Since the development of the wide-format printing market inside the late 1980s/early 1990s, nearly all the output devices in the marketplace happen to be rollfed devices, printing on flexible substrates like paper or canvas that unfurled in the device, rather similar to a web press. The finished graphic was then often mounted onto a rigid material for display, installation, or other end use.
It’s not difficult to discover the disadvantages of these kinds of workflow. Print-then-mount adds an extra step (taking much more time 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. And so the solution seems obvious: remove the middleman and print entirely on the rigid material itself. Enter flatbeds.
Flatbed wide-format printers appear to be a whole new technology, but are actually greater 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 normal trinity of speed, quality, and cost. The 4th person in that trinity was versatility. As with the majority of things technological, those limitations were quickly conquered. “Today, the standard of [those initial models] could 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 an hour.” Fujifilm offers the Acuity and Inca Onset series of true latte coffee printer.
(“Beds per hour” is a standard measure of print speed from the flatbed printing world and is essentially equal to “prints an hour.”)
The improvements to flatbed printers were largely a mix of printhead design and development and the evolution of ink technology, and also effective methods for 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 a person to the 2nd floor of any industrial space.” The analogy is to offset presses, particularly web presses, which often had to be installed first, then the building constructed around them. The Bigfoot-esque footprint of flatbeds is a consideration for virtually any shop looking to acquire one-and it’s not just the actual size of the gear. There also needs to be room to advance large rigid prints around. HP’s flatbed offerings range from the entry-level HP Scitex FB500 and FB700 series as well as the high-end HP Scitex FB7600.
Hence the killer app for flatbed wide-format printers has become 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 through a traditional printer. “Golf balls, mittens, po-ker chips,” says Nelson, are the objects his customers have printed on. “Someone went to 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, and also 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, 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 should be versatile enough to print on a wide variety of substrates with no shop having to stock myriad inks and swap them out between jobs, which could increase expense and decrease productivity. Some inks require primers or pretreatments to get put on the top to help you improve ink adhesion, and some use a fixer added after printing. Most of the printing we’re used to works with a liquid ink that dries by a combination of evaporation and penetration in to the substrate, but a number 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 great for these surfaces, as they dry by being exposed to ultraviolet light, so that they don’t need to evaporate/penetrate how more conventional inks do.
Most of possible literature on flatbeds indicates that “flatbed printer” is synonymous with “UV printer” and, although there are solvent ink-based flatbeds, virtually all units out there are UV devices. There are actually myriad benefits to UV printing-no noxious fumes, the opportunity to print on the wider selection of materials, faster drying times, the opportunity to add spiffy special effects, etc.-but switching to some UV workflow will not be a determination to be made lightly. (See a future feature for the more in depth examine UV printing.)
Every one of the new applications that flatbeds enable are great, but there is still a significant number of work most effectively handled by rollfeds. So for true versatility, a shop can make use of a single device to generate both rollfed and flatbed applications as a result of so-called combination or uv printer. These units might help a store tackle a wider variety of work than might be handled using a single type of printer, but be forewarned that the combination printer isn’t always as versatile as, and may lag the production speed of, a real flatbed. Specs sometimes make reference to the rollfed speed of your device, while the speed of your “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 will likely range from the usual trinity of technology-high quality, faster speed, higher reliability-as well as improved material handling as well as a continued expansion of the quantity and kinds of materials they can print on; improvements in inks; improved simplicity; and better integration with front ends and also postpress finishing equipment. As a result, the range of applications improves. HP sees expansion of vertical markets as a growing wave of the future, “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 using a rollfed printer and wish to move to something like an Acuity.”
It’s Not Merely About the Printer
One of several recurring themes throughout many of these wide-format feature stories is the fact that range of printer is merely a method for an end; wide-format imaging is less in regards to a printing process and a lot more about manufacturing end-use products, and the choice of printer is absolutely as to what is the easiest method to make those products. And it’s not simply the t-shirt printer, but also the front and rear ends in the process. “Think about the entire ecosystem,” says Nelson. “How are you going to 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. There are actually 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 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 all about the ultimate 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 with any part 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 will be always ‘Yes.’”
Still, there exists more to success in wide-format than just having the fastest device around. “It’s not about top speed however the entire workflow,” says Gasch. “You must be continuously printing.”