Because the advent of the wide-format printing market from the late 1980s/early 1990s, most the output devices out there happen to be rollfed devices, printing on flexible substrates like paper or canvas that unfurled to the device, rather similar to a web press. The finished graphic was then often mounted onto a rigid material for display, installation, or some other end use.
It’s not difficult to discover the disadvantages of this kind of workflow. Print-then-mount adds an additional step (taking more time and reducing productivity) and uses more materials (the printed substrate in addition to the mounting material and adhesive), incurs more consumables costs, increases waste, and decreases productivity. And so the solution seems obvious: reduce the middleman and print right on the rigid material itself. Enter flatbeds.
Flatbed wide-format printers appear like a fresh technology, however are actually greater than a decade old in addition to their evolution is 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 standard trinity of speed, quality, and expense. The 4th part of that trinity was versatility. As with the majority of things technological, those limitations were quickly conquered. “Today, the grade of [those initial models] will be subpar,” says Jeffrey Nelson, business development manager, high productivity inkjet equipment, Fujifilm’s Graphic Systems Division. “Ten yrs ago, the best speed was four beds an hour. Now, it’s 90 beds one hour.” Fujifilm offers the Acuity and Inca Onset series of true latte printer.
(“Beds per hour” is a standard measure of print speed in the flatbed printing world and is essentially comparable to “prints per 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 for moving the substrate past the printheads-or, conversely, moving the printheads within the stationary substrate. Other challenges have involved the physical measurements 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 someone to the next floor of the industrial space.” The analogy is to offset presses, particularly web presses, which in turn must be installed first, then a building constructed around them. The Bigfoot-esque footprint of flatbeds is just one consideration for almost any shop seeking to acquire one-and it’s not just the size of the device. There also needs to be room to move large rigid prints around. HP’s flatbed offerings add the entry-level HP Scitex FB500 and FB700 series as well as the high-end HP Scitex FB7600.
So the killer app for flatbed wide-format printers has been the capability to print right on numerous types of materials and never have to print-then-mount or print on the 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 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, along with other thick, heavy materials.”
This 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, 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 absolutely was 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 decrease productivity. Some inks require primers or pretreatments to get used on the surface to help you improve ink adhesion, while others use a fixer added after printing. The majority of the printing we’re familiar with utilizes a liquid ink that dries by a combination of evaporation and penetration in 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 especially useful for these surfaces, as they dry by exposure to ultraviolet light, so they don’t should evaporate/penetrate the way classical inks do.
Much of the accessible literature on flatbeds suggests that “flatbed printer” is synonymous with “UV printer” and, though there are solvent ink-based flatbeds, the vast majority of units in the marketplace are UV devices. You will find myriad benefits of UV printing-no noxious fumes, the opportunity to print on the wider array of materials, faster drying times, the opportunity to add spiffy special effects, etc.-but switching into a UV workflow is just not a conclusion to be made lightly. (See a forthcoming feature to get a more detailed have a look at UV printing.)
Every one of the new applications that flatbeds enable are excellent, but there is however still a substantial level of work best handled by rollfeds. So for true versatility, a store can make use of a single device to make both rollfed and flatbed applications because of so-called combination or led uv printer. These units might help a store tackle a wider assortment of work than may be handled with a single kind of printer, but be forewarned a combination printer isn’t always as versatile as, and could lag the production speed of, a genuine flatbed. Specs sometimes reference the rollfed speed of the device, while the speed in the “flatbed mode” might be substantially slower. Look for footnotes-and constantly get demos.
As it ever was, technology improvements will expand the capabilities of flatbed printers. This will likely include the usual trinity of technology-higher quality, faster speed, higher reliability-and also improved material handling and a continued increase of the telephone number and types of materials they are able to print on; improvements in inks; improved simplicity; and better integration with front ends and also postpress finishing equipment. Because of this, the range of applications improves. HP sees expansion of vertical markets as being a growing coming trend, “Targeting signage, and packaging keeps growing in importance,” says Gasch.
Fujifilm is additionally 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 are looking to relocate to something such as an Acuity.”
It’s Not Just In regards to the Printer
Among the recurring themes throughout many of these wide-format feature stories is the collection of printer is merely a way with an end; wide-format imaging is less in regards to a printing process and much 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 also the front and back ends in the process. “Think in regards to the entire ecosystem,” says Nelson. “How are you going to manage your colors, how reliable is definitely the press, and look at the finishing equipment. Nearly all of our printer customers also 03dexqpky cutting and routing equipment. There are great revenue opportunities on the finishing side.” (For additional on finishing, see our recent feature, “End Game: In Wide-Format Printing, Finishing is Where the Real Work Begins.”)
It’s not just the productivity ecosystem, but the physical ecosystem. “You’re working 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 final output, it’s the finished product.”
“Scalable technology is likewise important,” adds HP’s Gasch. “Adding more features, put in a roll-to-roll option, add beds, add white ink, it must be flexible and scalable.”
As in any part of printing, there exists inevitably a tradeoff between speed and quality. “Customers are asked, ‘Do you desire higher quality or better speed?’” says Nelson, “And the correct answer is always ‘Yes.’”
Still, there exists more to success in wide-format than just obtaining the fastest device out there. “It’s not about top speed however the entire workflow,” says Gasch. “You must be continuously printing.”