Considering that the development of the wide-format printing market inside the late 1980s/early 1990s, the vast majority of the output devices in the marketplace are already rollfed devices, printing on flexible substrates like paper or canvas that unfurled in to 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 see the disadvantages of this type of workflow. Print-then-mount adds an additional 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. So the solution seems obvious: eliminate the middleman and print entirely on the rigid material itself. Enter flatbeds.

Flatbed wide-format printers seem like a whole new technology, however they are actually over a decade old in addition to their evolution has become 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 standard trinity of speed, quality, and cost. The fourth an affiliate that trinity was versatility. Much like most 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 ago, the most notable speed was four beds an hour. Now, it’s 90 beds an hour.” Fujifilm offers the Acuity and Inca Onset series of true latte printer.

(“Beds per hour” is a standard measure of print speed within the flatbed printing world and is also essentially comparable to “prints per hour.”)

The improvements to flatbed printers were largely a variety of printhead design and development and also the evolution of ink technology, along with effective methods of moving the substrate beyond the printheads-or, conversely, moving the printheads on the stationary substrate. Other challenges have involved the physical dimensions of the printers; large flatbed presses dwarf rollfed wide-format printers where you can substantial footprint. “Manufacturing, shipping, and installation have been significant challenges,” says Oriol Gasch, category manager, Large Format Sign & Display, Americas, for HP. “Such as the way to move anyone to another floor of an industrial space.” The analogy is usually to offset presses, particularly web presses, which in turn would have to be installed first, then your building constructed around them. The Bigfoot-esque footprint of flatbeds is certainly one consideration for virtually any shop looking to acquire one-and it’s not only how big the gear. There must also be room to go large rigid prints around. HP’s flatbed offerings are the entry-level HP Scitex FB500 and FB700 series along with the high-end HP Scitex FB7600.

So the killer app for flatbed wide-format printers is the opportunity to print directly on numerous types of materials and never have to print-then-mount or print on 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 one of the objects his customers have printed on. “Someone visited Home Depot and gathered 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, along with 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 become adopted by screen printers, in addition to 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 was 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 with no shop being forced to stock myriad inks and swap them out between jobs, which will increase expense and reduce productivity. Some inks require primers or pretreatments to be applied to the surface to aid improve ink adhesion, although some utilize a fixer added after printing. A lot of the printing we’re accustomed to works with a liquid ink that dries by a variety 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 desire to provide the ink something to “grab onto.” UV inks are especially great for these surfaces, since they dry by being exposed to ultraviolet light, so they don’t have to evaporate/penetrate how more conventional inks do.

A great deal of possible literature on flatbeds suggests that “flatbed printer” is synonymous with “UV printer” and, however, there are solvent ink-based flatbeds, the majority of units out there are UV devices. You can find myriad advantages to UV printing-no noxious fumes, the ability to print over a wider selection of materials, faster drying times, the capability 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 have a look at UV printing.)

All of the new applications that flatbeds enable are great, there is however still a substantial volume of perform best handled by rollfeds. So for true versatility, a shop can use an individual device to produce both rollfed and flatbed applications as a result of so-called combination or led uv printer. These units will help a store tackle a wider selection of work than can be handled having a single sort of printer, but be forewarned that the combination printer isn’t always as versatile as, and may lag the production speed of, a true flatbed. Specs sometimes reference the rollfed speed of the device, as the speed from the “flatbed mode” can be substantially slower. Look for footnotes-and always get demos.

As it ever was, technology improvements will expand the capabilities of flatbed printers. This may range from the usual trinity of technology-higher 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 could print on; improvements in inks; improved convenience; and integration with front ends as well as postpress finishing equipment. As a result, the range of applications will increase. HP sees increase of vertical markets being a growing coming trend, “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 wish to relocate to something similar to an Acuity.”

It’s Not Merely Concerning the Printer

One of many recurring themes throughout every one of these wide-format feature stories is the range of printer is only a method for an end; wide-format imaging is less with regards to a printing process and a lot more about manufacturing end-use products, and choosing printer is really about what is the easiest way to make those products. And it’s not only the t-shirt printer, but 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 may be the press, and check out the finishing equipment. The majority of our printer customers also 03dexqpky cutting and routing equipment. You will find great revenue opportunities in the finishing side.” (For additional on finishing, see our recent feature, “End Game: In Wide-Format Printing, Finishing is how the true Work Begins.”)

It’s not only the productivity ecosystem, but also 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 approximately the final output, it’s the finished product.”

“Scalable technology is also important,” adds HP’s Gasch. “Adding more features, put in a roll-to-roll option, add beds, add white ink, it must be flexible and scalable.”

Like in any aspect of printing, there exists inevitably a tradeoff between speed and quality. “Customers are asked, ‘Do you would like higher quality or better speed?’” says Nelson, “And the correct answer is always ‘Yes.’”

Still, there may be more to success in wide-format than only getting the fastest device out there. “It’s not about top speed nevertheless the entire workflow,” says Gasch. “You should be continuously printing.”

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