Star product: Inkcups Helix Hi-Fi

Nessan Cleary
Thursday, October 17, 2019

This direct-to-object printer can reproduce photorealistic pictures on cylindrical objects such as drinks glasses and candle holders.

What does the machine do?

The Helix Hi-Fi is a direct -to-object printer that prints personalised images to straight-walled cylinders, tapers, and objects with limited wall curvatures. Inkcups says that it can print to practically any substrate but that the most popular applications are glass and plastic. This includes glass candle holders, drinkware including stemless wine glasses, stainless steel tumblers and pint glasses, suitable for promotional and retail markets. 

When was it launched and who are the target users?

The Helix Hi-Fi was launched earlier this summer. It’s targeted at the personalisation and retail markets, which have grown over the past couple of years. It can generate true photorealistic images with smoother shade transitions, less graininess and higher-resolution edge effects, according to Inkcups. As a result it’s able to meet customer demands for personalisation, which requires one-off production of facial images. 

How does it work?

The Helix Hi-Fi uses Ricoh Gen 4 printheads with a maximum resolution of 1,200dpi. It can print 360° around a cylindrical object with a printable area of 218mm. The object is held in place using a jig – and you’ll need an appropriate jig for each object. The item spins under the printheads while the ink is laid onto the surface. It can print on items from 76mm to 305mm in length with a diameter ranging from 51-114.3mm, although this can be increased to 127mm with a modification. There’s a choice of print modes from four to 24 passes and it lays down 7pl drops. The ink is Inkcups’ DL-series UV LED ink, which is said to be a slightly flexible ink that’s suitable for glass and plastics. However, Inkcups does recommend using a pre-treatment method for some substrates and is also in the process of qualifying its other inks for this machine. 

How does it differ from earlier devices?

The new Hi-Fi is based on the Helix Rotary printer, with the addition of two further colours – light cyan and light magenta – alongside the existing CMYK plus white and varnish. These new light colours improve the reproduction of skin tones with smoother shade transitions, less graininess, and higher-resolution edge effects. In addition to the two extra colours, it has smoothing technology which removes any potential graininess from an original image for better print quality output. Inkcups says that this technology is mostly beneficial for facial images and skin-tone matching. 

How productive is it? 

The speed of this machine depends on the height of the artwork. However, it can print approximately 250 parts per hour based on a 50.8mm image height. 

What is the USP?

The unique selling point is the machine’s capability to print photorealistic images onto cylindrical and conical parts with high throughput. 

How easy is it to use?

Inkcups says that there is a learning curve, though it provides a full support service, which ranges from documentation through to onsite training. The company recommends choosing one person for in-depth training, such as understanding how to prep artwork as well as learning how to troubleshoot issues. This person should be familiar with Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop. 

What training and support is on offer?

Inkcups provides a full digital printing setup service under the InkcupCare programme. There is a European sales office in Germany; the Inkcups UK service and support currently comes from a combination of its European office in Germany and headquarters in the US. 

How much does it cost?

The Helix Hi-Fi costs around £161,000. This includes supplies such as the initial order for inks and two fixtures as well as one year of InkcupCare warranty. There’s also an extended warranty available. 

What is the sales target crosshead?

Inkcups says that it has several orders in the pipeline, including a number of Europe-based customers. 


SPECIFICATIONS

Resolution 1,200dpi

Speed 250 parts/hour

Part length 76-305mm

Object diameter 51-114.3mm

Print area 218mm

Colours CMYK, light cyan, light magenta, dual white plus optional varnish

Ink type UV LED

Dimensions 2209.80 x 711.2 x 1574.80 mm

Price $200,000 or £161,000

Contact Inkcups +1 978 646 8980 www.Inkcups.com


ALTERNATIVES

Engineered Printing Solutions (EPS) XD 360

Resolution 360dpi

Speed 800 parts/hr

Part length 25-300mm

Object diameter 40-153mm

Print area 282mm

Colours CMYK plus white (plus varnish option)

Ink type UV

Dimensions 241.3cm x 228.6cm x 193cm 

Price $500,000 (around £402,000)

Contact EPS +1 800 272 7764 www.epsvt.com (European sales rep: Steve Lockett 07557 973622)

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