Since the advent of the wide-format printing market within the late 1980s/early 1990s, most the output devices in the marketplace have 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 another end use.
It’s not so difficult to discover the disadvantages of this type of workflow. Print-then-mount adds one more step (taking more hours 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. Therefore the solution seems obvious: eliminate the middleman and print directly on the rigid material itself. Enter flatbeds.
Flatbed wide-format printers look like a new technology, however they are actually over a decade old along with their evolution has been swift but stealthy. A seminal entry from the flatbed printer market was the Inca Eagle 44, and early limitations of wide-format flatbeds were the usual trinity of speed, quality, and price. The fourth an affiliate that trinity was versatility. Much like the majority of things technological, those limitations were quickly conquered. “Today, the grade of [those initial models] would be subpar,” says Jeffrey Nelson, business development manager, high productivity inkjet equipment, Fujifilm’s Graphic Systems Division. “Ten years ago, the most notable speed was four beds 1 hour. Now, it’s 90 beds one hour.” Fujifilm offers the Acuity and Inca Onset series of true coffee printer.
(“Beds per hour” is a standard way of measuring print speed in the flatbed printing world and is also essentially similar to “prints an hour.”)
The improvements to flatbed printers were largely a variety of printhead design and development and the evolution of ink technology, as well as 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 also a 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 you can move anyone to another floor of any industrial space.” The analogy is always to offset presses, particularly web presses, which in turn must be installed first, then your building constructed around them. The Bigfoot-esque footprint of flatbeds is a consideration for almost any shop looking to acquire one-and it’s not simply how big the machine. There must also be room to advance large rigid prints around. HP’s flatbed offerings range from 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 been the cabability to print entirely on numerous types of 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 the objects his customers have printed on. “Someone went to 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 get 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 should 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 could increase expense and reduce productivity. Some inks require primers or pretreatments to be placed on the top to help improve ink adhesion, while some make use of a fixer added after printing. Many of the printing we’re familiar with utilizes a liquid ink that dries by a mix of evaporation and penetration into the substrate, but many of these specialty substrates have surfaces that don’t allow ink penetration, hence the need to give the ink something to “grab onto.” UV inks are particularly useful for these surfaces, because they dry by exposure to ultraviolet light, so they don’t have to evaporate/penetrate the way in which classical inks do.
A lot of possible literature on flatbeds indicates that “flatbed printer” is synonymous with “UV printer” and, even though there are solvent ink-based flatbeds, virtually all units in the marketplace are UV devices. You will find myriad benefits to UV printing-no noxious fumes, the capability to print with a wider selection of materials, faster drying times, the capability to add spiffy special effects, etc.-but switching into a UV workflow is not really a choice to be made lightly. (See an upcoming feature to get a more in depth take a look at UV printing.)
Each of the new applications that flatbeds enable are excellent, but there is still a substantial level of work most effectively handled by rollfeds. So for true versatility, a store can use a single device to make both rollfed and flatbed applications due to so-called combination or led uv printer. These devices might help a shop tackle a wider variety of work than may be handled by using a single type of printer, but be forewarned which a combination printer isn’t always as versatile as, and might lag the development speed of, a genuine flatbed. Specs sometimes talk about the rollfed speed from the device, while the speed of the “flatbed mode” could be substantially slower. Always look for footnotes-and also get demos.
As ever, technology improvements will expand the capabilities of flatbed printers. This may are the usual trinity of technology-high quality, faster speed, higher reliability-and also improved material handling as well as a continued expansion of the number and types of materials they can print on; improvements in inks; improved simplicity of use; and integration with front ends and also postpress finishing equipment. Because of this, all the different applications will increase. HP sees increase of vertical markets being a growing wave of the future, “Targeting signage, and packaging keeps growing in importance,” says Gasch.
Fujifilm is likewise bullish on commercial printing. “Our largest growth area is commercial printers,” says Nelson. “They’re expanding into wide-format graphics, or they started using a rollfed printer and are looking to go on to something similar to an Acuity.”
It’s Not Simply Regarding the Printer
One of many recurring themes throughout all of these wide-format feature stories is the selection of printer is merely a way with an end; wide-format imaging is less regarding a printing process and a lot more about manufacturing end-use products, and the choice of printer is absolutely regarding what is the best way to make those products. And it’s not merely the textile printer, but also the front and back ends in the process. “Think regarding the entire ecosystem,” says Nelson. “How can you manage your colors, how reliable will be the press, and look at the finishing equipment. The majority of our printer customers also 03dexqpky cutting and routing equipment. There are actually 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 Real 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 all about the ultimate 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 must be flexible and scalable.”
As in any aspect of printing, there is certainly inevitably a tradeoff between speed and quality. “Customers are asked, ‘Do you need higher 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 out there. “It’s not about top speed however the entire workflow,” says Gasch. “You need to be continuously printing.”