By Melissa Donovan
Profitable and smart commercial print providers always search for the next thing to differentiate themselves from the competition. To solve this challenge, some may venture into packaging and labels, others may focus on enhancements like varnish or glitter. Another option—wide format digital printing, in particular using a UV hybrid configuration.
Hybrid—a roll and flatbed combined—expands substrate options by using one device for both rigid and flexible material. This saves in overall footprint and ensures color matching. Additionally, a UV-based device provides benefits like immediate curing. For a narrow format print service provider (PSP) considering growing its business with wide format printing, a hybrid UV printer is ideal.
Above: The Roland DGA VersaUV LEJ-640 offers both flatbed and roll-fed printing in a single device.
Complementing Current Work
Commercial print providers are attracted to wide format printing services. Many of the applications produced from hybrid UV printers are excellent complements to work coming off of existing equipment.
For example, customers requesting marketing sell sheets may also need a wall graphic for a retail location. Instead of outsourcing work, keep it in house. If that customer didn’t even think of a wall graphic, you can suggest it.
According to Ted Knotter, director of business development, wide format, Konica Minolta Business Solutions, a lot of people will outsource wide format work—but he says “it is more advantageous to keep it in house and control the quality of output, production costs, time to print, and of course, profit.”
It makes sense to start offering signage and graphic elements tied to marketing campaign materials if that’s what is already offered. “Within signage, with a hybrid printer there are few limits to what you can do. For example, printing on unique materials such as magnets, metals, wood, and UV soft signage. There are many core display applications, including wraps and window clings, standees, and floor graphics. There is a broad scope of new opportunities that PSPs can use to grow their business,” comments Dani Alkalay, product manager, EFI Inkjet.
“Considering that their existing customers are probably already buying wide format graphics elsewhere, the print provider can now offer some of the same applications and help keep those customers from taking all of their graphics work elsewhere,” shares Randy Paar, marketing manager, Canon Solutions America, Inc.
Beyond existing customers, hybrid UV wide format capabilities attract new clientele. “By adding a wide format hybrid UV printer to the mix, this gives PSPs the ability to print larger pieces and appeal to a bigger set of prospects for selling. With one printing device, a print provider can immediately add superwide banners and rigid capabilities to its portfolio, which could even open the door to new types of clients—improving their competitive situation,” explains Ramona Serafino, associate product marketing manager, Fujifilm North America Corporation, Graphic Systems Division.
Cutsheet is becoming more commoditized, so adding new printing equipment can increase a shop’s profitability. “Using UV printers can help a struggling print provider keep the lights on while they re-invent their business,” points out Paar.
Common top selling points of UV printing are material flexibility and fast ink dry times. With a hybrid device both flexible and rigid substrates benefit from these features.
Larry D’Amico, sales director, North America, Durst Image Technology US, believes what makes UV printing truly unique is its flexibility. “The greatest strength of UV printing is the variety of application solutions it offers. Depending on the ink, UV allows for a variety of both flexible and rigid media.”
“Perhaps most important of all is the fact that these printers allow for direct printing on a variety of substrates. What really makes these printers so popular is that they maximize versatility, giving PSPs the ability to work with a range of materials and handle many different types of jobs,” agrees Jay Roberts, product manager, UV printers, Roland DGA Corporation.
There are two main ways to cure UV ink, LED lamps or traditional mercury arc lamps. The curing of ink using LED lamps has advanced how a print is processed and finished directly off the printer. “The advantages of UV LED involve prints instantly cured with LED light, so when printing is done, the graphic is ready to stack or ship. This is compared to traditional UV with a mercury arc lamp where there is a gas off period, which means waiting,” explains Knotter.
Speed is also of the essence. “Instant cure and the ability to immediately move to the finishing of printed products is critical with fast turnaround times, especially when in a ‘crunch’ situation,” says Becky McConnell, product marketing manager, Fujifilm.
Hybrid is Hot
While there are UV flatbeds and UV roll devices, a hybrid format is an attractive option—especially for a commercial printer looking to step into wide format for the first time. Furthermore, if space is at a premium, combining the two formats into one device can save on footprint.
Options are important. “A hybrid wide format printer allows the end user to have more options in terms of substrates and applications with a single printer versus multiple units; this is especially helpful for print providers with limited space and a growing wide format portfolio,” explains Serafino.
A hybrid device also provides flexibility. “The mix of rigid and roll substrate needs vary by day, week, or season. A hybrid device gives the flexibility to effectively load balance these two functions. With dedicated roll or rigid machines, you can have printers sitting idle when jobs are in house that do not require their capability. This means that the investment in these printers can be underutilized,” shares D’Amico.
Printing rigid and flexible on one device is also advantageous in regards to color management. “A hybrid device is great for matching colors between the rigid and flexible substrates since it is the same ink and printer. This allows for easy color reproduction,” says Knotter.
Planning for the Unknown
If a print provider is unfamiliar with wide format, it’s important to be aware of any unknowns that may arise when researching, demoing, buying, and even installing a new printer. For UV hybrid wide format devices in particular, many buyers are often swayed by the white ink option. While white is beneficial for many applications, it is important to understand its nuances.
Paar suggests print providers conduct their own due diligence by testing multiple devices on a range of media types. Look for ink adhesion, abrasion and chemical resistance, ink usage, image quality, and productivity. Besides the physical printer, he recommends also evaluating the company you plan to buy from. Questions to ask include, “Can they truly support you? Do they have factory trained technicians, local parts availability, quick response times, and an escalation path to the factory?”
Part of conducting due diligence includes researching media feeding and tracking mechanisms. “A common concern with belt-driven devices is the tendency for media to skew when printing, making the production shop less efficient than expected because rolls may have to be rewound before finishing or shipping. Vacuum control is also critical on belt-driven hybrid devices, to ensure that a print provider’s most commonly used substrates can be held down and move through the printer properly,” explains McConnell.
Finding high-quality materials to print on is something Roberts says many PSPs don’t consider until it is too late. “We find that most of the issues that do arise are the result of printing on cheaper, lower quality materials. To achieve optimum results, it’s important to print on high-quality materials.”
Identifying the desired printer’s footprint and whether it will fit in the appropriate space in the shop is also important. “Some of the challenges to be aware of revolve around space requirements—this is probably the biggest issue for print providers that are not used to wider devices. Plus, they should think about additional items that may be necessary and would expand the space used further, like an air compressor. Other factors to consider include who will supply/conduct the rigging on the printer to get into the facility,” shares Knotter.
Print providers shouldn’t commit to white ink unless they know there is a use for it. If it sits unused in a printer, it can cause problems that may lead to downtime, ruined material, and loss of money.
Knotter cautions that many times, buyers looking to expand their printing capabilities with white will only focus on one customer or one application. The fear in that method is—what happens if that customer disappears?
“White printing is a good example of a capability where you need to ensure you have the volume first to support the cost of the option. It is typical that white is purchased because of a perceived need that never materializes and problems are compounded due to the difficulty associated with running white,” explains D’Amico.
When white ink goes unused, it can coagulate or settle because of its many particles—this can cause clogging in the ink lines. Many of the newest wide format UV hybrid devices include agitators in their ink tanks that constantly circulate the ink to help avoid this issue.
That being said, white ink is a great specialty option because of the added possibilities when it comes to printing on substrates that are not white, like colored media, clear, metal, and wood, shares Knotter.
White ink is valuable as long as it is sufficiently opaque. Alkalay points out that not only does it allow for higher quality color imaging on clear or colored substrates, multi-layer white capabilities allow for true premium-quality imaging for day-night and backlit displays.
If committed to using white ink, there are other nuances to address in the process. For example, ink laydown varies depending on the substrate. “When it comes to white ink, printing to substrates with velvet-like, course, or textured surfaces can present some challenges. Because the absorption is greater, these types of jobs require greater quantities of white ink—up to twice as much as needed for printing on smoother, non-textured substrates,” states Roberts.
Print providers should be aware of which ink channel the white will run in as well—is it in its own or will it share another? Paar points out that some systems require flushing out the light cyan and light magenta channels in order to support white ink. “The compromise here is now your CMYK images look grainier than before and you’ve wasted money on the flushed ink, plus all the production time spent switching over to run white.”
Room to Invest
The investment range on UV hybrid devices varies. There are entry-, mid-, and high-level devices available. To prepare for the costs associated with the purchase of a printer, many hardware manufacturers offer buyers various formulas to calculate projected return on investment (ROI). Beyond the printer itself, these calculations include media, ink, and labor.
To determine ROI, Konica Minolta has a specific formula in place. First it helps its customers figure out how much it will cost to produce a specific product on the printer at hand. That means breaking it down into the average print mode used—for example production, quality, draft—and the dpi in that mode. Then they figure out how much of that application in that mode requires CMYK or white. “This is important because white ink usually takes about twice as long to print,” adds Knotter. Based on that calculation you can figure out how much you can produce each day, then you factor in the media cost, labor, and ink volume. This gives the user an idea of what it costs to produce the product in a day, week, month, or year.
“Your two largest variable costs are ink and material. I find many print providers have a good handle on their media cost, but do not completely understand their ink costs. Ink costs are derived from not just the ink used on each job, but the required purge cycles. These extra purge cycles can double the cost of running printers, especially when you consider the high cost of disposing wasted ink. A periodic audit must be performed by evaluating total ink purchased versus total square foot printed,” explains D’Amico. “This may seem basic, but it is surprising how few people perform these calculations,” he adds.
Wide format digital printing is a great complement to commercial print work from marketing materials to brochures, flyers, photobooks, and packaging. UV hybrid devices in particular are a flexible way to enter into this segment of the market without breaking the bank. The dual configuration allows for printing to both rigid and flexible substrates, while simultaneously saving on precious shop space.
UV LED ink in particular is instantly cured with UV LED lamps, so that extra time can be translated into another segment of the business. Since entry-, mid-, and high-level devices are available, if more orders are entered than anticipated it is an option to graduate to another device that can handle higher levels of volume.
Oct2019, DPS Magazine