Since the introduction of the Coffee Ripples 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 type of workflow. Print-then-mount adds yet another step (taking more time 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. So the solution seems obvious: reduce the middleman and print directly on the rigid material itself. Enter flatbeds.
Flatbed wide-format printers look like a brand new technology, however they are actually more 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 expense. The 4th member of that trinity was versatility. Similar to most things technological, those limitations were quickly conquered. “Today, the standard of [those initial models] would 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 provides the Acuity and Inca Onset series of true UV flatbed printers.
The improvements to flatbed printers were largely a mix of Phone Case Printer and development as well as the evolution of ink technology, as well as effective ways of 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 happen to be significant challenges,” says Oriol Gasch, category manager, Large Format Sign & Display, Americas, for HP. “Such as how you can move someone to the next floor of your industrial space.” The analogy is always to offset presses, particularly web presses, which often must be installed first, then this building constructed around them. The Bigfoot-esque footprint of flatbeds is just one consideration for just about any shop hoping to acquire one-and it’s not just the dimensions of the gear. 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 as well as the high-end HP Scitex FB7600.
Therefore the killer app for flatbed wide-format printers has been the cabability to print entirely on numerous materials without 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 went along to 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, along with other thick, heavy materials.”
This substrate versatility have led flatbeds to get adopted by screen printers, as well as 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, This is the Question
It was advancements in ink technology that helped the T-Shirt Printer, and inks have to be versatile enough to print on numerous substrates without a shop needing to stock myriad inks and swap them out between jobs, which will increase expense and decrease productivity. Some inks require primers or pretreatments to become applied to the surface to help improve ink adhesion, while some make use of a fixer added after printing. A lot of the printing we’re used to utilizes a liquid ink that dries by a mix of evaporation and penetration in to the substrate, but most of these specialty substrates have surfaces untyft don’t allow ink penetration, hence the necessity to provide the ink something to “grab onto.” UV inks are particularly helpful for these surfaces, as they dry by being exposed to ultraviolet light, therefore they don’t must evaporate/penetrate just how more traditional inks do.
A lot of possible literature on flatbeds shows that “flatbed printer” is symbolic of “UV printer” and, even though there are solvent ink-based flatbeds, the vast majority of units on the market are UV devices. You can find myriad benefits of UV printing-no noxious fumes, the cabability to print on the wider selection of materials, faster drying times, the ability to add spiffy effects, etc.-but switching to a UV workflow will not be a choice to get made lightly. (See an upcoming feature to get a more in depth examine UV printing.)
All of the new applications that flatbeds enable are great, however, there is still a large volume of work best handled by rollfeds. So for true versatility, a store are able to use a single device to generate both rollfed and flatbed applications because of so-called combination or hybrid printers. These devices can help a shop tackle a wider selection of work than may 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 development speed of, a genuine flatbed. Specs sometimes make reference to the rollfed speed of the device, while the speed in the “flatbed mode” may be substantially slower. Always look for footnotes-and also get demos.