wrap nation install

Printers for Wrappers

Andy Stonehouse is a Denver-based freelance writer who has been covering the automotive industry for more than ten years.

As wrap jobs have become more and more popular for both commercial applications and individual consumers looking to customize their vehicles, more and more print shops are exploring their wrap printer options—and seeing what they’ll need to spend to capture a slice of the market.

Testing the Waters

In Phoenix, Zachariah Lujano has spent the past five years doing colorful and increasingly complex work at his Wrap Nation shop. The company decided to test the waters and invested in a second-hand Mutoh ValueJet 1324, a 54" eco-solvent printer with output capabilities that fit the shop’s needs. Lujano says the results (and his happy clients) have Wrap Nation considering adding a second, brand-new Mutoh machine, as wraps continue to become a more in-demand product.

“We’ve gained so much natural, organic feedback from our customers, and we’ve never had any problems with the machine,” he says. He’s also been particularly impressed by the Mutoh’s interweave technology, which allows a wide range of edge patterns to more easily and accurately line up graphics. Lujano currently devotes about a day’s worth of work to each wrap job, and says that an additional printer would definitely add some opportunities. 

Long-Term Implications

For those interested in testing the wrap job waters, Fabrizio Soto, vice president of marketing for production printing and wide-format products at OKI Data Americas, says sign shops need to consider the long-term implications of buying equipment that seems affordable up front but may not provide the quality or volume of work needed as business picks up.

“You want to review the ink properties, print head stability and print technologies, and the warranty,” he says. “For wrap applications, outdoor durability and ink penetration are important. It is also critical that you request live demonstrations of any print speed you would expect to use, prior to purchase. Choosing a versatile printer, built to outlast growth and with considerably less cost per month, is a better option.”

OKI Data recently launched its ColorPainter E-64 printer as a low- to mid-volume machine suitable for those entering the wrap market. Soto says the system uses much of the same technology as the company’s higher-end units, including low-odor SX ink, suitable for a wide range of high-density color and good outdoor durability. When used in combination with 3M media and lamination, 3M’s MCS warranty offers product protection for up to seven years.

“A printer upgrade can provide a platform to compete or help gain more margin, so this is where increasing your speed can affect your business,” Soto adds. “If you are producing jobs at 120 square feet per hour but an upgrade allowed you to produce quality work at a minimum of 350 square feet per hour, you could be at least three times more profitable. An increase in volume can also drive down your price of media, allow you to take on larger jobs and be profitable in many ways.”

Do Your Homework

Reliability—and the proper maintenance—go a long way in also keeping a shop’s wrap printer business flowing smoothly, so shops need to do some homework. Matt Richart, co-owner of Digital EFX Wraps in Louisville, Kentucky, has been a loyal Roland customer for more than a dozen years, with equipment he says has never been down for more than 24 hours in that entire period. He says a benchmark investment of $25,000 to $40,000 is necessary to get a printer solid enough for a busy commercial shop.

“We can’t afford to be without our printer—it’s what makes our business go,” he says. Currently, Richart’s shop uses a Roland Soljet Pro 4 XR-640 printer/cutter, a sophisticated machine that receives automatic technology updates while it chugs away doing overnight print jobs.

“We do a weekly head clean on our printers, along with doing test prints to make sure all print heads are working properly,” Richart says. “Just like your vehicle, if you don’t take care of it, you will have many costly repairs as the life of the printer goes on. We have a dry erase decal on each printer that shows the last time it was serviced and cleaned, so we can make sure each printer is working properly.”

Richart is also the host and facilitator of Roland DGA’s Born to Wrap workshops, held at the company’s California headquarters and at other locations around the country. The two-day classes cover not only the basics of wrap jobs but also measuring, scaling and printing; an additional class also provides an overview on design, quotes and pricing, as well as marketing for newcomers to the business.

“Knowing your printer is step one. Making sure it is maintained, cleaned properly and runs like it’s supposed to will allow consistent prints every day. Timing your prints so that your installers will have material ready each morning will also allow jobs to get done quicker—one tip is to make sure you add your print time in each job, as most people just look at the material, ink and laminate cost as the overhead.”

Thinking Ahead

Michael Maxwell, senior manager of sign and graphics with Mimaki USA, agrees that proper workflow management means thinking ahead for maintenance issues, and suggests print shops consider equipment that allows for ink flexibility, as well.

Mimaki’s JV and CJV printers offer a nozzle check unit, a nozzle recovery system, integrated heaters and an uninterrupted ink supply system to self-manage some cleaning issues and provide consistent results.

Maxwell also says speed can sometimes be the wrong measurement of success, and suggests sign makers carefully consider printing with post-production efficiency in mind.

“Identifying how many panels the job will take, how long it will take to properly laminate, stage and apply the graphics to the vehicle in question, should all be considered before printing the job,” he says. “By implementing this strategy, printers can improve the overall look and feel of each job and alleviate potential technical concerns, while meeting the demands of their customers, in a consistent and timely fashion.”