The Value of Versatility
Innovative flatbed applications are often related to new media. Not only can an entire room be outfitted in graphics on windows and walls to floors and ceilings, unique and personalized objects can be placed throughout.
“Applications expand from advertising to basically anything that can be printed on,” says Emanuel. This pushes equipment developers and opens up new market opportunities. One MTL Print client, for example, developed a special material for custom and branded furniture.
Several manufacturers are working on advancements that benefit versatility. Cain sees a clear trend towards printing on aluminum, glass, wood, plexi, coroplast, and sintra, as well as specialty applications such as thermoforming. This creates more entries into the POP, trade show, and event markets, to which some print providers are reluctant to venture.
Lambert sees industrial-level digital decoration as an explosive growth area over the next five years. “Companies that previously decorated products with a label now seek more versatility from digital decoration,” he explains. The result is unique applications printed on commemorative coins, luggage tags, water bottles, beverage cans, promotional products, glass, acoustical panels, and a range of consumer products.
The emerging trend of package prototypes is consistently incorporated into the average print shop and flatbed devices affect the transition. “With the ability to print directly onto corrugated materials and folded cartons, packaging is exploding,” says Larry D’Amico, VP digital imaging, Agfa Graphics.
“PSPs now have the opportunity to look at short-run packaging production as consumer packaged goods companies plan to adopt targeted, multi-SKU approaches to boost sales,” adds Hanulec.
The Future of Flatbed
Each year brings improvements in speed, productivity, and quality. Manufacturers agree that PSPs can expect to enjoy added improvements in these categories and more in the upcoming years.
Today, all grand format printers are offered with one ink set—UV, solvent, or latex. Kevin M. Sykes, founder and SVP, sales, Novus Imaging, Inc., anticipates that as new ink types are introduced, the same printer will be available with different ink set options.
Since flatbed printers are moving into retail environments, there is the added requirement for color matching. “The trend for accuracy in color is increasing across the board and flatbeds are no exception,” shares D’Amico. “PSPs not keeping up with the latest devices in color technology fall behind. New printhead technology and smaller ink droplet sizes increase quality standards for all flatbeds.”
“Some flatbeds will become faster and offer new grayscale printheads and longer roll-to-roll features, while others will offer cost value solutions,” predicts Mareno.
Tu agrees that lower price points; higher resolution output; lower ownership and maintenance costs; more efficient, easier workflows; and improved, wider gamut UV inks, position UV flatbed printers for significant growth. He also expects to see a wider adoption of LED lamp technology that outperforms conventional UV lamps in terms of longevity, safety, and energy efficiency.
Do More with Direct to Board
Print Illusion & Graphics, Inc., based near Pittsburgh, PA, was formed in 2004. Over time, large format POP applications became its main source of business. “Most of what we ran was printed to adhesive-backed vinyl and mounted to a substrate,” explains Rich Geib, co-owner, Print Illusion. “After about six months of working this way, we decided we needed to go direct to board.”
The company purchased a Teckwin TeckStorm 4x8-foot direct-to-board UV device to meet demand and take on more projects. A company that produces architectural metal products approached Print Illusion with the request to print graphic elements on etched plates of metal made of aluminum, zinc, and stainless steel. The art varies from evacuation to wayfinding signs for public buildings, and quantities range from one piece to a few hundred. Some of the plates come with mounting bolts welded to the back, so that the whole piece measures approximately 1.25 inches thick.
Print Illusion recently purchased a second Teckwin device—a TS-600, which offers a larger print bed and faster speed with additional printheads. The product offerings continue to expand project possibilities with longer runs and even more unique metal plate projects.
“Offering white ink is also pretty big,” adds Geib. The use of white ink is becoming more commonplace and many projects require it, such as those printed on Plexiglas and clear vinyl where white ink is used as a highlight or backup color.
Print Illusion uses ink provided by Teckwin for the TS-600. Nazdar Lyson inks are used in the TeckStorm. “We have discussed the possibility of using one ink type in both machines to try to help with color consistency,” notes Geib.
One benefit of flatbed printing is that the material does not move when the gantry and carriage do. This, along with the ability to print to varied substrates, makes flatbeds ideal for Print Illusion.
Production and Profit
Grayslake, IL-based GFX International, Inc. installed its first flatbed printer in 2002, the Inca Digital Printers Eagle 44, which served the needs of the print shop for over a decade. It then invested in four more Inca printers, including the Inca Onset S70 from Fujifilm.
GFX recently decided to invest in the Inca Onset S70 after identifying two key areas of impact. “A fairly substantial amount of our traditional screenprint work was moving toward smaller run lengths and we felt the Onset S70 could capture and produce this run length space more efficiently,” shares Mark Taylor, COO/SVP, GFX.
The Onset technology also enables printing the full bed all at once, virtually eliminating digital banding. Its capability to produce a gloss print is also a recognized benefit.
The Inca print format fits well with the shop’s traditional screen capabilities. “The sheet registration systems are nearly identical, so switching between the two processes on the same print is a breeze,” he says. “We do this on instances where a specialty ink, such as a metallic, is needed.”
GFX uses the Onset S70 for a variety of applications. Press run sizes vary from a half dozen upward of 1,500 sheets. “We try to play to what we have determined is the strengths of this press. From a quantity standpoint, run lengths of 300 to 800 sheets are ideal,” notes Taylor. This allows the shop to utilize the auto feed/auto take-off feature, as well as keep the press flexible enough to service several clients in a day.
One client requires fast turnaround on anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000 poster prints. “Once file preparation is completed, the Onset S70 prints sheet after sheet of unique imagery continuously. If color consistency is required, or if there is critical panel-to-panel color matching, the Onset S70 is our go-to solution,” says Taylor.
Creative possibilities are expanded by the ability of printing on a textured surface. GFX successfully outputs on rough wood panels for a coffee retailer as interior wall art and burlap material for a micro-brewery as bar promotional signage.
GFX prints plastics, including styrene, fluted poly, or expanded PVC, as well as flexible vinyl and board. It uses a flexible digital ink line from Fujifilm to ensure adhesion and prevent material cracking.
Although digital throughput speeds are increasing, they are not yet comparable to screen and offset in full-out production. Taylor sees the market trending to shorter, more targeted messaging, to which digital allows cost-effective production.
The combination of advanced speeds and increased visual quality allows inkjet technology to gain greater acceptance at the consumer and production level.
Speed, quality, and functionality upgrades move digital flatbeds into the mainstream as a viable alternative for screen and other analog technologies. They continue to create efficiencies that decrease waste, shorten time to market, and drive higher margin profitability for PSPs.
With today’s flatbeds, users apply unique images to virtually any object and add special finishes with accuracy and quality. It is clear that flatbed capabilities are expanding beyond what the industry initially intended, propelling into markets not anticipated ten years ago.