Because the introduction of the wide-format printing market from the late 1980s/early 1990s, the majority of the output devices on the market happen to be 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 some other end use.
It’s not difficult to see the disadvantages of this kind of workflow. Print-then-mount adds yet another step (taking additional time and reducing productivity) and uses more materials (the printed substrate along with the mounting material and adhesive), incurs more consumables costs, increases waste, and decreases productivity. Therefore the solution seems obvious: remove the middleman and print entirely on the rigid material itself. Enter flatbeds.
Flatbed wide-format printers look like a fresh technology, however they are actually greater than a decade old as well as their evolution is 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 typical trinity of speed, quality, and cost. The fourth part of that trinity was versatility. As with the majority of things technological, those limitations were quickly conquered. “Today, the grade of [those initial models] will be subpar,” says Jeffrey Nelson, business development manager, high productivity inkjet equipment, Fujifilm’s Graphic Systems Division. “Ten in the past, the top speed was four beds an hour or so. Now, it’s 90 beds an hour.” Fujifilm provides the Acuity and Inca Onset group of true coffee printer.
(“Beds per hour” can be a standard way of measuring print speed from the flatbed printing world which is essentially comparable to “prints hourly.”)
The improvements to flatbed printers were largely a mixture of printhead design and development along with the evolution of ink technology, in addition to effective means of moving the substrate past the printheads-or, conversely, moving the printheads on the stationary substrate. Other challenges have involved the physical measurements of the printers; large flatbed presses dwarf rollfed wide-format printers where you can 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 best way to move someone to the second floor of any industrial space.” The analogy is always to offset presses, particularly web presses, which frequently would have to be installed first, then your building constructed around them. The Bigfoot-esque footprint of flatbeds is certainly one consideration for just about any shop hoping to acquire one-and it’s not only the actual size of the equipment. There must also be room to go 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.
And so the killer app for flatbed wide-format printers is the capability to print directly on numerous materials while not having to print-then-mount or print on the 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 some of 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 different and unique substrates,” says HP’s Gasch, “such as ceramic, metallic, glass, as well as 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 become adopted by screen printers, in addition to packaging printers and converters. “What is increasing 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 should be versatile enough to print on a multitude of substrates without having a shop needing to stock myriad inks and swap them out between jobs, which will increase expense and decrease productivity. Some inks require primers or pretreatments to get put on the top to aid improve ink adhesion, while some utilize a fixer added after printing. Many of the printing we’re comfortable with works with a liquid ink that dries by a variety of evaporation and penetration into the substrate, but a number of these specialty substrates have surfaces that don’t allow ink penetration, hence the necessity to provide the ink something to “grab onto.” UV inks are specifically ideal for these surfaces, as they dry by contact with ultraviolet light, so that they don’t must evaporate/penetrate the way in which more conventional inks do.
Much of possible literature on flatbeds shows that “flatbed printer” is synonymous with “UV printer” and, although there are solvent ink-based flatbeds, nearly all units available on the market are UV devices. There are actually myriad advantages to UV printing-no noxious fumes, the capability to print on the wider variety of materials, faster drying times, the cabability to add spiffy effects, etc.-but switching to a UV workflow will not be a determination to get made lightly. (See an upcoming feature for the more detailed examine UV printing.)
All of the new applications that flatbeds enable are wonderful, but there is still a large volume of work most effectively handled by rollfeds. So for true versatility, a shop may use an individual device to create both rollfed and flatbed applications thanks to so-called combination or phone case printer. These units will help a shop tackle a wider variety of work than may be handled with a single type of printer, but be forewarned which a combination printer isn’t always as versatile as, and might lag the development speed of, a true flatbed. Specs sometimes make reference to the rollfed speed of the device, whilst the speed of the “flatbed mode” can be substantially slower. Look for footnotes-and try to 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-and also improved material handling as well as a continued expansion of the number and kinds of materials they may print on; improvements in inks; improved ease of use; and better integration with front ends and also postpress finishing equipment. Because of this, the plethora of applications will increase. HP sees increase of vertical markets being a growing wave of the future, “Targeting signage, and packaging keeps 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 Merely In regards to the Printer
One of several recurring themes throughout many of these wide-format feature stories is the collection of printer is just a method to a end; wide-format imaging is less with regards to a printing process and much more about manufacturing end-use products, and the option of printer is actually in regards to what is the simplest way to make those products. And it’s not just the textile printer, but the back and front ends of the process. “Think concerning the entire ecosystem,” says Nelson. “How can you manage your colors, how reliable is 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 about the finishing side.” (For additional on finishing, see our recent feature, “End Game: In Wide-Format Printing, Finishing is how the actual Work Begins.”)
It’s not only the productivity ecosystem, but the physical ecosystem. “You’re working 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 very last output, it’s the finished product.”
“Scalable technology is also important,” adds HP’s Gasch. “Adding more features, give a roll-to-roll option, add beds, add white ink, it must be flexible and scalable.”
Like any facet of printing, there exists inevitably a tradeoff between speed and quality. “Customers are asked, ‘Do you desire better quality or better speed?’” says Nelson, “And the answer will be always ‘Yes.’”
Still, there may be more to success in wide-format than only getting the fastest device around. “It’s not about top speed although the entire workflow,” says Gasch. “You must be continuously printing.”