Considering that the development of the wide-format printing market within the late 1980s/early 1990s, the majority of the output devices on the market have been rollfed devices, printing on flexible substrates like paper or canvas that unfurled into the device, rather like a web press. The completed graphic was then often fitted onto a rigid material for display, installation, or any other end use.
Considering that the introduction of the coffee ripples in the late 1980s/early 1990s, the vast 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 so difficult to view the disadvantages of this type of workflow. Print-then-mount adds an extra step (taking additional 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: cut out the middleman and print directly on the rigid material itself. Enter flatbeds.
Flatbed wide-format printers appear to be a whole new technology, however they are actually more than a decade old and their evolution has been 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 standard trinity of speed, quality, and cost. The 4th person in that trinity was versatility. As with most things technological, those limitations were quickly conquered. “Today, the caliber of [those initial models] could 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 supplies the Acuity and Inca Onset series of uv printer.
The improvements to flatbed printers were largely a mix of printhead design and development and also the evolution of ink technology, along with effective methods for moving the substrate past the printheads-or, conversely, moving the printheads over the stationary substrate. Other challenges have involved the physical scale of the printers; large flatbed presses dwarf rollfed wide-format printers and also a substantial footprint. “Manufacturing, shipping, and installation have been significant challenges,” says Oriol Gasch, category manager, Large Format Sign & Display, Americas, for HP. “Such as how to move one to the 2nd floor of the industrial space.” The analogy would be to offset presses, particularly web presses, which often must be installed first, then your building constructed around them. The Bigfoot-esque footprint of flatbeds is just one consideration for virtually any shop seeking to acquire one-and it’s not only the size of the machine. There also needs to be room to move 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.
And so the killer app for flatbed wide-format printers has become the opportunity to print directly on a multitude 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 via a traditional printer. “Golf balls, mittens, pok.er chips,” says Nelson, are some of the objects his customers have printed on. “Someone went to 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 substrate versatility have led flatbeds to be adopted by screen printers, as well as 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.
UV or otherwise UV, This is the Question
It had been advancements in ink technology that helped the flatbed printer market grow, and inks have to be versatile enough to print on a wide variety of substrates without a shop having to stock myriad inks and swap them out between jobs, which will increase expense and reduce productivity. Some inks require primers or pretreatments to become put on the surface to assist improve ink adhesion, while some make use of a fixer added after printing. The majority of the printing we’re familiar with works with a liquid ink that dries by a mix of evaporation and penetration to the substrate, but most of these specialty substrates have surfaces that don’t allow iaddzf penetration, hence the necessity to offer the ink something to “grab onto.” UV inks are especially great for these surfaces, since they dry by exposure to ultraviolet light, so they don’t must evaporate/penetrate the way in which classical inks do.
A lot of the available literature on flatbeds indicates that “flatbed printer” is symbolic of “UV printer” and, though there are solvent ink-based flatbeds, the vast majority of units on the market are UV devices. There are myriad advantages to UV printing-no noxious fumes, the opportunity to print over a wider range of materials, faster drying times, the opportunity to add spiffy effects, etc.-but switching to your UV workflow is not really a decision to become made lightly. (See a future feature to get a more detailed take a look at UV printing.)
All of the new applications that t-shirt printer enable are great, however, there is still a substantial level of perform best handled by rollfeds. So for true versatility, a shop are able to use a single device to produce both rollfed and flatbed applications thanks to so-called combination or hybrid printers. These units will help a store tackle a wider selection of work than can be handled with 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 the device, whilst the speed in the “flatbed mode” might be substantially slower. Always look for footnotes-and constantly get demos.