Case Studies


PrintBig maintains high quality with Sun Chemical’s Streamline ink

Kent based PrintBig has built an enviable client list featuring large multi-national and international organisations as well as many smaller, locally based companies.

Established in 1991, PrintBig offers its clients a complete service including initial creation and design, through to a wide variety of print and post print finishing facilities. The printing department has a comprehensive range of print technologies including UV curing, eco-solvent, aqueous and dye sublimation printers each providing a solution for applications such as vehicle graphics, hanging signs and banners, exhibition graphics and signage. “Our work is extremely diverse, we can be producing a single pop-up banner one day and then creating hundreds of banners and graphics for a national exhibition the next, we don’t turn any job away!” explains PrintBig’s Managing Director, Paul Smith.

Converting to third party inks

The conversion to Sun Chemical’s Ultima HPQ ink for PrintBig’s Mimaki JV33-260 printer was prompted by a visit from Litho Supplies (UK) Ltd, a national Streamline distributor for Sun Chemical. Paul explains, “the manufacturer’s warranty was due to finish, so we had the opportunity to explore lower cost inks. I was initially concerned about colour changes and re-profiling costs and, not least damage to the ink circuit of the printer. We’ve previously had a bad experience using third-party inks, so were very hesitant about the switch. However, as it was a Sun Chemical product, and a brand that I trust, I felt much more confident. I also gained full assurance from Litho Supplies who explained that the new Streamline HPQ inks have been developed to match the original ink for colour, performance and quality, thereby negating the need to re-profile. They also have a Sun Chemical print head warranty scheme for added assurance.”

Paul added “a Sun Chemical engineer visited and made the conversion to the bulk ink system in two hours. The result in side by side prints of the original inks and Sun Chemical’s was great, they looked identical. We’ve now been running the machine for over eight weeks on double shifts and gone through 20 litres already. There has been around seven hundred metres of media printed and we’ve seen no change in quality from the original inks and our printer is just as reliable.”

Streamline - reducing costs without compromise

PrintBig faced the same dilemma as many companies that use original inks; how to maintain a high quality standard and meet customer’s expectations, whilst at the same time reducing costs. PrintBig’s experience has proven that not all third-party inks are the same. Paul summed up his experience adding, “our Mimaki printer was under used due to the high cost of the original ink. Now it’s in full production and the printer is being utilised to its full potential. Streamline inks are supplied in one litre bottles meaning that we hold less ink stock and costs are reduced. We’re also saving around 50% per square meter without compromising on quality. There is really no downside for us switching from the original inks and in the current economic climate we believe this is a really good place to be!”


Maintaining its competitive edge

Established in 2005, Rochester based Signs & Imaging provides a host of creative services including wide format printing, graphic design, installation, laminating, vehicle graphics and architectural signage to provide an effective and quick solution for its customers’ needs.

Due to its large manufacturing space, Signs & Imaging manufactures over 95% of its products on site, ensuring customers’ budgets and deadlines are met without relying on additional sources. Serving a variety of customers and businesses, Signs & Imaging works with retailers, councils, shopping centres, hospitals, colleges and schools and hotels.

The success of the company lies in its commitment to offering customers the best possible service and price, while still maintaining high quality

Evaluating Costs

When the company introduced printing a year into the business, they purchased two Roland printers running with Roland OEM inks. The print side of Signs & Imaging’s business accounts for 70 to 80 percent of its work, so, when ink prices increased Signs & Imaging started looking for an alternative solution. It was essential to maintain the high quality it was getting from the OEM inks, but to also keep costs down to ensure the business remained competitive.

“Naturally we were looking for a company that could supply a range of quality inks, providing excellent performance at a reasonable price,” comments Dean Johnson, Managing Director, Signs & Imaging. “We did try out a different aftermarket ink from another ink supplier. These were OK, however, due to the fact that we run two machines and need to keep substantial stock, we needed a supplier that was more responsive to our business requirements.

Signs & Imaging has a good business relationship with Sun Chemical’s Streamline distributor, Litho Supplies (UK) Ltd and had no hesitation in approaching them in search of a solution. Dean comments: “I was keen to try Sun Chemical’s Streamline ESL HPQ, but as we’re a small business, we were concerned about the risk and cost implications of converting to a new ink system. Litho Supplies gave me complete reassurance and explained Sun Chemical’s Print Head Warrantee Scheme and their engineer assisted conversion process. This combined with Litho Supplies understanding of our business needs gave me the confidence to proceed with the ink conversion in a way that suited our business.”

Sun Chemical’s Streamline solvent based inks are designed specifically for use in wide and super-wide format printers. Streamline ESL HPQ is formulated for Roland Pro II & Pro III series printers and matches the original product for all physical properties including colour, print performance and print quality. This provides for a plug and print solution when converting from original inks. All printer settings remain the same with no need for colour re-profiling of the printer.

“It was the first time we’ve used a bulk system but converting our existing inks to the Streamline system was quick with minimum down-time. One of our customers is very specific on the colours it uses, but Sun Chemical’s Streamline ESL HPQ gave us an exact match to our requirements. The Sun Chemical staff were extremely efficient and it’s good to know that their technical team is on hand.”

New Business Opportunities

“We’ve been using Streamline for a year now and have had no problems whatsoever. We understand our customers’ need for affordability without compromising on quality, which is why we needed to re-evaluate our ink supplier. Since using Streamline we’ve seen significant cost savings with no difference in quality from the OEM inks.

“For instance, on one job where we had to produce 500 printed banners, the bulk system enabled us to run the job quicker and without any ink waste. This, coupled with the cost saving by purchasing the Streamline ink by the litre, enabled us to save approximately £800.”

Dean continues: “Where we were once finding it hard to compete for some jobs, now, due to the lower ink costs we can be more flexible when responding to new business.”


Me & my: Sun Chemical Streamline ESL HPQ inks

By Jenny Roper, Monday 25 November 2013

Third-party inks may be less expensive than OEM, but they haven’t always had the best reputation, so can Sun Chemical buck the trend?

Martins: Because the inks are basically the same, there was no flushing process

Third party.’ A term that, particularly now we’re on the home straight to Christmas, is nicely evocative of sparkly frocks, vol-au-vents and those inexplicably moreish cheesy potato snacks that only come out at festive dos.

To printers, the term is less evocative of bubbly and silly hats, and more, unfortunately, of clogged heads, prematurely faded print and all manner of other shriek-inducing issues. Though the term is gradually getting more of a positive rep in the industry, plenty of horror stories do still abound, making many reluctant to switch from OEM to third party inks.

This, until a year ago, was very much N2 Display’s stance. And this certainly wasn’t down to lack of imagination or unwillingness to dabble in something new.

The company has in fact evolved a great deal since it was established in 1974, rebranding as N2 in 2000 and acquiring Robert Martins Printers and Rustin Clarks later the same decade. Today, it not only offers wide-format exhibition and display work and commercial print to its range of clients. It also has a digital, cross-media arm, tasked with designing websites from scratch, analysing the data pulled in from these and integrated print platforms, and managing brands’ social media marketing.

“Within that division, we offer creative, design and marketing services to all sorts of people,” says production director James Martins. “We discovered people didn’t want to do print campaigns exclusively anymore. Now it’s often a web campaign with other elements that go into that.”

“We do a lot of work on web portals, so web-to-print. Often the campaign will involve a website, then there’s back-up literature available through web-to-print personalisation.”
Innovative in many ways, the company was nonetheless conservative when it came to ink choice for its wide-format division, housed just down the road from the other N2 buildings due to needing more space (“When we made our last investment in large-format we didn’t have enough space in the main building. We’re about 900sqm, so didn’t have enough room for the display department, so we’re renting another 280sqm down the road,” says Martins.)

“We’d not been tempted to go for any other replica unbranded inks,” he says regarding inks used on the company’s Canon Océ Arizona and Roland DG XC-540. “The main thing that had put us off before was the uncertainty of what we might buy and the quality of inks. We’ve heard horror stories of people getting into trouble with the machine.”

It’s telling that Martins can’t remember any of the names of the third-party ink companies N2 had briefly considered before dismissing, he points out. “They were companies you’ve never heard of, so it felt like there was no guarantee with them,” he says.

Reputable player

What changed this was consumables supplier Litho Supplies approaching N2 at the end of last year about a new Sun Chemical Streamline ESL HPQ ink, designed as an alternative to the Eco-Sol Max OEM inks used on the XC-540. “Our rep from Litho Supplies came to see us because he knew we had a Roland. The difference was Sun Chemical was a bigger ink manufacturer than the other ones we’d considered, where there’s the uncertainty of whether or not they will be reliable. We’ve used some of their inks in the past, so we know and respect their position in the industry.”

Really clinching it for the company was the availability of a package which included a full audit of the Roland XC-540, and then guarantee that there would be no degradation of it over the next 12 months.

“They came in and did a full service and audit of our machine,” reports Martins. “They checked the state of the heads and made sure they were all suitable for the swap. They made sure the heads weren’t damaged and that there weren’t problems with the machine that would interfere with swapping over.”

He adds: “It was basically a guarantee that if there was any damage, they’d sort it out. You didn’t have that kind of reassurance with the other third-party vendors so we were never tempted before. And those guarantees were coming from Litho Supplies who we’ve done business with for more than 20 years – we respect them.”

This reassurance finally made switching to a cheaper ink than the Roland OEM offering a nobrainer, says Martins. The switch represented a saving of around 45%, which has apparently saved the company around £2,500 so far.

The switchover couldn’t have been easier, according to Martins. “Because the inks are basically the same, there was no flushing process. They put all the inks in and made sure we were happy, but we were still able to use our existing supply of inks if we wanted to. We didn’t have to run our stock to zero, or waste any inks,” he says. “And if we ran out of the Streamline inks for whatever reason, we could still put in the manufacturers’ inks and it would work exactly the same.”

And work exactly the same the inks have. The team hasn’t seen any improvement in finished results or drying times, but this wasn’t the point. The OEM inks were performing brilliantly. The Sun Chemical inks have just enabled the company to produce exactly the same kind of high-quality work, but at a reduced cost.

Martins explains that a quality result is really crucial to N2’s wide-format clients.

“On the Roland, we do self-adhesive vinyl, exhibition signage, vehicle wraps and a lot of POS posters for the cosmetics industry – that’s quite high-level, high-end work where the colour is important,” says Martins, explaining that the six-colour Roland with light magenta and yellow is excellent for achieving realistic skin tones.

“We’re looking for the highest-end print. We’re a short-run, bespoke marketing company,” he continues. “All our print comes from low-volume high-quality work. We’re looking for the best representation of vivid colour and detail and we’ve noticed no difference in colour replication.”

No difference

The company also hasn’t noticed any difference in drying times, a crucial factor, says Martins, in these fast-turnaround times. “Because it’s solvent-based ink, before you laminate you usually wait 12 to 24 hours for it to vent off. But it’s touch dry and serviceable within half an hour to an hour.”

And there certainly haven’t been any issues caused by ink inconsistencies. Martins reports that using an eco-solvent Roland ink had already reduced the burden of ongoing maintenance work for the N2 team. The Streamline ink has held its own in this respect too.

“Both the OEM and Sun Chemical inks are eco-solvent; they don’t require lot of cleaning of the heads. We had a machine before where it was purely solvent and that was a daily clean whereas the eco-solvent is much more environmentally friendly. You don’t have to flush it through regularly, so before it was half an hour a day, whereas now it’s half an hour a week,” says Martins.

He adds: “You would notice if there was something physically wrong with the inks like they were thicker or the drying properties were wrong and were clogging the heads up. That would have become evident in the first six to 12 months and our heads are in exactly the same condition as they were when we started back in January.”

Martins would, then, highly recommend fellow XC-540 users make the switch. Sun Chemical adds that this ink can be used on a wide range of Roland printers including the VersaStudio, VersaCamm, VersaArt and SolJet ranges of inkjet printers and printer-cutters. The Streamline wide-format solvent portfolio also features products for Mimaki, Mutoh, HP and Seiko printers.

Certainly for N2 Display the words ‘third-party’ do in fact bring positive images to mind. For Martins and his team the savings made and the reliability of prints produced are well-worth celebrating.


OEM equivalent Eco-Sol Max inks from Roland DG

Compatibility A wide range of Roland printers including the VersaStudio, VersaCamm, VersaArt and SolJet ranges of inkjet printers and printer-cutters

Cartridges Available in pre-filled 440ml cartridges or 1-litre bottles for Sun Chemical’s refillable S-Tech bulk systems

Other manufacturers’ printers supported by Streamline inks Mimaki, Mutoh, HP, Seiko and Roland DG

Price Pre-filled 440ml cartridges: £55; 1-litre bulk system refills: £75. HP9000/10000, Seiko 64S/100S 1-litre pre-filled cartridges: £90

Contact Sun Chemical 07748 335837

Company profile

N2 Visual Communications was originally established as Notaprint in 1974. It rebranded in 2000 and bought Robert Martins Printers and moved from Loughton in Essex to Hoddesdon Hertfordshire in 2008, acquiring Rustin Clark printers in 2009. Today the company is split into three divisions: exhibitions, commercial print and cross-media. Clients include JJB Sports, Millie’s Cookies and Pret a Manger.

Why it was bought...

The wide-format arm of the firm N2 Display decided to switch from Roland DG Eco-Sol Max OEM inks on its Roland DG XC-540 to use Sun Chemical’s Streamline ESL HPQ inks at the start of the year. The company had toyed with the idea of saving money with thirdparty inks in the past, but it only felt confident enough to take the plunge when Sun Chemical, a company of significant size and reputation, offered the option.

How it has performed...

The ink has performed perfectly, reports production director James Martins, with no difference in finished result, drying times or maintenance, between this and the OEM ink. “We’ve noticed no difference in colour replication or drying time or anything. It’s as if we are using the OEM inks,” he says.