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Transforming to Digital

Profiting from Digital Print

by Melissa Tetreault

Part 1 of a 4-part exclusive online series

Digital has maneuvered its way into many areas of print. Primarily, it has found a foothold in three groups -- screen printers producing digital output, commercial printers adding wide format to their offerings, and traditional sign shops using digital technologies.

This Digital Queue series focuses on how traditional printers have adapted to fit their customers needs. The next three parts will spotlight three shops prospering in the digital marketplace.

According to a survey done by the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA) the product being digitally produced in abundance is traditional graphics display applications. Dan Marx, VP, markets and technologies, elaborates, "this includes point-of-purchase displays, as well as both indoor and outdoor signage. The printing of vinyl continues to be huge, specifically for banner applications and for vehicle wraps."

Screening UV Flatbeds
A stepping stone into digital is adding a UV printer to your shop. Marx says that markets traditionally reserved for screen printers have become new stomping grounds for UV flatbeds. This is mostly because of the improvement in ink formulation and print speed.

Companies like Durst, EFI, Gandinnovations, HP/Scitex, Leggett & Platt Digital Technologies, MacDermid ColorSpan, Mutoh, NUR, and Raster Printers, Inc. are all providing several flatbeds that allow for a wider variety of substances to be printed on thanks to UV-curable inks.

Gandinnovations’ jeti 3150 environmentally friendly UV flatbed prints on vinyl, plastics, metal sheets, and fabrics at 600 dpi. A critical component is Gandinnovations’ Hi and Lo Vacuum System. The Hi part ensures smooth ink flow by removing bubbles from the ink and the Lo keeps ink suspended at the nozzle tip.

Leggett & Platt Digital Technologies’ VIRTU comes with a Direct UV Print System allowing ink to print directly to textiles running through the flatbed. Available in three different models -- the 36, 77, and TX Grande -- all three print at 600 dpi. The TX Grande model can print rigid substrates, roll-to-roll, and is UV-curable.

Raster Printers, Inc.’s Daytona RP-720UVZ is a UV-curable, flatbed/roll printer. Printing at 800 dpi, the UV inks print directly onto any media including Gator, MDO, Fome-Cor, CoroPlast, vinyl, canvas, paper, and fabrics. No laminating or mounting is necessary and prints are durable for up to three years outdoors.

There are many other flatbed options available such as the Durst Rho 600, VUTEk bye EFI PressVu flatbed series, HP/Scitex Vision VEEjet+ flatbed, MacDermid ColorSpan 9840uv, and Mutoh Toucan Hybrid.

Not All Fun and Games
The growth of digital imaging technology has presented some challenges to the industry. Marx comments, "Over a decade ago, when color inkjet graphics came onto the scene, the equipment was small and the ink systems were relatively benign. Today, however, inkjet imaging equipment continues to grow and utilize ink systems including solvent and UV, and bring users inherent challenges related to worker safety, indoor air quality, and environmental emissions."

Flatbeds utilizing UV inks are environmentally friendly, but what about solvent inks? VUTEk by EFI recently launched a line of bio inks named BioVu. The inks are solvent-based and made from food grade ingredients, mainly corn. The inks have resistance to both UV light and mechanical wear, and they require no ventilation because the ink prints directly to substrates without harmful fumes and emissions. Currently, BioVu inks are only compatible with the UltraVu 3360 but VUTEk by EFI hopes to expand availability in 2007.

Another challenge is making profit. The digital graphics industry has become incredibly competitive. Marx explains, "SGIA advises companies to carefully research how they will make money using equipment before they make that big, exciting purchase. Those seeking success have the choice to continuously diversify, find a niche and dominate it, or sell on unrealistically low prices. This last option is a disaster for any company’s viability."

A Glance at the Beyond
It’s safe to say that digital printing will have continued growth. "Both inkjet imaged product packaging and inkjet imaged interior design elements will gravitate towards digital," shares Marx. "The result of this change will be a quantum shift in the way these products look and how they’re produced. Digital will change these markets, just as it changed graphics markets."

Look for a full feature article on Profiting in the Digital Marketplace in the November issue of Digital Output.

Sep2006, Digital Output

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