Knowledge is power, as Francis Bacon famously observed. In wide format digital printing, knowledge is not only power, but profits. Digital printing is a complex enterprise and those who know more tend to earn more.
The question is, where to acquire such knowledge? Wide format manufacturers and dealers offer a variety of training options for new and existing customers—anything from a six-hour set-up and product run-through, to more intensive hands-on courses taught on-site or at the manufacturer’s facilities. The intensity, scope, duration, location, and cost of training varies widely among manufacturers and their reseller partners. For businesses considering their first wide format printer, it’s especially important to consider how much—and what kind—of hand holding comes with the price of the printer and what you might need to pay extra for. It’s also important to size up ancillary help—particularly online and phone support—that will be available to you when your personal training ends.
Most printer makers note that their customers typically desire hands-on RIP, profile, and color management training. As such, vendors devote the bulk of their training resources to addressing these issues, alongside the more routine topics of printer maintenance and basic operation. But many businesses are also interested in learning how to accomplish specific applications—like vehicle wraps or fine art reproductions—and so vendors, dealers, and media manufacturers will offer training programs to meet these needs as well.
While you can’t put an exact dollar figure on knowledge, consider the following. If you know the proper operation and maintenance of your printer, you’re likely to avoid incorrectly loading media, and risk jamming the machine and incurring production delays. You’ll suffer less downtime from preventable breakdowns.
"In some sense it’s like a car," says Richard Codos, executive director, North American Development for Leggett & Platt Digital Technologies, Inc. "If you change the oil and give it a tune-up, you’ll avoid a lot of preventable problems down the road."
More importantly, a higher level understanding of RIP software and color management will boost the quality of your output, reduce the number of re-dos, and give you a competitive edge.
"It’s the difference between just using the same settings for everything and really making these machines sing," says Gil Richardson, manager of VUTEk training and documentation, EFI, Inc.
Purchasing a wide format printer is a substantial investment, and should be matched by an investment in human capital, states Frank Tueckmantel, director, VUTEk training, education, and events services, EFI, Inc. "You’ve spent a lot of money on the printer, you shouldn’t try to save it on the personnel side."
Agfa’s director of educational services, Brian Kirkham, agrees. "You have to look at training as an investment in your people and your business."
That’s why it’s important to pay attention to where you direct that investment. Training multiple employees and particularly those who are likely to stay with you for the long term will ensure that your investment is not squandered.
Since a significant chunk of wide format printers are purchased through dealers, and not direct from the manufacturer, your first point of instruction will likely be through your dealer. Manufacturers train their resellers extensively and expect that knowledge to be passed onto the customer, usually when the printer is delivered and installed. At that point, the dealer will typically go through the basics of setting up, running, cleaning, and maintaining the printer and leave instructional materials—DVDs, manuals, online resources, and phone numbers—for use. How long a dealer stays at your facility depends on how much hand-holding you require, how the dealer chooses to approach installation and setup, and whether you’ve bundled additional training into the cost of your printer. Some resellers include training fees as a line item on your purchase that can be negotiated away during bargaining.
Agfa uses its own staff of trainers and color management consultants to offer on-site training, the price of which is wrapped into the cost of the devices, Kirkham says. For those purchasing a wide format proofer, a single day will cost $1,600, with travel and lodging expenses paid by Agfa. For training in color management and device/media profiling, the cost is $2,000, although costs are variable based on the amount of training purchased, Kirkham adds.
Gandinnovations will provide a week of free on-site training for its customers with the company’s own employees, says Shamez Asaria, assistant service manager/technical trainer, Gandinnovations. The course covers printer operation, calibration, RIP training, profiling, color management, and basic technical issues.
Hewlett-Packard (HP), which sells its wide format printer through both resellers and directly, offers training through both channels. For HP direct customers, a hands-on, on-site training and installation service could last up to two days, according to Sandy Gramley, business manager, Designjet Category, HP. The price of the training is wrapped into the cost of the device and will depend on the length of the session. Users also receive a DVD video. Gramley adds that HP works closely with third party consultants and other companies who offer training as a, "core competency."
Kodak offers customers support through its resellers and more extensive one-on-one training through its own personnel, says Rod Eslinger, product application engineer/technical trainer, Kodak Graphics Communications Group. Operator training is available for $500 for two hours at the customers’ location or a full day of training with RIP installation for $1,250.
Leggett & Platt Digital Technologies, Inc. (L&P) hosts a 40-hour free course in its Sunrise, FL location. Classes are held whenever registration reaches capacity, usually once a month, Codos says. Classes are broken down into four general areas—theory, hands-on operator training, RIP training, and service training. "We like to stress ‘the more the merrier’," Codos continues. "It’s important to have several people on a staff attend training, so it’s not just on a single person responsible for remembering everything."
Mutoh America offers two days worth of training, performed by their dealers, mostly on application issues, says Randy Rickert, director of sales and marketing, Mutoh America. For RIP help, Mutoh refers customers to the software vendor. "We’re gearing our efforts for a happier experience for newer users so training is a big part of that," Rickert adds.
Océ North America offers an on-site program using Océ employees to train up to four users for $1,450 a day. The company has 20 dedicated training personnel spread through the U.S. with five devoted strictly to color management issues, says Kirk Levis, director of education management, Océ.
Outside of an initial walk-through at installation, Roland hosts several two-day Roland University courses in Irvine, CA on a quarterly basis. Costs vary by course and printer model, though the company is also breaking out courses by application as well, states Tony Miller, product manager, Technical Services, Roland.
Finally, EFI, Inc. offers three course options for their VUTEk printer customers, all of which are free of charge and hosted at the company’s Meredith, NH location. One week-long course covers the basic printer and RIP operation, the second is a three-day advanced maintenance course, and the third is a three-day advanced RIP and profile creation class. "We like to keep the class size small, no more than six or eight people," Richardson adds.
From file receipt, to color management and RIP software, the software side of the printing process is often the most daunting component of a user’s workflow.
"You can spend 90 percent of your time on ten percent of your job," Levis says.
"Most inkjet and solvent printers are not terribly complex devices," Gramley observes. "But taking advantage of their advanced capabilities, like ink limiting, networking, layout, etc., requires guidance."
Producing high quality digital output is all about control. The more variables you manage, the better the final print. Of course, it’s impossible to control everything which is why it’s important to ensure that, "you’re bringing good data to the printer," Miller says. "We have a closed loop system, but we can’t control where files come from. The early hiccups usually start there."
"We find that people do struggle with RIP software and we spend a lot of time on RIP training" Asaria observes "We approach the course as if people have never seen a RIP before, we cover a lot of basics."
One key, says Asaria, is understanding how the RIP and your printer work together. "There are some files that some RIPs can’t handle, and you need to know what’s going to work and what won’t."
A common mistake is simply choosing the wrong profile for certain media, Levis says. "You want to keep your profile names simple," and double check to be sure you’re using the right one.
Kodak offers basic RIP training for users of its wide format printers, "teaching what impacts what," says Eslinger. A second tier of training will bring a Kodak agent to your door for more thorough training.
Many users underestimate the capabilities of their RIP, Tueckmantel observes. "They don’t get enough productivity out of it or they don’t get enough color."
Most printer vendors offer basic RIP training when the printer is installed. Some vendors, like Roland and EFI, offer their own RIP products and can provide more in-depth training directly. Others, like HP and L&P recommend that their customers contact the RIP maker directly for more advanced training.
Making the Most of Your Media
Some manufacturers will make product recommendations during a training course, particularly if it touches on specific applications like vehicle wraps, where the vendor has a harmonious offering. Users will be trained on a printer using the vendor’s own products and given profiles for their most common media. Some third party media manufacturers provide their own training courses as well.
Regardless of how much guidance you’ll be given on specific brands, one of the most important media factors to consider—outside of basic compatibility with your printer—is whether it’s been profiled for your printer, vendors say. Manufacturers are spending increasing amounts of time generating and publishing profiles for their printers and media lines and assisting customers in creating profiles for unique media. For vendors that offer both media and printer, it’s viewed as a competitive advantage to have a tightly integrated solution with all the necessary profiles available from a single source.
If you use media from third party suppliers, often an on-site trainer can assist you in profiling your most commonly used media. Agfa’s paid training service, for instance, features a full day’s worth of profiling, Kirkham says.
If you’re struggling with color matching on a particularly unique piece of media, many vendors will offer free phone support.
"Our production print center in Chicago has every printer we sell and we’re constantly testing media or troubleshooting complex issues that come up," in the course of assisting customers, Océ’s Levis notes. "We’ve had flatbed customers come in with a door or a piece of tile and ask for help in profiling it," he concludes.
Unlike teenagers, who rejoice at the end of the school year, business owners have to ensure that the knowledge imparted by their vendors stays implanted in their employees.
"People are usually overwhelmed right after you install a machine and they just nod their head to everything you’re telling them and forget a few days later," Miller admits.
To keep instruction fresh, you’ll be left with an instruction binder on how to operate your printer and some basic trouble shooting tips. Many vendors also include a basic operational video on DVD. If you elected to take a training course, you will be sent home with all the course material—most likely in another sizeable binder—and your own notes.
Additional questions are first directed toward your dealer. If your dealer can’t help or is unresponsive, you can reach out to the manufacturer directly. If you’re comfortable online, many vendors have very extensive online support pages that include documents, instructional videos, manuals, troubleshooting tips, etc. Depending on the manufacturer, these online resources are frequently updated—with the update date displayed so you know how current the information is.
Of course, there’s always the venerable technical support line. Some companies, like HP, wrap free phone support into their warranties. Once the warranty expires, you’ll pay per incident. Other companies, like Roland, offer free phone support after you’ve attempted to resolve the issue with your dealer.
And when waiting on hold on that technical support line, always keep the wise words of Sir Francis Bacon in mind. The more you know, the more your business will grow.