Since the advent of the wide-format printing market within the late 1980s/early 1990s, most the output devices available on the market have been rollfed devices, printing on flexible substrates like paper or canvas that unfurled into the device, rather just like a web press. The finished graphic was then often mounted onto a rigid material for display, installation, or any other end use.
It’s not difficult to view the disadvantages of this kind of workflow. Print-then-mount adds an extra step (taking more time and reducing productivity) and uses more materials (the printed substrate along with the mounting material and adhesive), incurs more consumables costs, increases waste, and decreases productivity. Hence the solution seems obvious: remove the middleman and print entirely on the rigid material itself. Enter flatbeds.
Flatbed wide-format printers seem like a whole new technology, however they are actually greater than a decade old along with their evolution has become swift but stealthy. A seminal entry from the flatbed printer market was the Inca Eagle 44, and early limitations of wide-format flatbeds were the standard trinity of speed, quality, and expense. The fourth member of that trinity was versatility. Similar to the majority of things technological, those limitations were quickly conquered. “Today, the quality of [those initial models] can be subpar,” says Jeffrey Nelson, business development manager, high productivity inkjet equipment, Fujifilm’s Graphic Systems Division. “Ten years ago, the top speed was four beds one hour. Now, it’s 90 beds one hour.” Fujifilm offers the Acuity and Inca Onset combination of true coffee printer.
(“Beds per hour” is actually a standard measure of print speed in the flatbed printing world which is essentially comparable to “prints hourly.”)
The improvements to flatbed printers were largely a mixture of printhead design and development as well as the evolution of ink technology, as well as effective methods for moving the substrate past the printheads-or, conversely, moving the printheads across the stationary substrate. Other challenges have involved the physical measurements of the printers; large flatbed presses dwarf rollfed wide-format printers where you can substantial footprint. “Manufacturing, shipping, and installation have already been significant challenges,” says Oriol Gasch, category manager, Large Format Sign & Display, Americas, for HP. “Such as how you can move a person to the second floor of the industrial space.” The analogy is to offset presses, particularly web presses, which often had to be installed first, then a building constructed around them. The Bigfoot-esque footprint of flatbeds is certainly one consideration for almost any shop trying to acquire one-and it’s not only the dimensions of the equipment. There also needs to be room to advance large rigid prints around. HP’s flatbed offerings range from the entry-level HP Scitex FB500 and FB700 series as well as the high-end HP Scitex FB7600.
Hence the killer app for flatbed wide-format printers has become the capability to print directly on a wide variety of materials without needing to print-then-mount or print over a transfer sheet, common for printing on 3D surfaces that can’t be fed via a traditional printer. “Golf balls, mittens, po-ker chips,” says Nelson, are one of the objects his customers have printed on. “Someone visited Home Depot and acquired a door to print on.”
“What’s growing is specialty applications using different and unique substrates,” says HP’s Gasch, “such as ceramic, metallic, glass, and also other thick, heavy materials.”
This is one, shall we say, unique application: customized printed coffins. Truly a technology to die for…
This substrate versatility have led flatbeds to get adopted by screen printers, and also packaging printers and converters. “What is increasing is printing on corrugated board for packaging, either primary or secondary packaging for impulse purchases,” says Gasch. “A unique item is wine boxes.” It’s all very intoxicating.
It absolutely was advancements in ink technology that helped the flatbed printer market grow, and inks need to be versatile enough to print on numerous substrates without having a shop needing to stock myriad inks and swap them out between jobs, which will increase expense and decrease productivity. Some inks require primers or pretreatments to get used on the top to help you improve ink adhesion, and some use a fixer added after printing. The majority of the printing we’re used to works with a liquid ink that dries by a mix of evaporation and penetration into the substrate, but most of these specialty substrates have surfaces that don’t allow ink penetration, hence the requirement to offer the ink something to “grab onto.” UV inks are specifically ideal for these surfaces, while they dry by being exposed to ultraviolet light, so they don’t must evaporate/penetrate just how classical inks do.
Most of the available literature on flatbeds shows that “flatbed printer” is symbolic of “UV printer” and, even though there are solvent ink-based flatbeds, virtually all units out there are UV devices. You will find myriad advantages to UV printing-no noxious fumes, the cabability to print on a wider selection of materials, faster drying times, the opportunity to add spiffy effects, etc.-but switching to some UV workflow is just not a determination to be made lightly. (See an upcoming feature to get a more descriptive examine UV printing.)
All the new applications that flatbeds enable are great, but there is still a significant number of work most effectively handled by rollfeds. So for true versatility, a store are able to use a single device to create both rollfed and flatbed applications as a result of so-called combination or uv printer. These units might help a store tackle a wider number of work than might be handled by using a single kind of printer, but be forewarned that the combination printer isn’t always as versatile as, and may lag the development speed of, an authentic flatbed. Specs sometimes talk about the rollfed speed from the device, even though the speed from the “flatbed mode” might be substantially slower. Look for footnotes-and try to get demos.
As ever, technology improvements will expand the capabilities of flatbed printers. This may add the usual trinity of technology-high quality, faster speed, higher reliability-and also improved material handling plus a continued expansion of the number and kinds of materials they can print on; improvements in inks; improved simplicity of use; and integration with front ends and also postpress finishing equipment. For that reason, all the different applications increases. HP sees expansion of vertical markets as being a growing wave of the future, “Targeting signage, and packaging is increasing in importance,” says Gasch.
Fujifilm is also bullish on commercial printing. “Our largest growth area is commercial printers,” says Nelson. “They’re expanding into wide-format graphics, or they started with a rollfed printer and want to move to something like an Acuity.”
It’s Not Merely In regards to the Printer
One of many recurring themes throughout all of these wide-format feature stories is the selection of printer is just a method for an end; wide-format imaging is less with regards to a printing process and much more about manufacturing end-use products, and the option of printer is really in regards to what is the easiest way to make those products. And it’s not just the dtg printer, but the front and rear ends of your process. “Think in regards to the entire ecosystem,” says Nelson. “How would you like to manage your colors, how reliable is definitely the press, and check out the finishing equipment. The majority of our printer customers also 03dexqpky cutting and routing equipment. You can find great revenue opportunities in the finishing side.” (For further on finishing, see our recent feature, “End Game: In Wide-Format Printing, Finishing is how the Real Work Begins.”)
It’s not simply the productivity ecosystem, but the physical ecosystem. “You’re handling large sheets and moving large sheets of material around,” adds Steve Cutler, marketing product manager, mid-range inkjet, Fujifilm’s Graphic Systems Division. Ultimately, Cutler says, “Wide-format is approximately the last output, it’s the finished product.”
“Scalable technology is likewise important,” adds HP’s Gasch. “Adding more features, put in a roll-to-roll option, add beds, add white ink, it must be flexible and scalable.”
As with any aspect of printing, there is inevitably a tradeoff between speed and quality. “Customers are asked, ‘Do you want higher quality or better speed?’” says Nelson, “And the reply is always ‘Yes.’”
Still, there exists more to success in wide-format than simply obtaining the fastest device on the market. “It’s not about top speed however the entire workflow,” says Gasch. “You need to be continuously printing.”