In the first part of this series on white ink we provided a roundup of available printers and ink sets in the wide format space. We also discussed the potential benefits—application expansion into crisper backlit displays and eye-catching promotional pieces printed on clear, translucent vinyl; as well as some of the challenges end users and ink manufacturers face in chemically creating the brightest and most efficient white ink. In part two, real world end users share their experiences. The addition of this niche has allowed them to expand into new vertical markets and continue catering to tried and true customers.
A Chance Encounter
PrintLeader, based in Buffalo, NY, began as Printing Prep in 1968. Originally a typesetters, its founder was quick to adopt new technology and strove to stay ahead of the curve. After the introduction of the Mac and the birth of desktop publishing, the company realized a growing need for the ability to be able to provide output as well. Its first wide format purchase, a Canon U.S.A., Inc. BubbleJet was soon replaced with a LaserMaster Displaymaker. Then came a Scitex Iris 3047, Raster Graphics 5400, and Cymbolic Sciences—now Océ—LightJet 5000. A Leggett and Platt—now Polytype America—Virtu RS, its first large format printer, was added in 2003.
PrintLeader looked to branch out again in 2011, looking for a faster large format printer that could provide photo-quality output. After extensive research they chose the swissQprint Impala, which is distributed by Polytype.
Initially, PrintLeader was not interested in the white ink feature found standard in the printer. They actually looked to remove it, hoping to utilize the extra printheads to increase print speed. The Impala enabled them to keep the white ink without sacrificing speed or six color requirements.
Despite initial misgivings, Eric Leader, large format production manager, PrintLeader, found that once the Impala was installed in May of 2011 requests for projects utilizing white ink piled in. The total coincidence was surprising at first, but the shop quickly recognized the potential. Repeat and new customers alike began approaching PrintLeader about applications that could benefit from white ink usage. Leader admits that in the past, these jobs would have been done in house with more expensive alternative methods or even outsourced.
For example, a local historical museum tasked PrintLeader with creating prints with black edges. Using white to cover the face of the board they were able to print directly to quarter-inch black Sintra. A similar application was used for a local bank, but in that case they printed directly to the back of quarter-inch acrylic. After the color was printed they applied white over it and then mounted quarter-inch black Sintra to the back. By using white PrintLeader was able to streamline the process, which would have formerly involved a sandwiched assembly of acrylic, optically clear adhesive, photographic, adhesive, and the Sintra. In both instances the use of white ink decreased the amount of time required to complete the projects by eliminating steps as well as reducing cost by replacing expensive components.
Leader is pleased with the output from the Impala thus far. The speed and color quality are unmatched, according to him. He foresees more white ink usage as clients continue to approach with new and innovative ideas. PrintLeader is an excellent example of what can happen when you don’t set out to necessarily purchase a certain feature, but realize its potential and quickly adapt and cater to customers.
Forging a Path with White
Todd Ebersole, co-owner/strategy director, and Chris McCullick, co-owner/creative director, Forge Graphic Works, Inc. have known each other for 15 years. The two men—both with a background in print and McCullick also in design—sought to join forces and create Forge, which opened in May 2011. The Portland, OR-based print provider offers creative and brand design services, project management, large format printing, kitting, and fulfillment services nationally to agencies, companies, and retail stores. Most of the work in its 10,000 square foot space includes retail, event, and some trade show signage.
At SGIA in 2010, McCullick searched the show floor for printing devices that would become the backbone of Forge. They turned to Hewlett-Packard (HP), purchasing an HP Scitex FB700 and an HP Scitex LX800. According to Ebersole, the HP Scitex FB700 exhibited productivity and quality that couldn’t be found anywhere else in the price point they hoped to stay in.
Ink played another factor in the purchase of the HP Scitex FB700. “Its flexibility is good, and not as brittle compared to other UV devices. The ink’s formulation is just a little bit different that it provides that elasticity and less odor,” shares Ebersole.
The HP Scitex FB700’s white ink changeover function was very attractive as well. McCullick says the switch over from CMYK to white only takes about two hours and is very hands free. For a shop whose white ink is truly a specialty niche, with around five percent and under of jobs using it, this feature is ideal.
Installed this past April, Ebersole says the learning curve on the device was slim. The only difficulty was learning how to set up a file that included white, which he admits is something that any printer and its software would prove an issue. Popular substrates they have found that work with white ink are acrylic, clear cling—low-tack and removable, natural corrugate, and black Sintra.
One of the first jobs printed on the HP device involved white ink. Black Cat Productions is an agency that worked with McCullick in the past. The company generally produces retail work with clients requesting temporary and semi-permanent point of purchase displays and signage. High quality and short turnarounds are generally associated with the projects.
For this particular application, clear acrylic in the shape of a wave included white as a spot color. Additionally, a full-color image of a shoe required a white background, also on clear acrylic, to show transparency of the graphic. The result was a layered fixture. White ink was also used. A little less than 40 pieces were printed in a span of three to five days.
According to McCullick, being the first job, there were challenges. Difficulties with the HP Scitex FB700’s UV lamps included not being set high enough; resulting in ink chipping during cutting, but this was quickly remedied. The end result meant Black Cat and its client were happy with the final product.
A Third White
MCM Tech of Providence, RI began in 1994. The company offers a multitude of services ranging from digital printing, silk screening, hot stamping, sublimation, to packaging and small assembly, design, and spray painting. With a staff of 60, the print provider utilizes UV flatbeds from Fujifilm North America, Inca Digital Printers, and Mimaki USA, Inc.
Working with INX Digital International Co., MCM chooses to use third party ink on all three devices. “The company worked with me to develop UV ink for my digital printers. Once developed, it’s been working perfectly ever since,” comments Stephen Matthews, representative, MCM.
One advantage of using INX’s product is the white ink component. MCM prints on metal and occasionally plastics, these substrates are sometimes raw or in various colors prior to printing, which requires white ink.
“Printing white opens up a huge opportunity for digitally printing on non-traditional substrates. The ability to print white allows for printing on substrates with various shapes, sizes, and colors. It opens the door on a digital printer’s capability,” concludes Matthews.
BelAire Displays provides retail display solutions and large format graphics to an impressive list of prominent brands. Based in Richmond, CA, the company opened its doors in 1959, producing corrugated grocery store displays and political signage. By the late 1970s, the print provider transitioned its primary business to focus on retail advertising. In the 1990s, the company expanded its capabilities to better serve point of purchase (POP) and other in-store marketing for its retail base—a focus that is the company’s core competency today.
Utilizing both screen and digital wide format printing solutions, BelAire offers a range of services, including large format digital, screenprinting, oversized die cutting, precision routing, and custom pack outs in its 65,000 square foot facility. The company serves a national client list. Rick Frenz, digital manager, BelAire, estimates that approximately 80 percent of its work is retail. The company’s output breakdowns are currently about 20 percent digital and 80 percent screenprinting.
Digital capabilities afford the shop with many advantages, such as the ability to cost-effectively produce short-run or prototype work. White ink capabilities provided by an Inca Digital Printer prove to be an added advantage. “It has made our lives a lot easier,” notes Frenz. He says printing a trapped white is a snap.
By adding the white ink to the digital process, press set up and screen manufacturing is no longer necessary. Registration is also an easier feat. “As long as the sheet isn’t moved off of the digital press, it’s essentially push button registration,” he says.
The flatbed UV Inca Spyder 320-WHITE features 24 printheads, arranged in six print modules. It provides BelAire with the ability to print a white layer under or over a CMYK image using automatic print modes, which are selected at its Caldera Graphics RIP.
White is also available as a spot color as part of the image. Multiple layers are used to vary opacity. The printer is well suited for printing direct to rigid substrates for shorter run, high-value backlit work onto glass and plastics, including lenticular signage or printing onto non-white materials such as metals, boards, and colored display materials. The shop acquired its Inca Spyder close to six years ago, but it was not initially equipped with white ink capabilities. BelAire upgraded in order to print white.
Frenz explains that with digital and white ink capabilities, they are able to offer a quick turnaround. “It’s not uncommon for a customer to call on Monday and say they are going to walk through the next day—looking to us to produce a half dozen to a dozen static cling pieces so the marketing team can ensure the vision of the designer is coming across correctly.”
Click here to read part one of this exclusive online series, Bright White.