Because the advent of the wide-format printing market within the late 1980s/early 1990s, the vast majority of the output devices out there are already rollfed devices, printing on flexible substrates like paper or canvas that unfurled to the device, rather just like a web press. The finished graphic was then often mounted onto a rigid material for display, installation, or another end use.
It’s not difficult to find out 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 plus the mounting material and adhesive), incurs more consumables costs, increases waste, and decreases productivity. Therefore 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 new technology, but are actually greater than a decade old as well as their evolution continues to be swift but stealthy. A seminal entry inside the flatbed printer market was the Inca Eagle 44, and early limitations of wide-format flatbeds were the normal trinity of speed, quality, and price. Your fourth person in that trinity was versatility. Just like the majority of things technological, those limitations were quickly conquered. “Today, the quality 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 top speed was four beds one hour. 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 similar to “prints hourly.”)
The improvements to flatbed printers were largely a mixture of printhead design and development as well as the evolution of ink technology, and also effective methods for moving the substrate beyond 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 and also 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 the best way to move a person to the second floor of the industrial space.” The analogy is always to offset presses, particularly web presses, which in turn must be installed first, then your building constructed around them. The Bigfoot-esque footprint of flatbeds is a consideration for almost any shop seeking to acquire one-and it’s not merely the dimensions of the machine. There must also be room to move large rigid prints around. HP’s flatbed offerings range from the entry-level HP Scitex FB500 and FB700 series along with the high-end HP Scitex FB7600.
Therefore the killer app for flatbed wide-format printers continues to be the capability to print entirely on numerous types of materials without having to print-then-mount or print over a transfer sheet, common for printing on 3D surfaces that can’t be fed by way of 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 gathered 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.”
The following 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, 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 was actually advancements in ink technology that helped the flatbed printer market grow, and inks need to be versatile enough to print on a multitude of substrates without a shop being forced to stock myriad inks and swap them out between jobs, which may increase expense and reduce productivity. Some inks require primers or pretreatments being put on the top to aid improve ink adhesion, although some use a fixer added after printing. A lot of the printing we’re accustomed to utilizes a liquid ink that dries by a mix of evaporation and penetration in the substrate, but a number of these specialty substrates have surfaces that don’t allow ink penetration, hence the requirement to provide the ink something to “grab onto.” UV inks are particularly great for these surfaces, as they dry by contact with ultraviolet light, hence they don’t need to evaporate/penetrate how more traditional inks do.
Much of possible literature on flatbeds signifies that “flatbed printer” is synonymous with “UV printer” and, although there are solvent ink-based flatbeds, virtually all units on the market are UV devices. You can find myriad benefits to UV printing-no noxious fumes, the capability to print on a wider range of materials, faster drying times, the cabability to add spiffy special effects, etc.-but switching to a UV workflow is not a decision to get made lightly. (See a future feature for a more descriptive have a look at UV printing.)
Each of the new applications that flatbeds enable are wonderful, there is however still a large volume of work most effectively handled by rollfeds. So for true versatility, a store can use one particular device to make both rollfed and flatbed applications as a result of so-called combination or uv printer. These units might help a shop tackle a wider number of work than can be handled using a single type of printer, but be forewarned a combination printer isn’t always as versatile as, and may even lag the production speed of, a real flatbed. Specs sometimes talk about the rollfed speed from the device, whilst the speed of the “flatbed mode” may be substantially slower. Always look for footnotes-and always get demos.
As ever, technology improvements will expand the capabilities of flatbed printers. This will range from the usual trinity of technology-top quality, faster speed, higher reliability-along with improved material handling and a continued increase of the number and kinds of materials they can print on; improvements in inks; improved convenience; and integration with front ends and also postpress finishing equipment. As a result, all the different applications boosts. HP sees expansion of vertical markets as being a growing coming trend, “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 having a rollfed printer and would like to go on to something like an Acuity.”
It’s Not Just About the Printer
One of the recurring themes throughout all of these wide-format feature stories is that the choice of printer is merely a means to a end; wide-format imaging is less with regards to a printing process and more about manufacturing end-use products, and the choice of printer is very about what is the easiest way to make those products. And it’s not merely the t-shirt printer, but the front and rear ends of your process. “Think in regards to the entire ecosystem,” says Nelson. “How will you manage your colors, how reliable may be the press, and look at the finishing equipment. Most of our printer customers also 03dexqpky cutting and routing equipment. You will find great revenue opportunities about the finishing side.” (To get more on finishing, see our recent feature, “End Game: In Wide-Format Printing, Finishing is when the true 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 about the very last output, it’s the finished product.”
“Scalable technology is additionally important,” adds HP’s Gasch. “Adding more features, give a roll-to-roll option, add beds, add white ink, it needs to be flexible and scalable.”
Like in any element of printing, there may be inevitably a tradeoff between speed and quality. “Customers are asked, ‘Do you would like higher quality or better speed?’” says Nelson, “And the answer is always ‘Yes.’”
Still, there is certainly more to success in wide-format than only receiving the fastest device on the market. “It’s not about top speed nevertheless the entire workflow,” says Gasch. “You must be continuously printing.”