Small Business

Speed vs. Throughput: Which is More Important?

EpsonJuly 30, 2021

In the world of digital presses, high speed does not always equal high performance. Comparing linear speeds —150 feet per minute, 200 feet per minute — won’t translate to productivity, although at first glance the two might seem interchangeable. A true assessment of a printer entails analyzing all the variables that contribute to throughput. By only paying attention to speed, the question you’re asking is, “Will I be able to print at top speed for a set (indeterminate) period of time?” It’s wiser to ask a far more relevant question, which is: “Will I be able to print quality products more efficiently?” Quality and efficiency are key, and speed specs by themselves, unfortunately, reveal neither.

Quality calls for lower, sustainable speeds

The speed that’s advertised on digital presses is the top speed at peak performance — not necessarily the speed you’ll be using for all your print runs. Often, the rate you see isn’t even the speed at which the printer can print a quality product. Rather, it’s a “draft” mode, which produces a much lower image quality. And when printing with colors beyond CMYK (e.g., white ink, or extended gamut inks), the printers often operate at much lower speeds. 

At higher speeds, ink starvation becomes a concern, which can require extreme color management tweaking. Plus, faster printing can also cause data transfer issues, leading to image glitches, streaks, and artifacts due to inadequate bus performance, processing capabilities, and cabling.

Top speed doesn’t translate to efficiency

You can’t print at the top speed forever. It’s just not sustainable. Presses require maintenance, which plummets the average speed for the entire printing process. Color will start to drift once the print heads are starved of ink, or media rolls will need changing. These steps can be time-intensive and cumbersome. And although manual adjustments are a natural part of digital press maintenance, those operating at top speed will require many more interventions than those working at a more sustainable, efficient pace.

Separately, during the end-to-end process of printing, there are several other steps that take time. Advertised speeds don’t take into account startup times or other data processing delays.

Choosing for value

Understanding a printer’s value means understanding its throughput. A series of variables work together to keep a printer running with minimal intervention and producing high-quality output. Only by looking at a combination of these factors can you answer the question, Will I be able to print quality products more efficiently?

Epson’s SurePress L-6534 doesn’t boast the highest speed out there. The digital printer’s maximum speed is 164 feet per minute, in a market with printers that advertise speeds of 200 feet per minute and faster. Instead, it has a drum design for media transport and automated cleaning routines designed for sustainability and efficiency. At one customer site, it has consistently been printing about 2 million square feet per month for the past six months.* With a faster printer, this level of output may not have been possible. The next time you review specs for a digital press, remember to consider the end-to-end process and look for a machine designed for throughput.

*Verified via Epson Remote Management System server.