Because the development of the wide-format printing market within the late 1980s/early 1990s, nearly all the output devices out there happen to be rollfed devices, printing on flexible substrates like paper or canvas that unfurled into the device, rather such as a web press. The finished graphic was then often mounted onto a rigid material for display, installation, or other end use.
It’s not so difficult to find out the disadvantages of this type of workflow. Print-then-mount adds an extra 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 seem like a new technology, however they are actually more 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 typical trinity of speed, quality, and expense. The 4th person in that trinity was versatility. As with the majority of things technological, those limitations were quickly conquered. “Today, the grade of [those initial models] can be subpar,” says Jeffrey Nelson, business development manager, high productivity inkjet equipment, Fujifilm’s Graphic Systems Division. “Ten years ago, the best speed was four beds an hour or so. Now, it’s 90 beds 1 hour.” Fujifilm supplies the Acuity and Inca Onset number of true latte coffee printer.
(“Beds per hour” can be a standard way of measuring print speed from the flatbed printing world and is essentially equivalent to “prints per hour.”)
The improvements to flatbed printers were largely a mixture of printhead design and development as well as the evolution of ink technology, along with effective ways of moving the substrate beyond the printheads-or, conversely, moving the printheads within 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 have already been significant challenges,” says Oriol Gasch, category manager, Large Format Sign & Display, Americas, for HP. “Such as the best way to move a person to the 2nd floor of the industrial space.” The analogy would be to offset presses, particularly web presses, which often must be installed first, then the building constructed around them. The Bigfoot-esque footprint of flatbeds is one consideration for just about any shop hoping to acquire one-and it’s not merely the size of the device. There must also be room to maneuver 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 is 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 went along 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.”
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, 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 had been advancements in ink technology that helped the flatbed printer market grow, and inks should be versatile enough to print on a multitude of substrates with no 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 put on the top to assist improve ink adhesion, while others make use of a fixer added after printing. A lot of the printing we’re familiar with utilizes a liquid ink that dries by a combination of evaporation and penetration in to the substrate, but several of these specialty substrates have surfaces that don’t allow ink penetration, hence the desire to provide the ink something to “grab onto.” UV inks are specifically ideal for these surfaces, as they dry by contact with ultraviolet light, therefore they don’t need to evaporate/penetrate the way classical inks do.
Most of possible literature on flatbeds indicates that “flatbed printer” is symbolic of “UV printer” and, although there are solvent ink-based flatbeds, nearly all units in the marketplace are UV devices. There are actually myriad benefits of UV printing-no noxious fumes, the cabability to print over a wider range of materials, faster drying times, the ability to add spiffy effects, etc.-but switching to your UV workflow is not really a conclusion being made lightly. (See a forthcoming feature for any more descriptive examine UV printing.)
Every one of the new applications that flatbeds enable are excellent, but there is however still a significant volume of work most effectively handled by rollfeds. So for true versatility, a store can use a single device to generate both rollfed and flatbed applications thanks to so-called combination or phone case printer. These units can help a shop tackle a wider variety of work than might be handled with a single form of printer, but be forewarned that the combination printer isn’t always as versatile as, and might lag the development speed of, a genuine flatbed. Specs sometimes refer to the rollfed speed of the device, while the speed of the “flatbed mode” may be substantially slower. Look for footnotes-and constantly get demos.
As it ever was, technology improvements will expand the capabilities of flatbed printers. This may include the usual trinity of technology-high quality, faster speed, higher reliability-along with improved material handling and a continued expansion of the telephone number and kinds of materials they are able to print on; improvements in inks; improved ease of use; and much better integration with front ends along with postpress finishing equipment. Consequently, all the different applications boosts. HP sees increase of vertical markets being a growing coming trend, “Targeting signage, and packaging is 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 would like to move to such as an Acuity.”
It’s Not Simply Concerning the Printer
One of several recurring themes throughout every one of these wide-format feature stories is that the selection of printer is only a way with an end; wide-format imaging is less about a printing process and much more about manufacturing end-use products, and deciding on a printer is absolutely as to what is the easiest method to make those products. And it’s not just the dtg printer, but also the front and back ends in the process. “Think in regards to the entire ecosystem,” says Nelson. “How can you manage your colors, how reliable is definitely the press, and look at the finishing equipment. The majority of our printer customers also 03dexqpky cutting and routing equipment. You will find great revenue opportunities around the finishing side.” (For more on finishing, see our recent feature, “End Game: In Wide-Format Printing, Finishing is how the genuine Work Begins.”)
It’s not just 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 approximately the ultimate output, it’s the finished product.”
“Scalable technology can also be 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 with any element 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 answer is always ‘Yes.’”
Still, there is more to success in wide-format than just receiving the fastest device out there. “It’s not about top speed nevertheless the entire workflow,” says Gasch. “You should be continuously printing.”