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Should I Have an Inkjet System in My Shop?

A few things to consider before you decide that having an Inkjet System in your shop will benefit you.

By Dale Kwarta

If youíre considering branching out your business by adding an inkjet system, then you should make sure you know all the details before entering into the foray of inkjet printers. So should you have an inkjet system in your shop? Before you can answer that question, you must first determine the kind of business you operate. This may be easier by answering another question. Are you in the ďSignĒ business or are you in the ďAdvertisingĒ business?

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  • Simple signs direct, inform, and forewarn. Consider these examples. STOP, NO PARKING, MEN, WOMEN, EXIT, CAUTION, and THIS WAY TO THE EGRESS. But, advertising is used to motivate, inform, attract and promote. This is more likely the kind of business in which you are engaged.

    If your customers are operating a business, their sign requirements are promotional. They want to attract new business opportunities by increasing their visibility to the general public. The signs must be eye-catching, colorful, and attractive. Full color graphics and photographs need to be included in the design. Perhaps they should not be called signs. Advertising display may be a better description. Years ago, an artist with a can of paint and a few brushes could make a good living painting signs for small businesses. Banners, posters, signs, billboards and even vehicle lettering have been used since the days of P.T. Barnum. Each piece of work was unique and not easy to reproduce in large quantities. It was a craft learned by years of practice.

    Vinyl Cutters
    Then, along came vinyl cutters. When vinyl cutters entered the industry, an explosion of franchise sign shops came along with them. This allowed practically anyone to create a variety of colorful and attractive sign layouts, with the click of a button on an inexpensive personal computer. These layouts could easily be reproduced with consistent quality. The layout software was designed to assist with size and scale and usually came with hundreds of fonts and clip art images to aid in the layout creation. With little training in the graphic arts, almost anyone could become proficient at vinyl sign production.

    The downside to this new method is that it usually employs proprietary software. When you get into propriety technology your primary support method is through its manufacturer or possibly your dealer. They can only sell you the hardware once, but you continue to need supplies for it on a regular basis. In addition, there will inherently be a desire for software upgrades, clip art, and a need for technical support from time to time. That has to be factored in on every sign you make.

    Inkjet Systems
    Wide Format Inkjet Systems have entered the sign market and they are making a similar impact on the industry, as the vinyl cutters did. The difference is that these systemsí architecture is more open and less proprietary. Standard drawing packages like Corel Draw, Adobe Illustrator and Adobe PhotoShop can assist a designer in creating sophisticated graphic images with minimal training. This open architecture software can be purchased at most local computer stores or online merchants and thus providing alternatives to proprietary drawing solutions.

    Inkjet technology came into being about 10 years ago in the engineering, architectural and construction industry. These early systems were designed to replace slow and expensive pen plotters in the CAD market. As the technology advanced, the demand for inkjet systems moved from strictly engineering applications into graphic arts production. Pen plotter companies were faced with a declining market share with the newer inkjets competing in the engineering field and some ultimately went out of business. The companies that remained evolved their businesses of engineering pen plotters into vinyl cutters.

    Today, there are number of manufacturers that produce Wide Format Inkjet Printers. Deciding which one to buy and who to buy it from are tough decisions. The manufacturers are making some amazing inkjet systems with increasing claims about the performance of their systems. While most of them are true, a few of the claims are a bit of a stretch. And itís a challenge to tell from the surface which claims are true and which are just hype.

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    How do you separate the reality from the fairy-tails? That is the hard part. All of these machines are sold through dealers who buy from distributors. Few manufacturers rate their dealers on their understanding of their systems and some dealers carry hundreds of products. This makes it difficult to be experts on them all. Most printers are demonstrated using files created by the factory. All those prints look good at the trade shows, because nobody brings the bad ones to show off. It is rare that you will find out how they created those great looking images or what was done to the files before they were printed. Some graphics guru could have modified, played with, and prayed over that image for hours or days before it was ready to print.

    You probably also need more than just the plotter. You will most likely need to have a RIP (Raster Image Processor). Donít assume that youíll be able to use the driver that comes with the machine to get you up and running in the inkjet business. This is not a desktop printer you bought from the local bargain computer store. There are about 30 RIP products on the street that will drive inkjet printers. They range in price from a few hundred to over ten thousand dollars. Itís not hard to spend more for the RIP than you did for the printer itself.

    You will need to know a great deal of information to select the right system. So youíll need someone to help you pick the proper machine, RIP, media, ink, drawing software and put the whole package together based on your needs. Production cost will need to be determined to establish a basis for pricing your finished goods. After all, you did expect to make money with this system. The system must be installed and you will need to learn the basics of its operation. This information-gathering step is critical if you are going to be successful in acquiring the right system.

    Qualifying the dealer on their knowledge of this equipment is the best way to keep from getting burned. Keep the following tips in mind:

    • Donít rely on prints created from the manufacturer. Bring files of your own creation or samples from one of your own customers and have those printed.
    • Have the whole system demonstrated on those files. If the dealer cannot do that for you, do not buy from them.
    • Demand to see performance data on the media and inks.
    • Make sure there is there a warranty of materials from the manufacturer.
    • Ask for customer references from the dealer.

    All the claims made in the inkjet industry are based on the following six facts:

    1. It is easy to operate.
    2. It can produce brilliant images from standard drawing software.
    3. There is waterproof indoor and outdoor materials as well as outdoor UV resistant ink with long-term capability.
    4. It can be cheaper to operate than most vinyl cutting solutions.
    5. There are applications that will make you more money than you ever thought possible.
    6. It is a necessary addition to the future of your sign operation.

    And, above all else, know that you will waste your money if you do not deal with an expert that knows how to make it all run properly.

    Dale Kwarta
    Technical Imaging Services
    2013 Granart Road
    Sugar Grove, Illinois 60554
    (630) 556-4415

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