When Is It Time to Upgrade Your Printer?

Michael Clementi

The start of a new year is the perfect time to evaluate your business goals and ensure that you have the right equipment to help you reach those objectives. With all the new printers and different technologies available today, we asked in-house printer expert Michael Clementi to weigh in on how to tell if it’s time to replace your old printer.

Q: What are the most common ways to tell if your printer is aging?

A: For aqueous piezo technology (like Epson or Roland), you’ll experience vertical banding running the length of the print, errors that you cannot navigate past or an increase in the number of cleanings needed to produce a healthy nozzle check. For aqueous thermal user-replaceable printheads (such as Canon or HP), you may see hardware errors on the machine. You can call a LexJet representative to help determine what may be causing the error; however, if you need service, it would be best to contact the printer manufacturer for quotes or troubleshooting. Some hardware-related issues indicate the need for a head replacement – not uncommon for thermal printers – but errors related to what I call the “drive train” of the printer (i.e.: belts, head/carriage motors and internal electrical components) might be reparable, but the difference in cost of repair vs. upgrading to the latest technology might be almost negligible.

Q: Are there any repairs that are worth the cost rather than buying a new printer?

A: If it is an older Epson or Roland that needs a full printhead replacement (which are not user-replaceable and can cost more than $600 for just the parts, not including labor), it makes more sense to use those funds towards a new printer. With a new model, you will have better ink usage, print more profitable jobs, work with current technology and have a printer that is covered under warranty. New technology has allowed for increase in output and a significant decrease in the footprint of the printer. New printers will also be more efficient and will offer a wider color gamut than older models. If your current printer is several generations old, it may be difficult finding parts for the repair due to the manufacturers halting production of older parts (as they call, “end of life”).

Q: What kind of lifespan can I expect to get from a printer?

A: The average lifespan for aqueous machines is three to five years, depending on the technology, frequency of use and how well it is maintained. Solvent and latex printers can be in the six- to eight-year range, again depending upon use and maintenance.

Q: When is it a wiser investment to upgrade rather than repair?

Big Prints for Big Time Artists

Printing Russel James' photographyWhen you work print magic for some of the biggest names in photography and fine art you might as well print big, which is exactly what Stephen Kerner does. Kerner, owner of Stone River Giclee in Woodstock, N.Y., has been printing giant reproductions on canvas for renowned photographers Russell James and Catherine Sebastian (who’s also the wife of former The Lovin’ Spoonful front man John Sebastian).

Those are but two examples of a long list of prestigious clients for whom Kerner prints, which also includes the Dali Lama, Harvard Press and the New York Cultural Society. Kerner reproduces the drawings and Thangkas (Tibetan religious paintings) from the Dali Lama’s monastery on LexJet Water-Resistant Satin Cloth. “They use real gold paint, so it’s very difficult to get that color, but we can hit it with our ImagePrint RIP on the Epson printer,” says Kerner.

As the exclusive printer for New York Cultural Society’s endowment for all of its modern fine art painting, Kerner reproduces the work of legendary painters like Edwin Church and Jackson Pollock. Kerner either captures the original work in his studio or he’s supplied with transparencies, but sometimes he has to capture the work at the museum. “I go with a laptop and a camera and do all the color correcting in front of the original paintings. I photograph them, take color swatches, come back, put them all together and calibrate the printer with the color profiles,” he explains.

But it’s not just printing that recommends Kerner to this exclusive clientele; it’s an innate sense of color and artistic aesthetic that Kerner brings to his work.

Stephen Kerner in his studio
Master printer Stephen Kerner, Stone River Giclee, Woodstock, N.Y.

Kerner started printing about 20 years ago when the first Iris printers appeared on the scene. He didn’t pick up printing to start a business, but was propelled into it through a need to reproduce his own fine art. Kerner’s fine art is displayed in 14 museums across the country and printing his own work so he could control the process to his tight specifications helped him gain a foothold for his paintings.

In those 20 years, Kerner has gone through the entire digital print evolution. It’s an evolution that has reached a “pinnacle,” he says, thanks to incredible improvements in inkjet technology. Kerner’s workhorse is the Epson 11880 he picked up from LexJet. The 64-inch printer, along with the ImagePrint RIP, help Kerner produce remarkable pieces of art writ large. As an example, Russell James, most well known for his fascinating celebrity photography, has embarked on a series called Nomad Two Worlds, which highlights indigenous peoples from around the world.

Print studio
Stephen Kerner's studio, Stone River Giclee.

Kerner explains: “They’ll send me a RAW file and then I do all the retouching and reformatting to their specifications. It’s quite a process because they’re printed out as large as 12 feet long. After I retouch it and prepare it, I print it out using LexJet Sunset Select Matte Canvas and the ImagePrint software. Once the images are printed, we pack them in tubes that then go to the artist, an aboriginal artist who embellishes it with their own native motif in paint. I then take that embellished work and print them as limited editions up to 14 feet long. Russell likes to go big with his work. He could have picked anybody, but he picked us because of the quality of our work and the canvas we get from LexJet.”

Transitions to Success: Red River Photo Services

Inkjet printer matte canvasLeighton and Katrina Kirkpatrick, owners of Red River Photo Services in Oklahoma City, have created a business that emphasizes the experience. What Red River Photo means by that is how the customer is drawn in and made a part of the entire printing experience from the beginning.

“This is an open place; there’s no front counter where customers have to talk to someone in the front about what they need, where it then gets passed to someone in the back who passes it to someone else in the back who tries to interpret what three other people said about the project,” explains Leighton Kirkpatrick. “That’s been a big part of our success and one of the reasons we grew last year… Personal involvement and letting them be part of the experience. We bring them right into the shop right where we’re working and sit down at the computer with them to go through their project. We combine a place that’s enjoyable to visit – where they will be treated in a friendly and helpful fashion – with a final product that exceeds their expectations.”

This is not idle “customer service” talk. It’s based on more than 35 years of experience in imaging, first in film and now in digital output. Red River Photo Services has been based in Oklahoma City for more than eight years. Previously, Leighton had a successful lab in New York City for more than 18 years, catering to modeling agencies, advertising firms and other high-end clientele.

Inkjet printing canvas
Red River Photo's showroom features the work of some of Oklahoma's most prominent artists printed on LexJet Sunset Select Matte Canvas.

Katrina is originally from Oklahoma City, so the pair decided to settle down there, bringing some of the New York-based business with them. “We were doing work for agencies all over, so for many of them it didn’t really matter where we were located,” says Leighton. “I’m glad we had that business because it took us a couple of years to get established locally.”

And get established they did. Shortly after making the move, Red River Photo began making the transition from a chemical lab to fully digital. As Leighton explains, it wasn’t an easy transition, particularly for someone who had been so immersed in all the ins, outs, nuances and details of the chemical process.

“I love it now. It’s irreplaceable and we’ve become very skilled at it. I wouldn’t go back in the darkroom,” says Leighton. “I’ve been doing this for 35 years. Katrina’s been doing it for five to six years and her enthusiasm helps keep me enthusiastic. She’s very good at what she does and she’s as good at printing as I am, which takes a lot of heat off of me. Plus, she is very good with our customers.”

Not only did Red River shift from film to digital, the business itself and the market it serves has evolved, particularly over the past few years. While the company’s specialty is still true-color fine art and photographic reproduction, its growth has been mainly on the commercial side. Red River works with design and architecture firms and corporations to help them full realize the potential of their branding and image.

Inkjet printing on photo paper
Red River Photo printed this 36-in. x 96-in. display for the Oklahoma City Thunder, the city's NBA franchise, on eSatin, laminated and applied to MDF.

“We do just about everything here, and you have to do that as a small business in a relatively small city. We had our best year last year, and it’s been mainly word of mouth and attention to quality that has helped build this business,” says Leighton. “We’re the only art and photo company other than the larger graphics houses that have a 64-inch printer, which has also enabled us to gain more business. We wouldn’t be able to print what we’re doing for the Thunder [Oklahoma City’s NBA franchise] if we didn’t have that machine.”

Red River Photo has an Epson 11800, an Epson 9800 and two Epson 9600s. While the added horsepower and width certainly helps, an important differentiator has been Red River Photo’s willingness to experiment, and experiment successfully, with a lot of different inkjet media.

“I need to know about new products, and my reps at LexJet tell me what’s coming out and what’s being changed or discontinued across the industry, so I’m always in the know. It also helps with sales because it enables me to go to my clients and let them know about those new products and what they can do for them,” says Leighton. “Product delivery from LexJet has been perfect as well. They tell me when it’s going to get here, and it gets here, and if it doesn’t, they fix it.”

Leighton says his favorite products, which are also customer favorites, include Water-Resistant Satin Cloth for both backlit and frontlit applications, Polyvoile for large, lightweight banners, Sunset Photo eSatin for all kinds of applications, Premium Archival Matte for non-reflecting poster work and Sunset Select Matte Canvas.

Inkjet printing photo paper
Photo by Shellee Graham printed by Red River Photo on the always-reliable Sunset eSatin Photo Paper with an Epson 11880.

“We’ve been applying graphics to a lot of different substrates. We recently produced about 55 prints mounted on Aluma-Panel for Chesapeake Energy. We used eSatin and applied a luster laminate over the prints. I love the eSatin. We use it more than anything else, because it has very good color saturation and when you put it in the machine you know what you’re going to get,” says Leighton.

Leighton expects to continue growing in this direction in the future, blending Red River Photo’s color and image expertise with commercial displays, or what he calls “fine art displays” for commercial clients.

Constructing a Legend out of Cloth

Lizza Studios designed and printed a banner on LexJet Water-Resistant Satin Cloth for each decade Sordoni Construction has been in business. Photo courtesy Sordoni Construction Services.

Sordoni Construction is an icon in the northeast, so it was only natural that it would select fine-art reproduction and printing icon Bob Lizza to help celebrate Sordoni’s 100th anniversary. Lizza was charged with designing and rendering a fitting photographic tribute to the company’s 100 years of excellence with something equally excellent.

As the photos that accompany this description attest, Lizza was able to exceed expectations and deliver a literal show-stopper for the big event. Held in a giant tent at one of Sordoni’s properties, Lizza decided to present a brief history of the company in photos on a backlit cloth.

“From the very beginning I thought it would be nice to either backlight or up-light the images since they would be displayed inside the big tent in low light,” explains Lizza. “We came up with a unique application on LexJet’s Water-Resistant Satin Cloth. I’ve used the material before, but never backlit, and it turned out fantastic.”