Brother enters wide format market

Brother, which is perhaps best known for sewing machines and DtG printers, is expanding into the wide format printer market with a new range of latex printers, starting with the WF1-L640.

This is a 1.6m wide printer and runs at up to 15 sqm/hr. It’s based on the chassis of Roland DG’s TrueVIS AP-640 resin printer but with printheads and inks from Brother.

The printheads have been based on those used in the GTX series of DtG printers, which Brother has sold in considerable numbers so this is a fairly proven design. This also has the advantage that Brother can produce these heads relatively cost-effectively since the same basic design and manufacturing is used throughout its consumer and industrial printers. Brother has used a variant of this design in the Domino N730i label press, which I’ve already covered in more detail.

For the WF1, the printheads have been configured with four channels with 300dpi resolution each. The head has a squarish shape with multiple rows of nozzles. It lays down a 35.6mm or 1.4ins print swathe and can produce 1200 dpi resolution in total. It’s a greyscale head generating three drop sizes, from 5 to 15pl. There are two heads, which are arranged in a staggered configuration. The first lays down an optimiser that is needed to hold the ink in place on the media before the ink is cured. The second head follows up with the four CMYK colours. 

There are no plans to add any further colours. Tsuyoshi Kuwayama from Brother’s management team told me: “We have a good print quality and a larger gamut with just four colours than HP.” However, this is what all printer vendors tell journalists – and it may well be true – but he was unable to back this up or describe how much of the Pantone range it could cover.

The ink is a resin ink, better known as latex thanks to HP’s marketing efforts, though there’s no latex in the ink. Nonetheless, Brother is right on trend with a growing number of vendors looking at the advantages of resin inks, including Ricoh, Epson, Mutoh and Roland, while Mimaki has dabbled in resin printing in the past. Resin inks are water-based, which makes for a more environmentally-friendly solution than UV-curable inks. The basic idea behind a resin ink is that the pigment is encapsulated in a resin that melts when heated to bind the pigment to the substrate. Consequently these inks can adhere to a wide range of different substrates, from self adhesive vinyl to textiles, and withstand the rigours of outdoor weathering. That said, the degree to which any of these features applies does depend heavily on the formulation of the individual inkset. 

The trick with resin inks is getting the balance right between putting down just enough ink to achieve the required colour depth and then applying enough heat to activate the binding process and evaporate the water carrier from the ink. The drying normally determines the overall speed of the printer since the quicker you can dry the ink, the quicker you can roll the media up onto the winder. But, as HP discovered, too much heat will damage the thinner, more sensitive substrates, such as clear films for window graphics.

In this case, Brother has inherited the drying system along with the Roland DG chassis. Kuwayama says that the printer is using hot air to dry the inks, with temperatures ranging from 85ºC to 110ºC. He adds: “We can use lower temperatures but the strength is better with high temperatures.” Strangely he suggests that if customers did need to print at a lower temperature then they could use a laminator to improve the scratch resistance though gluing a layer of plastic onto the graphic does seem at odds with the environmentally-friendly ethos of water-based inks. However, he noted: “Of course we will have to adapt to the market and might have to use a lower temperature heater.”

So, why move into the wide format in the first place? Kuwayama told me that Brother already had the basic ink technology as the the ink in its GTX series of DTG printers is a form of resin ink, noting that the company also had the facilities to develop and manufacture inkjet printheads.

He added: “We want to expand our technology to new markets with new products and we know that wide format has a big market and latex ink is in that. So we are focussed on sign and wallpaper and we show two kinds of substrate but the printer can print too many other substrates like canvas.”

This expansion into the outdoor sign and display market is part of a business strategy that Brother calls ‘At your side 2030’ that’s meant to take the company into more industrial inkjet printing over the next few years. Essentially this means that Brother will launch more wide format printers in an effort to increase the revenue from its inkjet division. 

Brother has added orange and green inks to the GTX600 Extra Colours DtG printer

Besides the latex wide format printer, Brother also demonstrated two other models on its stand at Fespa. These included a new Extra Colours version of the GTX 600 DtG printer. This gains two extra printheads and two additional colours, orange and green, which should improve the colour gamut of this printer. 

Brother also showed a new Direct-to-Film machine, which is essentially a roll-to-roll version of the existing GTX Pro DtG printer. This allows the film to be passed straight through to the powder and processing unit to produce a finished roll in a single pass.

The WF1 printer, which made its European debut on the Fespa show last week, was first announced in Japan back in February 2023, and has already been used to print reproductions for an exhibition of designer Kunio Okawara’s work in Hong Kong in April. It will come with Roland DG’s VersaWorks RIP. The cost is likely to be around €19,495. 

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