MEMS print heads, why were they not successful with UV-cured inkjet printers? Print
Dill Neo Venus

At SGIA ’08, the Rastek T1000 and InkTec Jetrix were using Spectra M Class heads. These two printers had the absolute best quality both for photographs and for small fonts. I rate these as superior to the quality of any other UV printer at this large trade show.

But at FESPA Asia a month after SGIA, neither of these two printers will use those Spectra heads. Indeed the largest printer in the world that began with the Spectra MEMS heads, the L&P Virtu HD8, also stopped using these heads. Indeed this debacle may cause that printer to literally disappear (WP Digital AG is the new owner, and they may not wish to cover the huge costs which resulted when years of testing with the MEMS heads came to a fruitless end when the heads were no longer available).

The only other printer that was brave enough to try with MEMS heads, the Yuhan-Kimberly K2 (VU:1800 textile printer) is the only model that has not yet officially abandoned the MEMS heads (but they will, because the heads are not functionable in actual printing, at least not with UV-cured inks). The VU:1800 is not a typo, it is not UV; it is a textile ink printer. As an update to our original 2008 posting, the problems with these MEMS heads caused Yuhan-Kimberly to (literally) be put out of business. There were also issues with the factory who was engineering and building the printer, but the MEMS defects also contributed to the issues of the inability of this factory to produce a viable printer.

The only other MEMS technology printhead to be used in a printer shown at a major trade show was the X2 printhead from Israel, in the HP Scitex XL2200, shown at SGIA 2007.

This printer disappeared totally after that, replaced by the slower NUR Expedio printer.

And, all the other HP Scitex printers, all announced at Barcelona in September 2006, they all never appeared (all were listed as not only having, but featuring, the X2 MEMS printhead).

So clearly there is something about MEMS printheads that no trade magazine is providing details on.

Hopefully engineers will solve the problems, because the X2 printhead issues were a year ago. By the time the HP Scitex FB7500 printer is actually in beta stage next year, that will be about 18 months of additional time to spend further millions or dollars to get these X2 MEMS heads to overcome their two major issues.

In the meantime, the only publication that I am aware of that discusses all this is the FLAAR Report on printheads for UV flatbeds. There is no material in this report that is covered under NDA since if you go to any trade show you can learn anything you want just by asking intelligent questions.

And if three printer manufacturers all start with one head, and all three drop that head, this suggests there is something in the manufacturing and functionality of that head that is not ideal.

The complete portfolio of records of these damaged heads is in the new FLAAR Report on printheads for UV printers.

Update (2015): It is now seven years since the debacle of premature MEMS printhead technology. It would be an educational MS thesis or PhD dissertation to document to what degree fluffy puffy PR releases (which of course praised MEMS technology) were responsible for the millions of dollars of losses of Yuhan-Kimberly, Rastek, Jetrix, and L&P. Rastek and Jetrix both survived; the other two companies went out of business (the remnants of L&P were sold to a Swiss company whose sales UV-cured printers fell noticeably between 2012 and 2013).

Today in 2015, MEMS printhead technology continues to advance

The first jet airplanes crashed (the infamous Comet brand). But today we all fly on jet airplanes to get to printer trade shows. The first MEMS heads also crashed, yet today there are a number of printers using this technology, but with the benefits of learning from the mistakes of 2007-2009. Today Fujifilm Dimatix Spectra has impressive technology, significantly improved from earlier models. And although MEMJET heads have more issues than there is space to mention here, at least they do function for short periods (before losing nozzles).

Now let’s look at a few other print head headaches.

Why were the printheads used by ColorSpan 5540 (HP Designjet 45500) imprecise in the middle?

This unfortunate printhead issue problem caused many owners of the ColorSpan and subsequent HP Designjet H35500 and H45500 headaches.

These printers had enough problems with their own mechanics, so it’s unfortunate that their printhead had manufacturing defects in some cases as well. But a major problem was too many fluffy promises: a pinch-roller printer is not able to handle many kinds of thick rigid material, but buyers found this out only once they bought this model. One major HP distributor said he literally dumped his unsold models of this printer. This line of printers had to be also dumped by the manufacturer, (discontinued) by HP due to the issues.

If I remember, these were Ricoh Gen3 printheads. The improved versions, however, function acceptably in Matan UV-cured printers. Today Ricoh Gen5 printheads are a prestige head worldwide.

Which printheads failed to function adequately in the Mimaki JF-1631 and Oce Arizona 250 GT?

The same or similar model of printhead, used in both these printers, had similar issues. But not all printers had these defective heads. But I spent several hours with an accomplished printing company in Europe, and they showed me photographs of all the problems they were having.

Another owner of the same model of printer, in Mexico, wrote to say he had comparable issues.

And two owners of Mimaki JF-1631 and JF-1610 UV flatbed printers had similar issues.

I discuss all this in the FLAAR Report on printheads for UV printers.

Which brand of printhead requires purging up to a thousand dollars worth of ink a month to keep the system functioning?

These are unfortunate details that you are not told about at a trade show, at least not from the printhead manufacturer. But if you visit the printshop that owns a printer with this brand of head, you can hear the wailing from the owner’s wife before you even get into the shop (this is a dramatization, the owner probably does not tell his wife how much ink their printer flushes down the drain per month).

We have gathered all the information that is realistic to learn about printheads for UV-cured inks, and put them into a new updated FLAAR Report on printheads. This is not a technical report for engineers, but a straightforward list of printhead manufacturers and indications where there are defects or issues. You will not get this information anywhere else all in one report. You definitely will not find this kind of pros and cons discussion in any trade magazine (other than SIP, which is the best trade magazine for reporting the reality of inkjet printers).

Fortunately, most printheads work just fine in most UV flatbed printers

Don’t despair, most printheads work just fine. Spectra (Dimatix) has an excellent reputation in Durst Rho printers; the quality of the Rho 320R is impressive. The new Xaar 750 Omnidot heads work in the Grapo Shark. However in general, most UV-cured printers since 2012 use Ricoh or Konica-Minolta heads; efi VUTEk tends to use Seiko printheads.

There will be some printers with printhead brand names that are not yet widely known at ISA ’09 and SGIA ’09. And during 2016 you can also expect further advancements in print heads, both for UV-cured and for textile printers (these we will inspect at ITMA 2015 in Milano).

But don’t worry, there is plenty of meat in the FLAAR Report, and since we list most of the printheads that are available on todays’ market, there is plenty of food for thought in this discussion of printheads for UV printers.


Updated October 8, 2015.

First posted November 24, 2008.