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Review: Mutoh

Two heads are better than one.

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Buying a digital printer is like buying a car. Certainly, we’d all love to own a flashy sports car, but, in real life, petite trunks and aircraft-sized seats are impractical.

It’s the same with digital printers – practicality should override any dreamy notions.

When buying expensive equipment – because their buying power often limits choices – small- and medium-sized signshops face the hardest decisions. Further, and before they can make an intelligent choice, digital-print-machine buyers must know their customers’ needs. If your primary customers’ needs are rigid signs, you can easily tile printed pieces onto a 48-in. sign board. If your customers most often request banners, however, a 54-in. width may be a limitation – it’s not easy to tile banner-material pieces. The real troubles arise when a shop has a mixed customer group.

From its interviews with signmakers, Mutoh has recognized the various products signshops produce and, for several years, has offered its ValueJet line of digital printers. These printers offer solid features, good print speeds and, with its introduction of Intelligent Interweaving (I2), excellent and affordable print quality.

I2 is a type of “wave process” printing. It’s designed to relieve the hard edge that straight-line, digital printers often produce, a process that sometimes causes noticeable horizontal lines – “banding” – across a printed surface. The process prints waves of dots, rather than straight lines, which are selected by a unique, printhead-firing process that comprises varied pattern sequences. Printed, the image zones resemble dotted layers of sine waves.

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Mutoh develops the ValueJet, Blizzard, Spitfire, PJ and Viper TX series of digital printers. The ValueJet series roll-to-roll, media widths/sizes are 54, 64 and 100 in. Mutoh also offers a 64-in.-wide, hybrid printer (roll-to-roll and flatbed, combined) using Mubio inkjet inks, which are recognized by the EPA’s Design for the Environment program.

The Blizzard is a 65-in.- and 90-in.-wide, mild-solvent printer; the Spitfire Series features 65-, 90- and 100-in.-wide, mild-solvent printers. The solvent-ink-based Toucan PJ series prints on 130-in.-wide media.

The 65-in.- and 90-in.-wide Viper TX fabric printers will print on cotton, cotton/polyester blends, silk and PES flag material, a knitted, polyester fabric for outdoor applications.

Returning to our automobile analogy, the Blizzard and Spitfire printer lines are SUVs, the PJ series are the big trucks, and the ValuJets are the economical, commuter vehicles. Until recently, the lineup gap was the missing minivan – one that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, is inexpensive to operate and can do all those practical things others might not. Hence, the ValueJet 1618.

The ValueJet 1618 is a 64-in.-wide (media) upgrade that Mutoh introduced at ISA’s 2008 Sign Expo tradeshow. Its speed and production capabilities were improved, although the price remained competitive, compared to other brands’ similarly sized printers. The 1618 is for shops that want high volume at a reasonable price.

Specifications
The name ValueJet may infer flimsy, plastic-based printers, but that isn’t Mutoh’s style. All Mutoh’s printers are solid, and the 1618 appears engineered to run 24/7. It measures 106 in. wide x 39 in. deep x 50 in. high, and it weighs a husky 595 lbs. The operating temperature range is 68 to 89.6° F with an operating humidity range of 40 to 60%. It requires 100-120VAC (dedicated circuit) rated at 30A. The control panel is easy to read, and Mutoh’s engineers conveniently located the most-used controls on the front.

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Print technology
The ValueJet 1618 is a drop-on-demand, piezo-inkjet printer. It’s different from its siblings because it has two printheads instead of one.

So, what do “two heads” buy? Lots. For example, a manufacturer could increase the printed image quality by having the additional head provide an extended range of ink colors (gamut), although such a choice might decrease the print speed. Another engineering approach is to continue the CMYK configuration, but double it, thus, significantly increasing the print speed. This was Mutoh’s 1618 choice. It utilized the dual CMYK, eight-line configuration to create a wider-brush printer that’s roughly twice as fast as its sibling, the ValueJet 1614.

The 1614 (single head) is a 64-in.-wide, four-color printer rated at 183 sq. ft./hr. in standard print mode (720 x 720 dpi). That’s acceptable performance, equal to six, 4 x 8-ft. banners in slightly more than one hour. The dual-head 1618 runs at 334 sq. ft./hr. in the same standard print mode; thus, it can produce 11, 4 x 8-ft. banners in equal time. In our estimation, the prints are quite vivid (Fig. 1).

Print quality
Banding is a typical problem at high speeds, and Mutoh’s I2 does a great job eliminating it. The 1618 produces beautiful prints with excellent clarity. Additionally, the 1618’s 12 print modes offer numerous resolutions and pass choices. The print resolution range is 540, 720 or 1,440 dpi.

Some manufacturers report their draft-print mode as the fastest print speed, expectedly, in the single-pass, bi-directional mode. It’s the quickest way to get ink down, thus, providing the most extreme results. Although the data looks good, the practice often doesn’t – because such print choices can reveal a printer’s defects. Mutoh’s 1618 speed, quoted here, was based upon a usable print mode, one that prints saleable quality.

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Media handling and ink system
The printer comes with a media take-up system (Fig. 2), which will handle media widths up to 64 in.; the print width is 63.6 in. You can easily create a 5-ft.-wide image. The standard media-handling system takes 3-in.-core rolls up to 6 ft. wide.

The printer applies Mutoh’s odorless, Eco-Ultra eco-solvent inks that, Mutoh says, don’t require special ventilation gear (good room ventilation is necessary, as with any work area). Eco-Ultra’s latest formulation dries quickly and adheres to almost any media; the printed images are tough and abrasion resistant.

The printer’s high-capacity, 1,000ml tanks (Fig. 3) and system reservoir allow you to hot-swap the inks while it’s operating. Currently, the ink price is $240 for a 1,000ml pack, which is reasonable.

Conclusion
Mutoh America has nicely added the 1618 to its ValueJet line. It’s built to produce high-quality prints and handle a demanding workload. If you’ve been on the fence while looking for a printer that has fast print speeds and a large ink capacity, won’t empty your wallet and will meet your customer’s demands, look at the $29,995 ValueJet 1618. It might just be the ticket. n

Key Information
Mutoh America Inc.
2602 South 47th St.
Ste. 102
Phoenix, AZ 85034
(480) 968-7772
www.mutoh.com

Company Profile: Founded in 1953, Mutoh Industries Ltd. (Tokyo) initially manufactured and distributed mechanical-drafting products. It soon produced automatic drafting/plotting machines (which became the forerunners of today’s cutting plotters) and, in time, built and marketed Japan’s first large-format inkjet printer for outdoor applications.

The company’s key engineering, manufacturing and distribution centers reside in Japan, the United States and Belgium.

At a Glance: Although the price remains competitive, Mutoh’s ValueJet 1618, a 64-in.-wide printer has two printheads, which improve image, speed and production capabilities.

Contact: Crystal Baus, cbaus@mutoh.com
(480) 968-7772

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