Mimaki’s current product range means it’s easy – and the right time – to get into wide format printing, says Brett Newman of the brand’s UK distributor Hybrid Services

According to Brett Newman, chief operations manager at Hybrid Services, Mimaki stands out from its competitors because it provides solutions for everyone, from the ‘five to niners’ who want to make money out of their creative hobby, through to mass production companies that want to print textiles at speeds of up to 385sqm/h. 

“No other manufacturer offers such a breadth of product,” says Brett, who joined Hybrid, the exclusive Mimaki distributor for UK and Ireland, 18 months ago.

“One of my many reasons for coming to Hybrid and working with Mimaki was the product range. It is absolutely unique. No other manufacturer offers it. Other manufacturers focus on a particular area. But what Mimaki sees after 20 years of being in this industry is that people, businesses, grow. And they grow rapidly. Every machine that Mimaki produces is a stepping stone to enable people to grow their business.”

This approach allows users to build a road map for their company and understand where their business needs to grow and what options are out there, he explains. The product range at Mimaki, which is known for its wide format digital printers, starts with printer/cutters and moves all the way up to the high volume Tiger 1800B MkII belt-type direct-to-textile printer, via the recently launched TS55-1800 sublimation transfer inkjet printer. The requirement for an easy-to- navigate road map has arisen from
the development of digital print to the point where UK users can now offer short and long runs and fast turnaround at an increasingly competitive price. “What’s happening is that we’re now getting localised production. In other words, production that was off-shore in Eastern Europe, Turkey, India, Pakistan – traditional textile countries – but because of the benefits of digital print, it’s bringing production back home. “It’s important for printers to be able to see that today they might be [printing] on polyester, but in a few years time they may want to go onto cotton. Therefore, they can understand what’s needed in their workflow.”

Transferable skills

It’s not only those that are already using wide format who need to be thinking this way. Garment decorators are perfectly placed to add wide format to their list of services, explains Brett. “What they have are very much transferable skills. You may have people who start off with a dye sub printer doing panels onto T-shirts. This is transferable knowledge – they’re just doing it a little wider. And production costs are decreased with cheaper paper, cheaper ink, etc, so the profitability goes up.”

The Mimaki TS55-1800 has enjoyed “phenomenal success” following its launch earlier this year

For screen printers and embroiderers looking to break into digital, wide format is also an accessible place to start because of the low cost of entry– Mimaki recently set a new price point of £4,995 for its TS30-1300 dye-sublimation printer. “Five thousand pounds is still a wedge of money,” Brett points out.

“But from a business investment point of view, it’s relatively low. They’ve already got a customer base. Everything that you can produce on wide format will sell to that exact same customer base. So it’s a safe investment.”

Adding wide format will also allow decorators to diversify, says Brett. “You might be printing the local rugby team’s shirts on wide format, which is great, but you could also be printing the feather flags on the side of the rugby pitch. You can also make personalised products for commercial customers – they may want a bar runner, or perhaps a bespoke couch or chair in their reception. Or somebody on a consumer level might want personalised curtains and cushion covers and tablecloths. “You’re not restricted into one particular marketplace or application. You can do far greater things as well with one machine, so your level of investment enables you to approach and create new marketplaces.”

Personalised items such as cushion covers that feature pictures of the grandkids and favourite pets are popular because what is being sold is not just a cushion cover, he adds. “It’s Grandma getting a cushion for her favourite chair with a picture of the grandson on. It’s emotion. And people pay for emotions. It’s very profitable.” Surprisingly, another positive for the industry is Brexit, believes Brett, whatever the outcome is, as it has made people realise that perhaps it will be more difficult to get things into the country and so being able to manufacture in the UK is important. “Whatever happens in Brexit – I don’t know, the government doesn’t know, or anybody else, for that matter – what we have seen is people making certain that they can produce, they can serve their customers, and that in itself is a demand for local production.” Business will continue whatever happens with Brexit, he points out. “The demand will continue. I will still buy my mother-in-law a cushion with a picture of the grandkids on it. That won’t stop just because of Brexit.”

Five to niners

Reduced cost of entry is also helping to boost the number of UK printing businesses and drive and develop the market, believes Brett. The aforementioned TS30-1300 is a case in point. “It’s enabled more start- ups, what many people refer to as the ‘cottage industry’. Nowadays the term is ‘five to niners’, where people finish the day job, come back and then start their hobby, and then that hobby grows into a business.” It is also very easy these days to create websites and web shops. “With very little investment, people get the hang of it and they get to express their creativity. And then that grows. I think that’s shaping the market, changing the market, and it is in itself driving the demand locally. People now see you can go and get pretty much anything personalised on all these kinds of Not On The High Street-type websites.” Last minute purchases – forgotten birthdays and missed anniversaries, for example – can only be resolved by using local production. People will pay a premium for personalised, emotive items, Brett says. “You can’t wait for four weeks for something to come from Turkey or India.”

New hybrid

At Itma last month, Mimaki introduced a new hybrid digital textile printer. No details were available before Images went to press, not even to Brett, but he says Itma is a massively important show for the industry that only occurs once every four years so it is important to show new developments there. “Most people know Mimaki as the manufacturer that leads this mid-range arena and will be going to it looking for what Mimaki have to offer,” he explains. “Mimaki has the reputation of bringing product to market very quickly. They have a massive investment in R&D, and they’re committed to driving the textile arena forward and continuously develop it. “They have conversations with all the people that are involved in the industry, so they get feedback on what people are asking for, and are also able to spot trends early, which allows them to respond quickly.”

The manufacturer also showed the TA Job Controller Software at Itma, which is designed to simplify, control and automate the production process from the design stage right through to post print. Earlier this year, Mimaki introduced the TS55-1800 dye sublimation printer, which has enjoyed “phenomenal success” according to Brett. “We’ve got one customer who bought one, and then he came back and bought another three,” he adds. Priced at £24,995, the TS55-1800 is a 135sqm/h machine.

“Mid- to high- production volume work that had been done offshore is coming back as well. Again, it’s about the point of entry coming down,” Brett explains. “Mimaki structured it at £25,000 for the base machine and then options can be bolted on as production and the business grows. Customers buy the machine, they get going. A year later, they’ve picked up the bigger contracts, so they buy the bulk ink system. They go from a two-litre pack to 10kg bottles, which dramatically reduces their ink costs. Then they go onto jumbo rolls, which dramatically reduces the cost of the paper.”

Educated marketplace

The digital print market is still a young marketplace, Brett comments. There are, however, many early adopters who bought a Mimaki TX2 20 years ago and are now very experienced users. “What you’ve got is an educated marketplace that’s giving feedback, and so manufacturers are learning and responding to the demands of the developed users. That’s making it easier for people to enter the marketplace – there are not many industries like that.” As the market expands, so has Hybrid. The team in the showroom has grown, and the number of engineers has grown from 12 to 18 in the year and a half since Brett joined. Hybrid is investing heavily not just in staff, but also in internal systems and process. All this can only happen, he says, because of Mimaki’s heritage in digital print and its investment in R&D. “Mimaki helps people grow their business and make money. That’s what everybody’s in business for. Let’s not kid ourselves. If people can’t make money from their machine, then they’ll go and buy something else.”