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Wide-Format Part 3: Flatbeds

Establishing your business in the wide-format print market is one matter, but expanding further is another challenge altogether. Rob Fletcher looks at how flatbed technology can help

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The Océ Colorado 1650 from Canon has a top speed of 159sq m/h and can produce print in qualities of 1,800dpi

Path to profit

While the wide-format market offers attractive expansion opportunities for sign-makers, it is no secret that cathe availability of profitable contracts and the fact work is in plentiful supply has seen the level of competition in the sector increase.

It is becoming increasingly important for companies already active in the sector to look at how they can expand outside of their current markets and take on new work. Flatbed technology can offer a route to work in a number of areas, with this type of kit allowing users to create a range of applications.

Here, we take a look at some of the latest flatbed options currently available on the market and speak with some of the leading manufacturers in this sector to find out how investment in this kit can help sign-makers grow their wide-format print business.

Open for business

Canon is one of the leading names in wide-format print technology, offering a range of machinery including flatbeds. Duncan Smith, director of industrial and production solutions at Canon UK, says investing in a true flatbed printer enables print-service-providers and sign-makers to centralise a large number of different applications on one technology.

“You can print on all kinds of rigid substrates, and even irregular shaped objects,” Smith says, adding: “Flatbed technology opens up many opportunities for targeting new applications by offering the ability to directly print onto a variety of substrates including wood, glass, board, ceramics and metal.

“Canon has developed unique technology, Océ Touchstone, which allows users to create multi-layered textured prints via an Adobe plug in. This application opens up the opportunity to develop creative and margin rich output in markets such as fine art and interior decor with truly personalised designs.

“For flexibility, Canon also offers a roll media option that can be added to print roll-to-roll, allowing applications to be printed on rigids and flexible media, using one ink, one technology.”

Canon’s Océ Arizona 1300 Series 1360GT model can print in CMYK+WW/V and has a maximum rigid print area of 49.2 x 98.4”

Building on this, Smith draws attention to some of the entry-level options that are available from Canon. He focuses in particular on the Arizona 318 for those customers typically entering the flatbed market for the first time, saying that the model delivers all the versatility and print quality of the higher volume Arizona products at an affordable price point.

All Arizona flatbed print machines from Canon are upgradable in order to meet the customer’s own requirements

As an additional benefit, all Arizona flatbeds from Canon are upgradable in the field to meet customers’ changing needs. From a first-time user up to high end production printers for experts, Smith says printers in the Arizona family are easy to use and maintenance friendly, with focus on automation.

“Our customers are continuing to innovate in a very dynamic market and this is a catalyst for the growth of the sector,” he says, adding: “I am absolutely sure that there are segments and applications outside of our known markets that we are not even aware of yet.”

Know your business

Another major brand in this market is Electronics for Imaging (EFI), which counts flatbed kit among its portfolio of solutions. Dani Alkalay, product manager at EFI, says flatbeds offer ease of registration for double-sided and nesting printing jobs at a high level of productivity and simplicity of use.

Alkalay expands: “When choosing a printer, it is mandatory to understand your business’ needs and how the type of printer will address them. Key parameters to assess are the estimated volume of print, type and size of media, and what type of jobs are to be printed. If the majority of substrates are rigid and there is a benefit of having accurate registration and good image quality, a flatbed is the right printer investment.

If the majority of substrates are rigid and there is a benefit of having accurate registration and good image quality, a flatbed is the right printer investment

“New flatbeds are now available for printing at higher speeds in different viewing modes, using greyscale printheads that use low ink levels but yield great image quality. This results in lower ink consumption and an overall lower cost per square metre, which gives the business owner pricing flexibility and a competitive advantage.”

EFI flatbed printers include and are shipped with white ink, and Alkalay says that the ability to print high opacity white in different modes enables printing high-end, profitable jobs, such as backlit, double-sided graphics and window clings.

Printing on non-white materials, as well as non-standard materials, such as metals, wood or even leather, also increases the scope of new high-value applications that can be printed on flatbeds, according to Alkalay.

With this in mind, Alkalay draws attention to EFI wide-format hybrid, flatbed, and roll-to-roll printing platforms, which he says are the proven way into the entry-level production, digital printing market.

Alkalay says: “They transform your business by helping you tap into new markets and fresh revenue streams with advanced white ink and multi-layer printing. Plus, EFI’s comprehensive global service and support keeps you up and running 24/7.

O Factoid: At FESPA 2019, EFI showed new Pro 30f, a 3 x 2m true flatbed available with 12 Ricoh gen 5 printhead configuration with Ultradrop technology, green LED curing and a new user GUI interface driven by the embedded EFI Fiery proServer Core digital front end. O

At the 2019 FESPA Global Print Expo, EFI also showcased its new Pro 30f, a 3 x 2m flatbed available with 12 Ricoh gen 5 printhead configuration with Ultadrop technology, green LED curing and a new user friendly GUI interface driven by the embedded EFI Fiery proServer Core digital front end. The new printer also has the ability to print on media up to 10cm thick, which Alkalay says provides the user with more application possibilities.

EFI used the 2019 FESPA Global Print Expo to showcase its new Pro 30f, a 3 x 2m true flatbed with a 12 Ricoh gen 5 printhead configuration 

Thinking outside the box

Looking elsewhere in this market and Hybrid Services, the exclusive distributor of Mimaki kit in the UK and Ireland, has a number of flatbed options on offer. Brett Newman, chief operations manager at Hybrid, says that one of the major benefits of moving over to direct-to-board printing on flatbed machines is that you have a finished product straight from the printer.

Brett Newman, chief operations manager at Hybrid Services, says direct-to-board printing on flatbed machines means the user has a finished product straight from the printer

Newman expands: “For this reason, site boards and health and safety signage is all achievable quickly and simply. Retail point-of-sale and exhibition graphics can be easily produced and the direct-to-board capabilities remove processing, reducing staff costs and means print companies retain control of the workflow.

“The Mimaki JFX series LED UV flatbed printers offer a huge amount of options for sign and graphics companies, from the time-saving benefits of printing direct-to-board to the many bespoke and creative products that can be printed.

“There’s also the world of small-format LED UV flatbed printers to explore, with the Mimaki UJF series providing an unending solution to demands for personalised, bespoke and artistic print runs onto rigid objects.”

Taking this into account, Newman says that it may be easier than first thought to move into flatbed printing. He explains that adding print to rigid products adds value, and with products like Mimaki’s UJF MkII series there are no start-up costs other than the initial hardware investment, short lead times and you retain control of the process from start to finish.

He comments: “It’s about being creative with inks and effects and thinking outside the box in terms of what products can actually be printed onto. Mimaki has a printable primer option, which means materials that were previously tricky to print onto directly now have excellent adhesion, along with metallic options.”

Among the solutions available from Hybrid and Mimaki is the JFX200, which, according to Newman, delivers a highly desirable combination of quality, speed and value and its flatbed format means that it is ideally suited to the production of rigid display boards, packaging and exhibition panels.

Newman says: “It’s been an incredibly popular flatbed since its arrival on the market five years ago and now Mimaki has released the new JFX200-2513EX model, which prints at double the speed with white ink, increasing productivity and creative potential.

According to Hybrid Services, the new JFX200-2513EX from Mimaki is ideally suited to the production of rigid display boards, packaging and exhibition panels

“The wide-format flatbed market continues to thrive as print providers look to the next step and diversify from roll-to-roll printing into the flatbed remit. We’ve seen the industry continue to evolve over the last year as people grow in confidence and creativity with the opportunities that flatbed printing provides and it’s more popular than ever before.”

These final comments from Newman bring this feature to a suitable conclusion; the flatbed market offers a wide range of opportunities for sign-makers and wide-format print companies to expand their business.

Although making the move into this sector may at first seem quite daunting, with thoughts of large investments rushing though your head, from speaking to some of the leading suppliers and manufacturers in the market, it is clear that there are some productive and cost-effective machines available to help you make a successful transition into this sector.

For the fourth piece in this special wide-format series, SignLink will be looking at the latest hybrid printing equipment and the benefit this kit offers over other machinery available on the market. See SignLink September for more information.

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