Because the coming of the wide-format printing market inside the late 1980s/early 1990s, the majority of the output devices available on the market happen to be rollfed devices, printing on flexible substrates like paper or canvas that unfurled to the device, rather 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 these kinds of workflow. Print-then-mount adds one more step (taking 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. And so the solution seems obvious: eliminate the middleman and print right on the rigid material itself. Enter flatbeds.
Flatbed wide-format printers appear to be a fresh technology, but they are actually over a decade old in addition to 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 standard trinity of speed, quality, and price. Your fourth part of that trinity was versatility. Much like the majority of things technological, those limitations were quickly conquered. “Today, the standard of [those initial models] can 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 an hour. Now, it’s 90 beds 1 hour.” Fujifilm gives the Acuity and Inca Onset series of true coffee printer.
(“Beds per hour” is really a standard way of measuring print speed within the flatbed printing world and is essentially comparable to “prints each hour.”)
The improvements to flatbed printers were largely a mixture of printhead design and development and the evolution of ink technology, and also effective methods of 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 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 how you can move one to the second floor of your industrial space.” The analogy is usually to offset presses, particularly web presses, which frequently must 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 how big the device. There also needs to be room to advance large rigid prints around. HP’s flatbed offerings are the entry-level HP Scitex FB500 and FB700 series along with the high-end HP Scitex FB7600.
So the killer app for flatbed wide-format printers has become the ability to print entirely 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 through 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 picked up 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, and also 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, as well as packaging printers and converters. “What is 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 advancements in ink technology that helped the flatbed printer market grow, and inks must be versatile enough to print on numerous substrates with out a shop being forced to stock myriad inks and swap them out between jobs, which would increase expense and reduce productivity. Some inks require primers or pretreatments to be put on the top to assist improve ink adhesion, while some work with a fixer added after printing. Most of the printing we’re used to utilizes a liquid ink that dries by a mix of evaporation and penetration to the substrate, but most of these specialty substrates have surfaces that don’t allow ink penetration, hence the requirement to give the ink something to “grab onto.” UV inks are specifically great for these surfaces, because they dry by being exposed to ultraviolet light, therefore they don’t have to evaporate/penetrate the way more traditional inks do.
A lot of the available literature on flatbeds indicates that “flatbed printer” is synonymous with “UV printer” and, even though there are solvent ink-based flatbeds, virtually all units out there are UV devices. You can find myriad benefits to UV printing-no noxious fumes, the ability to print on the wider selection of materials, faster drying times, the cabability to add spiffy effects, etc.-but switching to a UV workflow is just not a determination to get made lightly. (See an upcoming feature for a more detailed have a look at UV printing.)
All the new applications that flatbeds enable are fantastic, there is however still a large amount of work best handled by rollfeds. So for true versatility, a store are able to use just one device to create both rollfed and flatbed applications due to so-called combination or led uv printer. These units may help a shop tackle a wider number of work than could be handled by using a single type of printer, but be forewarned which a combination printer isn’t always as versatile as, and could lag the production speed of, a true flatbed. Specs sometimes refer to the rollfed speed in the device, even though the speed in the “flatbed mode” might 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 add the usual trinity of technology-high quality, faster speed, higher reliability-along with improved material handling along with a continued increase of the telephone number and types of materials they could print on; improvements in inks; improved ease of use; and integration with front ends and also postpress finishing equipment. Because of this, the plethora of applications will increase. HP sees expansion of vertical markets like a growing wave of the future, “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 having a rollfed printer and would like to proceed to something such as an Acuity.”
It’s Not Just Regarding the Printer
Among the recurring themes throughout many of these wide-format feature stories is the choice of printer is merely a way 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 option of printer is really as to what is the easiest way to make those products. And it’s not only the textile printer, but the front and rear ends from the process. “Think about the entire ecosystem,” says Nelson. “How are you going to manage your colors, how reliable will be the press, and look at the finishing equipment. Nearly all of our printer customers also 03dexqpky cutting and routing equipment. There are actually great revenue opportunities around the finishing side.” (For additional on finishing, see our recent feature, “End Game: In Wide-Format Printing, Finishing is the place where the genuine Work Begins.”)
It’s not just the productivity ecosystem, but 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 approximately the final output, it’s the finished product.”
“Scalable technology is likewise 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.”
Like in any part of printing, there exists 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 is more to success in wide-format than simply having the fastest device available. “It’s not about top speed although the entire workflow,” says Gasch. “You have to be continuously printing.”