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Wide-Format Ink-Jet — Digital Printing Goes Flat

September 2008 By Mark Smith Technology Editor
FLATBED MODELS are currently a hot trend in the wide-format ink-jet printer segment and were spotlighted by exhibitors at Drupa 2008 earlier this year. This technology puts the emphasis on volume production for more everyday applications, not the spectacular building and vehicle wraps done roll-to-roll.

Particularly with dimensional point-of-purchase (POP) materials, productivity is enhanced by the capability to print directly on rigid substrates, rather than mounting/laminating printed sheets to a backing material in a separate production step. Teaming a flatbed printer up with a digital cutter further speeds turnaround of completed pieces.

UV ink-jet technology dominates this product category because of the substrate flexibility it affords and the quick “drying” via UV curing. The focus on productivity is also reflected in many of the devices being CMYK printers, rather than the up to 12-color or more configurations available with roll-to-roll models. Some are dedicated flatbed machines for rigid materials, while others offer an optional roll-to-roll unit that can require repositioning the imaging unit to use.

Due to their shear size and raw square footage, the superwide machines that cap off the roll-to-roll ink-jet printer product category are an impressive sight. They don’t come close, though, to matching the “Wow!” factor of seeing one of the fully configured, top-end flatbed systems. These machines can fill a large room when configured with an automated materials handling unit, making it impractical to display complete systems at a trade show. Examples include the M-Press from Agfa and Thieme, Inca Onset and EFI VUTEk DS series.

Complement to Offset

In broad terms, such devices are being positioned as digital replacements for traditional screen printing presses, but as potential companions to large-format sheetfed offset presses used to produce long-er runs of POP materials. Ink-jet technology provides the capability to produce short runs, while building multi-printhead arrays into a robust support system greatly extends their competitive run length range.

The M-Press was an early entrant in this product category and is categorized as a hybrid printing line because it is based on piezoelectric ink-jet heads from Agfa, but can incorporate Thieme screen printing units for the application of spot colors, coatings and varnishes. It’s a modular system, so the product specifications depend on the configuration. The CMYK, UV ink-jet engine prints a maximum 720-dpi resolution and 63x102.4˝ sheet at speeds exceeding 5,950 square feet per hour.

Agfa also offers systems in its Anapurna printer line that support rigid and roll media, including the recently introduced Anapurna XLS, Mv and M4f models. Anapurna XLS prints media up to 100˝ wide at 1,440x720 dpi and 474 square feet per hour. Anapurna M4f is configured as an entry-level, CMYK printer for rigid materials only, while the Mv adds spot and flood varnish capabilities to the 62˝ wide, 1,440x720 dpi and maximum 161 square feet per hour platform.

Inca Digital Printers’ Onset is another CMYK, UV flatbed ink-jet and handles up to a 126x60˝ sheet. It is marketed in the United States by Fujifilm Sericol, which makes the Uvijet ink used in the printer.

Onset features 24 print units each containing 24 piezoelectric printheads to achieve a 6,458 square feet per hour top speed, with the recently introduced bi-directional printing mode. The imaging unit can be mated to a semi-auto or automatic material handling system to maximize production.

More Options on the Table

The two companies also have a relationship through Fujifilm Graphic Systems U.S.A., which distributes the Inca Spyder 320 flatbed UV ink-jet printer (126x63˝ format, 1,000 dpi resolution and 860 square feet per hour). At the same time, Fujifilm is selling the Acuity HD 2504 flatbed machine that outputs a maximum 96x38˝ sheet size at up to 174 square feet per hour.

Adding another twist to the business relationships, Inca was acquired in 2005 by Dainippon Screen, which is the parent of Screen (USA). Screen, however, entered the market at Drupa 2008 with its own Truepress Jet2500UV ink-jet printer that is a combination flatbed and roll-to-roll system. It outputs a maximum 1,500-dpi resolution on media up to 98.4˝ wide. The unit prints in CMYK, with the option of adding light cyan and magenta or white ink, at speeds up to 726 square feet per hour.

Also at Drupa, EFI previewed the VUTEk DS (digital screen) series flatbed UV printer that outputs up to 6,000 square feet per hour with a maximum 63x96˝ sheet size. It is designed with a fixed array of printheads and a moving bed to support print resolutions up to 1,200 dpi in four- or eight-color mode. The initial ink set will include CMYK, along with light versions of each color. White and clear inks are to be offered in the future.

An optional material handling system provides automatic loading/unloading of rigid media from a pallet for continuous operation. The complete VUTEk DS system isn’t scheduled for introduction until sometime in 2009, but EFI already offers the VUTEk PV200 and QS series flatbed machines.

Gandinnovations likewise added to its line of flatbed printers in Düsseldorf with the launch of its NanoJet UV “true” flatbed digital printer that uses 24 Spectra UV ink-jet heads to print a maximum 48x96˝ format at up to 220 square feet per hour. This six-color system has a top resolution of 1,200 dpi. The company offers a range of flatbed models, capped off by the Jeti 2030 X-2 that is capable of printing a maximum 78x120˝ format and 1,510 square feet per hour.

The new Océ Arizona 200 GT UV-curable flatbed printer is based on the existing Arizona 250 GT platform, but is configured for light production environments. It has a true flatbed architecture that can print rigid media up to 49x98˝, with printing done across the long axis for increased productivity. Both models use Océ VariaDot imaging technology and CMYK inks in a piezoelectric ink-jet unit. The Arizona 200 has a maximum print speed of 101 square feet per hour and can be upgraded to the 250 GT model (172 square feet per hour).

Not Strange Bedfellows

HP gained entry to the flatbed segment through its acquisition of Scitex Vision and more recently expanded its offerings by acquiring MacDermid ColorSpan. It completed the integration of the latter product line earlier this year, with the high-volume flatbed model given the HP Scitex brand (FB910: 98.4x80˝ format and 811 square feet per hour) and the others now called HP Designjet printers. The company’s latest wide-format product introduction was environmentally friendly HP Latex Inks for thermal ink-jet, which initially will only be offered with the new roll-to-roll Designjet L65500 model.

Ink-jet applications in CTP and label printing headlined Mimaki Engineering’s Drupa introductions, but it also displayed the JF-1631 UV flatbed machine that prints a 63x122˝ format at up to 1,200 dpi.

Just to illustrate the broad capabilities of ink-jet, it’s worth noting that Durst Phototechnik opted to display even more diverse solutions, including a flatbed printer for wood decoration and another that prints on ceramic tiles. PI

For More Information on the flatbed, wide-format ink-jet printing systems mentioned, visit and enter the numbers below.

Agfa — 530

EFI — 531

Fujifilm — 532

Gandinnovations — 533

HP — 534

Inca/Fujifilm Sericol — 535

Mimaki Engineering — 536

Océ — 537

Screen (USA) — 538


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