It seems that those of us in the personalization business will almost always be looking for the “next BIG thing” in our industry. Years ago, lasers were the “next BIG thing,” then inkjet sublimation designed a huge effect on the industry. So what’s next? What magical innovation can come along that, once again, 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 a, then lasers did exactly the same thing, and then some major technological advancements in sublimation arrived cementing this technique as one in the “next BIG things.” Along the way, a number of other likely candidates cropped up, nonetheless they never quite made it towards the “next BIG” level. I remember getting pretty enthusiastic about the AcryliPrint means of inexpensively printing full-color images on acrylic. It is still a fantastic process nevertheless it never quite caught on for in-house production. Then there was the system that printed inkjet images on glass. Again, a fairly nice product nonetheless it never really shot to popularity. Finally, there were the Enduring Images system of printing on ceramic using latte coffee printer. I am still ready for this anyone to take off, but to date, just a few passionate souls are sticking to me.
UV printing, however, looks like it’s taking on the life of a unique. For several years now, it has all but dominated the trade events with some really big names taking a marked curiosity about showing their printers, whilst they knew we were holding out of the budget for 95 percent of the people walking a floor. I see these printers exhibited at big shows and small: Sign shows, personalization shows, awards shows and print shows are hosting several manufacturers of UV printers that are displaying what seems to be an increasing number of models.
Steve Gluskin, director of marketing for Rowmark’s GoVivid printers, says, “The message we’re hearing from trophy and award dealers is their customers are seeking something new. The ability to add color is an ideal fit to augment what they are currently offering. Even the power to offer ‘multi-media’ or multiple processes when designing an award is basically 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 your dealer. By adding UV-LED printing, the seller will differentiate themselves from their competition.”
So what exactly is really a UV printer? Well, let’s commence with the UV part, as with ultraviolet light. UV light is definitely an invisible (to the eye) form of light seen in many light sources, like the sun. UV light has some useful characteristics, in particular the power to cure many photosensitive materials. In the situation of UV printing, a UV light source is used to cure (harden and solidify) the inks laid down from the printer.
The iUV-600XL from Graphics One, Inc. features a large flatbed table. Direct Color Systems’ flagship printer, the 1024UVMVP15, are designed for a maximum substrate thickness of 15″.
UV inkjet printing is unique from conventional solvent inkjet printing. Instead of having solvents inside the ink that evaporate into the air and absorb to the substrate, UV inks face UV lights which can be built in the printer which quickly cure the ink to turn it from a liquid to your solid. This technology has several positive aspects, including eliminating environmental and workplace health concerns, the capability to print over a wide various substrates, high print speeds as well as a wide range of printing applications including outdoor signage to baseballs.
So why should we be so excited about this developing technology? Truth is, per year or two ago, few people within our industry were very enthusiastic about this whatsoever. With price tags inside the $20,000-$80,000 range, there weren’t lots of people who could you should think about a UV printer just as one option inside the first place. But as the years have passed, the have dropped plus much more competition has come into the market, making both a lot wider various printers and print possibilities open as well as price points—even to the point that $20,000 is now able to buy a great deal of printer.
Today, the issue isn’t much price just as much as it is confusion and misinformation about what a UV printer can and can’t do, and how much market there is certainly to support one.
For instance, I occasionally print a plaque using uv flatbed printer. The cost is nearly negligible along with the markup can be substantial, so how many plaques are appropriate for this technology? Remember, sublimation doubles to create full-color plaques. The same is true having a hundred other products including sets from metal plates to plastic toys. In short, as with most personalization processes, you’ll find things which are best done which has a UV printer and things which can be best carried out with other methods. UV printing isn’t a replacement for other processes, but an alternative choice to do most jobs as well as the only way to complete a few.
I had a job recently that involved printing full-color company logos on clear acrylic. I have no clue how I could have done this with every other process. UV printing was perfect because I could print a good white image to make an opaque mask about the substrate and then print the full-color logo on top of it. That’s the sort of job UV printers are really good at.
Many manufacturers produce an attachment for printing cylindrical items like water bottles. The RotaPrint attachment can be acquired from Roland DGA Corp.
Printing on clear or dark backgrounds could be quite a challenge for many processes and with a few, for example sublimation, it’s almost impossible. UV printing can be more forgiving than other methods when it comes towards the type of substrates it works with. Sublimation, as an example, usually requires a special polyester-coated substrate to work whatsoever. UV printing, on the other hand, can be used to print with a wide various substrates of colors, textures, size and shapes. But, the same as other processes, it doesn’t develop everything. In fact, you can find many substrates that UV inks will not adhere to without first applying a bonding or adhesion agent. Some printers can actually spray an adhesion agent on the substrate from the printer nozzles while with other printers, you should hand use it. Either way, there is certainly no ensure the ink will bond until it really is tested.
Adhesion then, in my opinion, becomes the greatest problem in the UV world since every printer manufacturer offers their particular inks and adhesion additives, and each is different. This means it is ultimately essential that you test the inks as well as the printer to be sure they will work for the substrates you wish to print prior to any kind of buying decision or promises to customers.
Along with having to master about adhesion with UV inks, it can be also critical that a potential buyer find out about the various properties from the inks. Some companies offer multiple inks to be considered but many try to offer a “one size fits all” recipe which could or may well not work for you. At one time, I presumed that an ink cured with UV light would then be UV safe and therefore I printed work for exterior use. Unfortunately, I was wrong along with the signs faded into nothingness within months. Lesson learned? Well, some printer manufacturers claim their inks are UV safe and although I would certainly not doubt their word, it would make me cautious—once burned and all that.
One in the most popular features of UV printers recently has become the introduction of cylindrical devices for printing such things as water bottles. I believe that cylindrical items are offered as an option for every printer with enough throat to accommodate one. This brings no less than two questions to the light: One, how user-friendly is the software for establishing a cylindrical job and, two, do I need another specialized ink? Although metal water bottles could be successfully printed with most UV inks, there is often a different story with plastic bottles that could be squeezed. These have to have a flexible ink, so some from the printer manufacturers now present an ink that stretches as much as 200 percent.
The flexible ink option opens other applications, including printing banners. Magnetic signs are another possibility and some manufacturers have built their printers so you will find no paramagnetic (steel) parts that could interfere with printing a magnetic material.
With the large number of inks available, a serious decision you should make is determing the best ink on your applications. Inks can’t simply be changed so once an ink is selected you might be pretty much stuck with it for your duration. Ink changes are possible should you thoroughly clean the printer, but this can be time-consuming which is not appropriate for job-to-job use.
Inks are often specific for the manufacturer, and so are the print heads and rails (the bars the heads and UV light operate on). Some companies manufacture their own print heads and rails, even though many others use assemblies using their company inkjet manufacturers, such as Ricoh and Epson. Depending for the print head, the printer might be capable of varying the size from the ink dot from as low as a couple of picoliters to just as much as 20 picoliters. By varying the dot size, the printers are better able to manipulate ink density, which results in sharper images and colors that smoothly consist of one shade to a new. Variable-dot printing is controlled by firmware from within the printer and it is software.
All UV printers come by incorporating kind of RIP (Raster Image Processor) software to operate a vehicle and control these firmware options. Usually, the RIP software packages are developed from the manufacturer for any specific printer and it has various functions, including translating images from your computer into raster devspky91 to the printer and enhancing color consistency. Although you might not exactly be able to talk and understand RIPs in any great detail, you will see the results in the printed image, including vivid reds, white-colored and the capability to smoothly transition derived from one of color to a different. When you happen to be considering getting a printer, it’s extremely important to look closely, compare results and ask questions if you notice something that doesn’t look right. If it doesn’t look right with the demo, it won’t look right when you invest in it home!
So where will be the money in UV printers? What kinds of products produce enough return to make them really worth the $20,000 to $80,000 or more investment mounted on these devices? It couldn’t possibly be the power to make one-up products as could be the case with sublimation. Clearly, UV is for the bulk production shop. Although 1,000 water bottles could be personalized because they are printed, the actual contribution in the dtg printer is printing plenty of products with the exact same imprint—what we are going to call production.