With so many wide format options on the market, it can be difficult for both new and experienced sign makers to decipher the best options. Jemima Codrington sought out Canon’s Dominic Fahy to provide some sage buying advice.
For many sign makers, investing in a wide format printer is one of the biggest purchasing decisions they’ll make.
Whether it is an entry level product, an upgrade or an addition to an expanding group of machines, the purchase of any flatbed printer requires a great deal of thought and research. “A printer is obviously quite a big investment for a sign maker,” says Dominic Fahy, Display Graphics Systems and Imaging Supplies, Canon UK. “Especially if it is a first machine, they likely have not a lot of operating experience or capital to play with.” With such a variety of machines now available, Dominic offers some insight into ways sign makers can choose the most appropriate machine, whilst getting the best value and quality possible.
The buying basics
Firstly, Dominic advises considering the size of the business, and your client target market.
“Sign makers almost always need their output to be outside, so obviously stability to UV light is very important,” he adds. “Capacity is another factor; for example, do you have clients that order very large orders on an infrequent basis? If so, you’d need a machine with the ability to produce a large capacity in short period of time. Alternatively, you could have clients that place a more steady volume of orders over a longer period.” Things like anticipated client bases and needs will affect the throughput and speed required from a machine, too.
Ease of operation, especially for a first-time purchase, is important. According to Dominic, an increasing number of sign makers are also requesting machines that are versatile and flexible, enabling them to take care of all print jobs using just the one machine. “All our flat-beds have roll media options on them,” says Dominic, adding that one of their most popular machines is the Océ ColorWave 700. Not only is it incredibly eco-friendly – great for sign manufacturers or end-users for whom sustainability is a prime concern – but it is also incredibly versatile, enabling users to print onto anything from 440g media such as canvas through to polypropylene film.
Then, there are different investment levels available to consider. “For example, a sign maker could be buying a water-based inkjet technology that isn’t UV stable to create interior retail signage, or it might be that they’re buying another technology that has higher speed,” says Dominic. “They could even jump straight to buying a flatbed printer for the first time; you can potentially find a good quality flatbed printer these days in the £60,000-£70,000 range.”
When choosing a flatbed machine, one of the biggest criteria Canon advises customers to look at is quality. “Quality is the first impression you give to your customer, and when you’re trying to win new business, you need to be able to show them you can provide something better than your competitor.” With that said, it can be the case that if a sign maker has a large business, they may have a number of systems running, some of which can handle a large output at a lower level of quality and therefore lower cost to run. For customers who are less worried about top quality and just want a low price then, being able to offer this can be mutually advantageous.
According to Dominic, many first-time buyers make the mistake of looking simply at the purchase price at point of sale.
“When we (Canon) look at price, we think about the total cost of ownership throughout the life of the machine,” he says. “We tend to find that the machines that cost more at the point of purchase typically cost less to run, in terms of things like the cost of ink per square metre. They’re usually more reliable, and the life of the product is often longer.”
When new sign making companies are starting out, capital is often of the essence, and therefore opting for something with a lower price point is the only option. Dominic notes that it is possible to obtain a low-cost, high-quality machine, with the compromise often being the output speed. For sign makers with a modest workload (not uncommon for new businesses), having a slower machine may be worth the lower investment, as capital is more important than labour costs.
For example, some of Canon’s most popular flatbed systems are in the £100,000 range, but there are also products in the range of £65,000. These produce the same quality of output, but at a slower speed. “Manufacturers are very much looking for ways to make flatbed ownership more affordable for sign makers,” adds Dominic.
New versus refurbished
One option for sign makers in want of an entry-level machine is to examine the refurbished market.
This choice is ideal for those that need the flatbed technology but can’t afford it new. According to Dominic, refurbed machines do become available, and can cost up to 50% less than a new machine – this being the obvious benefit. In terms of things to be aware of, the machine is into it’s second life, so instead of lasting seven years, it might only last three or four. “Normally buying refurbished means you are buying the previous generation of technology,” adds Dominic.
Finally, there is the issue of support and service to think about. According to Dominic, it is one component of the buying purchase that is critical, and yet often overlooked. “Especially when you’re buying new, you don’t often think - what if it goes wrong? What if it doesn’t do what they said it would? What happens if there is a major technical problem? But you need to understand if there is support available, and where that support is coming from,” he says. “The last thing you want is a machine to print happily for two or three months and then has a technical problem - and these machines do have technical problems – and when you make a phone call for service there is nothing available to you.”
Canon offers guaranteed service support for five years from the date of purchase, and Dominic advises checking the details of the technical support, warranty and service conditions with each manufacturer before making a decision.