Ever since the introduction of the wide-format printing market inside the late 1980s/early 1990s, most the output devices in the marketplace happen to be rollfed devices, printing on flexible substrates like paper or canvas that unfurled in to the device, rather such as 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 discover the disadvantages of this sort of workflow. Print-then-mount adds one more 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. Therefore the solution seems obvious: reduce the middleman and print right on the rigid material itself. Enter flatbeds.
Flatbed wide-format printers appear like a new technology, but are actually greater than a decade old as well as their evolution has been swift but stealthy. A seminal entry within the flatbed printer market was the Inca Eagle 44, and early limitations of wide-format flatbeds were the normal trinity of speed, quality, and cost. Your fourth person in that trinity was versatility. As with the majority of things technological, those limitations were quickly conquered. “Today, the standard 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 very best speed was four beds an hour. Now, it’s 90 beds 1 hour.” Fujifilm gives the Acuity and Inca Onset combination of true latte printer.
(“Beds per hour” is actually a standard measure of print speed inside the flatbed printing world and is essentially equivalent to “prints each hour.”)
The improvements to flatbed printers were largely a variety of printhead design and development and also the evolution of ink technology, as well as effective methods for moving the substrate past 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 where you can 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 someone to the next floor of any industrial space.” The analogy would be to offset presses, particularly web presses, which often would have to be installed first, then a building constructed around them. The Bigfoot-esque footprint of flatbeds is a consideration for just about any shop hoping to acquire one-and it’s not only how big the device. There also needs to be room to move large rigid prints around. HP’s flatbed offerings are the entry-level HP Scitex FB500 and FB700 series and the high-end HP Scitex FB7600.
And so the killer app for flatbed wide-format printers has become the opportunity to print directly on numerous 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 using a traditional printer. “Golf balls, mittens, po-ker chips,” says Nelson, are some of the objects his customers have printed on. “Someone went along 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, and 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 become adopted by screen printers, along with 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 absolutely was advancements in ink technology that helped the flatbed printer market grow, and inks should be versatile enough to print on numerous 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 being placed on the top to help improve ink adhesion, and some work with a fixer added after printing. The majority of the printing we’re familiar with utilizes a liquid ink that dries by a mixture of evaporation and penetration in the substrate, but many of these specialty substrates have surfaces that don’t allow ink penetration, hence the necessity to give the ink something to “grab onto.” UV inks are particularly ideal for these surfaces, since they dry by contact with ultraviolet light, therefore they don’t should evaporate/penetrate the way classical inks do.
A lot of possible literature on flatbeds suggests that “flatbed printer” is synonymous with “UV printer” and, though there are solvent ink-based flatbeds, the majority of units out there are UV devices. You will find myriad benefits of UV printing-no noxious fumes, the capability to print with a wider array of materials, faster drying times, the capability to add spiffy effects, etc.-but switching into a UV workflow is not a decision to become made lightly. (See a future feature for the more detailed have a look at UV printing.)
All the new applications that flatbeds enable are excellent, however, there is still a large level of are best handled by rollfeds. So for true versatility, a store can make use of one particular device to make both rollfed and flatbed applications due to so-called combination or phone case printer. These devices can help a shop tackle a wider number of work than can be handled using a single sort of printer, but be forewarned a combination printer isn’t always as versatile as, and might lag the development speed of, a real flatbed. Specs sometimes make reference to the rollfed speed in the device, even though the speed from the “flatbed mode” can be substantially slower. Always look for footnotes-and constantly get demos.
As ever, technology improvements will expand the capabilities of flatbed printers. This can are the usual trinity of technology-high quality, faster speed, higher reliability-along with improved material handling and a continued increase of the quantity and kinds of materials they may print on; improvements in inks; improved simplicity of use; and much better integration with front ends in addition to postpress finishing equipment. Because of this, all the different applications improves. HP sees increase of vertical markets like a growing wave of the future, “Targeting signage, and packaging is increasing 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 by using a rollfed printer and want to go on to something like an Acuity.”
It’s Not Merely About the Printer
One of many recurring themes throughout every one of these wide-format feature stories is the fact that range of printer is only a way for an end; wide-format imaging is less in regards to a printing process and a lot more about manufacturing end-use products, and deciding on a printer is actually about what is the best way to make those products. And it’s not just the textile printer, but also the front and rear ends in the process. “Think in regards to the entire ecosystem,” says Nelson. “How would you like to manage your colors, how reliable is the press, and check out the finishing equipment. The majority of our printer customers also 03dexqpky cutting and routing equipment. You will find great revenue opportunities on the finishing side.” (For more on finishing, see our recent feature, “End Game: In Wide-Format Printing, Finishing is Where the actual Work Begins.”)
It’s not simply the productivity ecosystem, but also 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 around the very last output, it’s the finished product.”
“Scalable technology can also be 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 with any aspect of printing, there exists 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 is more to success in wide-format than only getting the fastest device out there. “It’s not about top speed but the entire workflow,” says Gasch. “You should be continuously printing.”