Because the development 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 another end use.
It’s not so difficult to discover the disadvantages of these kinds of workflow. Print-then-mount adds an extra step (taking more hours and reducing productivity) and uses more materials (the printed substrate plus the mounting material and adhesive), incurs more consumables costs, increases waste, and decreases productivity. Hence the solution seems obvious: reduce the middleman and print entirely on the rigid material itself. Enter flatbeds.
Flatbed wide-format printers appear to be a whole new technology, however they are actually greater than a decade old along with their evolution has been swift but stealthy. A seminal entry in 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. The fourth member of that trinity was versatility. Much like the majority of things technological, those limitations were quickly conquered. “Today, the caliber of [those initial models] will be subpar,” says Jeffrey Nelson, business development manager, high productivity inkjet equipment, Fujifilm’s Graphic Systems Division. “Ten years back, the very best speed was four beds an hour. Now, it’s 90 beds 1 hour.” Fujifilm offers the Acuity and Inca Onset series of true coffee printer.
(“Beds per hour” can be a standard way of measuring print speed from the flatbed printing world which is essentially equivalent to “prints hourly.”)
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 across the stationary substrate. Other challenges have involved the physical size of the printers; large flatbed presses dwarf rollfed wide-format printers and have a substantial footprint. “Manufacturing, shipping, and installation have already been significant challenges,” says Oriol Gasch, category manager, Large Format Sign & Display, Americas, for HP. “Such as how you can move someone to the second floor of any industrial space.” The analogy would be to offset presses, particularly web presses, which frequently must be installed first, then a building constructed around them. The Bigfoot-esque footprint of flatbeds is a consideration for any shop hoping to acquire one-and it’s not just the dimensions of the equipment. There also needs to be room to maneuver large rigid prints around. HP’s flatbed offerings add 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 right on numerous materials without needing 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 one of the objects his customers have printed on. “Someone went along to Home Depot and found 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.”
Here 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 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 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 to become used on the outer lining to aid improve ink adhesion, while others utilize a fixer added after printing. A lot of the printing we’re familiar with utilizes a liquid ink that dries by a mixture of evaporation and penetration into the substrate, but several of these specialty substrates have surfaces that don’t allow ink penetration, hence the need to supply the ink something to “grab onto.” UV inks are specifically helpful for these surfaces, because they dry by exposure to ultraviolet light, so they don’t have to evaporate/penetrate the way more conventional inks do.
Most of possible literature on flatbeds indicates that “flatbed printer” is synonymous with “UV printer” and, though there are solvent ink-based flatbeds, nearly all units available on the market are UV devices. There are actually myriad advantages to UV printing-no noxious fumes, the capability to print with a wider array of materials, faster drying times, the opportunity to add spiffy effects, etc.-but switching to your UV workflow is just not a choice being made lightly. (See a future feature for any more descriptive examine UV printing.)
All the new applications that flatbeds enable are great, there is however still a considerable amount of are best handled by rollfeds. So for true versatility, a store may use just one device to create both rollfed and flatbed applications because of so-called combination or uv printer. These units may help a store tackle a wider assortment of work than might be handled by using a single type of printer, but be forewarned a combination printer isn’t always as versatile as, and might lag the production speed of, a true flatbed. Specs sometimes reference the rollfed speed in the device, while the speed of your “flatbed mode” might be substantially slower. Look for footnotes-and always get demos.
As ever, technology improvements will expand the capabilities of flatbed printers. This can are the usual trinity of technology-higher quality, faster speed, higher reliability-as well as improved material handling as well as a continued expansion of the telephone number and kinds of materials they may print on; improvements in inks; improved ease of use; and better integration with front ends in addition to postpress finishing equipment. Because of this, the plethora of applications will increase. HP sees increase of vertical markets as being a growing coming trend, “Targeting signage, and packaging keeps 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 using a rollfed printer and wish to proceed to something like an Acuity.”
It’s Not Only Regarding the Printer
One of several recurring themes throughout every one of these wide-format feature stories would be that the choice of printer is only a method for an end; wide-format imaging is less about a printing process and a lot more about manufacturing end-use products, and the choice of printer is actually in regards to what is the easiest method to make those products. And it’s not only the t-shirt printer, but the front and rear ends in the process. “Think about the entire ecosystem,” says Nelson. “How will you manage your colors, how reliable will be the press, and check out the finishing equipment. Most of our printer customers also 03dexqpky cutting and routing equipment. You can find great revenue opportunities around the finishing side.” (For additional on finishing, see our recent feature, “End Game: In Wide-Format Printing, Finishing is Where the true Work Begins.”)
It’s not merely 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 approximately the final output, it’s the finished product.”
“Scalable technology can also be important,” adds HP’s Gasch. “Adding more features, include a roll-to-roll option, add beds, add white ink, it needs to be flexible and scalable.”
As in any part of printing, there exists inevitably a tradeoff between speed and quality. “Customers are asked, ‘Do you want better quality or better speed?’” says Nelson, “And the correct answer is always ‘Yes.’”
Still, there is certainly more to success in wide-format than merely getting the fastest device around. “It’s not about top speed but the entire workflow,” says Gasch. “You should be continuously printing.”