June 2003|Competition drives innovation, sharpens prices, influences business practices, and offers consumers much-needed choices. So, in a world long dominated by Primera CD and DVD inkjet disc printers, it's a welcome sign to have another industry veteran like Microboards Technology throw its hat into the disc-labeling ring.
Rather than confronting the juggernaut head-on, Microboards has instead opted to pick its first target carefully and come to market with a more specialized autoprinting product. Aimed at tower CD and DVD duplicator owners, as well as service bureaus decorating discs as an alternative to silkscreening, the Print Factory is a one-trick pony wrapping 50-disc autoloading capabilities around a thoroughly modern color inkjet printer in a smooth desktop unit.
In contrast to Primera's solutions, which utilize Lexmark technology, the $2,995 Print Factory employs Hewlett-Packard's Deskjet 6122 inkjet printing engine, which boasts 4800x1200dpi optimized resolution and true four-color capability combined with four- picoliter droplet size. This is a step up from Primera's SignaturePro and Bravo (See reviews, www.emedialive.com/r4/2001/bennett9_01.html and www.emedialive.com/r4/2003/bennett0203.html), which offer 2400x1200dpi and seven-picoliter droplet size and the older Signature IV (see review, www.emedialive.com/r4/2001/starrett6_01.html) with 1200x1200dpi and 18-picoliter droplet size.
Beyond using a different inkjet engine, the Print Factory also avoids the industry convention of using pick-and-place robotics by instead employing a gravity-fed belt arrangement to supply and move discs through the printing mechanism. The system functions by stacking CDs or DVDs to be printed in a bin located at the top rear of the unit. An escapement is used to allow one disc at a time to fall as needed onto a moving belt that carries it forward under the inkjet print head for labeling. The mechanism then drops the disc into an awaiting bin slung low out the front of the unit.
System Requirements and Installation
Since the Print Factory is a straightforward autoloading printer without duplication capabilities, system requirements are predictably light, although using a faster computer will reduce imaging times with complex labels. Consequently, at least a 233mHz Pentium PC with 128MB RAM is called for, along with MS Windows 2000 or XP and a parallel or USB 1.1 port. For this evaluation, the Print Factory was put to the test using a speedier (although run-of-the-mill these days) 1.7gHz Pentium 4 PC with 256MB RAM running MS Windows XP Professional with a USB connection. As with most contemporary inkjet printers, installation proved to be a snap. The unit was up and running within a matter of minutes of unpacking.
In addition to the autoprinter, each Print Factory package includes a full complement of niceties, including one tri-color and one black ink cartridge, power cord, USB cable, a handful of alignment CDs, a spindle of 50 blank Taiyo Yuden inkjet-printable CD-R discs, printer drivers for Windows 2000/XP and Microvision Development's SureThing CD Labeler LE label creation software. Serious production users, however, should take note that the unit offers only a one-year non-extendable warranty.
The Print Factory uses a customized HP driver to control the printing process. This includes selectable printing modes and print quality levels, overall ink volume, saturation, brightness, and color tone, as well as grayscale and black-only operation. Also included are maintenance features for checking ink levels, changing ink cartridges, and outputting test and alignment images. More specific to disc labeling is the ability to specify inner and outer printing diameters, hub labeling, and drying time (which unfortunately, didn't appear to make any difference during testing). Conspicuously absent is color-matching capability.