ESS Electronic Sign Supply USA lifejet-3200i Combojet UV-curable flatbed inkjet printer Print

The handsome yellow flatbed UV-cured printer at ISA in the booth of ESS Electronic Sign Supply USA is the Combojet from a consortium of Chinese manufacturers. The names I remember from their booth at Shanghai sign printer trade show in 2008 are Shanghai Electric and Human Digital.

Combo-Jet UV-curable flatbed inkjet printer reviews
The Combo-Jet UV-curable flatbed inkjet printer was exhibited at ISA trade show 2009.

Within Mainland China itself not many printshops are willing to spend the money to buy a UV-cured grand format inkjet printer. So the dream of every Chinese manufacturer of UV-cured flatbed printers is to sell in America and Europe. The obstacle is brand recognition (there are already 45 other manufacturers) and lack of American or European distributors who will accept an otherwise unknown product. So one avenue towards hopeful success is to form you own American subsidiary and sell directly from your own US office.

Exhibiting at a trade show is essential, as Teckwin has learned. Teckwin has now exhibited year after year after year, at huge expense.

Exterior design of the Combojet UV-cured flatbed looks nice

The color is innovative and the design is not the typical Chinese style, but instead more rounded. I would rate the exterior appearance as better than average. Regretably this is not a statement on function or perseverance, as that I can judge only by doing actual tests in a demo room and then visiting the factory to check on what stands behind this machine.

ESS Electronic Sign Supply USA lifejet-3200i Combojet UV-curable flatbed inkjet printer reviews prices comparisons
Combo-Jet UV-curable flatbed inkjet printer looks nice, the color and design are innovative, Shanghai trade show 2008.
Combo-Jet UV-curable flatbed inkjet printer evaluations

Lifejet-3200i Combojet UV-curable flatbed inkjet printer from ESS Electronic Sign Supply USA via Shanghai Electric
Sample printed by the Combo-Jet UV-curable flatbed inkjet printer.

Combo vs hybrid vs dedicated

There is no consistent nomenclature in the industry. So the Zund Combi 250 is actually a hybrid (pinch rollers with grit rollers). The Raster Printers H700 (“hybrid”) is actually a combo because it has a moving transport belt.

Since there was no consistency among manufacturers FLAAR has established norms: a “combo” is a printer with a moving transport belt.

A hybrid is usually a former solvent printer that was changed to a UV-cured printer. It uses grit rollers and pinch rollers to move material.

A dedicated flatbed is exactly what it says it is: a flat table, totally flat (usually steel). So this nice yellow printer is a dedicated flatbed.

But, whoa, they intend to add a roll-to-roll. Yet that does not make it a hybrid nor a combo: there is no moving transport belt; there is no grit roller for flat rigid materials: roll-to-roll is handled completely separately, across one side or at one end. There is a completely separate system for handling the roll-fed material (and yes, this needs to have pinch rollers and grit rollers, or comparable). So it is two-printers-in-one. I call this a dual-structure; or just call it two-printers-in-one: the carriage hovers over the dedicated flatbed and, on instruction in software, moves to hover over a completely separate (albeit attached) roll-to-roll printer.

Oce Arizona 250 was among the first with a dual structure; Gerber Solara ion was among the second; Teckwin Techstorm R was the third.

Mimaki JF-1631 simply jerry-rigged a feeble hook to hold roll-fed material. That is not a dual structure system since there was no second roll-to-roll structure. Mimaki simply stuck that hook on because the Oce 250 dual structure was taking business away (Oce has sold over 900 units; Mimaki barely sold 300 units due to weak features of the JF-1631 series).

In short, the Lifejet 3200i is a dual-structure printer, not a combo. And in the configuration as shown in China in 2008 and shown at ISA 2009 was simply a dedicated flatbed (the roll-fed system is not yet finished).

Evaluation process, based on experience

The Chinese UV printers that are exhibited at major trade shows often turn out to be prototypes. When they are exhibited at trade shows in Shanghai, for example, this is to raise interest in distributors for US, Europe, and Latin America. Chinese companies also seek partners with companies such as Seiko (who have no manufacturing plant and thus need a manufacturer in Asia).

In other words, probably 25% of the Chinese UV printers exhibited at Shanghai trade shows (and other smaller expositions in other cities) are not actual production models.

So FLAAR does not undertake a review of prototypes because there are no printshop owners in the US, Europe, or Latin American that even knows about these models (since they are not exhibited at VISCOM, FESPA, or DRUPA, or at ISA or SGIA).

But FLAAR does evaluate prototypes if the manufacturer requests this as a consulting service. However normally we wait until a Chinese printer has distributors around the world. Then our readers ask for a review of such a printer. And, if funding is available for visiting the factory, demo room, and a site-visit case study, then we evaluate the printer.

But, if there are no distributors for the Chinese printer, or only a few, the advantage of a FLAAR review is that then distributors have more interest in a printer.

First step is a factory visit: we need to see the capability behind the printer. Frankly one Chinese factory demo room exhibit area I saw was more impressive than that of VUTEk or Oce or Zund. Chinese engineers have plenty of capability; the only question is whether they wish to manufacture for local consumption (low bid and cheap) or for export (a printer must not fall apart the first three years ! and needs to last five years in good condition with only occasional repair).

ESS offers Caldera RIP software for their Lifejet 3200i Combojet

It is always a good sign when a printer manufacturer clearly identifies what RIP software is available. Some printer manufacturers or distributors attempt to be cute and pretend that the RIP is their own brand. Since that is highly unlikely and thus misleading at best, it is appreciated when a printer manufacturer and distributor are open and honest about which RIP software they offer.

Be sure you know if the RIP is a lite version or a full version, and what the cost is to upgrade from lite to full. For any printer costing over $40,000 the RIP should be a full version.


First posted April 22, 2009, after ISA sign expo in late April.