It’s no secret that most sign shops are looking to get the most out of their digital printers. What is a better kept secret is that many focus on the hardware, rather than the supplies that feed the machine and keep it running. While focusing on the printer itself is a way to rake in an ever bigger ROI, paying attention to the media and inks used in the printer can go a long way, as well.
One of the first steps a shop can take is to make sure it’s using the printer manufacturer’s recommended media and inks. After all, there’s a reason they’re recommended. “Over the long term, using the manufacturer’s inks will ensure optimum performance of the printer and greatly reduce downtime and maintenance issues,” says Eric Zimmerman, product manager for Roland DGA Corp.
In addition to choosing the right media and inks, there are ways to conserve the materials and ensure they’re used most efficiently. Ink is a big factor for a shop, so it’s important to regulate its use. “Ink is a huge consideration when you’re talking about a shop’s expenses on a monthly basis or an annual basis,” says Rick Moore, director of Marketing MACtac Graphics.
Depending on the features of the printer, there are many ways to ensure ink is used efficiently. Some manufacturers, such as Mimaki, offer an uninterrupted ink supply system, which allows users to set up a job so the printer will automatically change an empty cartridge when needed. This frees up labor and saves time.
Shops can avoid ink waste through a thorough analysis of the printer, as well. “Ink waste can come from a number of sources such as purging of print heads in an effort to clear blocked nozzles or ink containers that don’t completely empty,” says Randy Paar, Display Graphics marketing manager for Océ North America. “Other sources of waste may not be so obvious, such as the design of the printer itself. For instance, does the print head produce a small enough picoliter drop size to eliminate the need for light colored inks? Eliminating the need for light magenta and light cyan can result in an ink reduction of up to 30-50 percent compared to a six-color system.”
Profiling is another way to reduce ink waste. “Profiling is certainly an important aspect in minimizing the overall amount of ink used in a print,” says Paar. “UCR (under color removal) and GCR (grey component replacement) are common methods of reducing total ink density. Similarly the ink’s color density that’s determined by the concentration and color of the pigments used can affect how much volume of ink is required to produce a deep saturated color.”
Like ink, media can also be taken into consideration and better used to avoid waste and costly do-overs. “There’s a lot of ROI that can be maximized just on knowledge and expertise,” says Moore. “A lot of times what you’ll find is that if you ask the right questions, you’re going to hone in on the right media.”
Lisa Humrich, marketing manager at Oracal agrees. She suggests asking three basic questions to help hone in on a media:
- How long will the project be displayed?
- Is this an indoor or outdoor project?
- Should I use a digital or plotter film?
“There isn’t one magical product that will satisfy all needs for all applications,” says Humrich. “And with so many vinyl choices available sometimes this can be a daunting task. Why these questions are important is simple: every question eliminates a sub-section of potential vinyl choices and leads you to the final vinyl decision. Also, answers to these questions give a better understanding of the expectations and requirements needed of the job.”
And when the right media is chosen, steps can be taken to avoid wasting it. “The main consideration is do you have the right widths and lengths available to support the project that’s at hand. From a base media and from a laminate perspective,” says Moore.
MACtac has the ability to support larger jobs by offering up to 1500-foot rolls. “If you talk about the difference from 150 feet to 1500 feet, that’s ten changeovers,” says Moore. “And minimizing changeover is one way to maximize return.”
For more tips and techniques on how to achieve a better ROI with an existing or new digital printer, check out our special supplement, Digital Printing: Navigating Growth and ROI, in the August 2011 issue.
Photos courtesy of (from top to bottom): MACtac; Oracal; FASTSIGNS, Menomonee Falls, WI; Hazzard Screenprinting Ltd., Burnaby, BC.