When it comes to digital print there are few companies who began right at the beginning and still remain relevant and active at the forefront today. Some big names have passed by becoming just a footnote in the history of the industry. (Encad and Kodak anyone?).
Along with HP and Mimaki, Roland is synonymous with digitally printed signage from their early machines right through to current production models. As our new partnership with Roland begins, I wanted to put together this post looking back through their history to show just how much impact Roland has made to our industry.
Although Roland has been around since the early 1970s creating electronic musical instruments including drum machines, synthesisers, amplifiers and more, our interest is in the division called Roland DG (Digital Group). This is the department that is in charge of print and cut technologies as well as 3D scanning, thermal transfer and engraving.
In the mid-90s, inkjet printing was in its infancy with the Encad Novajet and early HP Designjets. Primarily being used in CAD applications their day to day chores included printing out architectural drawings and plans.
The first four colour inkjet systems were just filtering through but all were using waterbased dye inks. With dye inks, the longevity of any print was severely affected by sunlight plus they had little resistance to water. In other words, these machines were of little use within the rapidly growing signage market.
After a number of cutting plotter machines, in 1997 Roland introduced the CAMMJET CJ-70, the world’s first wide-format inkjet printer/cutter, capable of printing water-based pigment ink. With pigment ink, there is a much greater resilience to UV and sunlight. Rapidly fading prints were now no longer an issue and the inks were much more waterproof. In 1998 it was followed by the Hi-Fi JET FJ-50 - the first 6 colour 1440-dpi wide format inkjet printer. Pigment inks, although still waterbased, were the precursor to the solvent inks that are still widely in use today.
In 2001 Roland made the leap the industry needed and released the SOLJET SC-500 inkjet printer/cutter, capable of printing durable solvent ink that created a tough bond with the media surface. Now we had true external signage opportunities including banners and vinyl graphics.
In 2003, the sign and graphics market was again transformed when Roland DG introduced the VersaCamm SP-300. The availability of a 30” print & cut machine at a price point below £10k mean that there was unprecedented demand as it enabled more of the industry to get their own super powerful, versatile print & cut machine.
In 2004 the arrival of Roland VersaWorks RIP software simplified the printing process combining the technology with a more intuitive front-end system.
Not content with solvent inks, Roland in 2006 released the Hi-Fi EXPRESS FP-740 dye-sublimation inkjet printer. Who would have thought that digital print tech and the use of fabrics and textiles that have become so popular today could have started well over a decade ago?
With the shift for certain applications moving away from solvent to UV inkjet, in 2008 came the VersaUV LEC-300, UV-LED inkjet printer/cutter, capable of multi-layered printing on a wide variety of substrates.
In 2009 the SOLJET PRO ⅢXC-540MT arrived, the world’s first inkjet printer/cutter capable of printing metallic silver ink. Signage would never look the same again!
With each year came further refinements and developments - a more efficient ink flow, faster production speed, brighter colours and a wider achievable gamut.
Closer to the present day and in 2016 Roland released the TrueVIS VG-640/540, SG-540/300 equipped with newly developed Roland DG FlexFire print head and new TrueVIS INK.
Bringing us completely up to date, the TrueVIS VG2 has just landed and as a distributor (https://granthams.co.uk/collections/roland), these TrueVIS machines, along with the ever-reliable workhorse Soljet, are the Roland printers that are our main drive and focus.
I’ll go over these new machines in the next blog post but as you can see, Roland has been here since the birth of our inkjet industry and more importantly, has kept itself relevant and at the cutting edge for well over twenty years.
We can't wait to get to know new and existing Roland users as we start our journey with them and look forward to what’s next from this technological trailblazer.
PS - If you’re still feeling a pinch of nostalgia, have a read through this post (https://granthams.co.uk/blogs/insights/a-world-s-first-granthams-technology-the-start-of-solvent-printing)where you can find out how Granthams had a hand in the very early days of solvent inkjet!