Printer Review: Epson Solvent S-Series One Year Later

Last year I wrote a review describing my initial experience with the newest Epson Solvent SureColor S-Series printer, the S60600. You may recall that I could not find anything negative to write about it.

Well, I figured one year and hundreds of prints later is a good time to give everyone an update on these solvent printers. On our tech support floor, we run more than 25 different wide format machines. We typically use them to run profiles for each printer/product combination. There are times when we print on both the Epson S60600 and the Epson S80600 continuously five days straight. But the next month, we’ll only use the once or twice a week.

As a testing facility, we are a very odd user since we will have spells of not using a machine for some time, but that makes our situation prime for a review that is ideal to satisfy both types of users.

Finding a Competitive Advantage for Poster Printing

Poster Printing
Productive Displays, Addison, Ill., was able to print high-quality posters cost-effectively with Sunset Photo Satin SUV.

There are certain volumes for poster printing where digital inkjet printing simply can’t compete with offset or screen printing. However, those volume numbers, and the margin where such projects are profitable, inch higher for digital printing companies as time goes by.

Inkjet Poster PrintingBruce Ulrich, president of Productive Displays in Addison, Ill., reports that with the addition of LexJet Sunset Photo Satin SUV 275g, that volume number where his company can compete for poster jobs with offset and screen printing is near 1,000.

“Typically, where we compete most effectively for this type of work is in the 1-800 piece range. Once we go over 1,000 pieces I would need another 20-30 percent off the cost,” says Ulrich. “We used another product in the past, but it was much more expensive. I needed to find an option that would give us at least another 40-50 percent off the cost of producing posters.”

Ulrich found that option with LexJet with Sunset Photo Satin SUV 275g. Moreover, Productive Displays is able to provide a higher-quality, sharper and more color-accurate poster. Sunset Photo Satin SUV is also instant-dry, so that production of multiple-run posters can move quickly and smoothly using the company’s Mimaki JV3 solvent printers.

Inkjet Poster PrintingThe job pictured here for Dish Network is an excellent example as it required three versions with 100 prints of each version. Variable-data print projects, where there are multiple versions of the same print, continues to become more commonplace, fitting nicely into a wide-format digital print company’s wheelhouse.

“With most customers, they’ll come back and ask me for the price for three versions, five versions or ten versions. When they say that to the offset or screen print companies there’s a setup charge. I try to explain to them that where our favorable cost situation comes into play is that it doesn’t matter how many versions they want, the price per poster won’t change,” explains Ulrich. “The client was very pleased with the look and quality of the posters. The Sunset product will allow us to compete more cost-effectively against the offset and screen print companies for poster-related projects.”

Hole in One with a Custom Golf Ball Print on a Tire Cover

Tire cover graphics

Every so often, that oddball project walks into the shop that allows you to test new materials and production methods. In the case pictured here, it was a golf ball project for a customer’s tire cover on the back of their Hummer.

The challenge was the surface of the tire cover, which wasn’t the typical soft vinyl or fabric, but a semi-rigid, slick, pebbled surface that would be difficult for a typical vinyl graphics application. This project drove to FastSigns – Airway in El Paso and gave manager Alan Russell an excuse to test LexJet’s Simple MTS Adhesive Vinyl.

Russell says that he had already begun experimenting with the high-tack vinyl designed for multi-textured surfaces on the floors of a local industrial complex, Mallory Manufacturing Company, but also gets the call for off-the-wall applications to slick and textured surfaces on the sides of Porta Potties and trash cans.

Applying graphics to a tire cover“The tire cover is a low-energy plastic with a real nasty pebble-grained texture that nothing sticks to,” explains Russell. “The wrinkle for us was that they had Armor-All’d the crap out of it. We used Simple Green and a scrub brush so that it wasn’t so shiny and slick. Then, after we did that two or three times, we applied alcohol to the surface and let it dry to prepare it for the graphics.”

The golf ball image was printed on a Mimaki JV33 solvent printer, laminated with an optically-clear cast vinyl, and die cut to its 36″ x 36″ circular dimensions. Then, Russell put some reference marks on the tire cover to align the graphics, put the tire cover on the board to give it more rigidity for application and applied the graphic.

“We didn’t use application tape; we just laid it in the middle of the tire cover. We didn’t have it perfectly aligned the first time, so we just popped it up, repositioned it and squeegeed it with a normal squeegee,” explains Russell. “We used a rivet brush with the backing paper on top to protect the graphic and just brushed it into the cover; we didn’t use any heat. The edges laid out smooth, flat and gorgeously and we just hung it back on the truck. He took it to Colorado and it still looks great.”

Originally, the client wanted to wrap the entire cover, but Russell discouraged that concept since he felt a wrap would be much more difficult, thus more expensive for the client, and it would simply look better in the middle of the cover. Russell was right, as the golf ball stands out surrounded by the black of the tire cover.

“The image quality of the Simple MTS was as good if not better than most vinyl we’ve used. It has more of a matte vinyl look and feel, and that’s why it takes the ink much better, especially with solvent printers. It die-cut the first time perfectly and laminated beautifully, plus the fact that it’s fairly thick it lays like a 2×4; the thicker it is, the easier it is for my staff to apply. When you throw a laminate on it you’re at around 7 mils, which is why it applied so nicely without tape. For those relatively flat applications, like Porta-Potties and floors, it’s perfect,” says Russell. “In real life it looks even more three dimensional; it’s very deceiving. It was perfect, and the black of the tire cover trimmed it out nicely. We also added a slight grey outline to blend it into the cover.”

Clearing the Air

The Predator 600 Portable Air Scrubber helps maintain a safe and clean work environment and can actually help speed production.

Solvent printing was a godsend to the wide-format printing industry. While it would be a boon for the outdoor-durable print, it would bring its own set of health and environmental issues. The early solvent inks were just short of running uranium through the printer; just ask anyone who went to a trade show in the early part of this century and had an opportunity to breathe in the fumes. But since the introduction of solvent inks, the formulations have evolved to be less noxious, smelly, and flammable.

Though many of these newer solvents are milder, and are sometimes referred to with the misnomer eco, they still contain ingredients that can be harmful to those who operate them. If you check the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for substances that are potentially harmful to humans, including carcinogens, you needn’t look far. But never fear, since the effects of solvent fumes and outgassing can be greatly mitigated by taking the appropriate steps. Moreover, you can do the environment a favor by taking proper care in the disposal of your ink waste.