Because the introduction of the Coffee Ripples 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 see the disadvantages of this type of workflow. Print-then-mount adds an additional step (taking more hours 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. And so the solution seems obvious: cut out the middleman and print directly on the rigid material itself. Enter flatbeds.
Flatbed wide-format printers look like a whole new technology, but they are actually more than a decade old along with 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 price. The 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 back, the top speed was four beds one hour. Now, it’s 90 beds an hour or so.” Fujifilm supplies the Acuity and Inca Onset series 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, as well as effective methods for moving the substrate beyond the printheads-or, conversely, moving the printheads on the stationary substrate. Other challenges have involved the physical size of the printers; large flatbed presses dwarf rollfed wide-format printers and also have 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 you can move one to the second floor of the industrial space.” The analogy is to offset presses, particularly web presses, which regularly must be installed first, then the building constructed around them. The Bigfoot-esque footprint of flatbeds is certainly one consideration for just about any shop looking to acquire one-and it’s not simply the dimensions of the equipment. There must also be room to move large rigid prints around. HP’s flatbed offerings are 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 continues to be the cabability to print entirely on numerous materials while not having to print-then-mount or print over a transfer sheet, common for printing on 3D surfaces that can’t be fed through 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 acquired 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.”
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.
UV or Not UV, This is the Question
It had been advancements in ink technology that helped the DTG Printer, and inks need to be versatile enough to print on a wide variety of substrates without 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 put on the outer lining to aid improve ink adhesion, while others utilize a fixer added after printing. The majority of the printing we’re used to utilizes 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 necessity to offer the ink something to “grab onto.” UV inks are specifically great for these surfaces, because they dry by exposure to ultraviolet light, so that they don’t need to evaporate/penetrate just how more traditional inks do.
A lot of the accessible literature on flatbeds shows that “flatbed printer” is symbolic of “UV printer” and, even though there are solvent ink-based flatbeds, nearly all units on the market are UV devices. You will find myriad benefits of UV printing-no noxious fumes, the cabability to print on a wider range of materials, faster drying times, the cabability to add spiffy effects, etc.-but switching to some UV workflow will not be a choice to become made lightly. (See a forthcoming feature to get a more detailed look at UV printing.)
All the new applications that flatbeds enable are great, however, there is still a substantial amount of work most effectively handled by rollfeds. So for true versatility, a shop are able to use a single device to create both rollfed and flatbed applications thanks to so-called combination or hybrid printers. These products can help a store tackle a wider selection of work than may be handled having 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 genuine flatbed. Specs sometimes make reference to the rollfed speed of the device, while the speed in the “flatbed mode” might be substantially slower. Look for footnotes-and constantly get demos.