Demand for printed sponsorship decals “that didn’t disappear at speed” on racing cars was the original impetus for the company that today is called City & County Graphics.
Originally it was called Alphabet and its main business was car wrapping for nearby motorsports builders. Today however the company has moved mainly into interior and exterior graphics for the housing trade, taking in hoardings, banners, fabric lightboxes and other signage.
Handling the print work is a battery of large-format inkjet printers, including a couple of Mimaki JV300 solvent ink machines with a 2.5×3.05m working area.
This summer, City & County Graphics became the first user of the Mimaki UJV55-320, a 3.2m-wide LED-UV rollfed superwide printer. There’s nothing else of that size on today’s market for less than double the price.
Paul Edwards, works director of City & County Graphics, says that purchase started with a need for a new roll-to-roll printer. “We’re are looking to diversify. About 80% of what we do is in new home building work. The new Mimaki gives us scope to diversify a bit more into event and retail work,” he says.
“We can also bring banners in-house. You can outsource banners cheaply, but it’s more the turnaround time that benefits from doing it in-house.”
Confidence to invest
The Mimaki UJV55-320 was announced at the Fespa show in Amsterdam in March. “Before we got the flatbeds we ran a couple of Mimaki JV33s, which are superb machines,” says Edwards. “That’s why we have to the confidence to invest in the new one without properly seeing it tested. It’s just based on how good the JV33s are. When we looked at flatbed technology the first we looked at was Mimaki, but they weren’t quite ready with their offering at the time.”
The UJV55-320 offers a lot of machine for the money, Edwards agrees: “We were half looking at replacements for the JV33, which would have been narrower machines. We’d always been on the lookout for a wider roll-to-roll, but not aggressively looking.
“Seeing this new one just made sense. It is in its own price bracket. You can look at very expensive Vuteks, or less-known makes that are 150 grand machines
“It’s kind of a luxury buy, in that we had the budget to replace a smaller machine, but this was such a good price that we could afford to invest in a wider format without spending ridiculous money.”
The UJV55-320 is the latest and largest in a recent series of Mimaki inkjets that use LED-UV curing lamps instead of mercury vapour lamps. It has been the subject of a PrintWeek Star Product feature in the 20 June issue.
The LUS-120 flexible inkset lets it deliver instant dry full-colour print onto a wide range of substrates, including textile, banner and other display graphics substrates. “It’s really flexible,” says Edwards. “When you’re printing on fabric you can scrunch it into a ball and stretch it and we’ve had no issues with cracking.”
An unusual feature of this printer is the ‘proofing lightbox’, a full-width illuminated panel positioned underneath the media as it emerges from the UV-shielding covers.
“It’s really useful for when you do backlit stuff,” Edwards says. “You can see it as it’s coming off, so you don’t have to wait until the whole thing is printed on the roll and then maybe find that it’s not quite right.”
The company makes up lightboxes with LEDs, making the stretch fabric to measure. “They used to be done on dye-sub a lot, but to me the UV ink is better,” says Edwards. “Rather than sinking into the fabric it sits on top and you get better colour and sharper text than dye-sub.”
The lightbox fabric is given silicon rubber edges that simply push into channels in the box frames. This keeps them flat and means the graphics can easily be replaced. “We got a sewing machine to be able to do these edges,” says Edwards. “We’ve put quite a few into retail stores and they are really effective.”
At present the two solvent JV33s are still there, but Edwards says: “We use them less and less but we’ve still got them. We’re going to get rid of one and just have the other as a back-up.”
Mimaki’s main distributor in the UK is Hybrid Services but City & County Graphics’ printer was supplied by dealer CMYUK, a large-format specialist that’s also the UK distributor for EFI’s Vutek range of superwide and grand-format UV inkjets.
Robin East, managing director, says the two ranges are complementary. “Vuteks are a higher-value product with bigger investment,” he says.
“Historically a superwide 3.2m machine is £250,000 and upwards in terms of investment. So, if someone could buy a machine for £60,000, would that convince them to take that work in-house? Having been selling these machines since the Sign & Digital Show, the answer is ‘yes’!
“The other type of customers is existing Vutek and Durst users with hybrids of 2.5m or 3.2m. They use them for printing rigid sheets and roll-to-roll. They get to a point where they think ‘for £60,000 I could take all my roll work off my hybrid, giving more capacity from a rigid sheet printer plus a dedicated roll-to-roll.’ It’s those two types of customers that have really invested in this new Mimaki.”