By Courtney Saba
Part 1 of 2
Grand format printers evolve as demand and the market change. Digital Output considers grand format over 95 inches in width. New capabilities and enhancements to existing features allow print service providers (PSPs) to increase revenue and satisfy customer requests. Advancements effect production speed, higher quality print modes, and media handling.
Advancements in production speed and higher quality print modes are important in grand format printing technology. While many applications require and more PSPs desire excellence in the quality of their graphics, the speed needed to get a job out the door in the right amount of time is a necessity.
“At one time, grand format image quality was perceived to be of a lower resolution and quality due to the print and ink technology utilized to print at high speeds. Grand format images were seen as only applicable for distance viewing. The grand format printers of today not only print at high speeds, but many print in variable dot to produce images that compare favorably to slower, high-resolution wide format devices,” explains Guy Cipresso, VP of sales and business development, Novus Imaging Inc.
Depending on the hardware configuration—roll to roll or flatbed—speeds vary. Flatbeds from Screen Americas can reach 50 boards per hour at production class speeds and 40 boards per hour at point of purchase image quality speeds.
Alternatively, Tom Wittenberg, large format marketing, sign and display, HP, Inc., cites for roll-to-roll devices a high saturation backlit mode reaching 290 square feet per hour (sf/h) at 18-pass, six-color, and 230 percent saturation. On the other end of the spectrum, billboard mode reaches 1,950 sf/h at two-pass, four-color, and 70 percent saturation.
Mark Schlimme, director of marketing, Screen, believes manufacturers are reaching a ceiling in print speeds for moving carriage print technology.
“There are finite physical limits to how fast you can move a printhead and accurately place a droplet of ink. The faster you go, the more difficult to control smaller droplets. And while droplet control is more important in image quality than droplet size, there is in general a demand for smaller picoliter drops. Full width arrays of printheads still hold promise for faster print speeds at higher quality but full width arrays dictate higher price points,” cautions Schlimme.
To contribute to higher quality prints, vendors develop specific technologies. For example, EFI offers EFI UltraFX Technology, a proprietary inline print technology that enhances the visual impact of a printed image and reduces the appearance of unwanted visual artifacts without any extra time or post-process steps.
Mimaki USA, Inc.’s Waveform Control technology accurately places ink droplets without losing circularity. This ensures that texts, lines, and edges are clear and sharp. Another feature is Mimaki Advanced Pass System 4, which reduces unwanted visible banding on the swath boundaries by overprinting between swaths with a reduced number of ink droplets.
Ken VanHorn, director, marketing and business development, Mimaki, notes that for higher quality print modes it is critical that technology reduces the noise generated from image data during image processing, this enables the production of better print results without tone jumps or uneven colors. Mimaki’s Fine Diffusion 1 technology helps achieve this.
Media handling is changing as customers’ demand quick turnaround. “Grand format material handling systems have evolved to be more precise at high speeds. Most offer semi- or fully-automated loading and unloading,” shares Cipresso.
Features such as auto masking, optical sensors, and pinch rollers are enhanced to match the speeds of the printer.
Novus’ Ultra flatbed includes a vacuum table auto-masking system for superior hold down, which results in a better quality image. OKI Data Americas’ ColorPainter H3-104s, a roll-to-roll device, includes an Automatic Print Adjustment feature. Optical sensors automatically perform media advance and bi-directional position adjustment. Grand format printers from Mimaki include newly designed pinch rollers for accurate media transport and a load bar for tension release device.
Change by Demand
Requests for greater speed and higher quality are based on customer demand and market direction.
Robson Amorim, international sales manager, Ampla Digital, points out that customers play a role in the need for new technology, especially as smaller PSPs grow into larger shops, requesting new machines that emulate both a robustness and productivity that can meet existing and future demand.
Fabric printing is more prominent and this has an effect on grand format printers and the technology that drives them. “The market for fabric printing is one of the fastest growing markets in grand format. With the addition of internal heat drum technology, printers are able to take advantage of printing speeds as well as quality on a ten-foot wide material. Printing directly to almost any polyester material saves hours of production time with excellent results,” says Lynn Worley, national sales manager, Gandy Digital.
Ken Hanulec, VP, marketing, EFI, agrees that textile and soft signage is a booming market, but admits that much of it is still solvent-based with slower, wide format machines. “The focus is on taking the industry-leading quality possible in water-based ink printing and building an ecosystem that offers value for the signage and graphics markets. That means offering a digital fabric printing platform designed to help businesses develop and drive more profitability into their soft signage business.”
According to Wittenberg, all of these advancements and enhancements represent the next step in operational efficiency and increased productivity for high-volume standardized workflows. These advancements help PSPs achieve quicker turnaround times and reduce material costs and waste.
Advancements in production speed, print quality, and media handling transform grand format technology. Customer demand and the market are both factors influencing these changes. The next part in this Web-exclusive series lists some of the newest and most popular grand format printers.
May2016, Digital Output DOGF1605