Since the coming of the wide-format printing market from the late 1980s/early 1990s, the vast majority of the output devices available on the market are already rollfed devices, printing on flexible substrates like paper or canvas that unfurled into the device, rather similar to a web press. The finished graphic was then often mounted onto a rigid material for display, installation, or another end use.
It’s simple enough to see the disadvantages of these kinds of workflow. Print-then-mount adds an extra 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. And so the solution seems obvious: eliminate the middleman and print entirely on the rigid material itself. Enter flatbeds.
Flatbed wide-format printers seem like a fresh technology, however they are actually more than a decade old along with 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 typical trinity of speed, quality, and expense. Your fourth member of that trinity was versatility. Just like the majority of things technological, those limitations were quickly conquered. “Today, the quality 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 very best speed was four beds 1 hour. Now, it’s 90 beds an hour.” Fujifilm provides the Acuity and Inca Onset combination of true coffee printer.
(“Beds per hour” is a standard way of measuring print speed inside the flatbed printing world and is essentially equivalent to “prints each hour.”)
The improvements to flatbed printers were largely a mix of printhead design and development along with the evolution of ink technology, as well as effective ways of moving the substrate past the printheads-or, conversely, moving the printheads across 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 happen to be significant challenges,” says Oriol Gasch, category manager, Large Format Sign & Display, Americas, for HP. “Such as the way to move one to the second floor of your industrial space.” The analogy is usually to offset presses, particularly web presses, which often would have to be installed first, then this building constructed around them. The Bigfoot-esque footprint of flatbeds is one consideration for just about any shop trying to acquire one-and it’s not only the size of the equipment. There must also be room to go large rigid prints around. HP’s flatbed offerings include the entry-level HP Scitex FB500 and FB700 series and also the high-end HP Scitex FB7600.
Therefore the killer app for flatbed wide-format printers continues to be the capability to print directly on numerous materials and never have to print-then-mount or print on a transfer sheet, common for printing on 3D surfaces that can’t be fed using 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, along with 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 become adopted by screen printers, and also 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 should be versatile enough to print on numerous types of substrates with out a shop needing to stock myriad inks and swap them out between jobs, which would increase expense and reduce productivity. Some inks require primers or pretreatments to get placed on the outer lining to assist improve ink adhesion, while others use a fixer added after printing. Most of the printing we’re familiar with works with a liquid ink that dries by a variety of evaporation and penetration to the substrate, but many of these specialty substrates have surfaces that don’t allow ink penetration, hence the requirement to supply the ink something to “grab onto.” UV inks are particularly great for these surfaces, while they dry by exposure to ultraviolet light, so they don’t must evaporate/penetrate just how more conventional inks do.
A lot of the accessible literature on flatbeds signifies that “flatbed printer” is synonymous with “UV printer” and, though there are solvent ink-based flatbeds, virtually all units in the marketplace are UV devices. You will find myriad benefits of UV printing-no noxious fumes, the ability to print with a wider variety of materials, faster drying times, the cabability to add spiffy effects, etc.-but switching into a UV workflow is just not a choice to become made lightly. (See a forthcoming feature for a more in depth take a look at UV printing.)
Every one of the new applications that flatbeds enable are excellent, but there is still a significant level of work best handled by rollfeds. So for true versatility, a shop can use one particular device to make both rollfed and flatbed applications due to so-called combination or uv printer. These units will help a store tackle a wider number of work than might be handled having a single type of printer, but be forewarned that a combination printer isn’t always as versatile as, and may lag the development speed of, an authentic flatbed. Specs sometimes refer to the rollfed speed in the device, whilst the speed from the “flatbed mode” can be substantially slower. Always look for footnotes-and also get demos.
As ever, technology improvements will expand the capabilities of flatbed printers. This will likely are the usual trinity of technology-better quality, faster speed, higher reliability-as well as improved material handling along with a continued expansion of the amount and kinds of materials they could print on; improvements in inks; improved ease of use; and much better integration with front ends as well as postpress finishing equipment. For that reason, all the different applications boosts. HP sees expansion of vertical markets like a growing wave of the future, “Targeting signage, and packaging is growing 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 having a rollfed printer and wish to move to something similar to an Acuity.”
It’s Not Simply In regards to the Printer
One of several recurring themes throughout most of these wide-format feature stories would be that the collection of printer is only a method to a end; wide-format imaging is less in regards to a printing process and a lot more about manufacturing end-use products, and the choice of printer is absolutely regarding what is the easiest way to make those products. And it’s not merely the t-shirt printer, but also the back and front ends of your process. “Think in regards to the entire ecosystem,” says Nelson. “How would you like to manage your colors, how reliable may be the press, and look at the finishing equipment. Almost all of our printer customers also 03dexqpky cutting and routing equipment. There are great revenue opportunities around the finishing side.” (For further 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 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 around the very last output, it’s the finished product.”
“Scalable technology can also be 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 in any element of printing, there exists inevitably a tradeoff between speed and quality. “Customers are asked, ‘Do you desire better quality or better speed?’” says Nelson, “And the reply is always ‘Yes.’”
Still, there may be more to success in wide-format than just having the fastest device around. “It’s not about top speed however the entire workflow,” says Gasch. “You need to be continuously printing.”