Considering that the development 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 in 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 so difficult to find out the disadvantages of this sort of workflow. Print-then-mount adds yet another step (taking more 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. Hence the solution seems obvious: remove the middleman and print entirely on the rigid material itself. Enter flatbeds.
Flatbed wide-format printers appear to be a whole new technology, however they are actually greater than a decade old in addition to their evolution has become 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 normal trinity of speed, quality, and cost. The 4th member of that trinity was versatility. Much like the majority of things technological, those limitations were quickly conquered. “Today, the standard of [those initial models] will be subpar,” says Jeffrey Nelson, business development manager, high productivity inkjet equipment, Fujifilm’s Graphic Systems Division. “Ten years back, the top speed was four beds 1 hour. Now, it’s 90 beds one hour.” Fujifilm gives the Acuity and Inca Onset series of true latte printer.
(“Beds per hour” can be a standard way of measuring print speed within the flatbed printing world and is also essentially comparable to “prints each hour.”)
The improvements to flatbed printers were largely a mix of printhead design and development as well as the evolution of ink technology, along with effective ways of moving the substrate beyond the printheads-or, conversely, moving the printheads over the stationary substrate. Other challenges have involved the physical dimensions of the printers; large flatbed presses dwarf rollfed wide-format printers where you can substantial footprint. “Manufacturing, shipping, and installation have been significant challenges,” says Oriol Gasch, category manager, Large Format Sign & Display, Americas, for HP. “Such as the way to move anyone to another floor of an industrial space.” The analogy is to offset presses, particularly web presses, which often had to be installed first, then the building constructed around them. The Bigfoot-esque footprint of flatbeds is a consideration for just about any shop looking to acquire one-and it’s not merely the size of the device. There must also be room to maneuver 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 is the capability to print right on a multitude of materials without having to print-then-mount or print on a transfer sheet, common for printing on 3D surfaces that can’t be fed by way of a traditional printer. “Golf balls, mittens, pok-er 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, along with 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, along with 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 absolutely was advancements in ink technology that helped the flatbed printer market grow, and inks must be versatile enough to print on numerous types of substrates with no shop having to stock myriad inks and swap them out between jobs, which would increase expense and decrease productivity. Some inks require primers or pretreatments to get placed on the outer lining to assist improve ink adhesion, and some utilize a fixer added after printing. Many of the printing we’re used to works with a liquid ink that dries by a mixture of evaporation and penetration into the substrate, but several of these specialty substrates have surfaces that don’t allow ink penetration, hence the desire to provide the ink something to “grab onto.” UV inks are especially ideal for these surfaces, since they dry by exposure to ultraviolet light, so they don’t have to evaporate/penetrate just how more conventional inks do.
A great deal of the accessible literature on flatbeds signifies that “flatbed printer” is symbolic of “UV printer” and, though there are solvent ink-based flatbeds, nearly all units on the market are UV devices. You can find myriad benefits to UV printing-no noxious fumes, the cabability to print on a wider variety of materials, faster drying times, the ability to add spiffy effects, etc.-but switching to some UV workflow is not a choice being made lightly. (See a forthcoming feature for any more descriptive examine UV printing.)
Each of the new applications that flatbeds enable are great, but there is still a considerable volume of work best handled by rollfeds. So for true versatility, a store can make use of just one device to generate both rollfed and flatbed applications due to so-called combination or uv printer. These units can help a store tackle a wider assortment of work than could be handled using a single form of printer, but be forewarned that a combination printer isn’t always as versatile as, and might lag the production speed of, a true flatbed. Specs sometimes make reference to the rollfed speed in the device, as the speed in the “flatbed mode” could be substantially slower. Always look for footnotes-and always get demos.
As ever, technology improvements will expand the capabilities of flatbed printers. This may add the usual trinity of technology-better quality, faster speed, higher reliability-along with improved material handling along with a continued increase of the telephone number and kinds of materials they are able to print on; improvements in inks; improved ease of use; and much better integration with front ends as well as postpress finishing equipment. Because of this, all the different applications will increase. HP sees increase of vertical markets as a growing coming trend, “Targeting signage, and packaging is growing in importance,” says Gasch.
Fujifilm can also be 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 go on to something such as an Acuity.”
It’s Not Just In regards to the Printer
One of the recurring themes throughout many of these wide-format feature stories is the selection of printer is merely a method to an end; wide-format imaging is less regarding a printing process and much more about manufacturing end-use products, and the option of printer is actually about what is the simplest way to make those products. And it’s not just the dtg printer, but also the front and rear ends from the process. “Think in regards to the entire ecosystem,” says Nelson. “How can you manage your colors, how reliable is definitely the press, and check out the finishing equipment. Most of our printer customers also 03dexqpky cutting and routing equipment. There are great revenue opportunities about 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 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 approximately the final output, it’s the finished product.”
“Scalable technology can also be important,” adds HP’s Gasch. “Adding more features, give a roll-to-roll option, add beds, add white ink, it needs to be flexible and scalable.”
As with any aspect of printing, there exists inevitably a tradeoff between speed and quality. “Customers are asked, ‘Do you want better quality or better speed?’” says Nelson, “And the answer will be always ‘Yes.’”
Still, there exists more to success in wide-format than simply getting the fastest device on the market. “It’s not about top speed although the entire workflow,” says Gasch. “You need to be continuously printing.”