Because the advent of the wide-format printing market in the late 1980s/early 1990s, the majority of the output devices in the marketplace have already been rollfed devices, printing on flexible substrates like paper or canvas that unfurled into the device, rather just like a web press. The finished graphic was then often mounted onto a rigid material for display, installation, or other end use.
It’s simple enough to see the disadvantages of this type of workflow. Print-then-mount adds one more step (taking much 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. Hence the solution seems obvious: reduce the middleman and print entirely on the rigid material itself. Enter flatbeds.
Flatbed wide-format printers appear like a fresh technology, but they are actually greater than a decade old as well as their evolution is 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 usual trinity of speed, quality, and cost. The 4th member of that trinity was versatility. Much like the majority of things technological, those limitations were quickly conquered. “Today, the standard of [those initial models] would be subpar,” says Jeffrey Nelson, business development manager, high productivity inkjet equipment, Fujifilm’s Graphic Systems Division. “Ten in the past, the most notable speed was four beds an hour or so. Now, it’s 90 beds an hour.” Fujifilm gives the Acuity and Inca Onset group of true coffee printer.
(“Beds per hour” is a standard measure of print speed in the flatbed printing world and it is essentially comparable to “prints an hour.”)
The improvements to flatbed printers were largely a combination of printhead design and development and the evolution of ink technology, in addition to effective methods of moving the substrate past the printheads-or, conversely, moving the printheads over the stationary substrate. Other challenges have involved the physical size of the printers; large flatbed presses dwarf rollfed wide-format printers and also 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 anyone to the 2nd floor of any industrial space.” The analogy is to offset presses, particularly web presses, which in turn would have to be installed first, then this building constructed around them. The Bigfoot-esque footprint of flatbeds is certainly one consideration for any shop looking to acquire one-and it’s not only how big 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 also the high-end HP Scitex FB7600.
And so the killer app for flatbed wide-format printers is the capability to print right on a wide variety of materials without having to print-then-mount or print with a transfer sheet, common for printing on 3D surfaces that can’t be fed through a traditional printer. “Golf balls, mittens, pok-er chips,” says Nelson, are among 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 different and unique substrates,” says HP’s Gasch, “such as ceramic, metallic, glass, along with 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 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 had been advancements in ink technology that helped the flatbed printer market grow, and inks should be versatile enough to print on a wide variety of substrates without a shop needing to stock myriad inks and swap them out between jobs, which would increase expense and decrease productivity. Some inks require primers or pretreatments to get used on the outer lining to help you improve ink adhesion, while some make use of a fixer added after printing. A lot of the printing we’re comfortable with utilizes a liquid ink that dries by a mixture of evaporation and penetration in to the substrate, but most of these specialty substrates have surfaces that don’t allow ink penetration, hence the desire to give the ink something to “grab onto.” UV inks are specifically helpful for these surfaces, as they dry by being exposed to ultraviolet light, hence they don’t should evaporate/penetrate the way more traditional inks do.
Much of the available literature on flatbeds suggests that “flatbed printer” is symbolic of “UV printer” and, though there are solvent ink-based flatbeds, nearly all units available on the market are UV devices. You will find myriad advantages to UV printing-no noxious fumes, the capability to print on the wider range of materials, faster drying times, the capability to add spiffy effects, etc.-but switching to some UV workflow will not be a determination being made lightly. (See an upcoming feature for the more detailed have a look at UV printing.)
All the new applications that flatbeds enable are fantastic, but there is however still a considerable number of perform best handled by rollfeds. So for true versatility, a shop can make use of an individual device to produce both rollfed and flatbed applications thanks to so-called combination or uv printer. These units can help a shop tackle a wider variety of work than could be handled using a single kind of printer, but be forewarned that the combination printer isn’t always as versatile as, and may even lag the production speed of, a genuine flatbed. Specs sometimes reference the rollfed speed of your device, whilst the speed of the “flatbed mode” could be substantially slower. Look for footnotes-and always get demos.
As ever, technology improvements will expand the capabilities of flatbed printers. This may include the usual trinity of technology-higher quality, faster speed, higher reliability-in addition to improved material handling along with a continued increase of the number and kinds of materials they may print on; improvements in inks; improved simplicity; and much better integration with front ends and also postpress finishing equipment. Consequently, all the different applications will increase. HP sees expansion of vertical markets as 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 by using a rollfed printer and want to relocate to something similar to an Acuity.”
It’s Not Just Regarding the Printer
One of many recurring themes throughout every one of these wide-format feature stories would be that the collection of printer is only a way to a end; wide-format imaging is less about a printing process and much more about manufacturing end-use products, and the option of printer is very as to what is the easiest way to make those products. And it’s not simply the t-shirt printer, but also the back and front ends from the process. “Think regarding the entire ecosystem,” says Nelson. “How will you manage your colors, how reliable will be 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 on the finishing side.” (For more 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 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 is additionally important,” adds HP’s Gasch. “Adding more features, include a roll-to-roll option, add beds, add white ink, it must be flexible and scalable.”
Like any facet of printing, there may be inevitably a tradeoff between speed and quality. “Customers are asked, ‘Do you would like better quality or better speed?’” says Nelson, “And the answer is always ‘Yes.’”
Still, there is certainly more to success in wide-format than merely getting the fastest device out there. “It’s not about top speed but the entire workflow,” says Gasch. “You must be continuously printing.”