The Year of Superwide
Record Number of Grand Format Printers Debut
By Melissa Donovan
2010 was the year of the trade show, with IPEX and FESPA—only held every four and three years, respectively—making appearances in the Spring. Many manufacturers made announcements regarding devices over 95 inches or 2.4 meters in width in the past year. Over 20 new grand format devices were introduced in 2010.
Many of these announcements were made at leading trade events, where attendance numbers were up considerably compared to previous years. For example, the International Sign Association (ISA) cited nearly 17,000 attendees at its show in April. In May, IPEX—held in Birmingham, UK—boasted just under 50,000 international visitors. FESPA, which took place this June in Munich, Germany, shares that its attendee list rose to more than 21,000 show-goers. More recently, the pre-registered attendee numbers for the Sign and Graphics Imaging Association’s (SGIA) event exceeded 2009 by 30 percent. The organization cites that the total number of attendees was 21,956, a new SGIA record, according to Michael Robertson, president/CEO, SGIA.
Vendors realize the power of trade shows. The amount of traffic generated at these events compares to little else. The rising attendee numbers illustrate the industry is picking up where it left off before the economic downturn.
Grand format printer advancements cater to demand in new segments, such as textile and package printing. Other enhancements focus on increasing efficiency with automated processes, roll media options, and white ink features. These changes further cement the need for a cost-effective digital device that can be utilized for a variety of applications on a range of substrates—from the traditional to the unusual.
To amortize the cost of one of these printers, a shop must move through a lot of square footage. Firms with a variety of jobs or those pushing out high-volumes of work, find an investment worthwhile.
“Companies are investing in grand format systems to create point of purchase (POP), building wraps, vehicle wraps, banners, trade show graphics, and more. UV systems seem to be the most versatile and demand continues to grow. However, many users still rely on solvent systems for outdoor projects and aqueous for fabric or textiles,” explains LaToya Hodge, marketing communication manager, Agfa Graphics.
High-quality imaging and flexible ink with superior adhesion opens doors to a full range of applications. The grand format sector of the business is touted as the largest growth area in the graphic arts, cites shares Tom Liebrandt, product manager, Screen USA. By expanding the application’s growth potential, customers are only limited by imagination.
UV is a prominent factor in application versatility. April O’Brien, marketing specialist, Teckwin Development Co., Ltd., shares that glass, acrylic, wood, metal, and coated and non-coated banners are examples of substrates compatible with UV. She foresees grand format printers cornering every aspect of the print market in the future.
Metal is one medium INX Digital International Co. addresses with its own UV ink formulation. Compatible with the MD1000 flatbed printer, the inks allow for instant curing, explains Jim Lambert, VP, INX Digital. With short production runs, the output can be handled immediately after printing.
As more grand format devices appear on the scene, many are equipped with UV technology. “UV has been the fastest growing segment for digital printing due to its outdoor durability, instant curing, and increased printer reliability and performance. The drying process results in a more reliable, trouble-free ink delivery system, providing more uptime and faster turnarounds,” comments Randy Paar, display graphics product manager, Océ North America.
Curing instantly, UV ink is an efficient alternative to conventional heat drying techniques utilized by many other ink sets. Unlike solvent- or water-based inks, shares Don Knox, U.S. director of sales, large format printing, graphic solutions business, Hewlett-Packard (HP), UV-curable inks do not dry through evaporation—they solidify on the print medium upon exposure to intense ultraviolet light.
In addition, UV ink prints well on both rigid and roll substrates. Most offer a level of flexibility that eliminates cracking if the media is bent, which expands substrate options.
“UV ink adheres to almost any material. This enables a variety of direct industrial and fine art printing, opening new markets that were not accessible in the past,” explains Jack Skidmore, regional sales director, CET Color. Digital short-run packaging and prototyping is one example.
This type of ink also emits low volatile organic compounds, creating a safer work environment. “UV inks increase the recycling potential of the media they are printed on because the inks do not penetrate the surface as aggressively as solvent- or water-based inks,” shares Jeffrey Nelson, product marketing manager, inkjet systems and software, graphic systems division, Fujifilm North America Corporation.
Similar to solvent ink in its durability and versatility, but offering increased environmental benefits, latex ink is a popular aqueous-based ink set. Exclusively crafted by HP, the company introduced the first grand format printers to use latex this year. HP cites that over 100 million square feet of media has been printed on more than 2,500 installed latex-based machines, this includes printers under 95 inches in width as well.
Despite its lack of sustainability, solvent inks are, “a mature, reliable technology,” states Denisse A. Ypina, sales associate, Seiko Instruments USA, Inc. They offer a low cost per square meter and are resistant to scratching, cleaning solutions, and fading. Especially suited for outdoor applications, these inks play a large role in superwide projects seen outside, such as building wraps and banners—which in most cases hold up to the many elements at hand.
Agfa, on the heels of its Gandinnovations acquisition, introduced the :Jeti 1224 UV HDC inkjet printer in April. The 96-inch printer reaches speeds of up to 1,182 square feet per hour (sf/h) in express mode.
In June at FESPA, the company showcased the 126-inch :Jeti AquaJet roll-to-roll printer with the latest generation of aqueous-based disperse dye :AquaJet Pro inks. The inks were created in conjunction with DuPont Artistri. To round out the year, at SGIA, Agfa added the :Jeti 3348 HSS and :Jeti 3020 Titan printers to their grand format portfolio.
This June, CET Color introduced the X-Press FK512 printer. Featuring a low list price of $79,995, it is ideal for print providers looking to enter the flatbed market. The UV machine prints 20 four- by eight-foot boards per hour, or 450 sf/h in production mode.
Durst Image Technology US LLC introduced the Rhotex 320R 3.2-meter or 126-inch industrial production printer for soft signage at FESPA. It utilizes water-based dispersed dye ink technology for direct printing onto fabrics and features printing speeds of up to 775 sf/h in POP mode.
At ISA in April, EFI introduced the VUTEk Media Master, a fully automated material handling system. The company estimates it reduces the labor cost component of any project by up to 25 percent. In May, EFI announced its GS series of printers had successfully shipped 80 devices, just 13 months after their introduction to the market. This product line of UV-curable printers includes the 126.5-inch or 3.2-meter GS3200 and 196.8-inch or five-meter GS5000r.
Fujifilm announced the Acuity Advance HS UV flatbed printer in February 2010 and the Acuity HS-X2 UV flatbed printer in June 2010. The series accommodates a variety of applications including POP and display graphics, as well as specialty items such as coins, key chains, and hockey sticks. End users also find success printing lenticular graphics because of the precision and accuracy it offers. A white ink module is available, which allows for white to be used under, over, or in the print.
GCC’s most popular grand format printer is the StellarJET K100UV. It features 16 printheads, with CMYK, light cyan, light magenta, white, and varnish. A hybrid, it prints both flatbed and roll-to-roll. The device produces up to 134.5 sf/h in high-quality mode.
HP showcased the HP Scitex LX800 and LX600 latex printers at IPEX in May. 126 and 104 inches, respectively, they feature roll-to-free fall, roll-to-collector, and dual roll capabilities. The HP Scitex TJ8600 UV printer offers full and selective gloss print modes utilizing new HP TJ210 Scitex inks. At 98.4 inches wide, the HP Scitex FB700 printer prints on media up to 2.5 inches thick. Introduced at FESPA, it produces a variety of high-quality, durable applications for both indoor and outdoor environments.
Hollanders Printing Systems offers a holistic approach to the manufacturing of grand format textile devices. The company offers an entire platform that includes solutions for all stages of textile print production—from software, printing, and fixation, to washing and cutting. Its ColorBooster XL series, 130-inch printers, feature efficient dye-sublimation (dye-sub) and disperse direct textile printing directly to the substrate.
INX Digital provides the MD1000 UV-curable flatbed printer for digital metal decorating and packaging markets. The device is ideal for short-run production of decorative tins, general line containers, and aerosols. INX Digital designed the specialized metal inks that work with the device. They are flexible enough to remain intact throughout the metal forming process, providing endless opportunities for metal decorating.
Mimaki USA, Inc.’s JV5-320DS direct and dye-sub transfer printer is a best seller for the company. The device enables direct printing on pre-treated polyester substrates. At 128 inches wide, it prints up to 660 sf/h and offers excellent close view properties.
This September, Océ announced the shipment of its 2,000 Arizona model, cementing the success of the popular flatbed line. In February, the company added the Océ Arizona 550 GT to the family, and then introduced the Océ Arizona 550 XT in June. Both offer white ink and roll media options. Differing in bed sizes, the 550 GT features a 49.2x98.4-inch print area, allowing for one standard four- by eight-foot board; the newer model accommodates two standard boards of this size on a 98.4x120-inch bed.
Also at FESPA, Polytype AG introduced the Virtu RS-Q class printers, available in 2.5- and 3.5-meter widths. The devices will ship quarter one of 2011, but in June they were on display in the booth printing high-quality 1,200x1,200 dpi prints at 540 sf/h.
Additionally, Polytype is the exclusive North American distributor for swissQprint. The newest device, the Impala, features a bed size of 98.4x59 inches with an eight-foot-wide roll-to-roll option. Nine ink channels allow for printing with CMYK, light cyan, light magenta, white, varnish, and primer. The primer channel is ideal for those looking to print on substrates such as glass and metal.
At Graph Expo, held in October 2010, Screen introduced the improved 98.4-inch Truepress Jet2500UV. The original device is capable of printing two layers, whereas a new Multi-Layer Option provides seven, without feeding the media a second time. The extra layers allow for density, ensuring an image is viewable on transparent material or a backlit display. In addition, a seventh layer provides the option for embossing. Screen also added a new corrugated cardboard guide to ensure media stays flat while printing.
Seiko’s 103.6-inch ColorPainter H-104s is a roll-to-roll low-solvent printer that recently experienced a few upgrades. Smart Pass 2 Technology is an anti-banding feature that provides less impact on print speed. Additionally, an optional mesh kit was added to support mesh printing.
In the last six months, Teckwin released two new superwide format hybrid printers—the TS-300 and TS-600. Both devices reach speeds of up to 900 sf/h, with white ink as a standard for spot, over, under, and inline printing. The company’s UV AuroraTeck inks are used in both printers.
Years of research and development culminated into a grand format printer boom in 2010, does that mean we should expect to see more printers in 2011? Maybe not, but manufacturers will be sure to include new features and options to keep pace with their competitors. These enhancements fuel the breadth of applications accessible with the use of a grand format device.
“Today’s application range is more comprehensive than five years ago, and will continue to grow in the years to come,” concludes Mike Wozny, strategic marketing manager, EFI.
It’s hard to imagine newer applications appearing in the next five years, but suffice to say, years ago we probably didn’t think we’d be wrapping buildings and cars either.
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Dec2010, Digital Output