New Frontiers in Wide-Format Finishing

One subject that I feel doesn’t get enough coverage is wide-format finishing. With the rapid growth of digital printing technology in this area, the focus on finishing is increasing.

Wide-format encompasses signage, wraps, textiles, wall coverings…you name it. The introduction of very-wide-format sheet and roll printers has made “one off” production of high-quality graphics on almost any substrate a reality.

Now comes the finishing part. You can print an infinite variety of greeting cards, signs, appliques, decals and other products, but you usually have to separate these from the substrate. Enter high-technology. Laser tech, being one.

High-powered lasers and high-pressure water jets have been used for some time for cutting various materials, including sheet metal. Now, laser diecutting systems can produce the most intricate diecut patterns you can imagine. If you can draw it, you can diecut it.

In fact, some of these machines simply work from an Adobe Illustrator file. Using precision mirrors driven by servo controls, the laser quickly cuts the desired pattern from the substrate. Laser power is calibrated according to the material and its thickness.

You would think this is not a fast process, but it is. When you watch one of these machines in action, you are struck by how blindingly fast the laser works. The tradeoff is laser diecutters are not cheap, as you might expect with this technology.

Other wide-format cutting systems use precisely controlled tools mounted on a moving platform that can proscribe any path within an X and Y axis. These are typically flat-bed type systems, but can process either sheeted material or rolls.

The tools/bits are mounted in a “universal” moving mount, with options for cutting, routing, kiss-cutting, V-cutting, and more. These machines can handle substrates up to 2˝ thick. The various cutting tools are chosen according to substrate type, and cutting or routing depth is controlled to within thousands of an inch.

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Don has worked in technical support, sales, engineering, and management during a career in both the commercial offset and digital finishing sectors. He is the North American representative for IBIS Bindery Systems, Ltd. of The United Kingdom.
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