D’Amico says, “There’s always a trade off. That’s the thing in the end. You’ve got to give up something to get something new in most cases. I don’t know too many technologies that allow you to not have some level of compromise.”
Stone concurs: “Water-based outdoor durable inks—latex, resin, and nano polymers—have many advantages, but also have some drawbacks. For instance, they need to be heated. Many of the printers using latex inks require a tremendous amount of energy to heat the ink (100+ C) ...hardly a green concept. Some cutting edge types are using solvent printers to run resin inks because they already have heaters built in, while others are modifying aqueous printers with heaters.”
Conrad agrees. “Although print speeds have improved somewhat through modified drying techniques, the production speeds on eco-solvent printers are still faster—which means higher productivity for the PSP and sign shops using eco-solvent ink printer technology. Plus operating costs are still lower on eco-solvent inks as they consume much less power than the new latex printers do, mostly due to the high wattage required to power up the heaters on these machines.”
In addition to being dedicated to the tried and true, many PSPs have remained devoted to eco-solvents because of durability. “As far as longevity, in normal conditions eco-solvent inks will provide up to three years or longer outdoor durability without lamination, which in most cases is two and a half years or more longer than most outdoor signs stay up without message, design, or venue change,” says Conrad. “Anything longer or in harsher conditions, you will want to laminate anyway, regardless of the ink type used to print the image.”
Another big issue is the print quality of eco-solvents versus aqueous inks when it comes to creating and presenting a large-format campaign.
Conrad says, “Colors are still not as vibrant on the new ink sets. Although improvements have been made, they are typically limited to a small subset of profiles on certain media types or substrates that work best with these ink types versus eco-solvent ink that provides consistent bright, vibrant color pop on a much wider variety of media choices. “
Naturally, cost is a major factor in making a decision regarding any type of equipment. PSPs should be aware that the cost per square foot on any job is not determined simply by the expense involved in purchasing the materials, but it also involves the cost of production, overhead, and maintenance. All of these factors added together will show that solvent printers are still cheaper in the long run.
“The expected head life on these new printers is much shorter, which means you have to replace them more often, which means you’re spending more overall on your cost per square foot printing than what you would on an eco-solvent printer,” says Conrad. “Service calls and the learning curve will also take a little time to catch up on these new printer technologies, which will not only account for additional costs but can also lead to added frustration as these issues are worked through.”
PSPs interested in enhancing their shops should consider all of these factors when choosing between eco-solvents and aqueous printers. However, it does not have to be one or the other. Many PSPs use both technologies for various purposes. One simply has to know what works and how to use it.