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Clean, dry and odor free: Summa’s answer to wide-format digital printing




When we talked to Summa, we were surprised to learn the DC series’ latest version was now available. The new DC4 contains many improvements that aide usability, and it handles media widths up to 54 in. So, with our interest piqued, we thoroughly examined the printer, and what we saw was exciting. Summa has introduced a print/cut device that will handle wide media without using any liquids.

If use of solvents in your workplace has stopped you from adding a wide-format printer/cutter to your arsenal, then pay close attention. This isn’t just an incremental, DC3 update – this is a whole new product.

Thermal printing, the Summa way

By now, just about anyone who has any interest in printing must be familiar with inkjet printing, where an ink is sprayed onto the media. The ink then needs to dry or, if UV based, cured. In many cases, heating systems or UV lamp units insure prints can be handled without smearing. Usually, special solvent inks must be used to adhere to adhesive vinyl and to insure outdoor durability. Eco-friendly solvents counter some of the nasty chemicals that you don’t want to inhale, but even these can emit an odor that some people find objectionable. In many cases, a laminate can protect the image further.


Thermal printing solves many of these issues. The base technology’s array of heating elements melt a special resin. A peeler plate scrapes the dot(s) of color onto the media, which passes through pressure rollers to affix the resin to the media.

This fairly simple idea also offers some interesting technological problems, especially if you want to print over a 54-in.-wide area. For one, a fixed printhead (non-moving) that would accommodate this width would be very long. Also, the media’s registration must be precise because dots must be overlaid in exactly the same position as an earlier pass. Summa has done an amazing job to solve these issues.

First, the DC4 uses a moving printhead. It spans the media’s width, so you don’t need a 50-plus in.-wide printhead. To boost speed and operator convenience, two full sets of CMYK ribbons can be loaded into the printer. You can also load spot-color ribbons, as well as process colors. An optical laser tracking system insures the edges are perfectly aligned, and long prints and cuts will be precise.

We were impressed with the DC4’s output. Photos looked smooth, and, in the highest-quality mode, the graininess was virtually eliminated. Summa has increased the printer’s resolution and offers many new printing modes that produce great quality prints.

Is it as good as an inkjet? You’ll have to be the judge. However, if used as designed (signs and vehicle graphics), the quality is outstanding.



A thermal printer that can handle 54-in. media is new to us. We weren’t sure what to expect, but we knew it would probably be big. And we were right. It measures 90.6 in. wide 3 24.8 in. deep 3 51.2 in. high. It weighs a hefty 550 lbs.; the skins are black, and it’s solidly built.

To power the printer, you can use 100 to 240VAC, 48 to 62Hz, 85VA maximum. The universal power-supply system can use standard office power. Thermal printers can be susceptible to static electricity, so make sure the floor isn’t covered in wool carpet. Also ensure a fairly dust-free area, because dust on the resin equals voids in the print.

The printer comes equipped with two system interfaces: the old type Centronics parallel port and a USB 2.0 interface. USB is the obvious choice if you have a new computer, because it’s fast and flexible, and the printer comes with a 15-ft. cable.

Thermal printers aren’t nearly as sensitive to the surrounding envi¬ronment as inkjet printers. The printer’s operating temperature ranges between 60° and 90° F. It can handle humidity between 35 and 80% RH non-condensing. You can set the printer up in a typical office environment.

Print speed and modes

Thermal printers aren’t typically the fastest devices on the market. If you’re looking for high production speeds, research production-printer technology. That being said, the DC4 is still pretty respectable.


Three printing modes determine speed and print quality. The printhead has a 304-dpi resolution. With software, the maximum resolution is 608 x 608 dpi apparent. There are different speeds for spot versus process-color images as well – process-color prints require three or four passes for a single image, and a spot-color image only requires one pass (per color).

The Standard printing mode for process-color images is 34 sq. ft./hr. Spot-color images will clip along at 93 sq. ft./hr. in the same mode. If you increase to the Best mode, then the speed drops to 25 sq. ft./hr. for process images and 67 sq. ft./hr. for spot-color images. The printer can handle backlit film, and Summa suggests double striking the image to insure the best quality. At the slowest printing mode, you’ll get 22 sq. ft./hr. for process images or 58 sq. ft./hr. for spot-color images.

We almost left out that the DC4 is a print-and-cut machine that employs an integral cutter blade – its key aspect. The cutter’s maximum speed registers 24 in./second. The accuracy measures 0.001 or 0.005 in. (user selectable). Cutting typically takes place after printing, but an optical position system, integral to the machine, allows you to manually feed printed images and cut them at a later time.

Media handling and operation

It’s easy to feed and maintain the DC4. The roll-feed system uses a parallel roller bar to hold the media roll. The printer is designed to use 24-(minimum), 36- and 52-in. roll media. You first place end caps in the ends of the roll, and feed the media from the back. A button in the back clamps the media in place until you go to the front for a final positioning.

The simple control panel has a clamp engage/release button. You simply line up the media’s left side, and the printer insures that it’s positioned straight. Close the top cover, and you’re ready to go.

There’s also a take-up system for continuous printing. The printer has a 64MB RAM cache and a 2GB hard drive so that you can keep it rolling unattended.

The ribbons, which are loaded into the back of the printer, can be changed on the fly. Each roll of resin is chipped so the printer knows exactly what color is in the cassette and how much resin remains. Into the eight slots, you can put in any combination of process and spot colors. If the printer runs out of a color, it will pause and prompt the operator to re-load. Once loaded, the printer will resume where it left off.

Using an innovative, diamond-imbedded, cleaning pad, the Summa DC4 printer periodically self-cleans its printheads. Under normal conditions, you’ll replace the $70 pad every two years.

Dust and static are thermal printing’s true enemies. To prevail over this limitation, its engineers have integrated Summa’s OptiPrint™ media-cleaning system with a single-direction workflow. The 300-sheet, adhesive roll is akin to the sticky-surfaced roller you use to remove lint on clothing, and OptiPrint removes media-surface dust a few seconds before the first ink application.

Another unique feature, the DC4’s static-eliminating workflow, is an enclosed, single-direction, media-flow system that curbs static electricity, which could attract dust.

Media and ribbons

So, just what can the DC4 print on? Well, if you want to print indoor posters on paper, this isn’t the printer for you – it’s not cost effec¬tive. But, if you want to print on adhesive vinyl for signs and vehicle graphics, then you’ve come to the right place. Also, Summa offers banner material that can be directly printed.

Besides standard process ribbons (cyan, magenta, yellow and black), Summa offers numerous spot colors. These include a metallic silver and gold, though these colors are for indoor use only. The white spot color can serve as a base color for printing process images onto clear or non-white vinyl. In addition, a clear, anti-scratch coating can be applied onto a printed image. Ribbons come in 50-yd. rolls.

We haven’t discussed image durability. How about five years outdoors, with no lamination? Some exceptions exist for desert regions. This is two years more than many inkjet printers.


This is a ready-to-go printer that can virtually run in your living room. The DC4 comes standard with a full-featured RIP capable of outputting Windows or Mac Postscript files. An ample set of supplies, included in the box, provides everything you need to start making money.

We’ve hit all of DC4’s key components, with the exception of one. How much does this baby cost? Believe it or not, the DC4 retails for $19,995. If you’re not printing on paper or don’t need a production press, you really should take a good look at the DC4.

Key Information

Summa Inc.

10001 Lake City Way NE

Seattle, WA 98125-7733

(206) 505-7070

(206) 505-7055

Company Background: Summa Inc. manufactures graphic-imaging products for the signmaking, labeling, aerospace and outdoor-advertising industries.

Contact: Drew Groshong, vice president sales

Price: $19,995

At a Glance: Summa DC4 Thermal-Transfer is a 54-in. printer cutter that uses a heat and pressure process to bond media. This printer comes equipped with a full-featured RIP capable of outputting Windows or Mac Postscript files.

Chris and Kathi Morrison own and operate The Image Specialists, a full-service graphics company based in Clements, CA. Chris is also a Microsoft-certified systems engineer.



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