Because the advent of the wide-format printing market within the late 1980s/early 1990s, nearly all the output devices in the marketplace have already been rollfed devices, printing on flexible substrates like paper or canvas that unfurled in to the device, rather just like 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 difficult to view the disadvantages of this sort of workflow. Print-then-mount adds an additional step (taking much more time and reducing productivity) and uses more materials (the printed substrate as well as the mounting material and adhesive), incurs more consumables costs, increases waste, and decreases productivity. Hence the solution seems obvious: remove the middleman and print right on the rigid material itself. Enter flatbeds.
Flatbed wide-format printers look like a whole new technology, however are actually more than a decade old and their evolution has been swift but stealthy. A seminal entry inside the flatbed printer market was the Inca Eagle 44, and early limitations of wide-format flatbeds were the usual trinity of speed, quality, and cost. Your fourth person in that trinity was versatility. Much like most things technological, those limitations were quickly conquered. “Today, the grade 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 an hour or so. Now, it’s 90 beds 1 hour.” Fujifilm gives the Acuity and Inca Onset group of true latte printer.
(“Beds per hour” is actually a standard way of measuring print speed within the flatbed printing world and is also essentially equivalent to “prints hourly.”)
The improvements to flatbed printers were largely a mixture of printhead design and development along with the evolution of ink technology, in addition to effective methods for moving the substrate beyond the printheads-or, conversely, moving the printheads across the stationary substrate. Other challenges have involved the physical size of the printers; large flatbed presses dwarf rollfed wide-format printers where you can substantial footprint. “Manufacturing, shipping, and installation are already significant challenges,” says Oriol Gasch, category manager, Large Format Sign & Display, Americas, for HP. “Such as how to move anyone to the second floor of an industrial space.” The analogy is always to offset presses, particularly web presses, which regularly had to be installed first, then a building constructed around them. The Bigfoot-esque footprint of flatbeds is just one consideration for almost any shop looking to acquire one-and it’s not just the dimensions of the gear. There must also be room to maneuver large rigid prints around. HP’s flatbed offerings add 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 continues to be the capability to print directly on a wide variety of materials and never have to print-then-mount or print on the transfer sheet, common for printing on 3D surfaces that can’t be fed by way of a traditional printer. “Golf balls, mittens, po-ker chips,” says Nelson, are the objects his customers have printed on. “Someone visited Home Depot and found 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 other thick, heavy materials.”
Is one, shall we say, unique application: customized printed coffins. Truly a technology to die for…
This substrate versatility have led flatbeds to become adopted by screen printers, in addition to 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 was actually advancements in ink technology that helped the flatbed printer market grow, and inks should be versatile enough to print on a wide variety of substrates with no shop having to stock myriad inks and swap them out between jobs, which could increase expense and decrease productivity. Some inks require primers or pretreatments to become placed on the top to assist improve ink adhesion, although some utilize a fixer added after printing. The majority of the printing we’re used to relies on a liquid ink that dries by a mix of evaporation and penetration in the substrate, but several of these specialty substrates have surfaces that don’t allow ink penetration, hence the necessity to give the ink something to “grab onto.” UV inks are specifically helpful for these surfaces, because they dry by being exposed to ultraviolet light, therefore they don’t must evaporate/penetrate just how classical inks do.
A great deal of the accessible literature on flatbeds signifies that “flatbed printer” is symbolic of “UV printer” and, even though there are solvent ink-based flatbeds, the vast majority of units on the market are UV devices. You will find myriad benefits to UV printing-no noxious fumes, the cabability to print with a wider selection of materials, faster drying times, the capability to add spiffy effects, etc.-but switching to a UV workflow will not be a choice being made lightly. (See a forthcoming feature for a more descriptive look at UV printing.)
All of the new applications that flatbeds enable are great, but there is still a significant volume of are best handled by rollfeds. So for true versatility, a shop are able to use one particular device to create both rollfed and flatbed applications thanks to so-called combination or led uv printer. These units can help a store tackle a wider assortment of work than can be handled with a single form of printer, but be forewarned which a combination printer isn’t always as versatile as, and may lag the production speed of, a real flatbed. Specs sometimes talk about the rollfed speed of the device, while the speed from the “flatbed mode” may be substantially slower. Look for footnotes-and constantly get demos.
As it ever was, technology improvements will expand the capabilities of flatbed printers. This will likely range from the usual trinity of technology-higher quality, faster speed, higher reliability-and also improved material handling as well as a continued expansion of the quantity and kinds of materials they may print on; improvements in inks; improved simplicity of use; and better integration with front ends as well as postpress finishing equipment. For that reason, the plethora of applications improves. HP sees increase of vertical markets being a growing coming trend, “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 would like to relocate to such as an Acuity.”
It’s Not Merely In regards to the Printer
One of the recurring themes throughout every one of these wide-format feature stories is the fact that collection of printer is only a method for an end; wide-format imaging is less about a printing process and much more about manufacturing end-use products, and choosing printer is actually about what is the easiest way to make those products. And it’s not only the t-shirt printer, but the front and back ends from the process. “Think concerning the entire ecosystem,” says Nelson. “How will you manage your colors, how reliable is the press, and look at the finishing equipment. Nearly all of our printer customers also 03dexqpky cutting and routing equipment. There are great revenue opportunities on the finishing side.” (For more on finishing, see our recent feature, “End Game: In Wide-Format Printing, Finishing is Where the genuine Work Begins.”)
It’s not merely the productivity ecosystem, but the physical ecosystem. “You’re coping 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 around the final output, it’s the finished product.”
“Scalable technology is additionally important,” adds HP’s Gasch. “Adding more features, give a roll-to-roll option, add beds, add white ink, it must be flexible and scalable.”
Like any element of printing, there is inevitably a tradeoff between speed and quality. “Customers are asked, ‘Do you would like higher quality or better speed?’” says Nelson, “And the answer will be always ‘Yes.’”
Still, there is more to success in wide-format than just receiving the fastest device available. “It’s not about top speed nevertheless the entire workflow,” says Gasch. “You should be continuously printing.”