Roland Soljet Pro III XC-540MT
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Marking a significant development in digital, the flexibility of this machine makes it an instant classic, says Barney Cox
Roland DG's launch of an eco-solvent wide-format inkjet machine with metallic capabilities is a milestone in the development of digital print. Metallic ink has been on the wish-list for a long time, but it's a tricky technology to crack, so it's understandable that the Soljet Pro III XC-540MT has attracted a lot of interest from a range of different markets.
In fact, such has been the demand for metallic that when the firm gave a sneak preview of the machine at Sign & Digital Ireland back in September, it took its first order 90 minutes into the show, from a customer so desperate to get their hands on the machine that they weren't even bothered that the pricing hadn't been set.
"For them the pricing was immaterial, it was the applications it opened up," says Roland DG UK head of product management Brett Newman.
The applications that the MT can handle are very broad, as the metallic ink is an addition to what was already a versatile machine with CMYK plus white printing, cutting, creasing and perforation. As for those applications, Newman believes the additional standout achieved by the metallic ink in addition to white is attractive for many markets.
"For vehicle graphics, for example, the effect under sunlight and on a moving vehicle adds a whole new dimension," he says. "We've also had an order from a high-end label printer who wants to use it for concept proofing, production proofing and short runs. A photographer is looking at it to enhance his work, and for sign makers the effects possible take you back to the use of gilt."
What it comes down to in the end is escaping the commodity trap by offering something different that adds value.
"Metallic opens up the market place, it's different and higher quality and therefore commands a higher price," he says. "At a time when margins are being squeezed, it offers a way to improve profitability."
He cites one of the first firms to order the machine, a commercial printer, who was looking at the non-metallic version.
"He was buying for the first time to bring wide-format in-house and wanted production speed and the ability to handle everything thrown at him. Because there's only a £3,000 difference between the two machines his view was he couldn't afford not to buy the MT."
With a price tag of £25,999, the £3,000 difference is 12% of the total price. For that you get a 1,370mm (54in) wide printer/cutter with RIP. Productivity depends on mode with a flat-out, four-colour production speed of 44m2 per hour suitable for banners. This drops to 22m2 per hour for vinyl work and, when printing using metallic in the highest quality, that drops to 6m2 per hour.
Both metallic and white inks are more expensive per millilitre than CMYK. However, Newman says the actual weight of metallic ink required to get maximum density is 60% less than for CMYK. The firm gives a per-square-metre ink cost for a typical CMYK image with some metallic coverage at high quality on vinyl of £2.16, of which £0.60p is metallic ink and £1.56 is CMYK and the total combined volume of ink used is 6.8cc.
The MT is based on proven technology, but even so, there has been considerable development to handle metallic ink, and improve its handling of white ink.
"The internals of this machine are massively different to the other Pro III machines," he says, "It's not just a question of slotting in a metallic ink cartridge."
Both inks are substantially different from CMYK with much larger particles, which is why they have been hard to use. To ensure the particles don't settle or clump together, which would risk gumming up the machine as well as producing inconsistent results the MT is fitted with a recirculation system as found on the much more expensive high-end UV flatbeds. Not only does that ensure that the metallic jets well, it's also improved the performance of the white ink, reducing ink consumption by 83%. There has also been extensive development of the inks and the machine's firmware.
Like other Roland machines, automatic cleaning makes sure all the nozzles are firing and there's no banding.
The full range of eco-solvent substrates can be used. The maximum thickness of material supported is 1mm for printing and 0.4mm for cutting, creasing and perforating. Clear films open up applications using the metallic ink's opacity, making it possible to produce double-sided graphics by printing CMYK, metallic then CMYK. Combined with white there is an even wider range of effects possible. To work that way you need to apply a flood coat of metallic, but it can also be applied as a spot separation for added stand out. At the moment the metallic ink can't be screened, but the ability to apply tints of metallic may be introduced in future firmware upgrades.
Control of those functions is handled in the VersaWorks RIP, which includes a feature called ‘Return to Origin' to enable printing over the top of the image and tools to make it simple to choose and preview how the two CMYK images will sit.
The RIP is fully featured and based on Adobe's CPSI to ensure reliable PDF handling. It includes support for variable data, ICC colour management and spot colour mapping to process. It's possible to drive VersaWorks with PDFs from colour management and proofing applications such as GMG and CGS. At the moment there is no support for one-bit TIFFs, but it has been requested and will be added in a future release.
Roland DG has scored a coup by getting to market first with a metallic machine, but it's unlikely to be alone for long. While rivals may question the suitability of a solvent machine, albeit an eco-solvent one, for proofing, it's attracted attention from commercial and packaging printers for that application. As it is CMYK only it is limited in its ability to reproduce the full gamut of special colours. For concept proofs and short runs the trade-off of being able to simulate metallic inks, and to a lesser extent foiling, may outweigh that. Especially when you add in the ability to cut, kiss cut perforate and crease it becomes a very compelling package. The only other method of proofing metallics is to use Kodak's Approval which, although it can produce a more accurate result, is more expensive to buy and run and needs a lamination step to produce a proof and making mock-ups would require a separate cutting table too.
It would be wrong to pigeonhole the MT as a proofer, that's just one potential application to which it can add a little sparkle.
Description 1,370mm wide roll-to-roll eco-solvent inkjet wide-format printer with cutting, creasing and perforating
Banner production (CMYK) 44m2 per hour
Photo-quality output (including metallic inks) 6m2 per hour
Colours CMYK plus metallic silver and white
Max substrate thickness
RIP Roland VersaWorks
Typical CMYK+ spot metallic in some areas at high quality £2.16 per m2
CMYK cost: £1.56
Metallic cost: £0.60
Roland DG UK 0845 230 9060 www.rolanddg.co.uk
Epson Stylus Pro GS6000
The Stylus Pro GS6000 is an eight-colour (CMYK light cyan, light magenta, orange and green) 1.6m-wide solvent printer. Producing a wide colour gamut at resolutions up to 1,440dpi. Speed is up to 25m² per hour for banner-quality printing and around 8.4m² for photographic signage.
Max speed 25m2 per hour
Max width 1,600mm
Contact Colourgen 01628 588722 www.colourgen.com
Epson Stylus Pro WT7900
This proofer adds white to the Stylus Pro proofing product, which already includes a wide colour gamut and built in spectrophotometer for rock solid results.
Max speed 40m2 per hour
Max width 610mm
Price not supplied
Contact Epson UK 0871 222 6702 www.epson.co.uk
HP Designjet L25500
No metallic, or white or cut-crease-perf, but the new latex Designjet is intended to take on the eco-solvent machines in their core markets. HP claims substrate and application flexibility and environmental benefits are pluses for latex.
Max speed 22.8m2 per hour
Max width 1,520mm
Price 1,070mm (42in): £16,741/1,520mm (60in): £21,892
Contact HP UK 0870 013 0790 www.hp.com/go/graphic-arts
Kodak Approval XP4
A venerable digital halftone proofing system that includes metallic and white inks. Needs a laminator to transfer onto final stock, and supports pretty much any substrate. It's not fast or cheap, but it is very accurate.
Max width 676x530mm
Resolution 2,400 or 2,540dpi
Price €45,000 including laminator and Kodak Proofing RIP
Contact Kodak UK 020 8424 6514 www.graphics1.kodak.com
A hybrid (flatbed/roll-to-roll) UV-curing wide-format printer that uses flexible UV inks co-developed with 3M that work with a wide range of materials with stretch capabilities that allow it to be formed, creased and cut through without affecting the print and delivers a strong performance on roll-fed materials.
Max speed 7m2 per hour
Max width 1,600mm
Contact Hybrid Services 01270 501 900 www.hybridservices.co.uk