Author Topic: Micro-Trains has a new (but not better) method for decorating billboard reefers  (Read 8036 times)

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peteski

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While I'm not a rabid Micro-Trains car collector, I have over the years accumulated a fairly sizable collection of MT cars, especially the billboard reefers.  I am aware of some of the dimensional discrepancies of Micro-Trains models and some of their inaccurate paint schemes, but overall I have been very happy with the quality of Micro-Trains models.  Well, up until now. I am in the process of collecting their Meat Packers series of reefers.  Yesterday, I received the latest car in that series: Rath's Black Hawk Ham.

Even before I took the car out of the box to examine it, there seemed to be something odd about its decoration.  I couldn't quite put my finger on it.  When I opened the box (yes I know, collectors are cringing now) I first noticed an unusual smell. It faintly smelled like some sort of paint.  Not something I ever smelled in the past when opening a box of a new Micro-Trains car. Don't laugh - when I let the factory air out of the box this time, it had a distinctive and unusual odor. With the car out of the box, I looked it over more carefully.  I noticed that the billboard sides of the car had an unusual sheen and the paint appeared to be applied in a thicker layer. It also seemed to have a texture.  The white part of the car had a horizontal raster-like texture, somewhat reminiscent of the Shapeways FUD "printed" parts. The blue areas of the car also looked unusual.  The color seemed "waxy" - sort of hard to describe.  Almost like the paint was somewhat transparent or mottled.



This photo shows the raster-like texture of the thicker than usual white paint. While this photo shows the car magnified, the texture is visible even to the naked eye.

I then got a magnifying glass and I discovered that the entire paint job on the car's sides appeared to be printed on some kind of a flatbed ink jet printer. Except the very small white lettering (like dimensional data), which was still pad printed on top of the ink jet printed blue paint.  It seems that the car was first painted overall brown color, using standard paint, then placed on the bed of a ink jet printer which then printed the entire side (with white ink first, then the other colors, using CYMK inks). The end lettering is still done using pad printing.



Shown here is the blue area of the car.  The "n" is printed using the ink jet and it has fuzzy edges. The dimensional data is pad printed on top of the blue. Pad printing results in much better quality lettering with sharper edges. If magnified (as in the photo above), the blue painted area is actually made up of tiny dots of cyan and magenta. That is why it looked odd to me.  Just like a consumer ink jet printer (which uses cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks), this ink jet seems to be capable of printing  a wide range of colors, but they are composed of a  blend of dots of  CYMK inks (instead of being solid colors).



Additionally, the red lettering shows what looks like a bit of a color registration problem.  When printing using  CYMK inks, red color is composed of a blend of magenta and yellow inks. In this example, they are slightly out of register horizontally. On the left side, the letters have a yellow shadow and on the right side they have a magenta shadow (as pointed out by the arrows).  Those red letters should be solid red, with no shadows. Also, since the letters are printed using ink jet, the edges are a bit fuzzy, unlike pad-printed lettering which has very clean edges.  This is especially noticeable on the blue areas of the car. I suspect that the graphic artists at Micro-Trains realized that some of the smaller lettering would look just too fuzzy if printed by the ink jet, so that is most likely why they ended up applying the smaller white lettering separately, using the old fashioned pad printing technique.



Another artifact of ink jet printing shows up on the car's ladders.  Since ink jet printer "sprays" the ink perfectly perpendicular to the car's surface, the ink will not be deposited on the vertical areas. That shows up as unpainted brown areas. If the car was sprayed with the white and blue paints using conventional methods, the paint from the spray gun would cover up at least some of those areas.

Overall, I'm disappointed with the quality of the the new ink jet method. The most objectionable is the raster-like texture visible on the white-printed areas (even with a naked eye) and the fact that the entire printed side of the car is glossier than if it was painted using the old method.

The technique of using ink jet printers for decorating N Scale cars is not new. I first encountered it few years back, on a model of the Orient Express made by Kato.  The type of the ink jet printer used by Micro-Trains (and Kato) is capable of printing pretty much any color (using  a blend of halftoned CYMK inks) and also white, metallic, and even clear inks. The inks can also be overprinted (like on this car, the white ink is applied first, then it is overprinted with color inks).

On Kato's Orient Express, the ink jet printing decoration consisted of yellow and gold ink pinstripes, logos and lettering, but for some reason they also applied clear over those inks. The clear-ink-printed areas were slightly larger than the yellow and gold inks, resulting in the decorations looking as if they were applied as decals, with the clear film readily visible and glossier than the model's paint.  That to me detracted from the otherwise exquisite model.  Kato also currently uses the ink jet printed decorations on their PORTRAM LRVs and even on some of their US-prototype passenger cars decorated for Amtrak.  They all suffer the same problem with the decorations as the Micro-Trains reefer I'm describing here: the red/white/blue stripe and Amtrak lettering all have a visible texture and the colors having a mottled appearance and fuzzy edges.  However, since the Kato's decorations only cover part of the car's side, the unusual decorating technique is not as readily visible or distracting as on this MT reefer car.

Micro-Trains has also been using a flatbed ink jet printer for a while now, on their graffiti cars.  But either that printer was different than the one they used on the Rath's Black Hawk Ham car, or maybe they used different inks for graffiti.  I suspect that since the printer they used for graffiti did not seem to be capable of printing white ink, it was a different printer.  The ink used for graffiti was also much thinner (had no visible texture) and it has less sheen.  IMO, the ink jet printer (and ink) they used for graffiti was perfect for for that application. It didn't stand out on the cars with graffiti.

I also don't know if Micro-Trains has been using their "new" ink jet printer (which prints white and uses thicker ink) on other cars in the past, such as the Civil War series, but as far as I know, this is the first billboard reefer painted using a ink jet printer to paint the entire side of the car.

I can see how this new printing technology might be good for Micro-Train's bottom line. Since they can print multiple colors (including an undercoat of white ink) directly on the car sides in a single painting operation, this will save them several labor-intensive steps of creating paint masks and separate spray painting operations.  It will also eliminate some of the steps required for labor-intensive pad printing.  I'm sure that this all adds up to worthwhile savings.  On the positive note (if there is one, from my perspective), since this simplifies the process of decorating of cars, Micro-Trains should be able to offer many smaller runs of obscure subjects. But this, to me, is done at the expense of the overall quality of the car's decoration. The ink jet finish doesn't even come close to the quality of decoration done using the old fashioned paint spraying and pad printing.



This photo compares the pad-printed decorations to the ink jet printed decorations. Both examples are at the same magnification. To me the superiority of the pad printed decoration is quite obvious.  I posted this info here to show others what I discovered and how I feel about it. Since Joe from Micro-Trains frequents this forum I also hope that he takes notice of this post.  I also realize that I am probably more anal than many other modelers but I still wanted my opinion to be heard.

I hope that the way this car was decorated was an exception rather than the rule.  But somehow I have my doubts and I think that we'll see more and more of ink jet decorated cars in the future, and not just from Micro-Trains but from other manufacturers too. I'm not looking forward to that.
« Last Edit: August 03, 2017, 04:49:20 AM by peteski »
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Chris333

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Maybe it's that new printing where the ink is floating on water and you push the item into it?

Or something similar.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrographics_(printing)

Also I thought someone already mentioned MT doing this a while back and stating that spraying Dullcote on the car damaged the printing. Or something along those lines.
« Last Edit: February 23, 2013, 05:40:29 AM by Chris333 »

DKS

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Maybe it's that new printing where the ink is floating on water and you push the item into it?

Doubtful as hydro printing is pretty esoteric and very likely $$$. Besides, the images Peteski posted are consistent with flatbed inkjets. Eishindo of Japan has been using inkjet to decorate their T Gauge products (including rolling stock and even figures, where the dots are almost as big as their heads) since the early 2000s, and it looks very similar.







« Last Edit: February 23, 2013, 05:54:28 AM by David K. Smith »
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John

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This does seem to be a step back in printing quality - are there other examples on different cars?

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bbussey

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Since I no longer collect, I didn't buy one.  Billboard reefers aren't around in 1956 and 1980.  Couple that with the fact that the prototype is not appealing to me by far.

I suspect that, if the feedback isn't favorable, it won't be repeated.   There also aren't many situations that would present themselves to employ this process again.  I can understand MTL trying this, due to the nightmare of printing those tiny blue and white triangles and keeping them in register.  But I can't think of any other billboard schemes that have a specific detail as intricate as this.  So I'm guessing this is the rare exception rather than the new order of things regarding deco printing. 

MTL should get points for trying.  If they never tried, there would be no CMYK printed cars in N, and people have no problem with them even though you can see the pixelation at close range.
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DKS

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I can understand MTL trying this, due to the nightmare of printing those tiny blue and white triangles and keeping them in register.  But I can't think of any other billboard schemes that have a specific detail as intricate as this.  So I'm guessing this is the rare exception rather than the new order of things regarding deco printing.

Yeah, I'm wondering if this was the driver behind this move...
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up1950s

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I hate the reduced quality , and at the same price . I also bought into the meat packers , and now only to find it was used as a Trojan Horse to sneak in this sub-standard paint job by keeping the price the same their high quality paint jobs to not draw attention . They would have advertised it if it were better , but they didn't because of two reasons . It is far worse , and they wanted to see if the pigs knew they were being feed cardboard instead of corn . I hate being ripped off , and this leaves that taste in my mouth .

Organically grown , plastered with ads and high prices . (fine with this)
Engineered food , no ads and same price . ( not fine with this )
 
MTL shame on you , I will now doubt you forever and avoid you just as long , unless you plead guilty and make a full pledge in print on your next news letter about intentions in the future .

Pete thank you for this eye opening thread . 

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It's interesting.  I wonder if this is a new(ish) technology that MT is tinkering with to see what refinements are possible.  While the T gauge manufacture David shows has been doing this since 2000, they're also working in pretty esoteric medium (T scale, for Chrissakes) where it must be fun to experiment, but difficult to expect much in the way of fine finishes...

In just a few years, RPM technologies have become more practical, and the results have become more acceptable.  It could be that this is a first effort, and as time and technology go by, this could be a process that makes even more complex paint schemes available at an acceptable level of quality.

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RAILCAT

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I can understand MTL trying this, due to the nightmare of printing those tiny blue and white triangles and keeping them in register. 

With a white background they only had to pad print the blue to get the triangles.
It seems a backward step.

mplsjct

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I deal with these sorts of things on a daily basis, the quality isn't there yet, but that doesn't mean it won't be eventually. Pad printing doesn't guarantee perfect results, and printing each color as a spot is labor intensive, unfortunately, MTL made the decision to change methods mid stream on the reefer series, I recommend contacting Micro-Trains directly with your concerns, as I'm sure most people won't say anything.

I don't know what, exactly, Joe's responsibilities are at MTL, but I know one thing for sure, direct criticism from the consumer is going to carry more weight than a second hand comment internally at Micro-Trains - again, this is something I have experienced first hand.
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DKS

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With a white background they only had to pad print the blue to get the triangles.

That's an awful lot of blue to pad-print--the whole lower half of the car. If the bulk of the blue was painted, it would have to register as well as color-match the pad-printed triangles.
« Last Edit: February 23, 2013, 11:37:47 AM by David K. Smith »
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Hornwrecker

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Waxy looking? 

Looks like it needs a good soaking in Bestine.
Bob

davefoxx

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I'm usually not that picky, but that's pretty bad and I'm sure visible to the naked eye.  If the "texture" had been printed vertically, it might could have been justified as wood-grain.   :facepalm:

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C855B

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I think this method has promise, it mostly needs refinement.

That white and other colors are possible means that this technique has spot-color capability. I am slightly puzzled, then, why the decision was made to do a car with three colors with a white "solid" and then CMYK process on the blue and red. Yes, it's probably because that minimizes setup, but the registration issues evident with the red and the dithering in the blue are going to be hard to solve.

The raster lines can be resolved by running the head in half steps, although that risks a little blur around fine lettering. (I have to say that the small lettering is much sharper than I would have expected.) I like Dave's idea of flipping the print direction to make the rasters look like wood grain. That the paint deposition is perpendicular to the siding draws the eye to the flaw.

N scale can be a tough biz since +/-0.0005" process tolerances aren't good enough.

EDIT: You can always tell who the pioneers are - they're the ones with the arrows in their backs.  :D
« Last Edit: February 23, 2013, 11:56:15 AM by C855B »
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