By Ginny Mumm
Today’s digital printing industry is stronger and broader than ever before. Several key trends are emerging as businesses incorporate more print types on different substrates—the largest of these being a growing inclination toward customization for clients.
In addition to print-service providers (PSPs) who are eager to provide tailored solutions to retain customers and expand market share, a variety of new businesses have also sprung up to satisfy consumer demand for specific offerings, such as printing on coffee mugs, electronics, furniture, and fabrics.
With both established PSPs and relative newcomers needing effective production solutions, manufacturers are aiming to provide easy-to-use, versatile printing equipment.
Also, the demand for superior print quality and faster delivery speed is continually increasing. Manufacturers are responding with equipment that delivers higher quality prints more efficiently, on a wider range of substrates, with brighter and more vibrant inks.
The author examines several types of wide-format digital printing—ultraviolet (UV), eco-solvent, and fabric printing—to explore what is trending, and what lies ahead for these categories as well as for the industry overall.
UV printers: Combining speed and precision
In 2019, UV printer manufacturers remained focused on providing printers in a variety of sizes and formats to allow both new entrants and high-volume producers to access this market.
Roland DGA’s product manager for UV printers, Jay Roberts, notes that raising the height of print beds has become a trend in recent years, especially with the introduction of specialized printers that have a 152-mm (6-in.) clearance.
“The higher clearance allows for printing on a wide range of substrates, including 3D objects, which are a growing part of this market,” says Roberts.
With their ability to print on both pre-manufactured products, such as sheet stock, metals, wood, and plastics, or post-manufactured products, like cellphone covers, coffee mugs, and golf balls, the UV flatbed printer market has benefited enormously from the customization trend.
Manufacturers have responded with varied printer sizes, ranging from benchtop printers to full production models. With the integration of files across devices, migrating to a larger printer as production needs grow is much easier. In addition, hybrid UV printers offer combined flatbed and roll-to-roll capability, enabling users to handle a wider variety of jobs, while UV printers/cutters allow integrated contour cutting of items like labels and decals.
Inks are equally important. In fact, Robert says today’s designs frequently incorporate ‘pops’ of colour, and printers are using more gloss and white ink, along with orange, blue, and violet. Further, vibrant colours and special effects are being employed more often.
That said, manufacturers are working to address colour management challenges.
“When you talk about ‘colour management,’ the word, ‘management,’ is the hard part,” says Roberts. “Manufacturers are focusing on raster image processor (RIP) software improvements to increase repeatability and consistency across devices, which would further allow a shared visual appearance based on the colour profile and Delta E of each device.”
Another trend to note is the increasing need for variable-data printing (VDP).
“Businesses launching large retail campaigns are customizing their point-of-purchase (POP) displays by taking the general concept of their message and tailoring it to accommodate the needs of the local market,” says Roberts. “Manufacturers are continuing to emphasize VDP in their latest offerings.”
One of the biggest trends Roberts has observed is an increasing demand for a single printer that will allow users to produce large volumes of boards at high speed as well as high-quality, detailed work at a slower speed.
“Sign shops are being asked to ‘do it all’ these days, and they need a printer that can manage both high volume and high-detail runs,” he notes.
Roberts expects the next wave for UV printing to include a transition toward new ink types.
“There’s a lot of discussion about conductive inks and other innovations that will broaden the range of applications,” says Roberts. “If there’s a substrate out there we need to print onto, the technologies and products will advance to meet that need.”