Considering that the development of the Coffee Printer in the late 1980s/early 1990s, nearly all 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 difficult to view the disadvantages of this sort 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. Therefore the solution seems obvious: reduce the middleman and print directly on the rigid material itself. Enter flatbeds.
Flatbed wide-format printers look like a new technology, however they are actually greater than a decade old along with 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 standard trinity of speed, quality, and cost. Your fourth part of that trinity was versatility. Similar to the majority of things technological, those limitations were quickly conquered. “Today, the quality 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 best speed was four beds an hour. Now, it’s 90 beds an hour or so.” Fujifilm offers the Acuity and Inca Onset combination of true UV flatbed printers.
The improvements to flatbed printers were largely a mixture of Phone Case Printer and development and the evolution of ink technology, as well as 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 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 you can move anyone to the next floor of your industrial space.” The analogy would be to offset presses, particularly web presses, which frequently needed to be installed first, then your building constructed around them. The Bigfoot-esque footprint of flatbeds is one consideration for virtually any shop looking to acquire one-and it’s not simply the dimensions of the equipment. There must also be room to maneuver 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.
Therefore the killer app for flatbed wide-format printers has been the cabability to print right 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 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 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 be adopted by screen printers, along with 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.
UV or otherwise not UV, That Is the Question
It had been advancements in ink technology that helped the T-Shirt Printer, and inks have to be versatile enough to print on numerous substrates with no shop needing to stock myriad inks and swap them out between jobs, which would increase expense and reduce productivity. Some inks require primers or pretreatments to get applied to the top to help improve ink adhesion, and some use a fixer added after printing. The majority of the printing we’re used to uses a liquid ink that dries by a mixture of evaporation and penetration to the substrate, but a number of these specialty substrates have surfaces untyft don’t allow ink penetration, hence the necessity to give the ink something to “grab onto.” UV inks are especially great for these surfaces, as they dry by exposure to ultraviolet light, so that they don’t need to evaporate/penetrate just how classical inks do.
Much of possible literature on flatbeds shows that “flatbed printer” is symbolic of “UV printer” and, even though there are solvent ink-based flatbeds, the majority of units on the market are UV devices. You can find myriad benefits to UV printing-no noxious fumes, the cabability 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 choice to get made lightly. (See an upcoming feature for a more descriptive take a look at UV printing.)
Each of the new applications that flatbeds enable are great, there is however still a considerable volume of perform best handled by rollfeds. So for true versatility, a shop can use just one device to generate both rollfed and flatbed applications because of so-called combination or hybrid printers. These units can help a shop tackle a wider variety of work than could be handled with a single type of printer, but be forewarned that the combination printer isn’t always as versatile as, and might lag the production speed of, a real flatbed. Specs sometimes reference the rollfed speed of the device, whilst the speed of the “flatbed mode” could be substantially slower. Look for footnotes-and constantly get demos.