"Our partners Rimage and Primera have always led in the market," says Microboards marketing manager Aaron Pratt. But he believes the Print Factory provides better cost- and time-efficiency for high-volume print work. "With the Print Factory, service bureaus can turn around large jobs—1,000-plus discs—in a single day, using a single machine. With the combined speed and cost per disc, more jobs that would normally have have gone to a replicator can go to a duplicator."
High on the list of Print Factory's features is its modest pricing: it's a 4800dpi, 50-disc autoloading printer that sells for $2495. (Primera's 50-disc Conductor, using the 2400dpi Signature Pro, lists for $3390; Rimage's 60-disc Desktop Autoprinter, which also uses a Primera inkjet, lists for $3995; TraceAffex's PowerPrinter IV, a 100-disc system based on the same HP printer, goes for $5595). Pratt points to the partnership with HP as the driving factor behind the Print Factory's high speed and low cost. "We're not keeping it a secret that HP's engine is inside," he says. "But by using that engine, you can also use HP ink cartridges. In our testing, we got 1,200 discs in text and logo mode off of one cartridge." The recommended HP ink cartridges sell for between $30-$40.
The spec sheet lists 12-seconds per disc for 20 percent coverage text and logo mode, 20 seconds for full-coverage text and graphics in "best" mode, and 108 seconds for full coverage in "photo normal" mode. Pratt says that, even though the printer's specs list a 200-disc-per-hour throughput, Microboards was able to get 300 in an hour in its in-house tests. But Pratt says that it's not only speed and quality that makes the Print Factory unique, as the unit also offers printing on the hub.
"Up until now, only the Everest could print on the hub, which is fine if you really need that fantastic Everest finish for really high-end applications," Pratt says. The Print Factory is the only inkjet printer that offers hub-printing, something that, at press time at least, is a moot point as no media is currently available with an inkjet-printable hub area. But Pratt says Microboards is banking on several major manufacturers' having such media available soon.
The Print Factory's autoloading is done with Microboards' gravity-feed mechanism, which Pratt says minimizes moving parts and has tested "fantastically." (It's also manufactured much more cheaply than traditional arm-oriented robotics.) The company debuted the unit at the SGIA show at the end of October, and began shipping in mid-November.
Not surprisingly, Primera is close behind Microboards, and introduced its new Bravo AutoPrinter—basically the same unit as its Bravo duplicator without the drive and software—at COMDEX in November, and plans to bring it to market in early 2003 with an MSRP of around $1495. Primera sales & marketing vice president Mark Strobel says the AutoPrinter will present a 50-disc robotic autoloader with a throughput speed comparable to the Print Factory, though without the 4800 dpi resolution. "We don't plan to offer a 4800 dpi version, since it is so painfully slow to print," Strobel says. "Besides, there's really no visible gain in output quality. Remember, we're all printing onto CD/DVDs, not on photo paper where you might see a slight improvement."