I haven’t got enough fingers and toes to count how many phone calls or visits to the demo room have started with the one seemingly simple question… “Is a latex printer or a solvent printer better for my business?”
Now, depending on your business, sometimes there is no right or wrong answer…just options that first need a bit of exploring.
Putting on my explorer’s hat and focussing a magnifying glass on both technologies, I’ve put together a guide looking at the differences and similarities between the two.
Here at Granthams, we’re fortunate to be dealers for two of the biggest names when it comes to roll-fed inkjet printing – HP and Mimaki. As HP has a range of latex printers and Mimaki have both solvent and latex, it should be simple to find some answers. Right?
We see many times when someone pops over to the demo suite, they already have preconceptions of one manufacturer over another.
They’ve started off by asking the question above, but already in their minds, they’ve made a decision. Once the machines are set up and running, it can be surprising to watch their response.
Questions are answered, pictures are printed and ink dots are stared at. It's incredible how often people switch over and realise that the machine best suited for their business may not actually be the one they’d previously leaned towards and popped in to see.
This guide is to help with the initial mulling over, a guide to help you before you walk through the door or pick up the phone.
As we only have access to comprehensive information on these two brands, we’ve built this guide around those two manufacturers and have not included Roland or any other company. To keep it simple, we’ve also used solvent as an umbrella term that includes eco-solvent inks as well.
Both technology types print without issue on the same wide media selection. They are equally at home with self-adhesive vinyl for stickers, banner vinyl, exhibition pop up and roller banner polyesters and PVCs. All these media will work on either machine type, although some may print better on one than the other. If you do have something that’s mission-critical, bring it into our showroom and let us print on it before you decide.
The lines between what each ink type is better at producing are blurring. Cast vinyl and vehicle graphics were always the domain of solvent but now I see many vans being wrapped in over-laminated prints from latex printers.
Home décor and textile printing have been marketed as finding its home on latex. If printing on to fabrics or wall-coverings is a part of your business, latex may certainly have the upper hand on media choice and suitability.
Latex ink consists of colour pigment within a water-based carrier. Once jetted on to the media, the heat of the machine cures the ink. It’s durable, quick-drying and can be over-laminated immediately.
Solvent ink’s carrier is a chemical which binds itself to the media and creates a resilient bond. It does need time for this solvent to ‘gas off’ and leave the pigment behind. After this time, any over-laminating is good to go.
As a side note, it’s down to the expected lifespan of the project you’re printing and where it’s being used as to whether either of these actually need over-laminating at all. Some products never seem to be laminated, yet others have that extra layer of protection for peace of mind.
Heat in action
Solvent ink cures at around 30 to 40oC. There are pre and post heater options to make sure the media is receptive for the ink and also to help it dry as it feeds through.
Being water-based, latex ink needs a higher heat than solvent to cure. The carrier needs to evaporate to leave behind the pigment. Up to 100oC can be the standard across the bed and the machine needs to stay at this throughout the printing process. The print bed is all enclosed and there are plenty of fans to disperse any build up of heat.
Latex printer profiles do need to have all the heat settings within them to produce optimal results. There is an online repository which all the media manufacturers and suppliers are continually adding to. The same can be necessary for solvent printers although in my experience, the settings can have a little bit more lee-way.
Ease of use
Compared to some of the more industrial-sized machines, the roll-fed options from both Mimaki and HP are closer to running a home inkjet printer than something that needs a degree in engineering to work.
Once you know what media to run and the settings to use, the RIP software takes care of the whole process. If you need information on RIPs, get in touch and we’ll help with the lowdown on each. For RIP software, HP uses mainly Onyx and Mimaki comes bundled with either Shiraz or Rasterlink.
Loading in media is easy enough. Both use spindles to help feed the rolls in and the weight of most media makes them manageable by one person. Load up and push the big green button. The current generation of printers can be left alone without the need to check back constantly.
Reliable and pretty much trouble free is (thankfully!) what I usually get to hear.
Neither machine types could be called slow and what we used to watch in wonderment in previous iterations (3m2an hour!) is now what these things print in 10 minutes.
The latest Mimakis can produce usable prints at up to 100m2+ per hour and HP isn’t too far behind that. These machines will not be the bottleneck in your production.
Consumables and cost of use
HP latex uses the same print-head technology as their other water-based machines such as the Z series. This means the print-head is a consumable part that can be replaced when necessary. Changing over ensures the print quality is always optimal but there is a cost for these heads. Along with the cartridges, this cost needs to be factored in.
The printheads inside a solvent machine will usually be the same ones for the duration of the printer’s life. They can be replaced but it is not the same plug and play system as with HP.
Needing more of an insight into the cost of ownership? Get in touch and we’ll set you straight.
Latex is water-based so it ticks all the boxes with the inkset. Curing the ink with a high level of heat does offset this eco-cred so when looking for a true comparison, this energy use needs to be added in.
Solvent inks and eco-solvent inks are using less harmful chemicals with each new update cycle. Where previously there would have been issues supplying print into schools or hospitals, this is not now always the case.
Latex ink has no smell so if your finished work is for internal use, it can be important.
We provide machines for many different end uses and as mentioned before, home décor is steadily becoming more and more popular – HP already has its system for creating wall art. Having wallpaper that can be supplied without any odour might be a real plus point for you. Also be aware that Mimaki claims that most solvent prints will be relatively odourless after 48 hours.
Where the machine can to be used within your premises can be dictated by the odour of the printer when operating. Solvent printers do give off an odour when printing. It’s part of the make-up of the chemicals within the carrier and the reason why they bind so aggressively to the media. If it is an issue in your workplace, there are air purifiers and exhaust systems to help eliminate it.
Each new version of solvent ink has less VOCs and chemicals in them as the technology evolves. We are starting to see some machines that even don’t need added ventilation.
Size of machine
These machines wouldn’t fit on your desk and with some of the available options up to 3m+ in width, they are definitely production sized kit. That said though, the standard entry level, and the levels above, are not colossal and can be moved around your premises on their castors if needed.
However, most places give it a home in the corner and it’s left there to earn its keep.
We’re at the end now and you guessed it. There is no conclusive and definitive option when it comes to latex vs solvent. I’m trying not to sit on the fence here but there are major reasons for looking at both.
It depends more on what industry you create print for and also the requirements you expect your printer to fulfil.
Read through our guide about the tech (and I hope it helps with first decisions). Now you now need to reach out to discuss your individual needs.
Latex… solvent…and this is even without adding UV into the equation! (That’s for another guide.)
Printer technology has matured. Options from the big names out there make it difficult to get the choice totally wrong. It’s still possible though that a customer can focus on something that isn’t quite as relevant to their business as they think.
By asking questions and researching info, the best or perhaps, the most suitable printer for the job, can be found.
Maybe I shouldn’t have touted this guide as suggesting the best latex printer or best solvent printer for business but ‘most suitable’ doesn’t quite have the same appeal!
I hope this guide has helped you with what to look out for when choosing a new latex or solvent printer and has highlighted considerations that are more meaningful to your business.
If there is something specific you need to discuss or you want to have a look at the tech, get in touch.
Remember, here at Granthams, we’ll do all we can to make sure you buy the right latex or solvent printer for your needs.