Although the headlines went to the new high volume inkjet presses there were plenty of wide format developments too, report Nessan Cleary and Paul LindströmThe new breed of high speed printers were not the only inkjet machines at drupa. Indeed, inkjet printers of every size and fashion straddled almost all of the 18 giant halls. We were particularly interested to see so many wide format inkjets. Differentiating factors between the different machines are of course speed, resolution and maximum format, and if the printer is designed for use with roll-fed substrates or can print direct to rigid material.
Another differentiator is the kind of ink that is used in the printers, and at drupa the UV curable inks were out in force. The UV-LED technology was particularly prominent, where multiple arrays of LED (Light Emitting Diodes - miniature lasers if you like) are used as the light/heat source to cure (dry and stabilise) the ink. The new LED-based printers not only achieve higher speeds, they consume less power than those with UV lamps.
The sheer number of very large format inkjet printers is reminiscent of the days of the big gold rush. There are an incredible number of new brands and models. An example of a relative newcomer to the market, Gandinnovation, was established in 2001, and exhibited at drupa for the first time this year. We interviewed James Gandy, who founded the company along with his brother Harry. He made it clear that it’s quite a logical development for the Gandy brothers – since their background is in conventional screen print production, with the company SignTech. After designing and developing many new substrates for the screen market, as a screen printer, they started to try out digital printing. They then sold the printing company and started Salsa Digital. This company was in turn sold in 2000 to Nur, and the Gandy brothers started Gandinnovation. Today they manufacture about 70 very large format printers per month in the Jeti Series, both flatbed and roll-fed models, and for solvent-based inks, water-based inks, and UV-curable inks.
When we asked: “How fast, and to what extent can digital printers replace analogue screen printing,” James Gandy answered: “Probably 50 per cent of the production, but not at a rate faster than at the earliest within five years”. The reason is, of course, that one single machine can’t do all types of jobs, and it takes time and resources to test out which ink, substrates and print
heads work well together for different applications.
Besides the relative newcomer Gandinnovation, many of the better-known brands also exhibited new models.
And many brands have new owners since last drupa: EFI has acquired Vutek and Jetrion; Fujifilm has bought Sericol, and Dimatix including the Spectra brand; HP Scitex has picked up Idanit, Aprion, Matan, Scitex Vision, Colorspan, Nur (including Salsa); Océ has taken over Cymbolic Sciences, Rastergraphics and Gretag Imaging; and Screen has acquired Inca Digital.
Some of these printers claim very high speeds but speed, of course, depends on what resolution you aim for and need, and many of the very large format printers on the market are targeted to very different types of applications. Even if the UV-curable ink printers dominated drupa, there was room for other innovations.
Océ presented what it called Crystal Point Technology, which seems to be a kind of solid ink technology. Coloured toner ’pearls’ change to gel in the printing system. The output, described as waterproof, should suit outdoor applications. However, the print quality is not really up to graphic arts quality, so the new Crystal Point ink is used in the Océ Color Wave 600 plotter for technical drawings, though it did produce some nice images, suitable for distance viewing.
Another company which has started to talk about gel type ink is Xerox. This seems to be a development of a technology that started at Tektronix, before it was acquired by Xerox in 1999. A prototype of a solid ink-based very fast digital web printer was presented but never saw the light as a final, launched product. Nearly ten years on and Xerox is again only in the prototype stage with the ’gel’ ink, but seems very optimistic about it’s potential. While there are many, many different manufacturers of large format printers, there are considerably fewer manufacturers of quality print heads suitable for high-end colour production. Among the well known are Fujifilm Dimatix and Xaar, but also Domino, Konica Minolta, Panasonic, Seiko, and of course Canon, Epson and HP.
Among the numerous new very large format digital printer manufacturers at drupa (dominated by Chinese companies) we noticed the Russian manufacturer, Sun, from Novosibirsk.
It promotes the advantage of its UV-LED technology in very straightforward terms as being more eco-friendly, having a wide array of possible substrates, low energy consumption (curing at 36˚C) and a comparatively long life for the
So, it seems wide format inkjet, and particularly UV-curable printing, is becoming well-established in the commercial print sector. Given the appearance of the new high speed commercial printers it appears that inkjet is likely to become one of the major technologies within the graphic arts.