Roll-to-roll (R2R) devices are popular for print service providers (PSPs) looking to efficiently produce signage. The capabilities of today’s hardware allow for a broader range of applications. These services are not of the traditional nature with the latest generation of R2R devices. PSPs add fine art, textile printing, and personalization to their existing portfolios.
Advanced ink sets, durability, and widths mean that print providers looking to expand their business with additional services do so with in-house equipment that they know how to use. The result is a transformation into a full-service company, aimed to satisfy customers’ needs.
The market saturation of R2R printers makes them more affordable. Greg Lamb, CEO, PrinterEvolution, LLC, believes the number of R2R devices is higher compared to flatbeds due to cost of entry. Many PSPs want to enter into flatbed printing, but are limited in funds—thus relying on R2R.
“The majority of core and growing applications are achieved with a R2R printer, only with added labor cost. They tend to prove a much higher quality print, making small sign shops require more justification to transition to a flatbed,” explains Reed Hecht, product manager, professional imaging, Epson.
Larry D’Amico, VP digital imaging, Agfa Graphics, admits while the company offers both hybrid and dedicated R2R devices, it finds that more than 50 percent of those purchased include a R2R option. He believes this has to do with the ability to print on fabric and other textile mediums.
The How and Why
PSPs embrace dedicated R2R devices for a number of reasons. “Today’s wide format printers provide greater speed, reliability, simplicity of use, lower cost of operation, and more versatility,” shares Noel Mareno, national channel manager, Teckwin.
Productivity is an essential component. Features such as unattended printing attract many to these devices. PSPs take comfort in knowing they can send jobs to the printer before going home for the night and come in the next morning with everything completed.
“They can print simultaneously on two or three media rolls, increasing productivity and production flexibility. Others appreciate features like on-core collectors, which collect media as it gets printed during unattended overnight printing, or options like vertical cutters for inline media cutting as printing occurs, providing significant time savings,” says Oriol Gasch, signage category manager, Americas, Hewlett-Packard (HP).
Ink type plays a role in this attractiveness as well. Latex, UV, eco-solvent, solvent, and aqueous all bring features to the table that allow for the introduction of new applications. Each ink provides a range of capabilities inviting to PSPs at all levels.
“Latex technology offers two big services, which are higher productivity and eco-friendly applications. Lamination right after printing is possible without degassing,” cites Shinji Uchida, sign and graphics promotion supervisor, Mimaki USA, Inc.
UV inks adhere to almost anything and eco-solvent is moving into new markets due to enhanced print quality.
While white ink opens up clear media opportunities and metallic ink niche markets, light black is another feature enhancing certain applications. Roland recently introduced a light black eco-solvent formulation.
“Light black ensures the smoothest gradations, better neutral colors, and more natural skin tones for prints that require a high level of image quality,” continues David Hawkes, group product manager, Roland DGA Corporation.
It isn’t just the devices and ink that have changed the way and what PSPs offer. Outside factors such as media advancements continue to propel the R2R market into applications apart from traditional signage.
“The ability to perform color/white/color ink lay down allows print providers to offer more sophisticated applications on clear media such as clear cling. This new media opens new markets for both the small and large shop,” explains Christopher Guyett, sales and marketing coordinator, Durst Image Technology US LLC.
Markets such as interior/exterior design, fashion, and personalized gifts are possible with R2R digital print technology.
“Applications like wallpaper, RV decals, and specialty coverings are now accessible to shops that have as little as two hours a day of run time,” highlights G. Scott Wood, product manager, EFI. The combination of media versatility and productivity enhancements allow for this.
Due to the ability of these devices to print onto a variety of fabrics and clear films, and provide short-run variable printing, the offerings for PSPs are unlimited.
In the design space applications such as wallpaper, door decals, floor graphics, and window clings are all possible. Hawkes points to one of the fastest growing applications—custom cut digital wall graphics for an example. “The combination of new ink formulations, repositionable adhesive fabrics, and the ability to customize contour cut graphics has turned the wallpaper industry around,” he adds.
Untraditional materials are also utilized thanks to dye-sublimation (dye-sub) printing. Once printed on transfer paper, the design can be set onto tile, glass, plastics, and stone.
“There are large growth opportunities in the interior design market. Those in a higher income bracket are willing to spend more to decorate offices or homes with a unique design. With the use of coating, ink, textiles, and other substrates a R2R printer can print or apply print to various materials. People match their design to swatches making one-of-a-kind style,” explain Alson Leung, assistant sales and marketing manager, and Margie Ching, marketing executive, Gunsjet by Digitex Printing Technologies Co., Ltd.
Guyett foresees these emerging markets creating a new type of PSP that offers ample design services for architects and interior designers.
Fashion is another consideration. As textiles find a home in digital, retailers offer a more personalized print to their customer base. “Textiles are a rapidly expanding market as consumers look for an upgraded perception of the products they promote. Consider luxury retailers and especially major clothing retailers; fabric offers a very high-end look and feel with the added benefit of being extremely lightweight,” shares Lamb.
Out On the Lines
R2R printers used for untraditional and traditional applications are highlighted below. These devices range from 24 inches to mega widths in the grand format arena.
Agfa’s :Jeti 3324 AquaJet water-based textile printer allows for fabric printing to be completed all in one device. The heating element is built into the equipment, making heat press hardware or transferring unnecessary.
The Durst P10 series of printers includes the 126-inch Durst Rho P10 320R, a ten picoliter UV printer. A 1,000 dpi resolution allows PSPs to create niche products in the fine art space, ensuring high quality—something this particular market is dedicated to.
EFI offers the EFI R3225 printer. At 3.2 meters the solution allows customers to print on flexible, specialty, and low-cost substrates. It is a fit for a variety of environments from production, franchise, and commercial.
Epson recently announced the SureColor S-Series of R2R solvent printers. Both the SureColor S50670 and S70670 offer metallic silver and white ink to allow PSPs to expand into new applications. With higher print quality and faster speeds the fine art market is in reach.
Gunsjet’s latest R2R model is the T7-WB series, a belt-type digital textile printer. Designed for fine textile printing, it offers eight-color printing up to 1.8 meters in width on a range of substrates including cotton, linen, silk, wool, acrylic, spandex, and polyester.
HP provides its Scitex XP5500 dedicated R2R printer, which outputs cost-effective wide format prints on inexpensive certified media using HP Scitex Specialty Billboard ink and inline cutting. Gloss and matte appearances and an optional double-sided printing kit are available.
Mimaki’s TS500 is a dedicated dye-sub paper transfer printer using water-based inks for apparel and textile markets. In addition, its UJV-160 R2R UV-curable device offers white ink to create untraditional graphics like membrane switch overlays for example.
“R2R devices have a much lower initial cost, less moving parts, and a smaller footprint, allowing more people to expand into new markets,” says Randy Anderson, product marketing manager, Mutoh America, Inc. The company’s ValueJet line of printers is configured to address a number of markets from textile to packaging.
From Polytype America comes the Virtu RR50. Its speed, multi-job capabilities, and ability to print high-end graphics at 900 dpi or higher makes it ideal for application versatility.
“Higher speeds at higher resolution, the ability to handle multiple rolls on larger units, run several substrates at once, and print multiple files simultaneously are all attractive feature sets,” explains Jim Cain, director of sales – digital, Polytype.
PrinterEvolution promotes its Evo33 dye-sub printer. Using water-based inks in four or six colors it runs all day with minimal maintenance. The 126-inch wide device prints in production mode at up to 1,285 square feet per hour (sf/h).
In Fall 2012, Roland introduced its SOLJET Pro 4 XR-640 64-inch printer. It prints up to 528 sf/h, offering integrated print/cut technology and white, metallic, and light black Eco-SOL MAX 2 ink. The Pro 4 fires droplets of seven different sizes for smooth gradations, detailed photographs, and flawless solid colors.
The TeckPro series from Teckwin is available in both 3.2- and five-meter widths. With UV ink it prints on a variety of flexible, uncoated media up to 990 sf/h for the TeckPro 3200 and 1,614 sf/h for the TeckPro 5000.