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Sheetfed UV Printing : UV Provides Cure for Many

November 2009 By Erik Cagle
Senior Editor
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NOW IS the time to invest in sheetfed offset UV press technology. And don’t worry, the burning sensation from the hot coffee coming out of your nose and mouth will subside in a day or two. Probably.

The most typical response to the initial statement is, “Are you (expletive) nuts? You might have noticed there is a recession going on. You want me to go further in the hole when no one’s buying printing now? Did one of the sheetfed press manufacturers put you up to this? I bet they’re paying you to write this insanity.”

The answers to these questions/statements are: Uncertain, noticed it, yup, they did not, and checks made out to cash are acceptable. PayPal works, too.

Trust us, this is a josh-free zone. Frivolous equipment acquisitions help no one, including the vendors, and especially the market in general. Even with consolidation and numerous printers tanking this year, there is still overcapacity within the 40˝ sheetfed market. But a strong argument can be made for having a press equipped with in-line UV printing and coating capabilities, and it goes like this: Many of your competitors cannot, or will not, make the leap to UV because of the financial commitment involved.

Yes, most of your competitors aren’t jumping off bridges, either, but it says here that a UV press provides its owners with a point of differentiation in a crowded 40˝ market. Moreover, the allure of UV is such that it has the ability to reel in customers who may not view print as the optimal avenue for their investment dollars.

Applications Abound

UV represents the sexy side of printing—rich and vibrant colors, sparkling gloss—which also appeals to high-end label and packaging clients. UV opens up a new world of substrates, from plastics (lenticular, static cling vinyl) to foil, specialty grades and board. In addition, UV inks cure quicker than conventional ones, enabling higher productivity and faster turnaround times.

Ah, but the velvet rope comes at a steep price. The cost of a UV press is considerably higher than a conventional one. Ditto for inks, coatings and chemistry. Certain substrates have a higher out-of-pocket cost.

And challenging...if your press operators don’t mind the learning curve that’s necessary to perfect the UV printing craft. Of course it’s hard. There’s a line from the movie “A League of Their Own,” in which Tom Hanks’ character essentially spells out the difference between “why?” and “why not?” people: “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The what makes it great.”

No need to convince Kevin Schrader of that philosophy. The vice president of operations at Dallas-based Blanks Printing & Imaging has been doing UV printing for the past two years for commercial customers, primarily agencies and major retailers. Plastics, folding cartons and direct mail are the three top UV products for Blanks.

Since Blanks began life as a prepress house, color management is near and dear to the company’s heart, and plastics call for an abundance of profiling and plate curves. It’s especially important, he notes, when a UV piece is married to a conventional piece.

“One advantage we had from the start was in having several people in our shop with UV experience,” Schrader says. “I’d hate to do it from scratch. Myself, the pressroom manager and vice president of sales all had worked previously at a UV shop. But, for all our pressmen, it was OJT (on-the-job training).

“We maintain a good rapport with Heidelberg, and got a lot of assistance from them. We were able to draw upon their experience with what they saw at other plants.”

During the first year operating its six-color Speedmaster XL 105 with UV capabilities, Blanks secured more than $4 million in new work that it otherwise would not have generated with exclusively conventional gear. Naturally, the printer proudly promotes its UV arsenal. Formerly, homemade cookies were used by salespeople for face-to-face meetings with clients. Now, Blanks produces cookie boxes that showcase different UV techniques, and they tend to enjoy strong desk time with customers.

“They’ve been a great marketing tool for us,” Schrader notes. “They’re very creative boxes, and each one indicates what kind of paper or substrate was used, as well as the type of ink and coating. Each one has a unique application/metal effect, whether it’s foil board, lenticular or UV on offset showing a very vibrant color. They really help to educate the customer.”

Turn to Your Suppliers

Offering UV is a dream for the technical aficionados at Blanks, who enjoy tinkering with various coatings, different rollers and applications. The challenge provides excitement, but Schrader is also a fan of getting input from those who possess UV expertise.

“If you think you’re going to become an expert UV printer overnight, you’re fooling yourself,” he says. “But when you finally get it, you think, ‘Wow, that’s cool.’ Our biggest key is the vendors. They’ve seen what plates, blankets, chemistry, inks and coatings work best. Their R&D departments have seen it all.

“We also try to attend Webinars, and there’s a UV forum we plan to participate in. We’re always going for higher gloss levels and faster speeds. We just try to raise the bar every time.”

Unicorn Graphics, based in Garden City, NY, has been offering UV printing for a little more than two years. A general commercial printer, Unicorn serves print brokers, graphic designers and quick printers, among others. Customers with a particular need for green printing also frequent Unicorn, according to owner Robert Lee.

Unicorn offers UV work courtesy of its KBA Rapida 105 press, and has developed a niche in generating mylar silver foil paperboard product for a major supply chain. In addition to the new substrates, Unicorn finds its shop operating more efficiently and economically.

“It was definitely not easy, but it wasn’t impossible, either,” Lee says. “We could do UV printing from day one, but it took us about a year to gain the knowledge and experience to master UV completely. Most of the problems came from the substrates, which we never printed before on our conventional presses.”

With the Rapida, Unicorn is working with substrates such as the aforementioned mylar, vinyl, synthetic paper, styrene and canvas. One bonus that UV printing offers, Lee notes, is that it does not produce VOCs which, in tandem with the company’s process-free Agfa Azura plates, has earned Unicorn the label of being a green printer.

“With UV printing, our service offerings are extended from paper to plastic and from environmentally harmful to green-friendly,” he remarks. “When our proposed acquisition of a new hybrid UV grand-format ink-jet printer and a dieless digital cutter are completed this year, our services will truly include everything.”

There are some printers for whom UV is a natural, even geographical, fit. Perhaps there is no clearer example than Haig’s Quality Printing in Las Vegas. Apparently, this Nevada city has clientele—casinos—that are drawn to bright, glitzy and shiny colors. When owner Haig Atamian installed his six-color, 40˝ Mitsubishi Diamond 3000S UV press in August of 2007, he found work from the federal government, ad agencies and fellow printers, along with the entertainment sector.

“Most agencies are now specifying that jobs incorporate UV inks,” Atamian says. “Lately, one out of every four of the specs on new work has been requesting UV. The buyers realize its benefits, including the faster turnaround times.”

Casino/hotel clients, in particular, are ardent purchasers of both UV and on-demand printing. Whether brochures, mailers, invitations, check-in packets or spa/wedding salon brochures, the turn time request is typically ASAP, as in today.

“Casinos like to print on a lot of dull coated, matte coated or uncoated paper, and during bindery of books and products like that, we experienced a lot of chalking,” Atamian remarks. “Now, we can do them with ease.

“The hardest part for us was the transition to UV from regular inks,” he adds. “UV inks cost a little more money. We’d print one job UV, the next with regular inks. We found that to be so dumb. Now, we run everything UV, and it’s so much better. Even if it’s a little more expensive, we save on the makereadies and we get to color so quickly.”

Atamian believes one of the biggest benefits he enjoyed was in partnering with the right people, a.k.a. experienced vendors, particularly MLP U.S.A. and Air Motion Systems. “They were 100 percent devoted to us,” he says. “They stayed until we were completely up and running.”

Selling the Sizzle

Capping our run of printers who have been riding the UV train for two years is Impress Communications of Chatsworth, CA. Impress produces a wide range of UV items, from specialty packaging like cosmetic folding cartons to brochures and catalogs. The shop caters to buyers “looking for that extra bit of sizzle to compete in today’s marketplace,” according to Paul Marino, company president.

Though the first 90 days were the toughest part of the UV indoctrination, Marino credits a winning recipe of the right mix of people, auxiliaries and equipment for the company’s success in that critical early juncture. “There is a steep learning curve,” he says. “But we were able to put it all together and make the process go respectably.”

Among Impress’ press arsenal is a six-color Komori Lithrone SX29 that boasts the ability to print on plastic, styrene, vinyl and foil papers. The company also operates two- and eight-color 40˝ Lithrones.

“We’re in the process of trying to develop new, different coating rollers for the UV press to give it more of an off-line look and feel,” Marino adds. “The eight-color Komori is a straight press and aqueous coats both sides. We can print up to eight colors in a row, or four-color aqueous coat, dry the sheet and turn it over, then aqueous coat. I’m always pushing for the edge.” PI



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