Wide-format printers: New markets ready for exploration

Deploying existing multi-pass UV engines to move into new applications

Digital print solution providers in the sign and display markets are trying to pinpoint new revenue generators and opportunities by diversifying into new application areas. Although leading vendors of these wide-format solutions already offer increased productivity and full automation features, there is definitely a need to focus on the development of new ink sets to address these new application areas. The availability of a range of different UV ink sets will push the boundaries and enhance the benefits and added value for digital printers. 

The signage & display market is now a mature market and these are interesting times for sign makers who are creating products that really stand out from the crowd, using materials that make them unique. Sign makers often choose from a range of about 500 different substrates to print signage for media campaigns, posters, advertising pillars, canvas, vinyl, wood and metal. They can also create 3D objects, realize the interior decoration of shops and manage the decoration of business vehicle fleets. It is their versatility and creativity that boosts market growth. These signage and display makers use wide-format (flatbed, roll-to-roll, hybrid) multi-pass technology because of its functionality, productivity, versatility, ecology and its improvements necessary for this market. 

UV curable inks have gained momentum in wide-format markets because they can be printed onto almost any porous or non-porous, as well as coated and uncoated substrates. The selection of UV inks is significant not only in the signage and display market, in preserving existing applications and delivering the required performance, but also in many other areas.  Most importantly, these new types of inks can deliver additional application properties with real benefits in terms of productivity, flexibility, ecology and economy.  All that is key to open doors towards new markets, new opportunities, larger client base and increased profits and value.

UV inkjet inks open the door

Wide-format solutions - be it roll, flatbed or hybrid - based on UV inkjet inks are now moving into new application areas such as industrial printing, where proofing, sampling, micro runs, larger runs with variabilisation inside on run and Just-in-Time concepts in the production process are attracting considerable attention. The industrial printing market focuses on printing directly onto materials, parts or items used in industrial products. 

And here is the perfect match with UV inkjet printing. Today’s UV multi-pass inkjet systems are based on robust and scalable high-resolution inkjet heads providing multi-level drop volume. Furthermore, the multi-pass capability can improve the desired image quality even more. Multi-pass UV inkjet produces consistently higher resolution prints with excellent UV ink sets to ensure successful adhesion to many (sometimes quite difficult) materials and surfaces. UV ink sets offer an extensive process colour gamut and enormous flexibility in image quality. They are available as process colours, often extended with one or more options from : light colours, white ink, varnish or extra colors for extended color gamut. Moreover, advanced screening techniques facilitate high-resolution image output. Colour systems manage and control colour quality and consistency (from engine to engine) and are now a contender in markets that demand higher digital proofing standards. But let’s not forget the other strengths of UV curing ink, i.e. instant drying, curing with lamps or LEDs and durability.

In industrial environments multi-pass UV inkjet applications are used in the design, proofing, sampling and test marketing of industrial products. However, a growing number of users are recognising the numerous advantages of digital with fast turnarounds, the ability to deliver very high quality decoration images in short runs or customized jobs at a moderate cost using multi-pass UV inkjet systems. 

UV inkjet printing solutions facilitate the development of many niche applications and continue to gain market share from existing users of analogue printing, particularly screen printing.  

New UV inkjet opportunities

This application diversity of UV inks, printing directly on a wide variety of materials, opens up numerous opportunities for wide-format printers to tap into new and alternative market segments for their business.  The Agfa booth at the InPrint2015 show gives visitors the opportunity to explore a number of these new application for wide-format UV. You will touch and examine the printed and finished products at the Agfa booth in Munich! They are representative for the two main types of end users of wide-format UV equipment: print providers in the sign and display market and end product manufacturers. 

Wide-format UV: Sign and Display

Wide-format UV flatbed engines incorporate highly accurate positioning tools and high precision controls. They produce high-resolution, full-colour gray scale images with industrial performance UV ink. These features definitely satisfy the demands of a large number of applications and create new business opportunities with the ability to supply printed materials and goods to industrial product manufacturers. For sign and display makers, what started with the decoration of a single customized door, led to an entirely new and successful business delivering personalized doors to modern office buildings. 

Wide-format flatbed engines, jetting UV inks using different colour designs onto flat and uneven door surface, are the essence of this new kind of product decoration. This process also offers other advantages such as embossing and a combination of multiple layers of white, colour and varnish on the door surface.

Alongside the example of customized/personalized doors, concepts such as short runs, versioning, Print-on-Demand and Just-in-Time represent a growing trend in UV industrial inkjet applications. 

Wide-format flatbed inkjet engines can be configured, using templates, to print on precisely arranged objects such as trays or holders, making print production a very simple and straightforward process. The holder is positioned on the print table, the required number of objects, e.g. pens, lighters, mouse pads, CD covers, etc. are placed firmly in the holder and the job can be launched based on the desired print distance and quality mode. 

2.Wide-format UV: Industrial users

You will be surprised to learn that wide-format UV Drop-on-Demand inkjet engines are managing small volume runs in actual industrial printing. Typical examples include interior decoration and furniture used to create custom-built shops, in which conventional colour printed metal plates are customized on a wide-format flatbed, printing logos and other decorative elements with UV inks. 

Sports products are another example, whereby PU based materials are printed with attractive designs using UV inks on a wide-format engine. These printed PU materials are then cut and fixed into the complex geometries of the end product, e.g. baseball balls or shoes.

Industry-wide acceptance

In the past UV inks were a driving force for digital print providers to transform their business by enabling rapid production of personalized or customized products on a wide substrate range. The continuous development of new UV ink sets has led to better end products. Industry-wide acceptance has been secured as these UV curing inks will drive the optimization of the production process (pre and post processing) and elimination of extra materials and labour costs (mounting and lamination), and will improve durability, lower the impact on the environment and, last but not least, turn jobs around more quickly at a lower cost. 

(by Rob Haak, Spikix B.V., www.spikix.com)
Rob Haak, who is an inkjet consultant and free-lance journalist based in The Netherlands, is considered an authority on single pass inkjet worldwide.
Commissioned by Agfa Graphics