Xanté’s Impressia uses a modified Ricoh Aficio printer to produce 78 envelopes per minute with a feeder for up to 1,000


Low end digital colour printing doesn’t have to mean low end capabilities. Simon Eccles looks at small, affordable colour printers.

For the past decade or so, the standard bearer for such applications has been Oki and a variety of other companies that take the basic dry toner LED print engines and modify them to a greater or lesser extent. In particular there are add-on feeders and deliveries that take advantage of the straight-through media path that can take thick and/or textured media, some plastics, envelopes and long banners (up to 1,320 mm on the SRA3 models).

Applications include flyers, brochures, envelopes, mailers and cards, including pre-cut items such as luggage tags, as well as a wide choice of heat transfer papers optimised for textiles or hard surfaces. Small colour printers are suitable for prototyping and short run packaging – various third party lamination and foiling finishing options can be used to produce quite spectacular results. 

Business in a box

Oki Pro models are aimed at light production professional printing, emphasising versatility more than speed. They look the same as the office oriented models but they have much higher capacity toner cartridges.

The range includes a pair of five-colour printers with CMYK plus white toner, which is still unique at this price point. The A4 Pro7411WT costs about £2,000 on the street. Speed is 34 A4 pages per minute.  Apart from conventional feed trays, it has a multi-purpose tray for heavy stocks up to 250 gsm and sheet lengths up to 1,200 mm. This is exclusively distributed in the UK by Themagictouch, which sells it with a heat press for use with transfer papers, for £3,000.

The five-colour A3 model is the Pro9420WT. Top speed is 16 pages per minute for A3, or 31 for A4. Its multi-purpose tray can take SRA3 sheets, including heavier stocks up to 300 gsm (officially, but heavier materials will go through) and longer lengths up to 1,320 mm.

‘We call them a business in a box,’ says Andrew Hall, marketing manager of Oki Data UK. ‘If someone is starting up they might not yet know what their customer base is, or what their requirements are going to be. So the Pro 9541 five-colour machine is ideal for that because the options, and the range of applications that can be printed in short run is limitless, really. It can print white or clear on to dark media, or white onto clear film.’

The US built Straight Shooter feeder and delivery tray add-ons is an official option. A 50-sheet feed option is also coming soon for long banners on SRA3 machines. Currently the capacity is 25 sheets.

Glowing introduction

Most recently the company has taken its four-colour engine and modified it to become the Pro6410 NeonColor model. This prints ‘neon’ toners in CMY, which fluoresce under UV. The fourth colour is black or white toner, hot-swappable. It can’t run normal CMY toners but at about £1,300, it’s a small investment to get distinctive results. Oki sells the Pro series through distributor Velmex.

TMT daylight

TMT neon

Oki’s Pro6410NeonColor can be used to produce glow in the dark transfer prints

Daniel Judge, technical director of Velmex, says: ‘We look after the Pro series devices including the Pro 9431 four-colour model, the Pro9541 five-colour model with the optional white or clear toner, and Pro9542 with just the extra white. We also offer the 9420 which is CMY plus white for the transfer market, and the new neon device which has not yet found its market outside of the typical Magictouch customer base.

‘We also offer all of the additional Oki add-ons such as the banner feeder, envelope feeder etc. We bring solutions to the dealers by showing them third party add-ons such as foiling machines, contour cutters, business card trimmers etc, all things to extend the usability of the Oki devices.’

Typically, printers destined for professional use will be supplied by dealers and OEMs with a software Rip. This is usually the EFI Fiery XF, alternatively Xitron has a choice of Rips for Oki and other printers.

Tweaked engines

In the past few years Oki has seen some competition from Ricoh, currently with its broadly similar Aficio C831DN dry toner model, though this doesn’t have a white toner. One of Lexmark’s more robust LED toner models has also been adapted by Intec as the basis of a multi-function printer with optional booklet maker.

Intec is a Poole based supplier that has been selling own-badged printers based on modified third party engines for years. The engines are the core of modular systems, says marketing manager Terri Winstanley. ‘Should a client have just a basic engine they can build from there, with feeders and stackers depends on their requirement.’

Intec ColorSplash

Machines such as Intec’s ColorSplash 5000 include more sophisticated feeding and delivery for heavyweight and long sheets

The Intec ColorSplash 4000 (four-colour) and 5000 (five-colour) are based on A3 Oki engines with modifications to take heavier weight card reliably, says Ms Winstanley. The optional input feeder can take up to 25 kg or 500 mm height of paper, including heavy stock up to 400 gsm and up to 675mm long for gatefolds and trifolds.

‘The chassis is the same but we do make changes,’ says Ms Winstanley. ‘We also drive it very differently through a specific Fiery XF Rip that we’ve built for our purposes. We have spent a lot of time in R&D making sure we get the profiles and the fusing and everything else correct so we can enable the thicker card. We have been doing an extensive test with Iggesund Invercote and Incada card stocks. The profile is built into our Fiery Rip for any anybody in greetings card or luxury packaging.’ Metallic gold and silver toners are being introduced for five-colour machines ‘in the not too far future’ she says.

All enveloping

A compact digital envelope feeder has a top-loading stack, so you can top it up without stopping. At the other end, there’s an optional shingling conveyor.

Intec also offers a modular printer based on an SRA3 Lexmark LED toner engine called CP3000, which it claims offers the ‘lowest cost per copy in its class.’ The engine is broadly comparable to Oki’s and can take stock up to 400 gsm and up to 1,200 mm long, but colours are CMYK only. The CP3000Pro is a multi-function copier/printer with a scanner and fax facilities. The top configuration, called CP3400, has an inline booklet maker (for up to 60 page books) plus a 2,520-sheet tandem tray module and a 2,000-sheet high capacity feeder.

Xanté offers two entry level colour light production systems, the Impressia and the Ilumina HWC.

‘We differentiate the printers as Impressia being a production envelope solution and HWC being a production small packaging solution, with both printers able to also print the main types of commercial graphics,’ says European marketing manager Melissa van Gelderen.

The company has based its Ilumina series on Oki engines for more than 10 years, modifying them to take heavier stocks (currently up to 500 gsm) and adding Rips and optional iQueue production workflow software. The current model is the core of the Heavy Weight Champion (HWC) bundle, with a feeder for up to 3,500 sheets (500 for heavy stocks), long banners or envelopes, and a delivery conveyor. It can also include Xanté’s PM7 technology to image polyester litho plates.

‘We make many changes to the base engine to enable production printing at this weight and types of media,’ says Ms van Gelderen. ‘We have customers producing cosmetic and pharmaceutical boxes and other types of promotional materials but of course, they also print basic graphic collateral such as business cards, brochures, banners etc.’

Impressia models are based on the Ricoh Aficio C831DN engine. ‘We work directly with Ricoh Japan to make some changes which enable us to modify the original engine to achieve 78 DL envelopes per minute,’ says Ms van Gelderen. ‘We have developed two feeders: the Enterprise feeder which can hold up to 1,000 envelopes and can be continuously fed; and the SL feeder which is a shorter version taking up to 500 envelopes, for smaller spaces.’

Transfer processes

Toner prints can also be transferred onto different end substrates, including textiles, wood, metal, acrylics and card. The image is printed onto special paper and then a simple, low cost heat press is used to make the transfer. For mugs, hats and balls special 3D heat presses are available. 

In the UK Themagictouch has been selling its own transfer materials for a couple of decades, and particularly recommends Oki printers as affordable entries into a huge world of personalised decorated goods, whether garments, trophies, promotional items or artworks. The latest development, apart from Oki’s neon toners, is a metallic foil transfer developed with Kurz, which even works with t-shirts and is said to be good for at least 25 washes.

Themagictouch’s main competitor is German firm Forever, whose transfer papers are available in the UK though resellers.

‘We deal right through the scale here,’ says Jim Nicol, managing director of Themagictouch. ‘We deal with the biggest embroidery company in the UK and then we deal with somebody who operates a successful business out of a lodge in is garden. For the majority of t-shirt or work wear or trophies, the average order is 24. A heat press can produce about 100 items an hour, says t-shirts. That’s you really need to worry about, because for somebody wanting 1,000 or 10,000 t-shirts, those are all screen printed. What our process does is to enable people to be a bit more entrepreneurial when it comes to their existing clients, but more importantly it’s gaining new business.’

Read the rest of the November issue online here