Because the introduction of the wide-format printing market within the late 1980s/early 1990s, the vast majority of the output devices in the marketplace have already been rollfed devices, printing on flexible substrates like paper or canvas that unfurled to the device, rather similar to 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 discover the disadvantages of this type of workflow. Print-then-mount adds an additional step (taking 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. Therefore the solution seems obvious: reduce the middleman and print directly on the rigid material itself. Enter flatbeds.
Flatbed wide-format printers seem like a whole new technology, however they are actually greater than a decade old as well as their evolution has become 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 typical trinity of speed, quality, and cost. The fourth member of that trinity was versatility. Just like the majority of things technological, those limitations were quickly conquered. “Today, the standard 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 best speed was four beds one hour. Now, it’s 90 beds one hour.” Fujifilm provides the Acuity and Inca Onset series of true latte printer.
(“Beds per hour” is a standard measure of print speed from the flatbed printing world and it is essentially equal to “prints per hour.”)
The improvements to flatbed printers were largely a combination of printhead design and development and the evolution of ink technology, and also effective ways of moving the substrate past the printheads-or, conversely, moving the printheads on the stationary substrate. Other challenges have involved the physical scale of the printers; large flatbed presses dwarf rollfed wide-format printers and have a substantial footprint. “Manufacturing, shipping, and installation are already significant challenges,” says Oriol Gasch, category manager, Large Format Sign & Display, Americas, for HP. “Such as how you can move one to the second floor of your industrial space.” The analogy is to offset presses, particularly web presses, which frequently had to be installed first, then a 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 simply the size of the device. There must also be room to maneuver large rigid prints around. HP’s flatbed offerings include the entry-level HP Scitex FB500 and FB700 series as well as the high-end HP Scitex FB7600.
Therefore the killer app for flatbed wide-format printers is the capability to print directly on numerous types of materials without having to print-then-mount or print on a transfer sheet, common for printing on 3D surfaces that can’t be fed using a traditional printer. “Golf balls, mittens, pok-er chips,” says Nelson, are among the objects his customers have printed on. “Someone visited Home Depot and found 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, 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 get adopted by screen printers, along with 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 absolutely was advancements in ink technology that helped the flatbed printer market grow, and inks should be versatile enough to print on numerous substrates without having a shop being forced to stock myriad inks and swap them out between jobs, which may increase expense and decrease productivity. Some inks require primers or pretreatments to become placed on the surface to help improve ink adhesion, and some make use of a fixer added after printing. The majority of the printing we’re accustomed to uses a liquid ink that dries by a mix of evaporation and penetration in to the substrate, but several 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 particularly useful for these surfaces, while they dry by contact with ultraviolet light, so that they don’t have to evaporate/penetrate the way in which classical inks do.
A great deal of possible literature on flatbeds suggests that “flatbed printer” is symbolic of “UV printer” and, though there are solvent ink-based flatbeds, virtually all units available on the market are UV devices. There are actually myriad advantages to UV printing-no noxious fumes, the cabability to print on the wider range of materials, faster drying times, the capability to add spiffy special effects, etc.-but switching to your UV workflow is not a decision to get made lightly. (See a future feature for any more in depth have a look at UV printing.)
Every one of the new applications that flatbeds enable are excellent, there is however still a significant level of are best handled by rollfeds. So for true versatility, a shop can use an individual device to make both rollfed and flatbed applications thanks to so-called combination or phone case printer. These units may help a store tackle a wider number of work than might be handled having a single kind of printer, but be forewarned which a combination printer isn’t always as versatile as, and might lag the development speed of, a genuine flatbed. Specs sometimes reference the rollfed speed of the device, whilst the speed of your “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 will likely include the usual trinity of technology-high quality, faster speed, higher reliability-in addition to improved material handling plus a continued expansion of the amount and kinds of materials they could print on; improvements in inks; improved ease of use; and much better integration with front ends in addition to postpress finishing equipment. Because of this, the range of applications boosts. HP sees increase of vertical markets as a growing wave of the future, “Targeting signage, and packaging is increasing 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 by using a rollfed printer and are looking to go on to something such as an Acuity.”
It’s Not Only In regards to the Printer
Among the recurring themes throughout all of these wide-format feature stories is the collection of printer is merely a method with an end; wide-format imaging is less regarding a printing process plus more about manufacturing end-use products, and the option of printer is very as to what is the best way to make those products. And it’s not only the textile printer, but the front and rear ends in the process. “Think about the entire ecosystem,” says Nelson. “How can you manage your colors, how reliable will be the press, and look at the finishing equipment. Most of our printer customers also 03dexqpky cutting and routing equipment. There are actually great revenue opportunities in the finishing side.” (To get more on finishing, see our recent feature, “End Game: In Wide-Format Printing, Finishing is how the actual Work Begins.”)
It’s not just the productivity ecosystem, but the physical ecosystem. “You’re handling 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 final output, it’s the finished product.”
“Scalable technology is likewise 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.”
As in any part of printing, there exists 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 certainly more to success in wide-format than merely receiving the fastest device around. “It’s not about top speed but the entire workflow,” says Gasch. “You should be continuously printing.”