Since the advent of the wide-format printing market within 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 in the device, rather like 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 this sort of workflow. Print-then-mount adds an extra step (taking additional time and reducing productivity) and uses more materials (the printed substrate along with the mounting material and adhesive), incurs more consumables costs, increases waste, and decreases productivity. Therefore the solution seems obvious: reduce the middleman and print right on the rigid material itself. Enter flatbeds.
Flatbed wide-format printers appear to be a new technology, however they are actually greater than a decade old and 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 typical trinity of speed, quality, and cost. The 4th an affiliate that trinity was versatility. As with 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 ago, the top speed was four beds 1 hour. Now, it’s 90 beds an hour.” Fujifilm offers the Acuity and Inca Onset group of true coffee printer.
(“Beds per hour” is a standard way of measuring print speed from the flatbed printing world and it is essentially similar to “prints per hour.”)
The improvements to flatbed printers were largely a mix of printhead design and development as well as the evolution of ink technology, and also effective methods 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 and 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 anyone to the 2nd floor of an industrial space.” The analogy is to offset presses, particularly web presses, which regularly had to be installed first, then the building constructed around them. The Bigfoot-esque footprint of flatbeds is just one consideration for just about any shop looking to acquire one-and it’s not merely the size of the gear. There must also be room to move 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 has been the opportunity to print directly on numerous materials and never have to print-then-mount or print with 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 among the objects his customers have printed on. “Someone traveled to Home Depot and picked up 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.”
Here 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, and also 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 had been advancements in ink technology that helped the flatbed printer market grow, and inks have to be versatile enough to print on a multitude of substrates without having a shop needing to stock myriad inks and swap them out between jobs, which will increase expense and reduce productivity. Some inks require primers or pretreatments being used on the surface to aid improve ink adhesion, although some utilize a fixer added after printing. Most of the printing we’re comfortable with relies on a liquid ink that dries by a mixture of evaporation and penetration in the substrate, but most of these specialty substrates have surfaces that don’t allow ink penetration, hence the necessity to supply the ink something to “grab onto.” UV inks are especially useful for these surfaces, since they dry by exposure to ultraviolet light, so that they don’t should evaporate/penetrate the way in which more conventional inks do.
Most of the accessible literature on flatbeds signifies that “flatbed printer” is symbolic of “UV printer” and, however, there are solvent ink-based flatbeds, the majority of units out there are UV devices. You can find myriad benefits to UV printing-no noxious fumes, the capability to print over a wider range of materials, faster drying times, the cabability to add spiffy special effects, etc.-but switching to your UV workflow is just not a choice to get made lightly. (See a future feature for a more detailed have a look at UV printing.)
All the new applications that flatbeds enable are wonderful, there is however still a large number of are best handled by rollfeds. So for true versatility, a store may use just one device to produce both rollfed and flatbed applications as a result of so-called combination or phone case printer. These devices can help a store tackle a wider variety of work than can be handled having a single type of printer, but be forewarned a combination printer isn’t always as versatile as, and may even lag the production speed of, a genuine flatbed. Specs sometimes refer to the rollfed speed of your device, while the speed in the “flatbed mode” could be substantially slower. Look for footnotes-and try to get demos.
As it ever was, technology improvements will expand the capabilities of flatbed printers. This can add the usual trinity of technology-high quality, faster speed, higher reliability-and also improved material handling as well as a continued expansion of the telephone number and types of materials they are able to print on; improvements in inks; improved ease of use; and better integration with front ends in addition to 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 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 want to proceed to something similar to an Acuity.”
It’s Not Only In regards to the Printer
One of several recurring themes throughout every one of these wide-format feature stories would be that the collection of printer is just a way for an end; wide-format imaging is less with regards to a printing process and a lot more about manufacturing end-use products, and choosing printer is really as to what is the best way to make those products. And it’s not simply the textile printer, but the front and back ends of the process. “Think regarding the entire ecosystem,” says Nelson. “How would you like to manage your colors, how reliable is the press, and check out the finishing equipment. Most of our printer customers also 03dexqpky cutting and routing equipment. You will find 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 around the ultimate output, it’s the finished product.”
“Scalable technology is likewise 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 facet of printing, there is certainly inevitably a tradeoff between speed and quality. “Customers are asked, ‘Do you would like higher quality or better speed?’” says Nelson, “And the reply is always ‘Yes.’”
Still, there may be more to success in wide-format than just receiving the fastest device on the market. “It’s not about top speed nevertheless the entire workflow,” says Gasch. “You need to be continuously printing.”