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Considering that the advent of the wide-format printing market within 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 in to the device, rather like a web press. The finished graphic was then often installed onto a rigid material for display, installation, or any other end use.

Since the advent of the cafe printer within the late 1980s/early 1990s, the vast majority of the output devices on the market have already been rollfed devices, printing on flexible substrates like paper or canvas that unfurled to the device, rather like a web press. The finished graphic was then often mounted onto a rigid material for display, installation, or some other end use.

It’s not so difficult to view the disadvantages of this type of workflow. Print-then-mount adds an extra step (taking additional time 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. So the solution seems obvious: eliminate the middleman and print directly on the rigid material itself. Enter flatbeds.

Flatbed wide-format printers appear to be a new technology, however they are actually more than a decade old and their evolution has been swift but stealthy. A seminal entry inside the flatbed printer market was the Inca Eagle 44, and early limitations of wide-format flatbeds were the usual trinity of speed, quality, and expense. Your fourth person in that trinity was versatility. As with most 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 back, the very best speed was four beds an hour. Now, it’s 90 beds one hour.” Fujifilm supplies the Acuity and Inca Onset combination of uv flatbed printer.

The improvements to flatbed printers were largely a mixture of printhead design and development and also the evolution of ink technology, along with effective methods for moving the substrate past 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 already been significant challenges,” says Oriol Gasch, category manager, Large Format Sign & Display, Americas, for HP. “Such as how you can move anyone to the 2nd floor of your industrial space.” The analogy is to offset presses, particularly web presses, which regularly had to be installed first, then this building constructed around them. The Bigfoot-esque footprint of flatbeds is one consideration for any shop seeking 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 as well as the high-end HP Scitex FB7600.

Therefore the killer app for flatbed wide-format printers has been the ability to print directly 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, poke.r chips,” says Nelson, are some of the objects his customers have printed on. “Someone went 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 be adopted by screen printers, in addition to packaging printers and converters. “What keeps 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 Not UV, Which is the Question

It absolutely was advancements in ink technology that helped the flatbed printer market grow, and inks have to be versatile enough to print on a multitude of substrates with no shop having to stock myriad inks and swap them out between jobs, which would increase expense and decrease productivity. Some inks require primers or pretreatments to be placed on the surface to assist improve ink adhesion, and some utilize a fixer added after printing. A lot of the printing we’re accustomed to uses a liquid ink that dries by a combination of evaporation and penetration to the substrate, but many of these specialty substrates have surfaces that don’t allow iaddzf penetration, hence the need to give the ink something to “grab onto.” UV inks are especially helpful for these surfaces, because they dry by being exposed to ultraviolet light, so they don’t have to evaporate/penetrate the way in which more traditional inks do.

A lot of the available literature on flatbeds suggests that “flatbed printer” is symbolic of “UV printer” and, though there are solvent ink-based flatbeds, the vast majority of units on the market are UV devices. You will find myriad benefits to UV printing-no noxious fumes, the cabability to print over a 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 decision to be made lightly. (See a forthcoming feature for any more detailed examine UV printing.)

Combos

All of the new applications that dtg printer enable are excellent, but there is still a large level of perform best handled by rollfeds. So for true versatility, a store may use just one device to generate both rollfed and flatbed applications thanks to so-called combination or hybrid printers. These units will help a shop tackle a wider selection of work than can be handled using a single form of printer, but be forewarned which a combination printer isn’t always as versatile as, and could lag the development speed of, a true flatbed. Specs sometimes reference the rollfed speed of the device, whilst the speed of the “flatbed mode” might be substantially slower. Look for footnotes-and constantly get demos.

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