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Interview with Epson’s Craig Heckenberg and Romano Bacci on Epson’s new product launches at Drupa

Two weeks before Drupa 08 opens its doors in Dusseldorf, Germany, Epson invited Wide Format Online to the Epson headquarters in Sydney to view two important new products to be unveiled at the world’s largest graphic arts show.

“These new products are almost certainly going to cause a shake up in the large format graphics market,” said Craig Heckenberg, Head of the Business Solutions Division, referring to the Epson Stylus Pro GS6000, a device which will enable Epson to break into the durable graphics market, and the Epson Stylus Pro 7900 and 9900 printers which are believed will raise the bar even further for print quality in the high end aqueous market.

We were also introduced to newly appointed Romano Bacci, Business Manager for the Large Format Printer division. Romano, a man with a broad Scottish accent in spite of his Italian sounding heritage, is set to put his marketing muscle behind these new products.

 romano and craig.gif

 From left: Romano Bacci and Craig Hekenberg

Both gents were keen to provide more than the usual PR banter that would be expected at a product launch, instead providing valuable insight into the products’ offerings.

Craig refuted industry gossip that the Epson Stylus Pro GS6000 is simply a rebadged Mutoh machine, even though it is assembled by Mutoh

“The unique Epson patented technologies that are onboard the world’s highest quality solvent printer are exclusively Epson. Without these Epson technologies the GS6000 would not be the revolutionary solvent printer that we are launching,” Craig said.

Craig then proceeded to elaborate further on Epson’s overall OEM business by stating that; “Epson collaborates with market leading companies that have complementary technologies to create cutting edge printing solutions that address real customer needs. One of the ways in which Epson collaborates is through the licensing of its Micro Piezo print heads and inks, which are now commonly used by many of the top branded large format solvent printers on the market today.”

When asked about the potential conflict of interest situation in that it is now producing machines in opposition to these top branded solvent machine manufacturers, Craig responded by stating that;

“The Epson Stylus Pro GS6000 will expand the use of solvent printers by attracting new users to this type of technology and as a result, grow the market for all companies to actively promote their products.  Epson values its OEM partnerships greatly and continues to work closely with these companies on future product developments. It would be difficult to imagine Epson would embark on a process leading to conflict when so much cooperation exists between them,” he said.

We questioned how Craig and Romano see Epson breaking into the outdoor market where there are several very well established names with great products already dominating this sector.

According to Craig, they are not only going to break in, they are also going to expand the solvent wide format market due to the new print quality that can be achieved with the Epson Stylus Pro GS6000.


 The Epson Stylus Pro GS6000

“Existing markets such as display graphics companies; screen-printers; sign-makers; and exhibition companies will be targeted but new markets such as certain sectors of the graphic arts market, architectural design, textile, home furnishings, and fine art are all real possibilities,” he said.

“The print for pay users that are currently using aqueous based machines must surely be tempted by the Stylus Pro GS6000 since it offers just about the same image quality as our own top aqueous machines but with superior durability, not to mention the economies of being able to use cheaper substrates.

“Obviously those aqueous users that want the absolute premium photographic quality that only our aqueous machines can offer will stay with aqueous, and of course we have the new 10 colour printers for that sector as well,” said Craig.

So what makes the GS6000 so different to other solvent printers?

“The new Epson UltraChrome GS solvent ink technology is one of the biggest leaps forward in solvent print technology for some time,” said Craig.

“UltraChrome GS is an eight colour ink set that includes orange and green for the first time. No other solvent printer offers eight colours and this broadens the colour gamut considerably, resulting in “attention grabbing” vibrant colours and greater colour accuracy. This is particularly important for reproducing certain corporate colours.”

“Print for pay users should find it easy to sell the advantage of this superb print quality and the unmatched breadth of the colour gamut,” added Romano.

The new UltraChrome GS ink also sets a new benchmark for it’s operator friendliness with all nickel being removed, making the machine and its prints perfectly safe to use in virtually any indoor environment without the need for special or expensive ventilation or air purification systems.

The printer boasts the new Epson Dual-Array Micro Piezo print head with 360 nozzles per colour which delivers a maximum print resolution up to 1440 x 1440 dpi and with Variable Sized Droplet Technology (VSDT) produces an ultra-micro ink droplet of 3.7 picolitres. This resolution and capacity for detail has not been achievable with a solvent printer before.

The Epson Stylus Pro GS6000 is super user friendly making it one of the easiest machines to maintain and operate.

It’s also one of the most productive machines on the market with print speeds ranging from 25 sqm/hour in banner quality, draft mode; up to 15 sqm/hour in everyday production mode and up to 9 sqm/hour in photo quality, production mode.

Large 950ml capacity individual ink cartridges can be swapped on the fly without having to cancel the print job.

Romano felt that 950ml cartridges are more than adequate, even in the heaviest of production environments. In fact 950ml is more than double the 440ml cartridges found in other 60 inch solvent machines. However he believed that third parties were likely to offer bulk feeding devices for the Stylus Pro GS6000, although both Craig and Romano cautioned users to think seriously about these devices due to the problems they can generate, namely with air entering the fuel lines and correct ink circulation.

Already there is a wide range of RIP software packages that support the Stylus Pro GS6000 and more are being added all the time, so regardless of the printing application users across multiple industries can be assured that with the high level of software support the Epson Stylus Pro GS6000 will fit seamlessly into any workflow.

“Another important advantage for Epson is the local support,” said Romano. “Epson is one of the few vendors in this business that actually have offices and a full direct support infrastructure in Australia and New Zealand. This bodes well for support at all levels.”

On the subject of distribution, we asked Craig and Romano whether they will be using existing channels or utilising those dealers well known to the solvent market. They revealed they would utilise both existing dealers and also develop new partners for the Stylus Pro GS6000. In fact, they admitted to some recent approaches in this regard.

The Stylus Pro 7900 (24 inch) and the 9900 (44 inch) machines target Epson’s established markets of photography, fine art, proofing, etc., and are claimed to set even higher benchmarks for photographic image quality and colour accuracy.

Craig emphasised that these two new products are in fact additions to the Epson portfolio of products and not replacements for any other models, including the highly successful Epson Stylus Pro 450 and Epson Stylus Pro 880 series.


 The Epson Stylus Pro 7900

These ten colour large format printers are a completely new design, engineered to offer faster speeds and include the new UltraChrome HDR (High Dynamic Range) ten colour ink set as well as an optional onboard spectrophotometer.

Epson’s UltraChrome HDR ink is a high density resin coated pigment ink formulation with three levels of black ink technology – photo black, light black and light light black - plus cyan, light cyan, vivid magenta, vivid light magenta, yellow, orange, and green. Matte black is also included on-board and can be auto-switched with photo black.

Optional 350 or 700ml ink cartridges are available which the guys claim will contribute to a lower cost per millilitre of ink and reduce the frequency of cartridge replacement, permitting greater unattended printing.

In addition, these new machines include Epson’s Micro Piezo TFP (Thin Film Piezo) print head with Epson’s Ink Repelling Coating and Automatic Ink Detection (AID) system, all of which combine to eliminate down time by minimising and detecting nozzle clogging before it becomes problematic, and eliminating paper waste used during the cleaning process.

Print speeds of these new machines enable an A1 (720x720dpi) sellable quality print to be produced on Epson’s Premium Glossy Photo Paper in an amazing 5 minutes. However for check proofing this same size file can be printed on plain paper in less than 1 minute.

Craig emphasised the ‘optional’ aspect of the new onboard X-Rite spectrophotometer, claiming that most of the Epson users in the world of photography, fine art and proofing have invested considerable resources into their colour management and have no problem with fine tuning and optimising their colour reproduction on their Epson devices with their existing technology. “However, the new spectrophotometer will be of great assistance to those users that are new to colour management or perhaps simply want to streamline their colour management workflow,” he explained.

“Another feature which makes these machines unique is the Look Up Table technology, an advanced algorithm that optimises colour consistency under different light conditions and further reduces image grain giving much smoother colour gradations,” concluded Romano.

Craig and Romano indicated that these new models are expected to come to market around Spring of 2008.

Epson Australia Pty Ltd