bp default image

Used: The Previously Owned Option

Evaluating the pros and cons of purchasing a used printer.

Buying a previously used, large-format printer can be an affordable way for an upstart business to get off the ground or for a small- or mid-sized business to expand.

As with any big-ticket purchase, however, if you’re considering buying a used large-format printer from an OEM, private seller, or third party reseller, it’s wise to "kick the tires" and do your research before shelling out the cash.

Here, we’ve done some of that tire kicking for you, providing information from a handful of both buyers and sellers, offering their advice and experiences in the used-printer market.

A reliable track record

When looking about for another printer to add to his shop’s equipment array, Darren Buck, owner of JD Print & Display (www.jdprintanddisplay.com) in Barrie, Ontario, Canada, initially bought a new printer that matched his small company’s price range. Soon, however, he realized that he needed a higher functioning machine, which he couldn’t afford to buy new.

"We needed the capabilities of this machine," says Buck, whose company produces large-format displays, "but we couldn’t afford to put the money out for a new one, given the size of our shop."

After shopping around at various tradeshows, Buck realized he could produce his shop’s required work on a four-year-old machine. He negotiated a six-month warranty with Inca on a used and refurbished Inca Eagle 44, the first used printer he has ever purchased.

Before buying, Buck considered purchasing from a broker, but said he chose to go with a manufacturer’s used product so he could deal directly with the OEM when it came to any technical issues. "I wouldn’t buy through a broker unless they could give me a guarantee that they would send repair parts overnight. I have to keep my business running," Buck says. "I’d also be leery to buy at an auction because you don’t know what you’ll get." He felt more comfortable making such a sizeable purchase from a manufacturer, he adds, because he assumes that if a manufacturer is confident enough to give you some type of warranty, than they must be confident in the quality of the refurbished machine.

Buck strongly suggests checking out a printer in action before investing in any used machine. When he purchased his used Inca printer, Buck didn’t have access to that specific printer, so he did the next best thing: He visited another shop that owned the same type of machine and observed the printing of his own customer’s job. That way he could be certain the model would produce what his shop required.

He plans to buy used again in the future: "I would rather let someone else figure out the issues and hiccups of a new machine. So we then get a used machine with a reliable track record," he says. "I may buy a newer used machine in the near future to get a faster speed."

Dealing with downtime and quirks

In Plain City, Ohio, Walter Kittredge and his associates at FNA Graphics (www.fnagraphics.net) pursued the used option when they were looking to get their print shop venture up and running. In March 2006, they purchased a Mimaki JV3-250SPF and a Nur Salsa Ultima 3200 from brokerage firm Wildcat Imaging, and opened for business just two months later.

"Buying a used printer," says Kittredge, principal and director of sales and marketing at FNA, "was the more affordable option for us. Buying used equipment can really make a lot of sense for new businesses."

FNA choose Wildcat Imaging because of the one-stop shopping experience that the company offers, Kittredge explains. "He’s a broker that also maintains inventory. We needed a broad range of products and services and we are able to take care of everything in one place."

While the shop has had a very positive experience with its used machines, Kittredge admits that the major drawback of purchasing used equipment can be a big one: Without a warranty, when something breaks, it’s up to the shop to fix it. "Potential downtime, due to a broken machine, is your worst enemy," he says. "There is phenomenal value in purchasing used equipment, but you simply need to be prepared to repair if the equipment goes down. The cost of fixing the machine or the cost of downtime can outweigh the initial value of purchasing a used machine."

In FNA’s case, they have an employee on staff familiar with both of the company’s used printers and is their go-to repair man. "Issues will occur with used printers; you’re going to have problems," says Kittredge. "Buying a used printer made even more sense for us since we have the advantage of having someone on staff that knows how to fix these printers. However, if you don’t have someone on staff with those capabilities, I wouldn’t recommend buying used equipment."

FNA Graphics is already making plans for its next equipment addition: a used EFI Vutek flatbed, which it hopes to bring in later this year.

Back across the border in Canada, LVP Graphics (www.lvp.ca) in Terrebonne, Quebec, purchased a refurbished Gandinnovations Jeti printer that had previously been used for marketing demonstrations. LVP owner Francis Tellier reports that he is more likely to buy used printers that serve as direct upgrades to his current equipment so that he doesn’t have to deal with the quirks and problems of an unfamiliar machine. He felt safe in making the Gandi selection because he already owned a Gandi machine.

"I would buy a used printer, but only if I already owned one and knew that printer," Tellier says. "I wouldn’t buy used if I was unfamiliar with that make." He adds that if he were to buy a used printer that he wasn’t already familiar with, it could become very expensive without a warranty. And, he says, without previous knowledge of that model, he would have to call a technician with every problem.

Sellers and brokers

In addition to offering inflatables, signs, and its own wide-format digital-printing services, Paramount Promotions (www.paramountpromotions.com) in Phoenix, Arizona, also sells new and used wide-format printers. Brad Bergamo, the company’s president, says they obtain used printers mostly from manufacturers or from leasing companies. Bergamo’s company returns some printers to the manufacturer (such as Mutoh, for which Paramount is an authorized reseller) to be refurbished before he sells them.

"A used or refurbished printer is a great way to get into owning equipment that you would not otherwise be able to afford," Bergamo says.

Refurbished printers-which typically have been checked out and updated by the manufacturer or some other certified technician-usually carry a warranty from the manufacturer or through a third-party reseller like Paramount.

If a shop owner is considering purchasing a machine that is in use by another shop, Bergamo advises checking out the machine while it’s operational. "Bring two or three types of media and files on a USB drive to be printed. That way you know what you are getting," he says.

Brokers are another source of used wide-format inkjet printers. In the used-printer business for five years, Wildcat Imaging Solutions (www.wildcatimaging.com) explains that the company works with two types of customers: entrepreneurs that have been associated with the printing industry and now want to strike out on their own, and established print shops that need to add equipment-for additional capacity, added capabilities to capture new markets, or a newer printing technology-but cannot afford the new-machine price tag.

As with other brokers, however, Wildcat does not have a warehouse somewhere filled with used printers. Instead, the company serves as the "middleman" between the buyer (print shop) and the OEM seller. While many OEMs offers a trade-in/used equipment program (see p. 64), "they’re in the business of selling new equipment," says John Trayner, Wildcat’s managing director. So OEMs and their dealers often turn to a broker when a customer wants to buy a new wide-format printer but needs to sell his older machine first (typically due to cash or space restraints). Wildcat, much like a real-estate broker, will step in and identify potential buyers for the older equipment and then facilitate the sale/purchase of the machine.

Buyers of used equipment are encouraged to test the equipment with their own files, see the printer run with various media, and thoroughly inspect it. Additionally, Wildcat has contacts with independent contractors who, like a home inspector, can provide an unbiased opinion of the condition and value of the printer.

The company also works on the back end to help customers decommission the printer and arrange for installation and training, often through the machine’s OEM. Additionally, Wildcat can help printer buyers secure financing, locate finishing equipment, and will work with private companies who are in the looking/evaluating stage of purchasing new equipment or need to get rid of excess inventory of used equipment.

Essential questions

Finally, it’s always a good idea to have a checklist of basic questions handy for every previously used printer you’re considering. Questions should include at least the following:

* How old is the printer? Is the machine so old that you cannot modify it yourself if need be?
* How many owners has it had?
* How many hours of service does it have?
* Why is the former owner selling it?
* When was it last serviced? How often was it serviced? Is a documented service record available?
* Is the printer still under warranty? Is it under an extended warranty?
* When were the printheads last replaced?
* What brand and type of inks were used in the machine-both OEM and third-party?
* What’s the machine’s top speed on specific media?
* Can I get the specs on this machine when it was new?
* Are supplies still readily available?
* What does this machine do best? That is, what is its best application? Its worst?
* What product produced on this machine has sold best for the former/current owner?
* What problems/glitches does this machine/technology present to a print provider?
* Has the machine been modified in any way? If so, what kind of modifications are these? Have these modifications affected/negated its warranty?

And, if you’re dealing with non-OEM dealer/broker or private company selling a used machine, keep these questions in mind:

* Does the company only have paperwork on the machine or does it have the machine itself on hand?
* How long has the company been in business? Can you get references?
* Does the company comprise a brick-and-mortar facility as well as its website, or is it a website-only operation?
* Is the company specific to the graphic-arts? How much knowledge does it have of wide-format printers and related technologies?
* Does the company simply turn around and sell the printer "as is," or does it refurbish and/or upgrade the machine? Be sure to ask just what the company’s definitions of "refurbish," "upgrade," "remanufacture," etc. are and what each comprises.

Anya Rao is a Cincinnati-based freelance writer.

View more from this Big Picture issue