machines. The first latex machine, the Designjet LS65500, a 2.6m-wide, roll-to-roll machine, sat in a slightly curious sector of the market, a bit too big to challenge the eco-solvent brigade and a bit too small to tackle the hard solvent and UV-cured heavyweights. So having launched the Designjet LS25500 last year to tackle the eco solvent sector, this year HP beefed up the latex line, replacing the LS65500 with the LX800 and its sister the LX600, a 2.6m-wide machine that is its direct replacement, both of which highlight their production credentials with a Scitex label rather than the Designjet moniker.

As befits an industrial device with a £180,000 price tag, the LX800 includes a dual roll kit to allow two-up production to make the most of its productivity and a mesh printing kit to enable fabric printing.

Despite tidying up the marketing and positioning, the LX800 is still tricky to pigeonhole, but in a good way.

"It’s because it is so versatile," says Andrew Edwards, sign and graphics division manager at ArtSystems the UK distributor of the LX 800 and 600. "It does an equally good job on paper and soft signage (unlike solvent) as well as backlit, pop-ups and canvas, which makes it suitable for a wide spread of applications and sectors."

He argues that the LX800 is a better bet for 80% of typical wide-format work than rivals, but cedes there are some applications it doesn’t suit.

"If your niche is building wraps then a 5m full solvent with ultra-cheap ink would be my choice," he says. "If you specialise in true textiles, then a dye-sub or direct-to-textile printer would be better. Nor does it print to rigid substrates, so it doesn’t replace a flatbed. Other than these examples, this printer will match or outperform competitive devices."

There are a handful of materials that the LX800 can’t cope with – raw cotton and silk and lightweight polypropylene.

The scent of success
While print is usually considered in purely visual terms, HP claims odourless latex inks also open up new possibilities where the smell of solvent or UV print restricts their use.

"Rival ink technologies have unpleasant odours and/or dangerous air pollutants, restricting the acceptability of the output in sensitive markets including retail, education, local government and hospitals," he says.

Rivals have, as is to be expected in the face of a disruptive technology, rubbished HP’s claims for latex. Their arguments include that the inks do contain solvents, that despite HP’s green messaging the machine has high energy consumption due to the heaters used in the two-stage drying and curing process, and that ink consumption, and therefore cost, is much higher.

"The ink coverage and power usage are two comments we regularly hear," says Edwards.

Based on the firm’s demo machine he says average consumption over many months of sample printing is 12ml/sqm. This compares to 8-10ml/sqm for eco solvent and 10-11ml/sqm for a UV-cured. The cost of the ink at recommended retail prices under HP’s volume user programme is £83 per litre, giving an ink cost of £1/sqm and including printheads and head cleaning roll the price works out at £1.25/sqm.

"The coverage is very competitive, and as we do demos and samples figures may be better in production," he says.
HP states power consumption of 8kW to 15kW during printing. "Typically competitors do not supply any information or give it in kVA [kilovolt-ampere], which you cannot easily convert into kWh," he says. "We are confident that the LX800 has a power consumption level similar to its rivals."

Consuming 15kW electricity for an hour at maximum power (assuming 11p per kW) costs £1.65. Running at a typical 45sqm/h that works out at 4p/sqm.

"Even if a competitor is 25% lower on power consumption, it is only 1p/sqm difference," he says. "If this is the main argument against latex then they need to find another."

Solvents challenge
They claim to have one: the solvent issue. If you want to be a pedant then in water-based (aqueous) inks there is a solvent – water. HP’s argument is that in its (and other’s) water-based inks there are also co-solvents – glycols and alcohols that optimise the wetting and jetting of the ink – and they typically make up around 30% by volume. Latex inks are similar to water-based inks, but also include the thermo-polymer that fuses onto the substrate to form a tough ink film.
Being similar to the ink used in its other Designjet machines means the latex-based products, even industrial ones like the LX800, deliver similar resolution, density and image quality.

"The image quality on high-quality substrates is virtually identical to that of a smaller Designjet, but at lower cost and many times the speed," he says. "Quality on other 3m printers is always relative to other industrial 3m machines – this printer can compete with devices designed for high quality indoor POP due to the 1,200dpi 12pl printheads."

You might think that the penalty of high quality was low speed, but having shoe-horned in 31,680 nozzles – over 15 times the count of some rivals – HP claims that the machine is fast, and in some applications, particularly where high quality is needed, faster than rivals.

The LX800 can produce good quality banners at 90sqm/h, high quality POP work at 45sqm/h and backlit can be produced at 27sqm/h without a drop in density or quality.

"Other 3m printers simply cannot get the same quality at a comparable speed," he says.

That high nozzle density comes courtesy of HP’s scalable printing technology. It’s the same core technology used in HP’s desktop printers scaled up for industrial use. HP is confident about the robustness and has also deployed it in its T series of high-volume web presses.

Heads are user replaceable and Edwards says you can be back in production in 15 minutes. Servicing is also claimed to be a cinch. There is no daily maintenance procedure and it has automatic nozzle replacement for reliable overnight printing, built-in spectrophotometer for automatic recalibration and automatic alignment and head calibration.

There are around 30 units in the UK between the 2.6m and 3.2m versions, and after two years in the market it is proven technology. Several early adopters have a second machine. HP initially promoted latex for its environmental credentials, however, Edwards believes that the economic climate meant such considerations went out of the window in favour of cold commercial logic and as a result the technology has proved itself on those grounds.

Now, as green shoots return to the economy, environmental issues are pushing up the agenda again, which may only increase the appeal of the LX 800.


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