Many of today’s grand format devices—over 95 inches—feature specialty functions that were once reserved for smaller applications. Along with a movement towards greater flexibility, speed, and quality, many grand format devices now include an expanded color gamut.
The capability to print white ink is a near standard for many platforms, and a large percentage of print service providers (PSPs) integrate this functionality within their shop, along with a wider color gamut. Specialty inks, including white, clear, neon, and metallic are making headway because they offer new opportunities for PSPs to grow.
Specialty Inks Make Headway
Expanded gamut allows PSPs to produce a wider range of colors. “Grand format printers now support additional color channels beyond CMYK, such as white, orange, gray, red, blue, and violet,” says Mike Mills, founder, CTO/senior VP of engineering, Novus Imaging. “White inks are an especially good fit for larger models to enhance the image quality on backlit images or colored substrates.”
“Grand format printers that feature new techniques for applying and using white ink, especially UV ink, are capable of printing on non-white substrates, such as wood, metal, fabric, and glass,” shares Margie Ching, marketing executive, Gunsjet by Digitex Printing Technologies Co., Ltd. “The demand for white ink continues to rise because there are more non-white substrates used in production.”
Neon ink is common for casinos, nightclubs, and bowling centers. “These inks have excellent performance under black light,” says Ching. “Neon attracts instant attention for signage and banners, while metallic ink has become a creative way to produce unique signs and fine art.”
Perhaps the biggest advancement Ken Hanulec, VP of marketing, EFI, notices is the adoption and success of LED UV-curable inks. “LED lamps provide a cooler cure. As a result, print providers offer thinner, less expensive, and heat-sensitive substrates, all while reducing waste, consumables, and lowering energy costs,” he says.
UV-curable inks open up new markets. According to Ken Kisner, VP of business development, INX Digital International Ink Co., these range from textile, fine art, home décor, and real estate signage to car wraps, point of purchase displays, and trade shows. They are also used in print advertising on billboards and bus signage.
There are several types of inks now available for grand format printers. “Solvent, eco-solvent, UV, ceramic, and other specialty inks are used for various applications from printing billboards to glass, ceramics, tile, and aluminum sheeting,” says Jim Cain, director of sales, digital, Polytype America Corporation. “More outdoor applications are available due to the UV inhibitors in some ink sets.”
“The overall color gamut of these machines continues to evolve and improve. The ability to match specific corporate colors for branding purposes is a must for many PSPs,” points out Larry D’Amico, VP, digital imaging, Agfa Graphics.
This is perhaps why Greg Lamb, CEO, Global Imaging, Inc., sees greater demand for specific spot color, for example, Home Depot orange, which is difficult to achieve in traditional color sets. “We also see specialty requirements such as primers jetted for ceramic, glass, or metal applications,” he adds.
Inclusion of Durst Image Technology US LLC’s process color addition ink set is growing. “This ink set is an orange, violet, or green that expands the color space for the PSP while allowing for a standard process color workflow. No specialty file preparation is needed,” explains Christopher Howard, senior VP, Durst.
Oriol Gasch, Scitex category manager, Americas, Hewlett-Packard, agrees it is a growing market. “As brand owners and marketing departments evolve techniques to drive more end user purchases, brand and image retention becomes more prevalent. Making sure that one’s brand and colors are vivid and accurate is key. Specialty inks that hit certain spot colors or increase the color gamut spectrum of one’s device means that PSPs target a wider variety of customers and industries.”
The Future Looks Grand
As for the future of grand format, vendors expect to see a movement towards greater speeds and quality, as well as advanced functions that address overall productivity.
Noel Mareno, national channel manager, Teckwin, believes improvements in material handling capabilities, spot colors, and printing of white ink are necessary for the continued success of grand format.
Itay Shalit, VP business development, MTL Print, thinks grand format devices will continue to push productivity and emphasize more functions that improve the cost effectiveness of the process.
Kisner continues to see new ink color such as hexachrome, clear jettable overprint varnish, and white, added to grand format printers. “These additional channels allow penetration into unique markets,” he says. “Another key trend is the lower cost-per-square meter, which allows for entry into the gravure, lithography, and offset markets.”
Cain suspects the industry will see advances in printhead technology—more nozzles and increased number of printheads; fully automated printing capabilities, such as stacking, de-stacking, and conveyers for transport; and finer picoliter sizes for photo-realistic quality, even at larger print sizes. The key is new ink technology that offers leaner ink consumption, laying down less ink and increasing capacity while not sacrificing print quality.
Jeffrey D. Nelson, business development manager, high productivity inkjet equipment, graphic systems division, Fujifilm North America Corporation, notices increased interest from commercial printers to add grand format capabilities to existing operations. “Because commercial print is in decline, grand format offers significant opportunity to diversify and grow.”