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Wide-Format Digital Printers

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Just a few years ago, we were writing about digital large-format printing as the new thing. Today, of course, almost everyone in the sign industry owns at least one large-format printer and 2017 could be titled “the year of the textile printer,” with manufacturers offering fabric printing and soft signage as new and innovative profit centers. However, digitally printed soft signage is relatively new to the sign industry and much education – and manufacturing/processing pioneering – needs to occur before everyone gets on board.

Still, the bread-and-butter income for most commercial shops is from creating signs, banners and graphics with such traditional media as adhesive-back vinyl and standard banner materials, but a prime and appropriate question addresses what new and profitable trends signmakers should consider. The good news is that we are seeing some interesting developments, but, because they’re new, many of these innovations are found only in high-dollar machines. Fortunately, complementary trends have found their way into more afford-able segments. LED lamps in UV-cure printers, for example.

UV-cure printers have been the eye-catching actor in digital printing for the last few years – and what’s not to like? With this technology, you can print directly on practically any media, drying is almost instantaneous and print durability is robust. Today, LED curing lamps are more the norm than alnico-based, UV-cure lamps, which are expensive to buy and operate. LED lamps are more economical to buy and use, and because they operate at cooler temperatures than the alnico lamps, they have expanded printmakers’ range of usable substrates.

Initially, signshops could rarely justify the expense of UV print machines; but, because of manufacturers’ innovations, UV-cure printing now offers more affordable machine choices for signshops. (Note that UV-cure is advertised as quick-to-dry, but this facet depends upon a thorough curing system.)

Because flatbed UV printers, especially those with roll-to-roll abilities, can produce numerous sign types, they are excellent tools for signshops. We’re seeing excellent print quality with increases in print speed, media processing and high-volume vacuum systems that allow printing on heavier media, including corrugated boards.

The lifeblood of any inkjet printing system is the ink, and ink choices for digital-print makers depend upon the type of work the shop wants to produce, with choices ranging from solvent, eco-solvent, UV and aqueous, to dye sublimation, with variations available for each. In brief, solvent inks are oil-based, durable, fade-resistant and desired by many vehicle wrappers; eco-solvent inks produce wide gamuts, have numerous applications and use a vegetable oil carrier; latex inks feature a polymer resin that encapsulates the pigments and helps bond them to the substrate and are marketed as environmentally friendly; and aqueous inks feature broad gamuts and produce vibrant colors. There’s much more to know, so be sure to research inks and their applications as well as print machines before you buy.

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As you can see, there are some interesting innovations in the large-format printing arena. Probably the most interesting is the use of UV curable inks in traditional roll printers. While soft signage is catching everyone’s attention, manufacturers are continuing to innovate in the more traditional spaces.

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