It seems that those of us in the personalization business will almost always be looking for that “next BIG thing” inside our industry. Years ago, lasers were the “next BIG thing,” then inkjet sublimation made a huge influence on the industry. So what’s next? What magical innovation should come along that, once more, will revolutionize the personalization industry? Could it be UV printers? Truth is, it just might be, and here’s why.
Many years ago, computerized rotary engraving machines revolutionized the, then lasers did a similar thing, after which some major technological advancements in sublimation came along cementing this process as one from the “next BIG things.” Along the way, other likely candidates cropped up, nevertheless they never quite made it on the “next BIG” level. I remember getting pretty excited about the AcryliPrint means of inexpensively printing full-color images on acrylic. It is still an incredible process however it never quite caught on for in-house production. Then there was clearly the system that printed inkjet images on glass. Again, a reasonably nice product but it never really became popular. Finally, there was clearly the Enduring Images system of printing on ceramic using latte coffee printer. I am still holding out for this anyone to take off, but to date, just a few passionate souls are keeping me.
UV printing, however, looks like it’s taking over a life of its own. For several years now, they have all but dominated the trade shows with some really big names choosing a marked curiosity about showing their printers, while they knew they were out of the price range for 95 percent of individuals walking the ground. I see these printers exhibited at big shows and small: Sign shows, personalization shows, awards shows and print shows are all hosting several manufacturers of UV printers that are displaying what looks like it’s an increasing number of models.
Steve Gluskin, director of promoting for Rowmark’s GoVivid printers, says, “The message we are hearing from trophy and award dealers is that their customers are trying to find something new. The capacity to add color is an ideal fit to augment what they are currently offering. Even the capacity to offer ‘multi-media’ or multiple processes when making an award is absolutely gaining interest. For example, a laser engraved along with a UV-LED printed award adds dimension and color, and, in the same way importantly, profit margin for the dealer. By adding UV-LED printing, the cafe dealer will differentiate themselves from their competition.”
So what exactly is often a UV printer? Well, let’s focus on the UV part, like ultraviolet light. UV light is an invisible (towards the eye) form of light within many light sources, like the sun. UV light has some useful characteristics, particularly the capacity to cure many photosensitive materials. In true of UV printing, a UV light source is used for stopping (harden and solidify) the inks laid down by the printer.
The iUV-600XL from Graphics One, Inc. includes a large flatbed table. Direct Color Systems’ flagship printer, the 1024UVMVP15, are designed for a maximum substrate thickness of 15″.
UV inkjet printing differs from the others from conventional solvent inkjet printing. Instead of having solvents within the ink that evaporate in to the air and absorb to the substrate, UV inks experience UV lights which might be built in the printer which quickly cure the ink to turn it from your liquid with a solid. This technology has many perks, including eliminating environmental and workplace health issues, the capacity to print on the wide number of substrates, high print speeds plus a wide range of printing applications starting from outdoor signage to golf balls.
So why should we be so pumped up about this developing technology? Truth is, annually or two ago, few people in our industry were very looking forward to this in any respect. With price tags inside the $20,000-$80,000 range, there weren’t lots of people who could consider a UV printer just as one option inside first place. But as the passed, the prices have dropped and much more competition has come in the market, making both a lot wider selection of printers and print possibilities as well as price points—even on the point that $20,000 is now able to buy a large amount of printer.
Today, the challenge isn’t so much price up to it is confusion and misinformation in what a UV printer can and can’t do, and exactly how much market there exists to support one.
For instance, I occasionally print a plaque using uv flatbed printer. The cost is practically negligible as well as the markup might be substantial, but wait, how many plaques are appropriate for this technology? Remember, sublimation can also be used to create full-color plaques. The same is true which has a hundred other products including anything from metal plates to plastic toys. In short, as with most personalization processes, you can find things that are best done with a UV printer and things which are best done with other methods. UV printing isn’t a substitute for other processes, but an alternative choice to do most jobs and also the only way to accomplish a few.
I had a job recently that involved printing full-color company logos on clear acrylic. I have no idea how I could have done this with another process. UV printing was perfect because I could print a great white image to produce an opaque mask for the substrate and after that print the full-color logo on top of it. That’s the type of job UV printers are really good at.
Many manufacturers present an attachment for printing cylindrical items such as water bottles. The RotaPrint attachment is available from Roland DGA Corp.
Printing on clear or dark backgrounds could be quite a challenge for some processes and by incorporating, for example sublimation, it’s extremely difficult. UV printing is additionally more forgiving than other methods when it comes for the type of substrates it works with. Sublimation, as an example, often requires a special polyester-coated substrate to work at all. UV printing, about the other hand, may be used to print on the wide various substrates of most colors, textures, shapes and forms. But, just like other processes, it doesn’t work on everything. In fact, you’ll find many substrates that UV inks will not adhere to without first applying a bonding or adhesion agent. Some printers can in fact spray an adhesion agent for the substrate from the printer nozzles while with printers, you should hand put it to use. Either way, there is no guarantee the ink will bond until it really is tested.
Adhesion then, for me, becomes the greatest problem within the UV world since every printer manufacturer offers their own inks and adhesion additives, and each differs from the others. This means it is ultimately important that you test both inks and also the printer to make certain they will work on the substrates you need to print before you make any kind of buying decision or intentions to customers.
Along with having to master about adhesion with UV inks, it’s also essential that a potential buyer read about the various properties from the inks. Some companies offer multiple inks to be considered but a majority of try to give you a “one size fits all” recipe that could or might not exactly work for you. At one time, I presumed an ink cured with UV light would then be UV safe and thus I printed work for exterior use. Unfortunately, I was wrong and also the signs faded into nothingness within months. Lesson learned? Well, some printer manufacturers claim their inks are UV safe and although I would most certainly not doubt their word, it could make me cautious—once burned and many types of that.
One from the most popular features of UV printers recently has been the introduction of cylindrical devices for printing such things as water bottles. I believe that cylindrical products are offered just as one option for every printer with plenty throat to support one. This brings a minimum of two questions into the light: One, how user-friendly is the software for generating a cylindrical job and, two, do I need another specialized ink? Although metal water bottles may be successfully printed with a lot of UV inks, there is a different story with plastic bottles that could be squeezed. These have to have a flexible ink, so some with the printer manufacturers now offer an ink that stretches up to 200 percent.
The flexible ink option opens up other applications, such as printing banners. Magnetic signs are another possibility and a few manufacturers have built their printers so you’ll find no paramagnetic (steel) parts that might interfere with printing a magnetic material.
With the great number of inks available, an important decision you need to make is finding the right ink for the applications. Inks can’t be changed so once an ink is selected you might be pretty much tied to it for your duration. Ink changes are possible should you thoroughly clean the printer, but this may be time-consuming and is also not recommended for job-to-job use.
Inks are usually specific to the manufacturer, and they are the print heads and rails (the bars the heads and UV light operate on). Some companies manufacture their particular print heads and rails, while many others use assemblies business inkjet manufacturers, like Ricoh and Epson. Depending about the print head, the printer could possibly be capable of varying the size from the ink dot from as few as a couple of picoliters to as much as 20 picoliters. By varying the dot size, the printers are able to better manipulate ink density, which ends up in sharper images and colors that smoothly differ from one shade to a different. Variable-dot printing is controlled by firmware from inside the printer and it is software.
All UV printers come with many kind of RIP (Raster Image Processor) software they are driving and control these firmware options. Usually, the RIP software program is developed by the manufacturer for a specific printer and has various functions, including translating images from the computer into raster devspky91 for your printer and enhancing color consistency. Although you might not be able to talk and understand RIPs in a great detail, you can view the results within the printed image, for example vivid reds, bright white and the capacity to smoothly transition derived from one of color to another. When you happen to be considering buying a printer, it’s essential to look closely, compare results and have questions when you see something that doesn’t look right. If it doesn’t look right in the demo, it won’t look right when you’re getting it home!
So where will be the money in UV printers? What kinds of products produce enough return to make them worth the $20,000 to $80,000 or higher investment attached with these devices? It couldn’t often be the capacity to make one-up products as is the case with sublimation. Clearly, UV is for the bulk production shop. Although 1,000 water bottles may be personalized as they are printed, the real contribution with the dtg printer is printing a great deal of products with the same imprint—what we’re going to call production.