Since the advent of the Cafe Printer in the late 1980s/early 1990s, the vast 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 finished graphic was then often mounted onto a rigid material for display, installation, or other end use.
It’s not so difficult to find out the disadvantages of this kind of workflow. Print-then-mount adds an extra step (taking more hours and reducing productivity) and uses more materials (the printed substrate plus the mounting material and adhesive), incurs more consumables costs, increases waste, and decreases productivity. And so the solution seems obvious: reduce the middleman and print directly on the rigid material itself. Enter flatbeds.
Flatbed wide-format printers seem like a brand new technology, however are actually more than a decade old and their evolution continues to be 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 expense. Your fourth part of that trinity was versatility. Similar to 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 ago, the very best speed was four beds an hour. Now, it’s 90 beds an hour.” Fujifilm provides the Acuity and Inca Onset number of true UV flatbed printers.
The improvements to flatbed printers were largely a combination of Phone Case Printer and development and also the evolution of ink technology, in addition to effective methods for moving the substrate beyond the printheads-or, conversely, moving the printheads within the stationary substrate. Other challenges have involved the physical dimensions of the printers; large flatbed presses dwarf rollfed wide-format printers and have a substantial footprint. “Manufacturing, shipping, and installation have already been significant challenges,” says Oriol Gasch, category manager, Large Format Sign & Display, Americas, for HP. “Such as how you can move someone to the second floor of an industrial space.” The analogy would be to offset presses, particularly web presses, which frequently must be installed first, then this 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 dimensions of the gear. There also needs to be room to maneuver large rigid prints around. HP’s flatbed offerings range from the entry-level HP Scitex FB500 and FB700 series and also the high-end HP Scitex FB7600.
And so the killer app for flatbed wide-format printers has become the opportunity to print directly on numerous materials without 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, po-ker chips,” says Nelson, are some of the objects his customers have printed on. “Someone visited Home Depot and picked up 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, and other thick, heavy materials.”
This substrate versatility have led flatbeds to become 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.
UV or otherwise not UV, Which is the Question
It absolutely was advancements in ink technology that helped the T-Shirt Printer, and inks must 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 will increase expense and decrease productivity. Some inks require primers or pretreatments to be placed on the top to assist improve ink adhesion, while others make use of a fixer added after printing. The majority of the printing we’re accustomed to works with a liquid ink that dries by a mix of evaporation and penetration to the substrate, but many of these specialty substrates have surfaces untyft don’t allow ink penetration, hence the need to provide the ink something to “grab onto.” UV inks are specifically great for these surfaces, because they dry by being exposed to ultraviolet light, therefore they don’t need to evaporate/penetrate just how more traditional inks do.
Most of the available literature on flatbeds indicates that “flatbed printer” is symbolic of “UV printer” and, though there are solvent ink-based flatbeds, nearly all units on the market are UV devices. There are myriad benefits of UV printing-no noxious fumes, the cabability to print on the wider range of materials, faster drying times, the ability to add spiffy special effects, etc.-but switching to a UV workflow is not really a choice to become made lightly. (See a future feature for a more in depth examine UV printing.)
All the new applications that flatbeds enable are wonderful, however, there is still a substantial amount of work most effectively handled by rollfeds. So for true versatility, a store may use a single device to produce both rollfed and flatbed applications because of so-called combination or hybrid printers. These units can help a shop tackle a wider selection of work than may 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 production speed of, a true flatbed. Specs sometimes reference the rollfed speed in the device, whilst the speed from the “flatbed mode” may be substantially slower. Look for footnotes-and constantly get demos.