By Cassandra Balentine
Print service providers (PSPs) look to wide format flatbed printers for a variety of applications that require the ability to print directly onto rigid substrates, at production speeds, and in high quality. However, recently, smaller format UV flatbed printers have gained attention among wide format professionals.
These devices tend to offer a minimized footprint, lower investment cost, and support thicker materials, enabling them to print to objects like phone cases and golf balls. They are also enticing for industrial environments enabling mechanical components printing.
Above: Guatamala-based Artikel Solociones Industriales, S.A. uses Roland digital printing devices to decorate baby shoes.
Smaller UV flatbed devices are attractive to a variety of printing and manufacturing environments. They appeal to those already providing wide format printing as a way to add services and revenue potential.
“Printing on custom products is an endless opportunity and could be anything from book covers to metal bicycle parts. Adding a flatbed UV printer could really open up some new doors and help increase profits,” says Paul Green, research and development, OmniPrint International.
Jay Roberts, UV product manager, Roland DGA Corporation, sees a trend towards custom consumer products and promotional items. “The public’s increasing desire to personalize just about everything is translating into nearly unlimited growth opportunities for on demand printing onto an ever-widening range of items,” explains Roberts. He adds that more businesses use these printers for custom printing accessories, products, and gifts.
“Smaller format like desktop UV LED flatbed printers offer a wider range of materials to print on and bring print providers opportunities to capture new customers in new markets where they may not be playing with their current print technology,” shares David Conrad, director, sales and marketing, Mutoh America, Inc.
“The wide format market can leverage smaller, tabletop UV LED printers for many aspects including prototyping and testing. They can use it to maximize profits on short-run projects or offer products to existing customers that they can’t do on the wide format machines, like ADA/Braille signage and water bottles,” adds Michael Perrelli, marketing manager, Direct Color Systems (DCS).
Josh Hope, senior manager, industrial printing business development and marketing, Mimaki USA, Inc., explains that these units only need a small workspace area and can be placed in an office environment, requiring no special room or electrical requirements. Additionally, the operational learning curve is short, as they tend to fit well into existing workflows. “Depending on the product mix, the supplies inventory—such as rigid media and even inks—may overlap, so there may be no additional investment required in this area,” he adds.
Wide format PSPs more than likely look to adding traditional flatbed printers for the ability to handle large sheets. “Smaller tabletop machines are used in the promotional products market segment where items are smaller and require fixtures for registration purposes. These are also becoming popular with the traditional screen and pad printers as it gives them the ability to print four-color efficiently and run small jobs with variable text economically,” says Chuck McGettrick, sales manager, digital inks, Marabu North America.
Juan Kim, CEO, Valloy Incorporation, suggests while wide format printers focus on productivity, smaller flatbeds are more focused on flexibility and functionality, like better control of UV curing and pinning for spot glossy effects or layered printing.
On the Market
A variety of smaller UV flatbed printing solutions are currently on the market. Here we highlight several offerings.
DCS offers many tabletop flatbed printers, all sharing similar application abilities according to Perrelli. These include the company’s patented ADA/Braille technology, cylindrical printing, TEXTUR3D, and direct to garment. “The models that we offer center on print size—both in printable area and maximum z-height,” he notes.
Engineered Printing Solutions (EPS) and Marabu have a partnership where EPS’ printers can be sold using Marabu’s UltraJet DLE-A ink technology, says McGettrick.
Innovative Digital Systems provides the Turbo 1001 Digital Inkjet Printer. According to the company, the machine prints an entire 20×24-inch print area in 90 seconds. It features a dual table and shuttle mode feature, and high-speed uni- or bi-directional printing. It offers a maximum resolution of up to 1,200 dpi and an adjustable height of 10.8 inches.
Inkcups Now sells the XJET UV LED inkjet printer, which prints a 500×600 millimeter area in 90 seconds and handles items up to 5.75 inches tall. It features a conveyor and patented loading system. The XJET offers one-pass printing on dark substrates with highly opaque white ink.
The company also provides the X2 flatbed UV printer, which contains the components of its larger counterpart, the XJET, but in a flatbed design. Print a 20×24-inch print area in only 90 seconds. The X2 comes with CMYK plus two highly opaque white inks that are UV LED curable in one liter bulk ink containers.
Mimaki’s range of tabletop flatbed devices include the UJF-3042 MkII, UJF-3042 MkII EX, UJF-6042 MkII, and UJF-7151 Plus, which feature a range of print areas from 11.8×16.5 to 20×24 inches. All feature a maximum object height of six inches.
Mutoh offers two tabletop flatbed printers, the ValueJet 426UF, a UV LED printer that features a 19×13-inch bed and prints on substrates and items up to 2.75 inches thick. It lists for $19,995. The ValueJet 626UF has a 23.9×19-inch bed and prints on substrates and items up to 5.9 inches thick and lists for $27,995. Both models include a vacuum table and print either CMYK or CMYK, white, and varnish.
OmniPrint’s Freejet 330UV features dual UV LED lamps, allowing users to print in a faster, bi-directional mode. Additionally, it offers a bulk ink system. “Because the inks are ink bottles and not cartridges, the ink cost is much lower,” says Green. Another feature is a wet capping function, when the printer is not printing the printhead soaks in a cleaning solution to keep the nozzles wet and always ready to print. “Because the printer uses white ink, a circulation system is integrated to help keep the white ink from separating when not in use,” adds Green.
Roland offers four different VersaUV flatbed printers. Three are small format benchtop LEF series models, including the 12-inch LEF-12i, the 20-inch LEF-200, and the 30-inch LEF-300. The systems offer printing up to 1,400 dpi, a mechanical UV LED lamp, and a laser alignment system for quick and easy setup. Each model is capable of printing directly onto virtually any substrate or dimensional object up to 3.94 inches thick. The LEF series printers are also equipped with a non-magnetic height sensor, which allows the table height to be manually or automatically adjusted to optimize printing on an array of objects, as well as gloss and white inks for incorporating embossing and textural effects.
The company also provides Rotaprint attachments for all of its LEF series UV flatbed printers. These devices fit inside the flatbed and use the printer’s existing feed system to easily print white and CMYK onto bottles and other cylindrical objects.
Xanté Corporation recently introduced the UV4000 UV-curable flatbed printer, which features a media width of 36×24 inches and printheads that rise up to 11 inches, enabling it to print to specialty media and rigid substrates. It prints up to 118 square feet per hour at 720×1,200 dpi with six Ricoh printheads and dual LED curing lamps onto coroplast, PVC, aluminum, wood, and almost any other substrate.
Valloy’s TOPAZET UV 6045F and TOPAZET UV 6090F use an LED system for quick drying and can increase productivity by jetting eight droplets for varnish and white. Kim says the machines can reduce the number of layers to reach a certain level of thicknesses. UV pinning and variable curing are supported for different surface textures, including glossy, matte, or satin.
Due to the range of substrates and items these devices print on, the ink set is critical. The UV inks offered in these machines doesn’t differ all that much—if at all—from traditional wide format UV inks.
“Many UV inks are classified as hard or soft. Soft inks allow more flexibility after curing and are less prone to cracking under stress. Hard inks provide the best adhesion and abrasion resistance once cured, however, they are not designed to be highly flexible. For markets that smaller format printers service, a hybrid ink with the best properties of both hard and soft inks is utilized,” explains Mark Swanzy, COO, Xanté.
Green believes UV inks are good for hard surfaces that need a strong bond.
Conrad notes that the chemistry of the inks are similar to those found in a traditional wide format flatbed printer, but the lamps used by the bigger wide format devices are much larger and more intense.
Cost is another consideration that affects specialty uses like white ink and textured printing. “The rule of thumb for flatbed printing with our machine is a penny per square inch. That obviously rises if you were to print texture of ABA/Braille. At that time, ink cost becomes extremely file dependent,” advises Perrelli.
Ink costs vary depending on coverage, profile, and image type. Conrad adds that white ink is typically slightly more expensive than CMYK.
Green says on average, the cost per liter is around $300. “A liter of ink will last a long time with these machines because the print sizes are generally a lot smaller,” he offers.
McGettrick suggests the average cost per liter is about $150 for CMYK and $175 for white.
Kim estimates the cost to be $80 per liter for color and $100 for white and varnish.
Roberts says the average square foot cost for Roland’s ECO-UV inks is approximately $.24 per square foot, which is higher than traditional solvent inks.
Time equals money. “Having the ability to print onto the finished product far outweighs the difference in cost compared to traditional solvent ink costs. UV ink becomes a production tool. Add the special effects like gloss ink, and your final UV printed products end up being dramatically more profitable then solvent output,” adds Roberts.
New Revenue Opportunity
For a minimal investment in training and floor space, PSPs consider adding smaller UV flatbed printing devices for the ability to effectively print onto a wider range of substrates, including objects like cell phone cases, golf balls, and awards.
Jan2018, Digital Output