Considering that the development of the wide-format printing market inside the late 1980s/early 1990s, most the output devices on the market have been 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 other end use.
It’s not so difficult to find out 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 as well as the mounting material and adhesive), incurs more consumables costs, increases waste, and decreases productivity. So the solution seems obvious: remove the middleman and print directly on the rigid material itself. Enter flatbeds.
Flatbed wide-format printers appear like a new technology, however are actually more than a decade old as well as their evolution continues to be 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 typical trinity of speed, quality, and expense. The fourth part of that trinity was versatility. As with most things technological, those limitations were quickly conquered. “Today, the quality of [those initial models] can be subpar,” says Jeffrey Nelson, business development manager, high productivity inkjet equipment, Fujifilm’s Graphic Systems Division. “Ten yrs ago, the most notable speed was four beds 1 hour. Now, it’s 90 beds 1 hour.” Fujifilm provides the Acuity and Inca Onset number of true latte coffee printer.
(“Beds per hour” is a standard measure of print speed from the flatbed printing world and is essentially comparable to “prints hourly.”)
The improvements to flatbed printers were largely a mix of printhead design and development and also the evolution of ink technology, in addition to effective means of moving the substrate beyond the printheads-or, conversely, moving the printheads on the stationary substrate. Other challenges have involved the physical size of the printers; large flatbed presses dwarf rollfed wide-format printers where you can substantial footprint. “Manufacturing, shipping, and installation are already significant challenges,” says Oriol Gasch, category manager, Large Format Sign & Display, Americas, for HP. “Such as the best way to move anyone to the next floor of the industrial space.” The analogy is always to offset presses, particularly web presses, which in turn must be installed first, then this building constructed around them. The Bigfoot-esque footprint of flatbeds is a consideration for just about any shop seeking to acquire one-and it’s not merely the size of the gear. There also needs to be room to go 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.
Therefore the killer app for flatbed wide-format printers continues to be the cabability to print entirely on numerous materials without needing to print-then-mount or print on a transfer sheet, common for printing on 3D surfaces that can’t be fed by way of a traditional printer. “Golf balls, mittens, pok-er chips,” says Nelson, are one of the objects his customers have printed on. “Someone visited Home Depot and acquired a door to print on.”
“What’s growing is specialty applications using different and unique substrates,” says HP’s Gasch, “such as ceramic, metallic, glass, as well as 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 be adopted by screen printers, along with 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 have to be versatile enough to print on numerous types of substrates without having a shop needing to stock myriad inks and swap them out between jobs, which would increase expense and reduce productivity. Some inks require primers or pretreatments to be applied to the surface to help improve ink adhesion, and some utilize a fixer added after printing. The majority of the printing we’re accustomed to relies on a liquid ink that dries by a combination of evaporation and penetration in the substrate, but most of these specialty substrates have surfaces that don’t allow ink penetration, hence the necessity to supply the ink something to “grab onto.” UV inks are particularly helpful for these surfaces, because they dry by contact with ultraviolet light, therefore they don’t must evaporate/penetrate the way in which classical inks do.
A lot of possible literature on flatbeds suggests that “flatbed printer” is symbolic of “UV printer” and, though there are solvent ink-based flatbeds, the majority of units on the market are UV devices. You can find myriad advantages to UV printing-no noxious fumes, the ability to print over a wider selection of materials, faster drying times, the ability to add spiffy special effects, etc.-but switching into a UV workflow is not really a determination being made lightly. (See a forthcoming feature for any more in depth look at UV printing.)
All of the new applications that flatbeds enable are wonderful, however, there is still a significant number of work best handled by rollfeds. So for true versatility, a store may use an individual device to make both rollfed and flatbed applications thanks to so-called combination or uv printer. These units might help a shop tackle a wider selection of work than might be handled by using a single form of printer, but be forewarned a combination printer isn’t always as versatile as, and might lag the development speed of, a true flatbed. Specs sometimes refer to the rollfed speed of your device, whilst the speed in the “flatbed mode” can be substantially slower. Always look for footnotes-and try to get demos.
As ever, technology improvements will expand the capabilities of flatbed printers. This can are the usual trinity of technology-top quality, faster speed, higher reliability-along with improved material handling along with a continued increase of the quantity and kinds of materials they could print on; improvements in inks; improved convenience; and integration with front ends in addition to postpress finishing equipment. As a result, all the different applications improves. HP sees increase of vertical markets being a growing coming trend, “Targeting signage, and packaging is 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 having a rollfed printer and are looking to go on to something similar to an Acuity.”
It’s Not Just In regards to the Printer
One of several recurring themes throughout every one of these wide-format feature stories is that the range of printer is just a method for an end; wide-format imaging is less in regards to a printing process and much more about manufacturing end-use products, and deciding on a printer is actually about what is the simplest way to make those products. And it’s not simply the t-shirt printer, but the back and front ends of your process. “Think regarding the entire ecosystem,” says Nelson. “How are you going to manage your colors, how reliable will be the press, and look at the finishing equipment. Almost all of our printer customers also 03dexqpky cutting and routing equipment. You will find great revenue opportunities in the finishing side.” (To get more on finishing, see our recent feature, “End Game: In Wide-Format Printing, Finishing is when the genuine Work Begins.”)
It’s not just the productivity ecosystem, but also the physical ecosystem. “You’re dealing 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 is also important,” adds HP’s Gasch. “Adding more features, add a roll-to-roll option, add beds, add white ink, it must be flexible and scalable.”
As with any element of printing, there is inevitably a tradeoff between speed and quality. “Customers are asked, ‘Do you need better quality or better speed?’” says Nelson, “And the reply is always ‘Yes.’”
Still, there is more to success in wide-format than just getting the fastest device around. “It’s not about top speed nevertheless the entire workflow,” says Gasch. “You must be continuously printing.”