The Korean built Jetrix printers appear to offer good value for money, so how did this Jetrix model fare on test? Nessan Cleary reports.
Inktec, which was founded in 1992 in Korea, is best known as an ink manufacturer but has also developed its own range of Jetrix UV flatbed printers. It has a European office, based in Witney, Oxfordshire, which has installed some 35 printers in the last three years. Last year Inktec launched the first of its KX series, which now include the compact KX3, the mid-range KX5 and the much larger KX7, which we've tested this month.
The standard version of the KX7 uses seven Konica Minolta 1024 printheads, giving it seven channels for CMYK, plus an option for two whites and a varnish. However, earlier this year Inktec announced a new, faster KX7D version that has double the number of heads, and this is the variant we tested. There's still room on the carriage to add two further heads, should Inktec decide to offer further options. It is possible to upgrade the spec in the field, though it's not easy and so not something that Inktec encourages.
For this printer, Inktec has configured the heads to produce six picolitre drops, obviating the need for a light cyan and light magenta. Ben Woodruff, sales manager at Inktec Europe, adds: “They feather the ink lay down to get a smoother finish.”
Unlike most wide-format vendors, Inktec does actually make its own inks. Woodruff says that the ink has been specifically tuned for the printheads, noting: “We are in a very strong position where we have been able to tailor make the ink to the machine.
The ink has its own inbuilt primer so it can print straight to glass and acrylics without needing more, though Woodruff says that it needs about 24 hours to harden. He adds: “We have tried to make a genuine universal ink which will work with all media.” It will print to most substrates, including stainless steel, foam board, dibond and wood, though Woodruff says that it can struggle with some textiles, which is not unusual with UV flatbeds.
The white ink has a recirculation system built into the tank, as is standard for most printers. However, the Jetrix also recirculates the white through a channel that runs across the width of the print carriage, which is recommended every couple of days.
It’s a big machine, with a 5 x 4.6m footprint, that takes media up to 2,440 x 3,060mm, and up to 100mm in height. The bed is split into six vacuum zones, with the vacuum adjustable depending on the substrate though flexible media has to be taped down to stop it from curling. The flatness of the bed is accurate to 0.2mm. It's independently levelled from the frame so it can cope with some unevenness in the floor. The bed will take up to half a ton in weight, with the machine itself weighing 2.6 tons. Woodruff says that you need a heavy machine: “Otherwise after about 18 months or so the machine does tend to lose its accuracy.”
There is a roll feeder option that clips onto the front of the printer. It has its own motor but takes power from the printer so doesn't need a separate power supply. Woodruff says that most customers are more likely to be using the bed for printing but the roll feeder could be left running overnight. It takes rolls 2.2m wide and can handle two rolls side by side simultaneously. But the roll feeder is slower than the bed, by about 15%, though this is an improvement on earlier Jetrix flatbeds, where the roll feeder was only 1.8m wide and 50 percent slower.
The printer is sensitive to temperature - it's happiest between 18-25 degrees, so it might be sensible to have air conditioning. It takes a week to install the printer, which includes two days of training. But users can send operators to Inktec's demo centre to be trained ahead of installation so that they can start working straightaway, though Woodruff says that few customers take up this option. Most of the training is about how to handle different substrates.
The entry level KX7 costs £112,000. The KX7D, complete with all seven colours weighs in at £143,000. This includes the installation and training, plus a full set of inks and a two-year warranty that even includes the printheads. Woodruff says the heads should last for about three years. The roll feeder is a further £12,000.
The inks cost £100/ litre, though the white is more expensive at £115/ litre. The high density inks are quite economical, using around 5ml/m2 on average, which Woodruff says is around 50p. He says that Inktec previously supplied ink in 2 litre bags but had to switch to 1 litre bottles because the inks would last long enough that refills would tend to go off. As it is, refilling the inks couldn't be simpler - just pour the ink straight into the tank, with no need to pressurise the system at all.
The Jetrix was fairly quick to start up, taking around 60 seconds for the lamps to warm up and the heads to reach operating temperature, which is 45 degrees. Woodruff says that normal practice is to leave the machine turned on all the time. It does seem a little fussy over the cleaning regime, and Woodruff advises cleaning it if you stop for more than half an hour. Then again, he also says he's never had to replace a printhead, which is probably down to the cleaning.
There's a choice of Rips, though we used Onyx Thrive, which is what most UK users go for. But Caldera is also available and GMG Production Suite is soon to be on offer. The front end is on a separate workstation and handles the machine set-up and maintenance. The operator can tweak the curing settings, between full and half cure, and there's a reverse cure for the slower speeds where the lamps will be over the media for longer. There's also a warning to check the head height.
For our standard test we print two A0-sized test charts at both production speed and high resolution. Production mode means 1440 x 360dpi resolution with 28 passes. We started with our photographs chart, which took 2.09 minutes to print. It used 5.47ml of ink, which the Onyx Rip reported as costing 54p. The same print using Fine Art mode, which uses 1440 x 720dpi resolution and 84 passes, took 5.34 minutes to print. This used 7.11ml of ink, and cost 71p. The ?gures were similar for the Pantone chart.
The two ?ne art prints were excellent, with deep rich colours, sharp resolution and no sign of any banding or other artefacts. For the production mode prints the results were more mixed. The photographs from one of our charts were adequate, though a little dull, particularly in comparison with the Fine Art print, but perfectly acceptable for this mode and there was no banding in the re?ex blue gradient panel.
However, the solid Pantones were really off. This may have been down to the Rip, as the solids appear to be quite close in some cases to Pantone’s Process conversion swatches for those colours, though the ?ne art mode managed to hit the solid Pantones spot on.
The KX7 is impressive; it's a solid, heavy looking machine, easily big enough to handle most substrates. Production Mode was a good compromise between speed and print quality, while the highest quality Fine Art mode was still reasonably fast and delivered excellent results. The ink is reasonably priced, and ink consumption quite frugal, so that the whole machine seems to offer quite good value for money.