Finding the Right Printer

A number-crunching system for finding the printer that best fits your needs.

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Anyone who is looking at getting into wraps, or who is in the market for a printer upgrade, is faced with the decision of which printer to buy. With so many printers on the market, it’s important that you choose the right printer for your shop’s needs. So let me to take you on a journey to show you my system for finding right printer.

Consider Films
It would be prudent to discuss the films first. So let me break it down in two simple choices. For all short-term wraps on vehicles that do not have compound curves you can use a soft, calendered vinyl. I use a premium cast over laminate on all my short-term wraps and they last long and look great. For long-term wraps (two years or more) you should only use a premium cast vinyl with a premium cast overlaminate. You could also choose a liquid coating/laminate. It’s a good idea to check with your installer to see what film they recommend and like to use.

Speeds and Feeds
Now let’s break down the wrap for you in terms of speeds and feeds. Wraps are typically printed on 54″ wide media. You can use 60″ but the installers do not like this wider film as it makes it more difficult to handle solo. So if your film is 54″ wide then your printer can print about 52.5″ of this as most printers cannot print to the edge of the media. Then when you print your wrap you should have a .75″ over lap on both sides, so now your panel size is about 51″ or so.

The math is very easy at this point. If you are wrapping a minivan and the minivan is 16′ long, then you will have four panels. If the minivan is 5′ tall from drip edge to the bottom of the body, then it will take 20′ of material to print one side of this minivan.

Here are a few good rules to use when designing a wrap. You should always set up your files so you have 2″ extra wrap material on the top, bottom, left and right. This way if your wrap has an issue with a part of the design being cut off due to a reflector or something on the vehicle, the installer can move the wrap either way about 2″. So now your panel for the minivan is 5’4″.

Check out the chart below and you will see the typical panels needed for the most wrap jobs:

Description                      Panels         Width        Panel Height*             Length**
Small Passenger Car            4                44″           Typically 60″ tall           51′
Large Passenger Car            4                50″           Typically 62″ tall           52′
Minivan                                  4                50″           Typically 66″ tall           56′
SUV                                        5                46″           Typically 70″ tall           77′
16′ Box Truck                        4                47″            Typically 98″ tall           45′
Grumman Step Van              4                 46″           Typically 120″ tall         61′
24′ Straight Truck                  6                50″            Typically 96″ tall         113′
40′ Bus                                  10               50″            Typically 116″ tall        232′
48′ Trailer                             12               49″            Typically 102″ tall        223′
53′ Trailer                             13               50″            Typically 105″ tall        247′

* 2″ of bleed is added to top and bottom of panels.
** This assumes a full wrap, no roof. Plus a 2″ gap between printed panels.

For more of a numbers-based ROI, take your total monthly expenses (all expenses needed to keep your company open and running), and then figure out your Cost Of Goods Sold percentage. In many cases vehicle wraps are around 40 percent. Take your expenses and divide by .6 and this will tell you what your sales need to be in order to break even. For example: monthly expenses of $10,000 divided by .6, and your sales must be $16,667. Now you have a number to determine your total square footage of wrap you must sell each month to break even.

What Printer is Right for Your Needs?
Each printer has a speed, but this speed is based on the output resolution. I am not a fan of changing the printer’s resolution; I believe that you should take your printer down to the lowest resolution acceptable for your jobs, this way your printer runs the fastest. I run at 720 x 720 at 8-pass. This gives me solid blues, bright reds, and stunning blends. Now you need to determine the Linear Inches Per Minute of the printer(s) you are considering purchasing. You can use the speeds listed in the brochure to determine the actual LIPM speed. But I like the real test: you start up the printer and make a mark on the media, start your stop watch and at 60 seconds you make another mark at the same point on the printer as your first mark. Now you measure the distance between the two marks, this gives you the LIPM of the printer.

At a recent trade show I went to five printer manufacturers and asked the question: “What is the printer you would recommend for printing Wraps?” Here are the responses they provided, and the stats for the ink type, ink cost per square foot, speed, LIPM and printer cost.

Printer                                  Ink Type        Ink Cost          Speed*              LIPM          Cost MSRP
HP Latex 330                        Latex             $.21/             140 sq. ft./hr           6.2           $19,995
HP Latex 360                        Latex             $.21              184 sq. ft./hr           8.2            $24,000
Mimaki JV150                       Eco-Sol         $.20               112 sq. ft./hr           5.0            $17,995
Mimaki JV300                       Eco-Sol         $.20               185 sq. ft./hr           8.2            $25,995
Mutoh ValueJet 1624          Eco-Sol         $.19               157 sq. ft./hr           7.0            $18,995
Roland SolJet Pro 4 F-640   Eco-Sol         $.20               161 sq. ft./hr           7.0            $16,995
Seiko M-64s                          Eco-Sol         $.18                356 sq. ft./hr           15.8         $42,599

* In all cases to determine print speeds I used a resolution of 720 and 8-pass mode to compare machines. You should definitely run your own tests before purchasing a printer.

So what does this all mean to you? Well it is very simple. If you need to print one minivan wrap a day, then you can choose any of the printers above because they all will print a minivan in one day no problem. The chart below provides an estimate of what you might find with each printer as to the time needed to print panels for the following vehicle wraps.

Printer Model                 Speed (LIPM)    Minivan (56′)     Grumman (616′)    40′ Bus (232′)     53′ Trailer (247′)
HP Latex 330                         6.2                    1:48                       5:11                         7:30                    8:00
HP Latex 360                         8.2                    1:22                       3:58                         5:39                    6:00
Mimaki JV150                        5.0                     2:14                      6:26                         9:16                    9:52
Mimaki JV300                        8.2                     1:22                      3:59                         5:39                    6:00
Mutoh ValueJet 1624           7.0                     1:36                      4:36                         6:37                    7:02
Roland SolJet Pro 4 F-640   7.0                     1:36                      4:36                         6:37                    7:02
Seiko M-64s                          15.8                    1:11                      2:01                         2:56                    3:08

Pointers and Tips
Here are few pointers for you to use when designing and printing vehicle wraps.

  • Design in Photoshop and design at full size and full resolution. 100 ppi at final size for small vehicles and 50 ppi for large trucks.
  • Use a template that is accurate for the vehicle.
  • Save the file as a TIF file.
  • Look at the TILES in your RIP and try to make the panel overlaps in an area of the wrap that makes the installation easier.
  • Use a RIP that rotates every second panel.
  • Make sure you turn on the label on the panels so you know what panel is what.

* From the 2015 issue of WRAPS magazine.

David King

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