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THE CURRENT economic climate is having a huge impact on print buying, particularly in the retail environment and, with run lengths reducing and printers needing to be more responsive, digital print is becoming a competitive solution in the marketplace. Companies looking to respond both during and after the recession are turning to digital to provide the flexibility they need.
Inca Digital's Heather Kendle said: "With the pace of development in flatbed printers continuing unabated, the market has more freedom to choose the right printer for their needs. With the addition of the Inca Onset S20, which ships from April this year, Inca offers a range of ten digital UV inkjet flatbed printers in a choice of formats, speeds and colour variants. I expect to see wider adoption of high-speed printers, not just by wide format printing specialists, but also by general commercial printers, keen to offer short run solutions.
"I also predict that 2009 will be the year of the faster flatbed, as a replacement for screen printing, but also as an attractive alternative to short run litho printing. The fastest Inca printer is able to print 125 full bed, five by 10ft, sheets per hour, with bi-directional speeds. Full automation means the machines require only one operator with less experience than for a comparative litho press.
"Printheads, inks and software will all continue to progress. Wider and denser arrays of printheads are becoming evident, while UV inks will see further development regarding adhesion on tricky substrates, reduced cure time and improved flexibility.
"As with digital commercial printing, the wide format digital market is utilising the benefits of variable printing with the ability to regionalise and even personalise signs and displays. The workflow to support this for wide format applications is developing fast. Shorter run lengths, or variations within a larger run, are becoming more popular as variable data becomes easier to manage and print digitally improving the competitive opportunities digital offers over analogue.
"Finally this will be the year of the full solution in the wide format market. Companies want their suppliers not only to print a job, but to deliver, install and, in some cases, dismantle it. The whole business proposition is changing. These are certainly interesting times."
The need for speed
One of the main changes in this market is the increase in speed and productivity. In the past many companies opted for screen printing as a means of churning out numerous prints in the shortest possible timescale, but with new high speed models on the market, digital machines are giving screen printers a run for their money.
The Vutek DS Series from EFI is a case in point. This high-speed digital UV flatbed printer is designed to deliver productivity, image quality and flexibility, making it ideal for indoor and outdoor signs, point of purchase (POP) advertising, exhibition graphics and backlit displays.
The DS Series generates sellable output at up to 557m2/h. The user controllable, zoned vacuum table is optimised for standard single graphics or multiple various sized substrates and it offers an optional material handling system designed to significantly reduce load and unload times.
According to its manufacturers, the DS Series makes ‘same day order to delivery' a reality. It also has the ability to accommodate last minute changes and support short-run variability and produce samples and one off pieces for the same cost as high volume work.
Quest for close-up quality
The HP Scitex FB7500 printer is a new one to look out for this year, with the first machines expected in May.
With speeds of up to 500m2/h and three-quarter automated loading, said to reduce idle time between sheets by up to 85 per cent, this machine delivers productivity. An ideal solution for close-view POP/POS applications, exhibition graphics, signage, backlit displays and posters, the FB7500 is built on the HP Scitex TJ Series printing platform with HP Scitex X2 printhead technology, which combines silicon-based micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) and piezoelectric inkjet technology.
Alternatively, the existing HP Scitex FB950 is a robust flatbed UV printer designed to deliver quality prints on rigid or flexible media. Efficient loading and the ability to print multiple sheets at the same time further improve throughput.
Owner of Visual Marketing, Mike Ottens, said: "With the HP Scitex FB950, we can target the high-end event and POP signage markets that we previously could not enter. We have changed our workflow from printing on pre-laminated posters, to printing directly onto less costly media, which has given us a higher profit margin on signage and decreased our cost of goods substantially."
Six colour inks and printheads with variable-sized drops combine to produce image detail up to 1200 by 600dpi, with smooth colour transitions across a variety of media. Features such as an onboard camera, spectrophotometer, embedded software and a solid media feed system, further ensure consistent results and worry-free operation.
The latest addition to the Océ family also promises to deliver on quality, with the Océ Arizona 350 GT using UV curable inks and Océ VariaDot imaging to deliver near-photographic images. Designed as a true flatbed system it can print on a variety of rigid substrates and features a roll media option for printing onto flexible media.
A white ink option can be added at the factory or in the field and enables under-printing for non-white media or objects, over-printing for backlit applications on transparent media and/or printing white as a spot colour.
Ever since the first flatbed digital printer was introduced by Inca Digital in 2001 the market has grown rapidly. What was once ground breaking is now outdated because technology has moved on. What hasn't changed is the fact that digital flatbed machines have the ability to produce short run graphics at a fraction of the cost. New technology ensures better results and there has never been a better time to be in the digital market.