EFI VUTEk 3360 Fusion dye-sublimation to fabrics is part of the growing trend for soft signage Print

At any trade show and every mall you can see soft signage. At the airport, out on the streets, there are banners made from fabric or fabric-like materials.

It's the same with solvent-ink signage: it's everywhere, outside and even inside.

Because signage can be produced both with solvent and dye-sublimation inks, it's a clever idea to have a single printer that can handle both kinds of ink.

But some dye-sublimation ink is oil-based and solvent ink is obviously solvent-based, so they don't mix well in a shared ink system. You would have to drain and flush (very expensive). So several companies have developed a solvent-based dye-sublimation ink. With these ink formulas the dye-sub ink can be let into the ink system without flushing; all you need to do is switch ink channels and have the dye-sub ink fill the system. Once one ink is out and the new ink is into the printheads, you can print. Takes less than 15 minutes.

VUTEk 3360 solvent dye sublimation
VUTEk 3360 solvent dye sublimation, Factory visit 2007.

Actually the changeover from solvent ink on the EFI VUTEk 3360 grand format printer to dye sublimation inks is closer to less than 10 minutes. I tested this in the demo room to check on the advertising claims. If you are a regular reader of FLAAR you realize we don't accept advertising claims until we can see things work with our own eyes.

The easy change from one ink to another is because all the dye sublimation ink lines are already attached, and already filled with ink. You only have to switch the ink through the last 2 feet of the ink lines (into the printheads).

So you don't have to purge one ink out of the entire system (many meters of ink lines). Remember, this printer is designed from the ground up with dual 8-lines (16 ink line).

VUTEk 3360 solvent dye sublimation, inks
Here is Nicholas Hellmuth at factory visit, analyzing the inks.

Although I have seen these printers at trade shows, in order to do test prints I spent a day at the VUTEk demo center, adjacent to their factory. Now we have a preliminary report on our initial findings.

Since FLAAR Reports are inherently comparative: we compare prices, compare specs, compare results in the real world, next step is to compare with the dye-sublimation switching system of the HP Scitex XL1500 DS.

Comparative Comments for alternative dye-sublimation and direct-to-fabric printing solutions: Comparing cost, performance

If you wish to do dedicated dye-sub printing, the options are many: DuPont Artistri 2020 (withdrawn for many reasons), Gandinnovations Jeti 3312 and 3318 DS (they have a new model now also, AquaJet), VUTEk FabriVu 3360, L&P Virtu TX (phased out). The Noritsu Mytis is another technology but Noritsu's ink and materials were too expensive so that project was not successful.

The most direct comparison would be the HP Scitex XL1500 DS. We are in the process of learning about the HP Scitex XL 1500 DS change-over from dye sublimation to solvent inks so we can compare. But it will be tough to beat the ease of changing on the VUTEk 3360. Of course most printshops prefer to have a dedicated printer for dye-sublimation, so you can use oil-based dye-sub inks. Plus you can print on many textiles with UV-cured roll-to-roll printers such as the Durst Rho 351R and Rho 320R and the new WP Digital Virtu RR50.

Recently (March 2009) it was possible to spend two days in the factory of Eurotech, 100 km west of Istanbul, to inspect their Eurotech Mermaid dye-sublimation system.

For wide-format sizes (rather than grand-format size), and with direct-to-fabric textile printing with disperse dye ink, you should also look at the DigiFab StampaJet or the Yuhan-Kimberly MC3 textile printers.

All during 2009-2010 FLAAR will be providing new reviews and many new FLAAR Reports on textile printers.


Most recently updated, April 2009, before ISA. First posted September 2007.