The new Epson direct to garment printer (SureColor SC-F2000) was shown for the first time at Printwear & Promotion LIVE 2014 along with the established dye sublimation printers (SureColor SC-F6000 and F7000). Editor DEBBIE EALES spoke to PHIL McMULLIN, UK Sales Manager, ProGraphics for Epson UK, about the company, the new technology and Epson’s first venture into the printwear market.
Q – Many people know Epson as an office printer supplier, but how did the company begin?
A – The company began in 1942 as Daiwa Kogyo Ltd, a manufacturer of watch parts. The Seiko Group, as it eventually became, was actually the official timekeeper for the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964 and developed an electronic printer as part of the timer. From then we went on to create the world’s smallest and first digital printer, the EP-101. The Epson name was established in 1975 after the next generation of the EP-101 was developed the ³Son of EP-101². The rest as they say is history! It’s the watch battery that makes the crystal pulse, and that’s what keeps accurate time. Epson uses that pulsing crystal to jet ink out of a nozzle and that is how our Piezo printhead technology started. The Piezo head technology is very reliable and the Piezo crystal doesn’t heat up. You are literally putting a current through it, which makes the ink jet out, whereas with a thermal head, it’s the action of heating it, which makes the ink jet out. But then it cools down and heats up again creating stresses, which is why they tend to be less reliable, and they’re not capable of handling anything other than standard aqueous ink sets.
Q – What do you think sets Epson and its printers apart from the competition?
A – We are market leaders in the aqueous print business, particularly on the proofing side, for commercial print companies. Our heads are capable of taking different ink sets for different applications. If you look at the direction of the company over the last 10 years or so, we have expanded our offering into many different market segments where we feel we can add value to those customers. We make our equipment easier to use, more cost effective, more reliable and the colour consistency is fantastic using our printheads and inks. Along with the printwear market we have also moved into areas like signage printing for outdoor display applications. The desktop print area is also a big part of our business, where we produce inkjet printers for use in the home and office and we are also the world’s number one projector manufacturer. The Prographics segment that I look after includes all our large format printers essentially anything that doesn’t fit onto a desktop.
Q – You’re fairly new to the dye sublimation market?
A – Epson technology was adopted by the dye sublimation industry from the very start. This was third party companies modifying existing Epson products. Now we have launched a thoroughbred, all Epson genuine product. The company moved into dye sublimation last year with the launch of the SC-F6000 and F7000. We moved into digital label printing too.
Q – The DTG printer market is very crowded. Why are you going down that route?
A – Our market research told us that the market was crying out for a product that was designed, manufactured and fully supported by just one company. So rather than having a printer chassis, and a head and someone else’s ink and someone else’s support, and perhaps not having the reliability because the inks were not designed to go in that machine we have designed a machine from the ground up that uses our own ink set, in our own printheads, within our own hardware and we offer support too. The whole premise of better reliability is in providing a bespoke solution, where everything is included. And that was really the driving force for the dye sublimation printer as well. There are a lot of businesses out there providing ink solutions, but ours was the first one where the actual printer itself, the head and the ink set were all created by one manufacturer.
Q – Where are you on price with the new DTG machine?
A – Our product is predominantly aimed at the mid-range part of the market, however our solution is scalable. The product is suitably priced to start with one machine, then increase with more as business grows. There are significant benefits of having multiple machines for larger production than just one. We think we are competitive with what we offer in terms of productivity. We also offer something over and above what anyone else can in terms of our quality – colour consistency and gamut is second to none as is the fine detail and smooth gradations. Ease of maintenance and reliability are other areas we pride ourselves in. The machine has dual CMYK as standard, which is excellent for printing on white t-shirts. If you have a requirement to print onto black t-shirts, there is a white ink option which will work in conjunction with our Epson pre-treatment solution, so you get first class results every time, using the combined Epson technology.
The SC-F2000 is capable of printing a single white t-shirt in 27 seconds when using dual colour mode and a dark coloured t-shirt in 111 seconds, using white and CMYK ink. This equates to roughly 133 white or 32 dark coloured t-shirts per hour.
Q – Will the DTG machine (Epson SureColor SC-F2000) appeal to those doing high volumes?
A – Yes but not exclusively. Certainly it is capable of doing high volumes however what a lot of people were telling us was that the current offerings in the market don’t give the reliability and consistency, so there was a lot of downtime, a lot of wastage and a lot of frustration in terms of not being able to meet deadlines for customers. So whilst the initial investment in an Epson may appear to be higher than some of the cheaper modified printers, the ability to achieve consistency and to meet customers’ requirements on a day to day basis is higher.
Q – Do you offer training yourselves or through your resellers?
A – We do and we have particularly chosen our reseller partners because they have experience in the garment print industry and can also offer the peripheral equipment that is required for a complete solution. So they help train, guide and support Epson customers, whether they are new to the industry or whether they’re experienced. The SC-F2000 is really simple to operate and there’s very little maintenance required. There’s no reason why someone who’s new to the industry, a business start-up, for example, wouldn’t be able to install it and be up and running on day one.
Q – How did you go about choosing your resellers?
A – Our strategy is to appoint the best resellers who have specialist experience, know the market well, can provide complementary hardware and software and have the skills and expertise to provide sales, service, support and training. To that end we have four resellers in the UK. When we moved into the dye sublimation market, we purposely chose two experienced resellers who would really help support and guide new customers that was i-Sub and RA Smart. They have got their own particular areas of speciality and were the obvious choice for us to also partner with on the DTG product.
We then looked at the screen printing industry and chose Adelco, well established in that sector and also experienced with some of the larger DTG equipment that has been around in the market for some time. And then DTG Solutions, with their ability to reach out to some of the new start-ups and smaller businesses, were the other choice to address that particular channel. With these partners we felt the country was well covered geographically and provided a suitable channel to supply the smaller business as well as address the needs of the mid to large company.
Q – Why are you targeting the printwear market?
A – Epson’s long term vision is to be the market leader in every business printing application that exists currently. The flexibility of our printhead technology and dedicated ink sets combined with carefully selected partners is our mechanism for achieving this goal. Having moved into the signage and dye-sub arenas, there is a lot of synergy with the DTG side of things and we were able to come up with a high quality ink set that runs very reliably with our Piezo heads.
Q – Dye sublimation has been around for a while. Why are people now sitting up and taking more notice of this technology? Is it being driven by the increase in polyester garments?
A – It’s definitely driven by the garments that are available. And of course, there is more rigid media available with a polyester coating. Manufacturers of the media are coming up with more products that are compatible with dye-sub inks. Something like our Epson SureColor SC-F6000, which is a low cost entry into the market, is allowing people to get into that, where perhaps they wouldn’t have considered it before. I think Epson is a brand that has a fantastic reach and a fantastic customer base in commercial printing and in the proofing environment and now, everyone is looking to widen the scope of their business offering. Technology has brought everything on and made things a lot easier. It has also brought a lot of the barriers down to get into the market. And that’s one of the things that we are trying to do at Epson. Make it easier for people to get into the business.
Q – Is there anything essentially different about the Epson dye sub machine?
A – Again, it’s designed from the ground up by Epson, using our printer chassis, our printhead, our inks and our support. Fundamentally the basic dye sub technology is the same but what it does offer is the peace of mind that you are buying a reliable product, from a manufacturer that produces high quality solutions time and time again. We work extremely closely with our resellers. Epson has its own pre-sales department; we have dedicated field support technicians and a highly trained customer help desk as well.
The first port of call for information is to go to our website we also give full details of our reseller partners on there. Each of them has their own value-adds. The reason we have chosen a diverse spread of resellers is that they all have strengths in different areas. A lot of people who are in printwear already have established relationships with one of our resellers.
Q – If you don’t use Epson ink, does it invalidate the warranty?
A – We always recommend only using Epson ink. That way, combined with the printer and print head, we can guarantee the quality and reliability that is expected.
Q – How long have you been looking to get a foothold in the printwear market?
A – The research has been going on for more than five years and you can expect lots of exciting developments from Epson in the future for the printwear market.
Q – Do you intend to sell substrates as well?
A – We do have a substantial media business on our aqueous printers and we are looking to expand into transfer paper for dye sublimation as well. I am not aware of any plans for moving into textiles substrates. We want to provide a one stop shop, as much as possible.
Q – And how do you see the future for Epson in the printwear market?
A – This is our first step into direct-to-garment equipment and it will be the first of many products over the next decade and beyond. We made our first step into signage a couple of years ago, our first step into dye sublimation last year and this year it’s our first step into DTG and there’s a lot more interesting stuff to come!
For more information, including details of resellers, please visit www.epson.eu