Ever since the coming of the wide-format printing market inside the late 1980s/early 1990s, the majority of the output devices available on the market have been rollfed devices, printing on flexible substrates like paper or canvas that unfurled to the device, rather similar to a web press. The finished graphic was then often mounted onto a rigid material for display, installation, or some other end use.
It’s not so difficult to find out the disadvantages of this kind of workflow. Print-then-mount adds yet another step (taking additional time and reducing productivity) and uses more materials (the printed substrate plus the mounting material and adhesive), incurs more consumables costs, increases waste, and decreases productivity. And so the solution seems obvious: reduce the middleman and print right on the rigid material itself. Enter flatbeds.
Flatbed wide-format printers seem like a whole new technology, however are actually over a decade old in addition to their evolution has become swift but stealthy. A seminal entry within the flatbed printer market was the Inca Eagle 44, and early limitations of wide-format flatbeds were the normal trinity of speed, quality, and cost. The fourth person in that trinity was versatility. Much like the majority of things technological, those limitations were quickly conquered. “Today, the caliber of [those initial models] can be subpar,” says Jeffrey Nelson, business development manager, high productivity inkjet equipment, Fujifilm’s Graphic Systems Division. “Ten in the past, the best speed was four beds one hour. Now, it’s 90 beds an hour or so.” Fujifilm offers the Acuity and Inca Onset series of true latte printer.
(“Beds per hour” is really a standard measure of print speed within the flatbed printing world and is also essentially similar to “prints an hour.”)
The improvements to flatbed printers were largely a mixture of printhead design and development and also the evolution of ink technology, in addition to effective ways of moving the substrate beyond the printheads-or, conversely, moving the printheads over the stationary substrate. Other challenges have involved the physical scale of the printers; large flatbed presses dwarf rollfed wide-format printers and also have a substantial footprint. “Manufacturing, shipping, and installation have been significant challenges,” says Oriol Gasch, category manager, Large Format Sign & Display, Americas, for HP. “Such as how to move a person to another floor of the industrial space.” The analogy is to offset presses, particularly web presses, which frequently needed to be installed first, then a building constructed around them. The Bigfoot-esque footprint of flatbeds is a consideration for any shop looking to acquire one-and it’s not simply the dimensions of the equipment. There must also be room to go large rigid prints around. HP’s flatbed offerings range from the entry-level HP Scitex FB500 and FB700 series along with the high-end HP Scitex FB7600.
Hence the killer app for flatbed wide-format printers has been the capability to print entirely on numerous materials without needing to print-then-mount or print on a transfer sheet, common for printing on 3D surfaces that can’t be fed via a traditional printer. “Golf balls, mittens, pok-er chips,” says Nelson, are one of the objects his customers have printed on. “Someone went to Home Depot and acquired a door to print on.”
“What’s growing is specialty applications using diverse and unique substrates,” says HP’s Gasch, “such as ceramic, metallic, glass, as well as other thick, heavy materials.”
The following is one, shall we say, unique application: customized printed coffins. Truly a technology to die for…
This substrate versatility have led flatbeds to be adopted by screen printers, as well as packaging printers and converters. “What keeps growing 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 had been advancements in ink technology that helped the flatbed printer market grow, and inks must be versatile enough to print on a wide variety of substrates without a shop having to stock myriad inks and swap them out between jobs, which may increase expense and reduce productivity. Some inks require primers or pretreatments being used on the outer lining to aid improve ink adhesion, while some make use of a fixer added after printing. A lot of the printing we’re accustomed to utilizes a liquid ink that dries by a mixture of evaporation and penetration in the substrate, but several of these specialty substrates have surfaces that don’t allow ink penetration, hence the desire to supply the ink something to “grab onto.” UV inks are specifically useful for these surfaces, as they dry by being exposed to ultraviolet light, so that they don’t have to evaporate/penetrate the way more conventional inks do.
Most of the available literature on flatbeds signifies that “flatbed printer” is synonymous with “UV printer” and, though there are solvent ink-based flatbeds, the majority of units in the marketplace are UV devices. You can find myriad benefits to UV printing-no noxious fumes, the cabability to print on the wider variety of materials, faster drying times, the opportunity to add spiffy effects, etc.-but switching into a UV workflow is not a conclusion to become made lightly. (See a forthcoming feature for the more in depth examine UV printing.)
Every one of the new applications that flatbeds enable are fantastic, there is however still a significant level of are best handled by rollfeds. So for true versatility, a shop can make use of just one device to produce both rollfed and flatbed applications as a result of so-called combination or led uv printer. These devices will help a shop tackle a wider number of work than can be handled with a single type of printer, but be forewarned which a combination printer isn’t always as versatile as, and could lag the development speed of, a true flatbed. Specs sometimes refer to the rollfed speed in the device, as the speed of the “flatbed mode” may be substantially slower. Always look for footnotes-and try to get demos.
As ever, technology improvements will expand the capabilities of flatbed printers. This will likely range from the usual trinity of technology-high quality, faster speed, higher reliability-in addition to improved material handling as well as a continued increase of the amount and types of materials they may print on; improvements in inks; improved simplicity; and better integration with front ends and also postpress finishing equipment. As a result, the plethora of applications will increase. HP sees expansion of vertical markets 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 using a rollfed printer and are looking to go on to such as an Acuity.”
It’s Not Merely Regarding the Printer
One of several recurring themes throughout every one of these wide-format feature stories is the range of printer is just a method with an end; wide-format imaging is less regarding a printing process plus more about manufacturing end-use products, and the option of printer is absolutely about what is the simplest way to make those products. And it’s not simply the textile printer, but also the back and front ends from the process. “Think about the entire ecosystem,” says Nelson. “How would you like to manage your colors, how reliable will be the press, and check out the finishing equipment. Most of our printer customers also 03dexqpky cutting and routing equipment. You can find great revenue opportunities on the finishing side.” (For additional on finishing, see our recent feature, “End Game: In Wide-Format Printing, Finishing is the place where the true Work Begins.”)
It’s not simply the productivity ecosystem, but also the physical ecosystem. “You’re dealing with 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 all about the final output, it’s the finished product.”
“Scalable technology is also important,” adds HP’s Gasch. “Adding more features, add a roll-to-roll option, add beds, add white ink, it needs to be flexible and scalable.”
Like any element of printing, there is certainly inevitably a tradeoff between speed and quality. “Customers are asked, ‘Do you want higher quality or better speed?’” says Nelson, “And the answer will be always ‘Yes.’”
Still, there may be more to success in wide-format than only obtaining the fastest device available. “It’s not about top speed although the entire workflow,” says Gasch. “You must be continuously printing.”