Why settle for latex?

October 18, 2016

The topic of latex inkjet printing can be a funny old thing at times. There are many who love their latex printers but there are also those who don’t. Let’s face it, most people who have invested in a latex printer probably made the decision to do so based on environmental concerns (my customers will love me more for having a latex printer over a solvent printer etc.) and they fell for much of the hype that HP fed the market.

For example, in addition to an outstanding global PR and marketing campaign, HP published white papers, printed literature, developed micro websites, and maximised every facet of social media to promote the environmentally related benefits of latex printers. 

But are they really all that environmentally friendly? It’s a tough one to call in my opinion, but with HP latex printers still requiring phased electricity to power the heater and the fans to dry the prints, a machine of this type is already burning way too much energy for anyone to be really all that environmentally conscious in the first place. 

The thing was, users never noticed anything untoward at first. After all, you do your homework, research a printer, make the investment, instal it in a corner and get the fastest ROI you can possibly achieve. You’re not thinking about anything else until the electricity bill comes in and you can’t figure out how come your energy bills have shot up so much, so this is something that tends to creep up on users after they have been running latex for a while. 

The other excellent job HP did was the way it promoted its water-based latex inks. Not only do the inks provide you with an improved printing environment without the smell of solvent, but they have been certificated by just about every environmental agency around the world. So water-based latex inks are better right? Err no, not really. They are not better; they are simply water-based. With a water-based system you are never going to achieve the sort of colour gamut and density that a solvent-based inkjet printer can achieve. This is where the saying that solvent based printers are considered to be more for the pros comes about because the graphic arts professionals are going to be more discerning about print quality, density, and vibrancy.

Solvent printing does do quite a few things that really work well for very high end print jobs, so they have their place. This type of printer is going to find itself installed at a graphic arts company that does work for advertising, or window displays for high-end retail brands where the print standards are top notch and price isn't usually a consideration. Many latex users tend to be smaller shops where quality is not considered to be as paramount. 

In my own experience I have found the camp in favour of latex to be often divided and have met a lot of graphics printers over the years who had bought a latex printer only to regret their decision. They found that after running it for a while and trying to produce the same type of work on the printer that they were used to running on a solvent machine, they couldn’t. Like the majority of printers when they bought the printer they didn’t give much of a thought about environmental issues at all; they were too busy thinking about how much more business they could pick up because they could play the eco card with their customers - and we all know that ploy hardly works anymore these days. 

Nobody likes to ever admit to buying a turkey either, especially when it’s not at Christmas, and as such I tend to think that today there is an undercurrent of graphic arts users who are now beginning to think about stepping away from latex printing to return to the folds of solvent printing once more. And what with the way that eco-solvent inks have taken off recently, there are plenty of good reasons to do so. 

This is why I think Roland DGA in America has decided that it is high time it slipped off the gloves and has started to give latex printing a bit of a bashing. The company has set up a portion of its American website under the heading Never settle for latex where it calls-out latex printing for being too expensive, piss weak and with a colour gamut that is as flat as a witches tit; or words to that effect. And why not? I think many solvent printer manufacturers were initially scared of being seen to be anti-latex, principally because they were afraid that customers might perceive them to be un-environmentally friendly by their speaking out.

I think Roland DGA has had a whiff of the first wind of change and is acting accordingly to attract users who are either fed-up with latex or are thinking of buying into it. Either way it’s a very plucky move and I hope that more graphic arts printers take the time to consider the wider implications of running water-based latex technology before making any investment in their first wide format printer.

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