By Melissa Donovan
Dedicated flatbed printers 24 inches in width and capable of printing at minimum full-size sheets are offered at various speeds and feeds depending on the level of productivity a print service provider (PSP) is looking to achieve. Productivity is influenced by the applications currently planning to be run on the device, as well as any in the future. Ink sets, printheads, automation tools—especially for higher speed models, media hold down solutions, and bundled software are additional considerations.
For this discussion, we’ve grouped dedicated flatbeds into low-, mid-, and high-productivity categories based on their highest output at production-level printing. When reviewing each, please keep in mind that some flatbeds are built for 24/7 operation, whereas others are meant for a lighter duty cycle. It is important to note that lower productivity output devices should not be considered inferior to printers with significantly faster print speeds. Many of these devices are built for superior print quality at higher resolution output and print with an exceptional color gamut.
Above, left to right: Fujifilm offers the Acuity line of flatbed printers with speeds coming in under 700 sf/h. Canon’s Arizona flatbeds feature a new table design using FLOW Technology. This productivity enhancement draws down the substrate while greatly reducing the need to use tape or mask the table. The swissQprint Nyala 3 is now equipped with one or more neon channels to run neon yellow and/or pink ink.
Quality Output, Steady Speed
A low-productivity device offers high quality at smaller levels of output, ideal for rigid board applications like package prototyping or small, individual runs. For this piece, we’ve defined low-productivity flatbeds as up to 1,500 square feet per hour (sf/h).
Flatbeds in this segment are ideal for printing directly to pre-manufactured objects, sometimes on jigs, to leverage the a 4×8-foot bed or larger. Running through four-up lunchboxes or two-up custom snowboards is possible thanks to the newest advancements.
Operating at a maximum speed of 462 sf/h, the Epson SureColor V7000 is an entry-level UV flatbed printer offering multi-layer printing with white and varnish. It is equipped with Epson UltraChrome UV ink, available in CMYK, light cyan, light magenta, red, gray, white, and varnish. The SureColor V7000 uses Epson Micropiezo printhead technology featuring eight printheads.
“This proven printhead technology offers nozzle reliability for the high viscosity inks and helps to support color or three-layer output with little difference in production speed, while still producing the high-quality output Epson customers are accustom to with variable droplet sizes and accurate placement for bright, colorful, tactile prints with smooth radiation,” explains Matt McCausland, product manager, professional imaging, Epson.
Fluid Color offers flatbed printers in the low-, mid-, and high-productivity ranges. Mark Crawford, manager partner, Fluid Color, notes that all of the printers are field upgradable, which allows customers to grow productivity without having to purchase a new machine. Turnkey, Fluid Color flatbeds can be configured with either Ricoh Company Ltd. Gen5 or Gen6 and Kyocera Corporation printheads.
“Our Kaleidoscope inks are manufactured specifically for each of the three printhead technologies. Each printhead has a standard ink set and then we offer different niche inks for many different applications like the new Kaleidoscope R129 ThermaFlex inks, designed for thermoforming applications,” says Crawford.
Mimaki USA, Inc.’s JFX line of flatbed printers output from a range of 12 to 20 boards per hour, or 243 to 645 sf/h—depending on the model as well as the print mode. The UV flatbeds feature variable drop capabilities with drops as small as four picoliters. “This gives us a great balance of quality and speed. If we were to go to a fixed dot print, then we could increase the speed—in some cases more than double—which would match many of the faster marketed machines. If we did this though, we would need to sacrifice the quality aspect, and smaller precision prints would be reduced,” admits Michael Maxwell, senior manager – corporate strategic development, Mimaki USA, Inc.
Developed with the application in mind, Mimaki offers multiple ink chemistries. LUS-150 inks balance material compatibility and flexibility, suggested for use on the most common sheet goods with little to no preparation. For stickers and banners, the company developed LUS-120 and LUS-170. There is also a rigid ink, LH-100, which offers high bonding to almost any surface but no flexibility. For ultra-high flexibility and stretch Mimaki developed LUS-350 thermoforming inks.
Mutoh America, Inc.’s PerformanceJet (PJ) 2508UF offers production speeds of 330 to 480 sf/h or ten to 15 boards per hour. It can run with either flexible or rigid ink depending on the application. “Inks are chosen based on substrates used, adhesion required, and outdoor durability,” explains Ken Parsley, product applications engineer, Mutoh.
Roland DGA Corporation’s IU-1000F prints at just under 1,250 sf/h. The UV device is equipped with an industrial printhead and two corresponding inks. “To satisfy the varying needs of our customers, we provide inks that are both compatible with their intended markets and compatible with the printheads of the different types of devices we offer. We offer inks that feature a wide color gamut, some that have better adhesion on a wider variety of materials, and others that are more cost effective,” notes Jay Roberts, product manager, UV printers, Roland.
Moving Into Faster
Mid- to high-productivity flatbeds are hitting speeds out of this world, but are not compromising on quality—again thanks to advancements in technology, namely printheads as well as ink and how the two play with each other. For this piece, we defined mid-productivity flatbeds over 1,501 up to 5,000 sf/h. High-productivity flatbeds are considered anything operating at speeds over 5,001 sf/h.
Agfa offers the Jeti Mira LED, which hits speeds of 1,776 sf/h in express mode and faster in draft mode. It is equipped with piezoelectric Ricoh MH5420 printheads that fire at a seven picoliter droplet size. Agfa Anuvia LED UV-curable inks run in the device and are available in CMYK, light cyan, light magenta, and white, with primer or varnish optional.
“All Agfa LED UV inks offer high flexibility, image longevity, and outdoor resistance. Not to mention, Agfa LED UV inks can print on heat-sensitive substrates for a range of applications. Agfa’s thin ink layer pigment dispersion technology results in eye-catching prints and helps preserve the environment and PSP’s budget,” says Bill Brouhle, solutions architect, Agfa.
Depending on the specific printer, flatbeds in the Canon Solutions America Arizona UV printer series print at speeds of up to 1,668 sf/h—specifically the Arizona 6100 series XTS. All of the printers can be configured with white ink in addition to CMYK. Besides the Arizona 6160, all other six-channel models allow the two extra channels to be configured for either double white or white plus varnish. Eight channel models include light cyan and light magenta.
“We utilize grayscale printheads featuring a range of drop sizes from six to 42 picoliter to produce fine details and smooth transitions with the small drops and bold, saturated colors utilizing larger drop sizes. Another advantage of small drop sizes is that they greatly improve the image quality without the need for light cyan and light magenta inks that subsequently results in lower ink consumption compared to fixed drop size, six-color printers,” shares Randy Paar, marketing manager, Canon Solutions America.
Digitech’s TrueFire printer series hits high speeds of up 3,200 sf/h depending on the model. Currently offered with two ink sets, high intensity ink with pigment for extreme color and high adhesion ink, the flatbeds utilize Kyocera printheads. “The width of this printhead along with double the number of nozzles allows us to surpass our competitors’ speed. The bonus is we have fewer printheads to align, half the electronics, and half the ink lines,” explains Patric Coldewey, president, Digitech.
EFI’s two dedicated flatbed printers, the EFI Pro 24f and EFI Pro 30f, operate at speeds of up to 1,152 and 2,130 sf/h, respectively. Featuring EFI ProGraphics Series UV ink, which is available in both rigid and flexible/rigid options, the printers come standard with CMYK along with two white channels.
“We designed the printers this way knowing how important white ink is for high-end backlit work, or jobs produced on clear, colored, or metallic media. Our customers benefit from not having to incur the downtime and waste that would come from having to purge inks and load white into other ink channels,” shares Ken Hanulec, VP – worldwide marketing, EFI.
The Stratojet USA Shark EFB 2512 dedicated flatbed reaches speeds of up to 1,536 sf/h or 47 boards per hour. The 96×48-inch printer runs with Ricoh Gen5 printheads. To encourage users to increase profit margins, the printer is equpped with optional spot varnish coating.
Durst Image Technology US, LLC offers flatbed printers that reach speeds ranging from 3,780 to 12,900 sf/h. A variety of inks are offered. “The first criteria starts with UV or LED curing, since inks have to be tuned differently depending on the system used. Beyond this aspect, ink is chosen based on the application. Different media and uses for that media require different inks to properly perform for that application,” explains Larry D’Amico, sales director, Durst.
While Fujifilm North America Corporation offers the Acuity line of flatbed printers with speeds coming in under 700 sf/h, on the high-production end it is the distributor of the Inca Onset series of flatbeds, which reach speeds of up to 15,000 sf/h in some instances. There are multiple ink sets to choose from based on the PSP’s offered applications.
The Inca Onset line of flatbed printers leverage Fujifilm Dimatix Q-class printheads. “These printheads were chosen because it is the engineering and integration of the Inca Onset printer with Fujifilm printheads and inks that set the Onset X series apart when it comes to reliable, high throughput print production,” comment Becky McConnell, segment marketing manager for wide format inkjet, and Ramona Serafino, associate product marketing manager, Fujifilm.
swissQprint offers a series of flatbed printers, three standard models and two speed models. The top speeds of the standard models range from 700 to 2,217 sf/h and the top speeds of the speed models are 3,412 to 3,982 sf/h. Roughly 80 percent of the flatbed printers are equipped with a roll printer option, so the ink sets perform well on both rigid and flexible media.
“The focus we put on inks is a large color gamut, a wide adhesion profile, and high suitability for post processing such as cutting and milling. All ink sets are GREENGUARD Gold certified, meaning prints can be applied even in sensitive environments like schools or hospitals,” explains Mike Kyritsi, president, swissQprint America. In March 2021, the company announced neon inks—yellow and pink—for its printer series.
Accelerating with Automation
When entering the higher end of the productivity range, automation is key. Manual processes can’t keep pace with the speed of the printer. Support like board loading and offloading, robotic arms, feeders, and even stackers can considerably increase production and efficiently.
Users of the Agfa Jeti Mira LED can work with the Print & Prepare mode, which allows them to load one side of the table while the other side is printing. The printer can print in either direction, top down or bottom up, so combined with the Print & Prepare mode downtime is reduced and productivity increased.
“This is helpful when loading large boards, double-sided work, and especially when loading lots of smaller boards, which the load time would typically hamper production throughput,” notes Brouhle.
For board loading, the Canon Arizona 1300, 2300, and 6100 series printers all utilize foot operated pneumatic registration pins allowing for quick, precise, and repeatable board loading. The newer Arizona 2300 series adds an additional set of pins along the right edge of the table allowing for much easier production of double-sided work utilizing a work-and-turn workflow.
“By registering to the same side edge of the media when printing each side, you ensure precise front to back alignment without calculating any image offsets,” says Paar.
When a Digitech TrueFire flatbed is in production mode, operators use a foot pedal connected to the machine to start, stop, and unload prints off of the bed. This decreases idle time and increases printing time, in addition to moving stress off of the machine operator. “Our customers tell us that operators are 20 percent more efficient when using the auto unloader,” adds Coldewey.
Durst provides different levels of automation. “The configuration can differ from three-fourths automation to full pallet to pallet loading and unloading. The primary justification for automation is labor savings. Running a nearly unattended operation can provide significant reduction in labor cost,” shares D’Amico.
With the idea of growing as productivity grows, Fluid Color supplies automation any time an end user requires it, expanding capabilities as a customer’s production needs expand. Automation solutions offered include board feeders, board stackers, and a board staging feeder.
Fujifilm offers automation options ranging from semi- to fully-automated for the Inca Onset X series of flatbeds. Handling time is reduced from 20 to 45 seconds manually down to less than six seconds with automation on the Onset X3 HS. With a three-fourth automation system, a pre-load table allows the operator to place and pre-register the sheet(s) while printing. Another option, the fully automated Hostert Pro autoloader system, which allows one to four sheets to be loaded simultaneously. Both systems are paired with a robotic off loader to remove sheets from the print bed to the finished stack.
“Automation is important in this scenario because by minimizing handling time, a print provider is able to maximize the throughput of the Onset X printer—this becomes increasingly important as print production capacity increases,” explain McConnell and Serafino.
swissQprint invented Rob, a fully integrated robot for loading and unloading rigid media on and off its flatbed machines. Any sufficiently rigid material with a non-porous surface can be handled.
Hold that Board!
All flatbed printers—whether low-, mid-, or high-productivity models—rely on board hold down technology to control media once on the flatbed. This is essential, as older models used to rely on masking and tape, which required more manual time on the operator’s part as well as increased room for error.
Agfa’s Jeti Mira LED flatbed utilizes two variably controlled vacuum pumps that manage multiple print zones and feature reverse vacuum to make loading and positioning of heavy and large sheets quick and easy. The vacuum pumps sense when substrates are loaded and automatically adjust up or down in suction to achieve optimal substrate flatness. In addition, retractable registration pins in X and Y axis are offered and a set of shuttle safety sensors are included on either side of the print carriage.
Canon’s Arizona flatbeds feature a new table design using FLOW Technology. This productivity enhancement draws down the substrate while greatly reducing the need to use tape or mask the table. “Through the course of a shift, this time savings can add up leading to impressive productivity gains,” notes Paar.
“Different media requires the ability to adapt. The operator can get up on the table and make adjustments to any special objects without fear of creating a low spot in the table. This is important when woking with special objects and media,” explains Coldewey. For example, Digitech offers a corrugation package with 100 percent more air volume and more power in the vacuum system than base models.
Durst offers a combination of adjustable vacuum, hold down roller systems, and skis that secure material as it passes through the printer. D’Amico notes this is especially critical when printing to corrugated material, which has a tendency to curl.
Between the EFI Pro 24f and the EFI Pro 30f printers, there are four or six user-selectable vacuum zones. “These are designed to match the most common media sizes without masking, ensuring efficient hold down, no unintended media movement, and easy transitions between jobs,” notes Hanulec.
The Epson SureColor V7000 includes a four-zone vacuum system to easily hold media in place for increased productivity, accuracy, and efficiency. “Not all projects are printed on a 4×8-foot sheet, so the multi-vacuum zones allow for different size output to be securely held down without tape,” shares McCausland.
Both standard blower motors and zoned layouts are available on Mimaki’s JFX series of flatbed printers. However, if a customer works with materials more susceptible to bowing or flexing, Maxwell shares that optional upgrades are available to increase suction. The printers also feature a pin alignment layout feature, which offers precise repeat work and double-sided accuracy.
The Mutoh PJ 2508UF is equipped with two strong vacuum pumps and a four-zone vacuum table with automatic pin registration with a blow back feature. “The four-zone table allows the user to direct the vacuum to a specific area of the table to hold down the most difficult media. The blow-back feature makes it much easier to position heavy media on the table,” notes Parsley.
Roland’s UV flatbed also features a vacuum system. “As the printers get larger in size, it is increasingly important to offer more zoned areas so that the customers can place multiple types and sizes of materials,” explains Roberts.
swissQprint’s newest Tip Switch Vacuum makes it possible for flatbeds to have up to 256 vacuum channels. “Every one of them can be controlled with the tap of a finger. It is even possible to close the vacuum in between the media. As a consequence, there is no need for any extra board hold down solution,” says Kyritsi.
Software Bundled In
Hardware is only as good as the software controlling it. Many flatbed manufacturers bundle their own or third-party software into their products. These solutions range from color management control to dashboards that manage job queue functions and tools that calculate ink consumption.
With its Asanti workflow, Agfa provides PrintTune and Production Dashboard. PrintTune is a process control software solution that ensures accurate and consistent color. It provides G7 tools to validate the attainment of targets and color standards through iterative linearization. Production Dashboard is a tool that helps shop floor operators understand how their production process is working.
Multiple software solutions are available with the Canon Arizona flatbeds. PrintSight provides a dashboard for business owners or operators to monitor many aspects of print production, including ink used per job, day, or month; square footage printed; and print modes. Two different solutions offered involve simplifying job setup—Arizona Xpert and Touchstone. Arizona Xpert records all the steps in setting up complex layered jobs and saves them to be used again. Touchstone software makes file preparation and textured printing intuitive.
Digitech writes all of its own software, with the latest software package allowing operators to queue in jobs for an entire day. Pairing this with the auto unloader, “we save our customers 25 to 30 seconds between jobs, which means our customers save 45 minutes to one hour per 100 sheets printed,” states Coldewey.
Durst printers are equipped with Durst workflow. “This not only ensures that there will be no finger pointing between the RIP system and the printer, it also allows us to maximize the capability of our machines. We can control color and ink use as well as provide bi-directional data upstream so that printer data can be utilized for job costing and estimating,” shares D’Amico.
EFI’s dedicated flatbeds run using the EFI Fiery proServer Core digital front end (DFE). EFI Fiery DFE includes FAST RIP acceleration technology, plus RIP and print on demand functionality or the ability to print pre-RIPed files.
Designed as an out-of-the-box solution, the Epson SureColor V7000 includes Epson Edge Print RIP workflow software for layout and print management, color management, and seamless workflow integration. Other software programs available include Epson Edge Dashboard and Epson Cloud Solution PORT for remote overview and control of an Epson printer fleet.
Fujifilm offers IncaConnect software on the Inca Onset X series. It is a suite of software tools that allow integration of Onset X printers into existing management information system production software. Part of IncaConnect is IncaAccess—job and print queue management, IncaViewer—a data visualization tool; IncaScript—a custom script builder, and IncaAPI—allowing access to IncaConnect functionality via Representational State Transfer web API.
Mimaki RasterLink is bundled with each printer. The fully-functional RIP offers job layout, color management, and color replacement features. Maxwell believes that the most useful feature in RasterLink for flatbed customers is the jig layout tool. “This tool allows customers to segment the jobs in specific points of the print area on the bed and assign them based on location. What this does is allow for multiple projects to be loaded simultaneously but placed on a single layout. This is perfect for repeat surfaces that require unique prints on each,” he adds.
Mutoh’s PJ 2508UF comes with the Mutoh Edition FlexiSIGN & PRINT. This features SAi Flexi, which is a full-function graphics creation software and 64-bit RIP.
The Roland IU-1000F is bundled with SAi FlexiPRINT Production Manager and Roland Print Control Center (RPCC). The production manager is a RIP and RPCC is a software control center that drives and directs all the functionalities of the flatbed.
Flatbed, ink, software—combined with automation functions when required, offers a full package for any PSP depending on what they are looking for. A range of options are available.
Included in this issue is our flatbed printer chart, which shares information on dedicated as well as hybrid models in the wide format range—over 24 inches in width.
Also, visit here to view archived webinars on the topic.
Jun2021, Digital Output