By Digital Output Staff
Typically, corrugated display and box packaging is handled by screen and/or offset equipment. With the maturity of inkjet technology, new devices target this segment. Flatbed printers are finding a niche market in corrugated printing. They enable short runs, personalization, and quick turnarounds. New media handling capabilities, curing, and ink sets offer durability and scratch-resistance comparable to analog.
“The features inherent in a digital print workflow such as support for variable data, the little to no job setup time required, relatively low equipment cost compared to traditional flexographic presses, plus the continued improvement in image quality available from a flatbed inkjet make them worth consideration,” adheres Randy Paar, senior marketing specialist, Canon Solutions America (CSA).
Over the past year, many leading hardware manufacturers have created printers with advanced capabilities that specifically address printing to corrugated board. These vendors recognize the potential of applications created out of this material. Coincidentally, they understand the benefits of catering to those commercial printers looking to offload analog work to digital, in addition to print service providers (PSPs) considering adding a new service.
Printers of Today
Multiple features of today’s printers make them ideal for printing to corrugated board. Manufacturers tend to focus on ink, media handling, and printheads when it comes to achieving success.
Agfa Graphics suggests its true flatbed devices found in both the :Jeti Titan and :Anapurna product portfolios as ideal for corrugated printing. With this material having a tendency to bow, it’s imperative that it remains stationary with the help of a strong vacuum hold mechanism. This makes it easier to print on the board, shares Larry D’Amico, VP digital imaging, Agfa.
The :Anapurna M2540 FB is a robust, entry-level, flatbed UV inkjet printing system designed for printing on rigid substrates. It incorporates features typically found in higher end engines such as retractable pins, head safety sensors, foot pedal operation, and a durable design. Its flatbed design ensures reliable and accurate dot placement. 11 retractable register pins provide accurate media positioning, particularly for double-sided print jobs.
CSA’s Océ Arizona series of flatbeds print at a maximum print size of 8×10 feet, which is large enough to support anything run on a large flexographic press. In addition, both XT and XTS table sizes support dual origin 4×8-foot printing, allowing one board to print while the second board is loaded for continuous printing. Feeding is done manually, and boards are registered to a marked XY origin point. The newest addition to the portfolio, the Océ Arizona 6100 series, registers boards using a pneumatic registration pin system.
CET Color offers the K-Series and Q5-Series of printers, in both fixed table and hybrid UV printing configurations. A powerful vacuum system and mechanical pin registration make them ideal for printing on corrugated material. Utilizing 90 Series ink technology, the devices offer color gamut, adhesion, and opacity for corrugated work found in a number of applications ranging from retail displays to packaging.
Today’s PSPs can use corrugated board on superwide printers, but Mike Wozny, product manager, EFI cautions that the printers must be run at lower speeds. “This creates an artificial barrier to digital printing’s capabilities in the corrugated market. A printing company might successfully handle low-volume prototyping work with a run of five to ten pieces, for example, but be unable to manage full-run production work because of substrate feeding issues.”
EFI’s VUTEK HS100 Pro UV inkjet press was introduced in 2013, in May 2014 it debuted the Materials Edge Guide (MEG) accessory. The optional user-installable MEG provides consistent feeding of corrugated board at machine-rated speeds. Rails guide boards through the press while ensuring board edges remain flat.
Fujifilm North America Corp. provides two different fully automated handling systems ideal for printing to corrugated board. It also offers a new low odor ink range designed specifically for printing to corrugated. The hardware the company promotes for printing on corrugated board is the Inca Onset S50i, Inca Onset Q40i, and the newest model, released in May 2014, the Inca Onset R40i.
“We have a mechanism designed for handling corrugated substrates, regardless of the warp on the board. It is also optimized for continuous and automatic feed. Our corrugated inks have been optimized for the widest color gamut with great adhesion to paper products as well as low odor,” adds Jeffrey Nelson, business development manager, graphic systems division, Fujifilm.
“The latest generation of high-end digital presses print direct to board, large format, with no force applied on the printed boards, and at high resolution. These features enable the presses to print at a quality that is usually higher than that of flexography, and more efficient than lithographic lamination,” explains Shulik Leshem, Scitex worldwide marketing manager, Hewlett-Packard (HP).
HP’s newest press, introduced in May at Interpack 2014, is the HP Scitex 15000 Corrugated Press. It is specifically designed for production of corrugated applications with an emphasis on large format printing. Of note is a unique media handling system with a patented vacuum table. It features HP Scitex High Dynamic Range Printing Technology, which allows printing with three drop sizes simultaneously for high-quality graphics.
According to Ken VanHorn, director, marketing and business development, Mimaki USA, Inc., digital printers are positioned as a natural replacement for short-run corrugated production partially because of high-quality digital imaging capabilities.
“Recent improvements in image quality—including variable drop printing—means digital printing has now approached offset quality. PSPs are able to use digital flatbed printers for short-run commercial applications such as package prototyping that require crisp line fidelity for barcodes or small point size reverse text, as well as color consistency in solid fills and smooth transitions in skin tones or gradients,” he points out.
Mimaki promotes two of its devices as ideal for printing to corrugated board, the JFX500-2131 and the JFX200-2513 UV LED flatbed printers. Both utilize low-heat LED curing and feature variable drop printing. The flatbeds feature zoned vacuum systems and the handling system allows for the user to output on to multiple, smaller rigid pieces in one pass—ideal for printing onto pre-cut corrugated material.
Mutoh America, Inc.’s ValueJet 1617H and the more recently introduced ValueJet 1626UH hybrids print to corrugated. In particular, the ValueJet 1626UH, announced in June 2014, utilizes new printhead technology and the ability to run material up to .59 inches thick. It also features three synchronized rubber driver rollers that work in conjunction with a set of top pressure rollers to transport up to 33 lbs. of material.
Jim Cain, director sales – digital, Polytype America Corp., says that some units are now equipped with edge guards specifically for printing to corrugated materials to prevent printhead damage and keep the material in place. Stronger vacuums on printers are designed to hold down all types of corrugated material with various thicknesses.
Polytype distributes a number of flatbeds from swissQprint ideal for printing to corrugated board. The newest model, announced in May 2014, is the Nyala 2. At 3.2×2 meters, it features a print bed that is 25 percent larger than its predecessor. A low table height makes for easy accessibility and workability with corrugated materials. Polytype’s own NQ 32 printer—introduced in October 2013—is a 3.2-meter hybrid that comes with a kit especially engineered for corrugated materials.
“Many wide format printers using UV curing inks and lamps offer spot white and gloss/varnish modes. With these additional spot colors, the packaging market in general has really embraced UV printing technology,” suggests Jay Roberts, product manager – UV printers, Roland DGA Corp.
Roland’s VersaUV LEJ-640 UV LED hybrid printer, for example, prints CMYK plus white and clear coat on substrates such as corrugated board. Utilizing UV inks and LED curing lamps, very little heat is generated from the lamps, avoiding warping or bowing of the material. The printer also features a media hold-down bar, which flattens warped boards prior to the print process.
“The addition of a digital device to a print shop for corrugated package printing allows printers to in-source print jobs; reduce labor costs; print customized, variable material on demand; lower storage costs; and reduce waste,” shares Jennifer Ray, inkjet solutions sales manager, Xanté Corporation.
Xanté introduced the Excelagraphix 4200 in 2013. Powered by Memjet Waterfall Printhead technology, it employs five printheads that eject microscopic 1.2 picoliter ink droplets, which quickly absorb into corrugated substrates so most pieces are dry immediately after exiting the printer. The Memjet dye-based aqueous inks that are used are specially formulated for printing at high speeds and feature advanced dye colorants to meet the demands of rapid drop ejection.
The potential for corrugated display and box packaging is real. Ray cites a 2013 Smithers Pira market report, which finds that digital print for packaging is poised to more than double from $7.7 billion in 2013 to $14.4 billion in 2018.
Market changes and purchasing trends push it to popularity. Consumers notice innovative packaging and retail displays with variable information over those applications that feature more static messaging.
“Like most print markets, corrugated has been affected by changes in purchasing trends that include quicker turnaround, localization, and shorter campaign cycles. All of these factors have forced average run lengths to move from what was in the tens of thousands a few years ago, to less than two thousand pieces today. Retailers, looking to differentiate themselves in store aisles and connect with customers on a local level, are driving printers to deliver eye-catching and regionally specific packaging and displays,” says Mimaki’s VanHorn.
Dave Conrad, director of marketing, North and Latin America, Mutoh, believes corrugated materials will continue to be abundant, primarily because they are inexpensive and easy to print on. In addition to traditional packaging and displays, corrugated board applications expand into political signs, real estate, yard sales, and promotional event signs—thanks in part to wide format PSPs being introduced to corrugated print hardware.
“While implementation is somewhat still restricted in wide format, the potential is limitless. Packaging cannot be replaced by the Internet, so there is that level of sustainability. If you look at the short-run component, the amount of corrugated print that can be converted from analog to digital is huge,” adds Agfa’s D’Amico.
Jim Peterson, director of national accounts, CET, agrees, citing that CET is witnessing a rapidly increasing number of commercial corrugated printing companies investing in flatbed UV printing presses. “Many high-volume corrugated PSPs have been purchasing flatbed UV printing presses for proofing and small run production. Historically, these providers have been unable to justify entry into the small run market. With the quality, speed, and versatility of today’s flatbed UV presses, these providers can now capture that business.”
“Corrugated packaging production will be a fast-growing vertical in the digital print space because it addresses an untapped demand,” concludes Wozny.
Responding to the rising demand for variability and smaller quantities, traditional corrugated board printers feel a pull towards digital. PSPs in the digital space recognize the staying power of corrugated displays and boxes, adapting this new service into their shops in addition to taking what they know and creating new applications with the material.
To combat this finicky media, many wide format digital devices are now equipped with media handling capabilities, effective printheads, and high-quality ink sets. Vendors are keen to advance their devices to fit this market need.
We’d like to point out that printing to corrugated board is only half of the equation and that the cutting portion should be addressed as well. To learn more about the automated finishing techniques associated with corrugated board, read Keeping Up with Corrugated, which appeared in the September issue of Digital Output.
Oct2014, Digital Output