It seems that people in the personalization business are invariably looking for that “next BIG thing” in our industry. Years ago, lasers were the “next BIG thing,” then inkjet sublimation made a huge affect the industry. So what’s next? What magical innovation should 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 the industry, then lasers did the same thing, and then some major technological advancements in sublimation came along cementing this procedure as one in the “next BIG things.” Along the way, several other likely candidates cropped up, however they never quite made it for 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 however it never quite caught on for in-house production. Then there were the system that printed inkjet images on glass. Again, a fairly nice product nonetheless it never really took off. Finally, there was the Enduring Images system of printing on ceramic using latte printer. I am still patiently waiting for this one to take off, but to date, only some passionate souls are staying with me.
UV printing, however, seems to be taking on a life of its very own. For several years now, it’s all but dominated the trade events with some really big names choosing a marked curiosity about showing their printers, whilst they knew they were out of the cost range for 95 percent of your companion walking the 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 which might be displaying what appears to be an increasing number of models.
Steve Gluskin, director of promoting for Rowmark’s GoVivid printers, says, “The message we have been hearing from trophy and award dealers is that their customers are trying to find something new. The ability to add color is an ideal fit to enhance what they are currently offering. Even the capacity to offer ‘multi-media’ or multiple processes when making an award is basically gaining interest. For example, a laser engraved as well as a UV-LED printed award adds dimension and color, and, just as importantly, profit margin to the dealer. By adding UV-LED printing, the dealership will differentiate themselves off their competition.”
So what exactly is a UV printer? Well, let’s focus on the UV part, like ultraviolet light. UV light is surely an invisible (on the eye) kind of light seen in many light sources, such as the sun. UV light has some useful characteristics, specifically the power to cure many photosensitive materials. In true of UV printing, a UV light is used to stop (harden and solidify) the inks laid down through the printer.
The iUV-600XL from Graphics One, Inc. comes with 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 conventional solvent inkjet printing. Instead of having solvents in the ink that evaporate to the air and absorb in the substrate, UV inks experience UV lights that are built in to the printer which quickly cure the ink to show it from your liquid to some solid. This technology has several advantages, including eliminating environmental and workplace health concerns, the ability to print over a wide various substrates, high print speeds along with a wide range of printing applications which range from outdoor signage to tennis balls.
So why should we be so enthusiastic about this developing technology? Truth is, annually or two ago, few people within our industry were very pumped up about this in any way. With price tags in 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 in the first place. But as the passed, the costs have dropped and much more competition has come into the market, making both a lot wider variety of printers and print options available as well as price points—even on the point that $20,000 can now buy a great deal of printer.
Today, the problem isn’t much price up to it is confusion and misinformation in what a UV printer can and should not do, and how much market there is to support one.
For instance, I occasionally print a plaque using uv printer. The cost is nearly negligible as well as the markup may be substantial, but how many plaques are appropriate because of this technology? Remember, sublimation doubles to create full-color plaques. The same is true using a hundred other products including everything from metal plates to plastic toys. In short, associated with pension transfer personalization processes, you’ll find things which are best done which has a UV printer and things which can be best completed with other methods. UV printing isn’t a substitute for other processes, but an alternative to do most jobs along with the only way to perform a few.
I had work recently that involved printing full-color company logos on clear acrylic. I have not a clue how I could have done this with some other process. UV printing was perfect because I could print a solid white image to generate 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 offer an attachment for printing cylindrical items including water bottles. The RotaPrint attachment can be acquired from Roland DGA Corp.
Printing on clear or dark backgrounds could be quite a challenge for most processes and with some, such as sublimation, it’s nearly impossible. UV printing can be more forgiving than other methods when it comes on the type of substrates who’s works with. Sublimation, as an example, nearly always requires a special polyester-coated substrate to work in any way. UV printing, for the other hand, can be used to print on the wide number of substrates coming from all colors, textures, sizes and shapes. But, much like other processes, it doesn’t develop everything. In fact, there are many substrates that UV inks won’t adhere to without first applying a bonding or adhesion agent. Some printers can spray an adhesion agent about the substrate from the printer nozzles while with printers, you have to hand put it on. Either way, there exists no ensure that the ink will bond until it is tested.
Adhesion then, i think, becomes the biggest problem in the UV world since every printer manufacturer offers their particular inks and adhesion additives, and each is different. This means it really is ultimately important that you test the two inks and also the printer to be sure they will work on the substrates you want to print prior to any kind of buying decision or promises to customers.
Along with having to find out about adhesion with UV inks, it’s also essential that a potential buyer learn about the various properties with the inks. Some companies offer multiple inks to be considered but many try to offer a “one size fits all” recipe that may or might not work for you. At one time, I presumed an ink cured with UV light would then be UV safe and so I printed a career 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 will make me cautious—once burned and many types of that.
One from the most popular options that come with UV printers recently may be the introduction of cylindrical devices for printing stuff like water bottles. I believe that cylindrical items are offered just as one option for every printer with enough throat to accommodate one. This brings no less than two questions to the light: One, how user-friendly could be the software for starting a cylindrical job and, two, do I need another specialized ink? Although metal water bottles might 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 from the printer manufacturers now present an ink that stretches approximately 200 percent.
The flexible ink option opens other applications, for example printing banners. Magnetic signs are another possibility and a few manufacturers have built their printers so there are no paramagnetic (steel) parts that would interfere with printing a magnetic material.
With the large number of inks available, a serious decision you need to make is determing the best ink to your applications. Inks can’t be changed so once an ink is selected you happen to be pretty much saddled with it for that duration. Ink changes are possible should you thoroughly clean the printer, but this might be time-consuming and is not suitable for job-to-job use.
Inks usually are specific on the manufacturer, and so are the print heads and rails (the bars the heads and UV light run using). Some companies manufacture their unique print heads and rails, although many others use assemblies from other inkjet manufacturers, such as Ricoh and Epson. Depending on the print head, the printer could possibly be capable of varying the size with the ink dot from less than 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 ends up in sharper images and colors that smoothly vary from one shade to a different. Variable-dot printing is controlled by firmware from within the printer and its particular software.
All UV printers come with some kind of RIP (Raster Image Processor) software to drive and control these firmware options. Usually, the RIP software programs are developed from the manufacturer for the specific printer and it has various functions, including translating images from your 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 see the results in the printed image, for example vivid reds, white and the power to smoothly transition in one color to another. When you happen to be considering investing in a printer, it’s very important to look closely, compare results and enquire of questions if you see something that doesn’t look right. If it doesn’t look right on the demo, it won’t look right when you are getting it home!
So where is the money in UV printers? What kinds of products produce enough come back to make them definitely worth the $20,000 to $80,000 or even more investment attached with these devices? It couldn’t possibly be the power to make one-up products as will be the case with sublimation. Clearly, UV is for your bulk production shop. Although 1,000 water bottles might be personalized because they are printed, the contribution in the textile printer is printing a lot of products with the exact same imprint—what we will call production.