By Melissa Donovan
Roll-to-roll (R2R) printers—and in some cases cut-and-print devices—that use UV or UV LED ink allow print service providers (PSPs) to print to a range of flexible materials. With UV LED, this includes thinner substrates that may melt or become distorted when using a different curing technology. The ability to print to more substrates increases application versatility, leading to new customers and sources of revenue.
Above: Example of backlit applicatoin printed with a Mimaki UV R2R printer.
Demand for It
The demand for UV or UV LED R2R printers derives from a number of influences. A need for faster turnaround times comes as customers request graphics with little lead time. PSPs’ desire to offer applications including backlit and specialty fabric introduces them to new markets like the architectural field; and this is done thanks to UV LED’s ability to print to thin materials.
UV technology in general answers to the demand for instant results. “UV-curable technology can deliver just-in-time turnarounds with instant cure functionality—plus reduced labor, time, and materials costs—resulting in increased productivity and profits. It has matured to a point where the glossiness and instant-cure characteristics that are attractive in both solvent and latex, respectively, have caught up with those two while offering new capabilities. UV-curable technology also offers customers the ability to reduce workflow steps and needed materials, resulting in higher profit margins and reduced turnaround times,” explains Michael Maxwell, senior manager, Mimaki USA, Inc.
With UV beginning on flatbeds, its advancement to R2R was inevitable. “When UV came it was flatbed, then hybrid. The next logical request is ‘I don’t need a flatbed and I don’t need the functionality of a hybrid, I just want a R2R device,’” says Javier Mahmoud, VP of sales and marketing, CET Color.
According to Bill Brouhle, technology center manager, Agfa Graphics, the need to print on thin, flexible, heat sensitive, and fabric materials is what drives PSPs to adopt UV and UV LED R2R technologies. “It comes down to a few big factors like cost, shipping, the time it takes to install, how good it looks backlit or front lit, and how easy and fast it is to get a replacement made and shipped when something gets damaged,” continues Brouhle.
Utilizing thinner, more heat-sensitive materials is commonly requested from new buyers. “Most of this demand is coming from the architectural markets, for creating interior wall graphics as well as exterior graphics on unique materials like Tyvek and other eco-friendly substrates,” shares Jay Roberts, product manager, UV printers, Roland DGA Corporation.
Rick Mitchell, demonstration manager, swissQprint America, agrees. Citing customized interior wall graphics on high-end materials like Type II wallcoverings as commonly requested. “Demand is stemming from the diversity in producing product especially in the interior décor market segment.”
In addition to new markets and materials, there is also the simple need for a PSP to work with one versatile device. “The demand for R2R UV printers comes from the need to consolidate many devices into one and increase capacity along with efficiency. Fewer companies are doing a larger share of the volume in these markets. Because of this development these companies are looking for faster machines that can do the R2R work at a lower cost,” adds Christopher Guyett, sales and marketing coordinator, Durst Image Technology US LLC.
EFI finds that demand stems from latex and solvent customers looking to add UV LED R2R. “Here customers have built up their R2R business on smaller latex and solvent machines and then add an LED printer to economically meet higher volume demands and produce a greater variety of applications,” points out Tomer Ohavi, product marketing manager, EFI.
Rolled in Benefits
For a PSP to partake in new technology, it should offer them some advantages—whether immediately or down the road. UV and UV LED R2R printers provide PSPs with a host of benefits including media versatility.
Owning a R2R device in general—whether UV or not—is advantageous. “A dedicated roll machine is the most cost-effective way to print on flexible media if you have a sufficient volume of this work—events, textiles, billboards, and wallcoverings. The options a R2R printer offers—dual, triple, asymmetrical—allows multiple jobs to be printed simultaneously,” says Guyett.
“A dedicated roll capacity allows a large portion of the work to be directed there and leaves open capacity on the other devices. In many cases, it also creates some redundancy,” agrees Kevin Currier, business development manager, Novus Imaging, an M&R Company.
Specifically in regards to UV and UV LED R2R devices, “you can print on materials that used to be difficult, if not impossible, to print on due to the heat that was output from traditional lamps. The combination of a flexible thin ink technology and cool imaging UV LED R2R printers enables customers to print on materials that are thinner and often cheaper than before, allowing them to keep more money in their pocket,” explains Brouhle.
“The lower cost of operation and maintenance along with a longer bulb life and no warm up or shut down times is also very compelling,” adds Maxwell.
There is also the environmentally friendly element of UV printing. Roberts explains that many end users demand more ecologically friendly materials that cannot be printed on light solvent printers. “UV inkjets can print on a much wider range of substrates than solvent models, and their ability to print on environmentally compatible substrates makes them even more popular,” he continues.
The average price point on a UV or UV LED R2R device ranges. Because of this, a PSP looking at one of these solutions should expect return on investment (ROI) to vary depending on whether it’s a dedicated roll platform or a hybrid, the maximum width of the printer, and other factors.
According to Guyett, the average price point for a dedicated Durst R2R platform ranges from $500,000 to $900,000.
“Depending on the configuration, the list price on a turnkey solution including engine, RIP, workstation, ink and media, startup kit, spectrophotometer, installation, training, profiling, and one year warranty for a UV LED R2R ranges from $200,000 to $400,000,” counters Brouhle.
Roberts points out that the range can be misleading, as there are R2R devices in the $30,000 to $50,000 range intended for first time buyers as well as models in the $200,000 to $300,000 range designed for more industrial use.
“Price point varies, and it often has to do with added features and overall build. There are three- and five-meter wide R2R printers from just under $200,000 all the way up to $600,000 with most being somewhere in the middle of that range,” shares Currier.
For example, without white ink as a feature, Mahmoud says a R2R printer starts at $80,000.
Most vendors agree that ROI is typically between one to two years, however it depends on the applications being output. “Significant ROI can be achieved quickly, especially if the user expands his or her product offerings beyond the ‘me too’ banner market to include personalization and customization as well as finishing services such as sewing, installation, and seam welding,” explains Roberts.
The Apps Have It
UV and UV LED R2R printers’ media compatibility is vast. Likewise is its application versatility. Applications created in conjunction with these devices include traditional retail signage to specialty solutions like wallcoverings and clear films.
Wallcoverings are used in high-end retail spaces, hospitality environments, offices, and the home. They require a quality print. “Wallpaper materials can be very problematic with high heat. UV LED dramatically reduces the amount of heat directed at the material and allows it to be more relaxed when printing. This will produce more consistent results especially in solid tones where inaccurate dot placement can produce poor results,” shares Mitchell.
“Backlit using clear film and specialty textiles are popular examples of applications gaining popularity with UV LED printers. Mainly, the ability to provide vibrant color and eliminate the finishing process associated with other ink types makes these applications popular for these devices,” says David Conrad, director sales and marketing, Mutoh America, Inc.
According to Brouhle, PSPs use UV and UV LED R2R printers to set themselves apart from the competition. “It seems like every account is trying a little something different when combining layering inks on unique substrates in their approach to selling printing. Whether it be using a combination of reflective, holographic, metallic, or optically clear materials in combination with inks, there just doesn’t seem to be a normal or typical customer anymore.”
UV ink sets weren’t originally flexible enough to run on R2R printers but improvements to ink chemistries make this now possible.
For example, at Agfa, the company ensures the grinding of its pigments yields fine particulate pigments to maintain a very thin film of ink. The thin film ink technology provides customers with inks that stick to a variety of flexible substrates while simultaneously offering vibrant colors.
Roberts argues that it isn’t so much the ink chemistry but the curing lamps that allow for more flexibility. “UV LED lamp systems cure at a different light wavelength. There were problems with older mercury vapor lamps. While those lamps were very aggressive, they made the inks brittle and less pliable.”
In addition to advancements in ink chemistry, the availability of white ink heightens demand for UV and UV LED R2R devices. “White is popular, for printing on transparent or colored surfaces such as banner materials. The combination of white and color ink adds value to applications utilizing transparent or semi-opaque films. High-opacity white ink also enables blockout printing within a single print, enabling PSPs to easily and efficiently create window graphics viewed differently from either side,” shares Maxwell.
Currier adds that many roll substrates like vinyl can be purchased in colors. This allows the printer to use white to decorate and save money on ink for images that require a flood background of color.
“White UV printing enables high-end, close viewing applications. It creates a competitive advantage in premium signage applications printed on clear, metallic, and colored substrates,” concludes Ohavi.
UV Rolls On
The combination of heat curing and ink technologies make it so that a UV-based device is able to print to thinner, more delicate substrates, eventually used in applications such as wallcoverings, backlit, or other architectural-centered markets. UV and UV LED R2R printers are suitable for any PSP looking to expand its print capabilities.
Mar2018, Digital Output