Last week, DrumART added the latest and greatest digital printer on the market to our stable of amazing digital printers -- the remarkable Roland XR-640 Pro 4. As one of the first few companies in the United States and the very first in the entire northeast to take delivery of this machine, we can tell you that it more than lives up to the hype. Not only does it produce peerless digital prints, but it also offers white AND metallic printing.
This will open up an entire range of customization options to DrumART customers that we have only begun to explore. Stay tuned over the coming weeks and months for more information on these exciting new avenues.
But crowing about our latest acquisition isn't the point of this post. Rather, it's to discuss the way we evaluate technology purchases and to address the myth of direct-to-head printing that has been pushed in subtle and not-so-subtle ways by our competitors recently.
There is an old adage that "to a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." This statement has always resonated with me, and I have used it countless times over the course of my career to direct and inform decisions of all shapes and sizes. I can regularly be heard in the shop reminding myself and others "not to be the man with the hammer."
However, while it important to avoid tunnel vision bred by familiarity and comfort, it is also important to remember that there are nails, and for them you need hammers.
Every year or so DrumART grows to the point where we need additional capacity in the print department. And every year, we evaluate all available technologies that could potentially fill our needs. We look at all kinds of things: durability, sound quality, print quality, technological maturity, cost, etc.
Over our last three rounds of purchase evaluations, we considered a top-of-the-line direct-print UV-cure printer in addition to solvent-based and latex-based digital printers. And each time, we have deemed direct-print UV-cure technology to be grossly insufficient for printing on a vibrating membrane (drumhead). In fact, direct-print UV-cure technology has failed to win on ANY of our decision points to date. To wit:
- Durability: Direct-print UV-cure inks are brittle. Like, extremely brittle. Think of the plastisol inks used on your favorite T-shirt. They look good until they crack and flake from being stretched and bent in the washing machine. UV-cure inks are very similar. Not something you want on a vibrating membrane for sure. In addition, unlike our solvent-based prints, UV-cure inks sit on top of the substrate as opposed to becoming part of it. In our tests, we have actually been able to get UV-cure inks to crack under heavy playing in standard tunings. After cracking comes flaking, resulting in ruined prints. Again, very similar to plastisol inks that are heat-cured.
Our method of solvent-based digital printing uses aminiscule amount of ink that is specifically designed for flexibility and scratch-resistance. In fact, the materials and inks used in the creation of DrumART custom bass drumheads are rated for 3 to 5 years of outdoor exposure. Think Arizona summers and Minnesota winters. Yeah -- they're that durable. And our proprietary application process allows the print to vibrate with the drumhead, not bind against it.
- Sound Quality: Direct-print UV-cure inks are thick. Obviously, a thick layer of brittle ink will not have a positive impact on the sound of a vibrating drumhead, especially if that drumhead is already coated to begin with. Our method of solvent-based digital printing uses extremely thin and flexible material (less than 1.5 mil) and an application process specifically designed by DrumART for use on custom bass drumheads. The resulting print has no noticeable or measurable impact on the sound of your chosen drumhead. Trust us -- we tested it. Or don't trust us. Trust our clients. They'll tell you what's what.
- Print Quality: Direct-print UV-cure inks are translucent. In fact, the very nature of the UV-curing process necessitates translucent inks since the UV light needs to be able to penetrate the ink completely in order to harden it. This is an inherent problem with UV-cure ink, and it results in two very real, very serious problems. First, the resulting prints appear washed-out. Others call this an "antiqued" look, but the reality is that drumheads printed with UV-cure inks look chalky and bland, especially when compared to the rich, deep blacks and vibrant colors available with solvent-based digital printing. The second issue exacerbates both the brittleness and the sound issues inherent with direct-print UV-cure inks: in an attempt to artifically saturate colors, printers need to lay down a substantially thicker layer of brittle ink. The result is a very slight improvement in color with even more sound dampening and the potential for even more cracking and flaking.
- Technological Maturity: Direct-print UV-cure inks are immature. Compared to solvent-based print technology, direct-print UV-cure inks and printers are generations behind. This relative immaturity can be witnessed in the issues listed above. All of these issues are being actively worked on by manufacturers of direct-print UV-cure printers and inks, but they have not been adequately resolved to the point where we would be willing to put our good name and sterling reputation behind it.
- Cost: Direct-print UV-cure inks are expensive. Now, cost is a relative term here -- any of the printers we evaluated and all of the printers we have purchased to date cost as much or more than many luxury cars, but direct-print UV-cure printers are more expensive than solvent-based digital printers. Given the lower durability, reduced sound quality, inferior print quality and overall technical immaturity, an investment in a direct-print UV-cure printer makes no sense for use on custom bass drumheads.
All that said, one is inevitably led to the following question: why would anyone use a direct-print UV-cure printer to produce custom bass drumheads? The answer is simple: perception.
Some people assume that adding a digital print to an existing drumhead would have an adverse impact on the sound of the head. And in the case of many of our competitors, they would be right. But unlike our competitors who use thick substrates and clumsy application processes, DrumART has spent 15 years and tens of thousands of dollars refining both our materials and our application process to near perfection. That said, our printed heads are sonically indistinguishable from their unprinted counterparts. But again, don't take our word for it -- the reviews of our existing clients say more about our products and service than I ever could.
But let's get back to our "man with a hammer" analogy. We are firm believers in using the right tool for the job and educating our potential customers on the reasons why our way is the right way, not letting the incorrect perceptions of the market dictate our decisions. And that is why, in short, we continue to use hammers for nails while others try to drive them with screwdrivers!
To those of you who have made it this far, I appreciate your attention and I hope this little article has been informative. Please feel free to contact us directly if you have any other questions, and thanks as always for your interest and your support!