Epson expands wide format ambitions

Epson has announced two new wide format printers, one with resin ink and one with UV LED curing, both aimed at the entry level outdoor signage market and neither of which can really be described as groundbreaking. But the strategy behind these printers is a different story altogether.  

This Epson entry level SureColor SC-V7000 flatbed is Epson’s first wide format UV-LED printer.

So, why develop these printers now – given that Epson has quite happily focussed its efforts for this market on its solvent ink printers for the last 12 years, while HP has grown the resin, AKA latex, print market, and just about everyone else has gone down the UV route?

Duncan Ferguson, vice president of commercial and industrial printing at Epson Europe, explains that the company carried out a strategic review of its business a few years ago and concluded that it should invest more resources into the commercial and production markets. The result of this is that a number of new printers are coming to fruition now, including these two printers. 

He explains: “We want to go with all three ink technologies and will further develop all three because we don’t want to have one or the other. We recognise there is a strong reason for having each for different applications and the market is still growing.”

Epson, or to give the company its proper name, Seiko Epson Corporation, is an enormous entity with fingers in many different pies from desktop printers and projectors through to robotics, high end luxury watches and even cameras, including at one stage a rather nice digital rangefinder. And of course, Epson also makes large format printers, industrial label printers and heavy duty textile printers. In addition, Epson holds a lot of technology, from manufacturing its own thin film piezo printheads through to formulating a range of different ink types including aqueous as well as resin, solvent and UV.

So, with this range of technology at its command, I would really like to see Epson being BOLD and not just in a Times New Roman 12pt kind of way but rather along the lines of high productivity industrial printers combined with robotic autoloading and unloading and vibrant inksets for high quality printing.

But for now, Epson has opted to be cautious, with Ferguson explaining: “We are focussing initially on the customer base where we have already established ourselves.” That means the entry level end of the market where 1.6m wide solvent printers are still used. But surely the whole point of branching out into new ink technologies is to go beyond this market?

Duncan Ferguson, executive director for EpsonÕs Professional Printing and Robotics division in Europe.

Still, for now, Epson is hoping to go back to its existing customers base and betting that those customers are looking for more of the same – relatively low prices, good image quality and a sedate printing speed but with the option to take on a wider range of applications. 

SureColor SC-V7000

This brings us to the SureColor SC-V7000, which is an entry-level flatbed complete with UV LED curing. The bed has a maximum print area of 2.5 x 1.25m and takes substrates up to 80mm thick. It’s split into four zones. 

For this printer, Epson has opted to use what it calls the L1440 printhead but which everyone else knows as the DX7. These heads have eight channels, each with 180 nozzles, forcing Epson to fit eight of these heads to accommodate all the inks. These heads produce a 4pl minimum drop size coupled with Epson’s standard approach to producing multiple drop sizes.

The printer has a maximum resolution of 720 x 1440 dpi but will only run at 4.8 sqm/hr at that resolution. It can run at 43.1 sqm/hr in its fastest mode at 360 x 720dpi but I suspect that most users are going to be working with the Production mode at 720 x 720dpi with 15.3sqm/hr. 

Epson has put together an interesting 10-colour inkset for the V7000, called UltraChrome UV, which is supplied in 1000ml bottles. This consists of CMYK plus light cyan, light magenta, and grey (to counter graininess) and Red (for vivid and bright prints) as well as white and varnish. Epson does have a proven track record of producing inksets that are able to reproduce a very wide colour gamut and is clearly hoping that this will give it a competitive edge. However, one reason all the other vendors limit themselves to six colour inksets is because the more colours you have, the more expensive it is to run the printer. This is something that customers buying entry level signage printers tend to worry about more than those looking for high end photographic reproduction or proofing, particularly given the cost of UV inks. 

There is some recirculation for the white ink but the ink is just recirculated around the piping and not through the heads. The printheads have been arranged in an unusual staggered configuration, presumably to ensure the white inks can lay down a base and the varnish can be overcoated with the minimum number of passes. Thus two heads each have been given over to the white and varnish, two heads for CMYK, and two for the remaining colours. 

There clearly is a market for budget flatbeds given the success that Mimaki has had with its JFX200 series printers. Richard Barrow, Epson Europe’s senior product manager for production large format printers, comments: “Mimaki is the leading player globally in this segment. With our SC-V7000, we are aiming to add value to the market with an affordable solution that offers high print quality, increased productivity and an extended inkset. We are confident that we can address the solution to a wider range of signage printing needs with the addition of a UV flatbed printer.”

SureColor SC-R5000

The second of these new printers is the SureColor SC-R5000, a 1.6m wide roll-fed large format printer that uses resin ink and can print to paper and fabric as well as PVC and banners, up to 1mm thick.

This Epson SureColor SC-R5000 uses resin inks

Resin ink uses water as the base carrier solution with the coloured pigments encapsulated in particles of resin. Once the ink has been jetted to the substrate it’s subjected to heat, which melts the resin to bond to the pigment to the substrate. This heat also causes the water-based carrier solution to evaporate away. The advantage is that it cures to a relatively tough finish that’s scratch resistant and suitable for outdoor signage so there’s less need to laminate, still one of the major problems with eco-solvent inks. In addition, the water-based carrier allows the vendor to market it as an environmentally-friendly solution. The disadvantage is that the heat can damage some substrates and the amount of heat used can push up your electricity bill.

The best known resin ink is HP latex, which mainly adopted this type of ink because its thermal printheads only work with water-based inks. But it is worth noting that both Ricoh and Mutoh also offer their own resin ink printers.

The R5000 printer is based on the chassis of Epson’s existing S80600 solvent printer but is otherwise a completely new machine. Epson has used a brand new PrecisionCore Micro TFP printhead, which appears to have 12 PrecisionCore chips arranged in two staggered rows of six and has a maximum resolution of 1200 x 1200 dpi. I believe that this is the biggest printhead that Epson has so far built though Epson has been somewhat coy about this. Nonetheless, there are two of these heads used in the R5000. PrecisionCore chips each have two rows of 400 nozzles, and for these heads, each of these chips appears to be configured as a separate channel, meaning there are 24 channels across the two heads.

It uses a new UltraChrome RS inkset that’s said to be odourless and suitable for use in any environments such as schools, hospitals, hotels and indoor facilities. There are six colours – CMYK plus light cyan and light magenta. Unfortunately there is no white ink because Epson does not have recirculation on any of its heads. Incidentally, this is a problem that also plagued HP for many years until it redeveloped its head to allow for recirculation. The heads also jet an optimiser fluid, which can be printed simultaneously or separately like a base layer. I believe that each head is set up to print two channels each of the CMYK ink plus the optimiser and a single channel each for the two light colours. 

This printer uses Epson’s PrecisionDot technology, including the new multi-layer halftone, which I’ve covered alongside the F10000 here. Print speed is 15.1 sqm/hr for 9 passes for PVC and papers but ranges from 21 sqm/hr for taupaulins, down to 5.2 sqm/hr for films. 

Epson has had resin ink in its portfolio for some time and uses it on the SurePress L-4533 label press. But Epson has always resisted using resin ink for large format printing, claiming that its solvent inks were more environmentally friendly because of the high energy consumption. 

Ferguson says that it’s still the case that solvent will be more suitable and sustainable for applications that don’t require further processing, such as vehicle wrapping. However, he says that those applications that would require a solvent print to be laminated can now be done with a resin printer in a more sustainable way as there’s no need for a further process. 

I think it’s worth noting that I’ve always found that Epson’s sales staff had a very good idea of the energy consumption of a HP latex printer, when arguing the environmental credentials of their solvent machines. However, when I asked about the energy consumption of the R5000 Epson just cut and pasted some corporate stuff from an annual report about their environmental commitment, which suggests to me that customers should pay attention to the energy consumption and its impact on their electricity bills. 

That said, Epson does also offer a bulk ink option for this printer that would allow customers to take advantage of economies of scale in terms of ink prices.

Epson’s Nagano headquarters in Japan.

Ultimately it’s good to see more competition in the large format market. There’s nothing particularly special about either of these printers, which have mainly been designed to keep pace with the competition. But they should be seen as a statement of intent, that Epson plans to play a bigger role in the commercial print market than it has up to now.

However, it sometimes seems to me that Epson lacks confidence, that the company really wants to take a leading role in the production print market, and presumably the growing packaging and industrial printing areas, but is held back by the perception of itself as just a manufacturer of cheap desktop printers. Only time will tell if Epson can follow through on its excruciatingly slow and cautious approach. But it’s worth noting that I started this week with a story on Epson’s ambitions in the industrial textile print area and here we are talking about the company potentially doing the same in the commercial print market.

The R5000 is likely to cost around £18,000 or £21,000 for the bulk ink version. The V7000 UV flatbed should be around €75,000, roughly £70,000. Both of these printers are shipping in Japan now and should be available in Western Europe by December.  You can find further details on Epson’s large format printers from epson.co.uk.


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