Gerber Solara ionX, V and Z raise the question of Cationic UV-curing ink vs free radical UV-curing ink Print

Kudos to Gerber for daring to be first with cationic ink in an entry-level US flatbed printer. After two years, the chemists, the printhead manufacturer, and Gerber's own engineers and scientists have finally make the breakthrough that no one predicted: they have harnessed cationic ink in an affordable UV-curable flatbed printer.

Gerber Solara ion v, same dedicated flatbed but a lower cost


And for January 2009, there is now a new lower price on a new entry-level version, the Gerber Solara ion v. This costs noticeably less than the Gerber Solera ion X.

Gerber Solara ion v, same dedicated flatbed but a lower cost
Gerber Solara ion v is now a new lower price on a new entry-level version this printer was exhibited at FastSigns 2009.

“ Cold” curing is also innovative on the Gerber Solara ion

It is ironic that Gerber, whose sales have been clobbered by ColorSpan for years, is the first out with an innovative cold cure.

Photo Gerber Solara ion X UV-curable wide-format inkjet printer
Picture of Gerber Solara ion X UV-curing flatbed with roll-to-roll printer
Gerber Solara ion X UV-curing flatbed with roll-to-roll printer

It will take a while to figure out who is making the UV curing lamps in the Gerber Solara ion printer. Gerber is not using an LED lamp. The size, shape, and positions of the UV lamps that they are using are listed in the FLAAR Reports, which can be ordered from www.wide-format-printers.NET . Regular mercury arc UV lamps are the temperature of plasma and are not appropriate for cationic ink.

Gerber deserve recognition for their innovative curing method; but the question is whether it is effective, and what downsides it has.

Photograph of Gerber Solara ion X UV-cured dedicated flatbed inkjet printer
Photo of Gerber Solara ion X UV for outdoor signage
Gerber Solara ion X flatbed printer with GerberCAT cationic UV ink at SGIA 2007.

What will Hewlett-Packard do now?

An innovative, popular, and break-through product by Gerber Scientific Products, far ahead of any comparable product from Roland, Mutoh, or Seiko, sets Gerber ahead for the race to entry-level market. This is a challenge for the two ColorSpan printers: ColorSpan 5440uv series (now the HP Designjet H35100 and HP H45100) and the ColorSpan 9840uv (now the HP Scitex FB910 ).

With the Mimaki UJV-160 there is another roll-to-roll hybrid UV printer that challenges what's left of the HP Designjet H35100 and H45500 UV series. Unless there is a new entry-level UV printer from HP, they won't have a fully-functional UV entry-level model at ISA 2010. So Mimaki is poised to potentially take over the entry-level hybrid market, and Gerber could take over the entry-level flatbed market (assuming both new technologies continue to work by then).

The ion printers worked much better at the S GIA '08 trade show that a year ago at SGIA 2007

Plus FLAAR has received three comments from an end-user who has a Gerber ionX for almost a year now. This end-user is very content.

If i had to recommend a low cost option to anyone it would be Gerber's top ION model. You can get in very cheap by asking Steve Albert at Gerber to eliminate the roll option. We saved $15K this way. Service excellent, responsiveness excellent. They extended warranty 3 months due to past head and ink/pump problems when they change inks and/or formula.

Far better safety wise. Also get this ink, we had a complaint from a German worker who didn't want to be moved to the print shop that we were "poisoning" him with fumes, harmful emissions, ozone etc. Steve Albert got his chemist to send me additional data about all of this stuff over and above the MSDS data sheets. In addition to the almost non existent fumes, we had installed the air scrubber you referred me to in Las Vegas that is usually used in the solvent arena. Worth every penny by the way.

In any event we had a detailed inspection by the German safety officer and the industrial hygienist. They bough VOC meters, DB meters the work. We did a "worse case" 4 x 8 foot print job with heavy intense color saturation. The formal report just came back and there is virtually no danger even without the scrubber. As we all know, they pointed out that the handling of the inks with proper gloves and eyewear is the most important.

Printer really covers Coroplast, corrugated plastic well. Better colors, less color correction problems that H700, virtually no static issues even with plastic. Still issues with ink clogging but that is more due to inconsistent use.

There are two FLAAR Reports on this Gerber ion: the evaluation itself, and a separate FLAAR Report on UV ink that covers cationic ink (and lists is multitude of issues).

It was possible to visit the Gerber factory and demo room in late September 2008. In this lab environment the printer functioned nicely; the output was gorgeous when in 8-pass mode. Colors were attractive too. Up close of course the 42 picoliter drops were a bit rough, but from further way the image was attractive.

The next step was to check and see if the cationic ink functioned outside a laboratory environment. So I went to a printshop in Chicago; in the same building they do screen printing and offset printing. They already have an HP Designjet 5000 and a Roland eco-solvent printer. When the Gerber ion X arrived, they say that it satisfied them as printshop owners and the output was acceptable for their clients (primarily POS for liquor stores, liquor departments in larger stores, and bars). They said that having a flatbed was such a relief: no more mounting by hand. So they can save both time and money by printing directly to rigid material.

The complete evaluation: from all trade shows around the world, from testing the printer in person in the demo room, from inspecting the factory, and from questioning the owners in the printshop in Chicago, is all available in the FLAAR Report on the Gerber ion printer.

You may notice that FLAAR does not reproduce the PR releases

Other sites on the Internet merely publish the Gerber PR release, with no comments, observations, or suggestions. This is embarrassing.

Of course miracles do happen. Everyone told Christopher Columbus that if he sailed west his ships would fall off the edge of the world. He discovered America. So it appears, so far, that cationic UV ink chemistry actually functions. Seemingly the Gerber system can control it, since once cationic starts to cure, it tends to cure spontaneously with catastrophic results inside the printheads. There are also severe limitations of the amount of humidity that this ink can survive. Again, this is discussed in the updated FLAAR Report on the Gerber ion .

The reason we hoped Gerber would overcome issues and get their new printer to print reliably is because a successful cationic ink in their ion printer will revolutionize the UV printer market.

In the factory lots of the printer are on the assembly line

At the factory it was permitted to take plenty of photographs, and then again in another building it was allowed to photograph the printers in the demo room. So I can testify that Gerber can get the printers to function fine inside their own facilities.

cationic UV ink, Gerber Solara Ion
The Gerber Solara Ion using cationic inks at SGIA 2008, October.

Dedicated flatbeds are the way to go

Our FLAAR Reports have clearly stressed the importance of manufacturers offering dedicated flatbed style UV printers. Indeed the track record of issues with combo-style transport belts is increasingly poor. See the FLAAR Reports on the Grapo Octopus , for example.

Just be sure to read the FLAAR Reports on UV-printers before you make a down payment on any UV-curable machine.

Gerber has discontinued their flatbed UV-cured printers. I spoke with the owner of a Gerber cationic ink flatbed printer a few months ago, and he was content. Cationic ink has several quirks but also several advantages. 400 of this printer were reportedly sold, so there is plenty of feedback available if you consider buying one of the units still available.

Tech support and spare parts will be continued for a reasonable period by the manufacturer.

Since there are so many other brands and models of newer printers, we do not tend to update evaluations of printers that have been discontinued.

Last updated May 2, 2011

Updated February 17, 2010 after receiving a third comment by an end-user who has two different brands of UV-cured printers. He likes the Gerber ionX better than the other brand.

First posted 5 October 2007. Updated after SGIA, November 2 2007. Updated December 5, after VISCOM Italy. Updated Jan 27, 2008, April 7, 2008. Updated June 3, 2008 after seeing the Gerber ion print “speed” and hearing of the lack of productivity rate. Updated June 9, 2008 after seeing the Gerber ion advertising claim for “speed” and yet noticing it was not printing most days in their booth at DRUPA. Updated July 21, 2008. Updated September 1, 2008, after observing over a three day period at FESPA Mexico trade show in August that the Gerber ion was either not printing at all, or was only printing sporadically, and very slowly, after hearing several reports from people at Long Beach California trade show. Updated again, autumn, 2008 after inspecting the Gerber ion assembly line and testing the printer in the demo room. Updated October 2008 after inspecting the two Gerber Solara ion machines, printing, every day, handsomely at SGIA '08. Updated January 12, 2009 after inspecting the new Gerber Solara ion v machine, printing, every day, handsomely at the first trade show of the new year: FastSigns convention, Orlando.