By Digital Output Staff
Display and point of purchase (POP) signage leverages advancements in flatbed printing technology. Specifically, corrugated board—a challenging material—is more easily printable, which means many possibilities open up to print service providers (PSPs) considering flatbed printing beyond PVC or styrene.
Both dedicated and hybrid flatbeds are now used to print to this material. The devices are equipped with the hardware and software features as well as correct ink sets to do it—overcoming it all to offer runs of all sizes with variabilities and regionalization features only made possible with digital technology.
Above: Examples of custom printed corrugated boxes from Canon.
Movement in the Space
Many print providers utilize flatbed devices to print to corrugated materials that are then used in display and POP, including aisle call outs, shelf talkers, standees, and wrap arounds. Trends in this space involve the design portion of the application, the material itself, and what types of products they hold or display.
How the corrugated applications are designed is evolving. “One trend is making the displays and bulk packaging faster and easier to set up in the store requiring less skilled labor. This shelf-ready approach can include simple things like packaging with perforated edges making it easier to open,” explains Randy Paar, marketing manager, Canon Solutions America.
Another design trend, shares Becky McConnell, segment marketing manager – wide format inkjet, FUJIFILM North America Corporation -Graphic Systems Division, is manufacturers printing boxes so that they are part of a larger display. “The boxes can be arranged to create a more impactful visual interaction point with consumers. And because of opportunities that exist with short runs and customization, localization of campaigns continues to be popular.”
The material itself has a connotation of eco-friendly, which drives demand and interest. “One of the benefits of corrugated media is the perception that it is a recyclable product. This helps drive adoption and use,” comments Larry D’Amico, sales director, large format, Durst North America.
Something that emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic was branded hand sanitizer displays, notes Bill Brouhle, solutions architect, digital print, Agfa. A trend born out of “necessity and ingenuity,” he says this is something that we need to be “hyper aware” of and remain “nimble, capturing new opportunities as they present themselves. Wide format inkjet provides PSPs with the quality and fast turnaround needed to easily adapt and thrive in these changing environments and keep up with new trends.”
“Digital printers allow for shorter runs and the faster printers are pushing this corrugated market. When you get 50-plus boards per hour the cost of production comes down and this form of advertising becomes more appealing to retailers,” agrees Patric Coldewey, president, DigiTech.
Working With It
Both hybrid and dedicated flatbed printers are used in corrugated display and POP.
According to Brouhle this wasn’t always the case. “In the past, there was a distinction between a flatbed and hybrid UV inkjet device that typically was defined by the substrate handling abilities and the quality that was achievable on each. If you required high precision and quality, you needed a flatbed, as the quality just wasn’t available on a hybrid system.”
“I think that as hybrid printer bed technology continues to advance, we see more people printing on belt driven devices for corrugated board than ever before. However, with the likelihood of warped boards in the world of corrugated, PSPs should do testing rather than assuming a hybrid printer could successfully hold down corrugated material,” advises McConnell.
Dedicated flatbeds offer the advantage of stationary beds, versus a rolling mechanism. In either scenario, the handling of a corrugated board needs to be addressed. “Given the porous nature of corrugated board and the frequent warping due to humidity, each technology has its challenges. Regardless, a stationary flatbed provides the best image-to-board accuracy compared to a printer that moves the board,” shares Paar.
High-powered vacuums found on dedicated flatbeds provide additional successful substrate management. For example, the Canon Arizona 6100 High Flow Vacuum Series utilizes three regenerative blowers that pull warped, porous corrugate boards down flat.
“Flatbed printers tend to do a better job with warped media. Corrugated materials can warp when humidity levels change. A flatbed with strong vacuum is important,” seconds Ken Parsley, product manager, Mutoh America, Inc. Mutoh’s PerformanceJet 2508UF dedicated flatbed features two large vacuum motors supporting four different vacuum zones.
Jim Peterson, VP of sales, Vanguard Digital Printing Systems – A Durst Group Company, cites fixed table flatbed printers as more common in this space due to their versatility—for example its VK300D-HS printer. “A fixed table press with a robust vacuum table can image to more challenging environmentally friendly substrates such as corrugated all while being able to print to the usual POP substrates such as styrene and PVC.”
“Dedicated UV flatbed printers have been the most used due to their easy workflow. The ability to change the entire 4×8-foot board and align it simply on the flatbed registration pins makes the process much easier for production,” adds David Lopez, product manager, Professional Imaging, Epson America.
Coldewey says it can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach. Hybrid or dedicated and what is best depends on what you intend to print. “If you are going to do double sided I would strongly suggest that you stay away from the hybrid printers. The skis on the hybrid machines can’t help with poor quality or corrugated.”
Both have benefits depending on the situation. “Flatbeds might be better with pre-cut material since you can lay a liner sheet and print full bleed more easily. Hybrids are better at larger scale production because you can more easily automate the feeding and stacking,” notes D’Amico.
Corrugated materials are challenging. One of the largest issues is how the ink is absorbed and/or dried on the substrate. The right combination of ink and substrate helps achieve the perfect finish. If color management is more critical than usual, utilizing an expanded color gamut is helpful.
“Ink can be a challenge. PSPs must meet the demands of their clients. Therefore, they need an ink combination that has great adhesion, great color, and flexibility. While these characteristics can often be opposing forces, we have found that ink manufacturers, in many situations, are creating a more advanced universal solution that fits all these needs. Exploring the characteristics of these inks to meet all the end users’ needs is paramount,” notes Peterson.
Printing onto a porous substrate like corrugated means an ink with a low dot gain is advantageous, according to Paar. When ink is quickly cured, like UV ink, it avoids absorbing into the media. He also suggests considering the finishing aspect. UV inks portay a “physical robustness for creasing and cutting to avoid cracking and chipping.”
“There are many types of corrugated substrates, some of which can be very porous. That is an advantage to UV ink as it is cured immediately after each pass of printing. The ink sits on top of the substrate versus being absorbed into it, thus, maximizing the yield, where a little bit of ink can result in a very vibrant color,” adds Brouhle.
To eliminate the possibility of ink sinking into the media—which leads to a light and washed out print—Parsley suggests using coated corrugated board.
Corrugated materials are like any substrate, admits Paar, “the effect on the image due to the quality of a board’s topcoat has an impact and needs to be factored into the color management. Some printers/inks with an inherently smaller CMYK gamut may benefit from additional colors like orange, red, or purple.”
“Ink absorption will vary between uncoated and coated materials. Color management tools can be utilized on either substate, but certainly a coated sheet with a white surface will offer the largest gamut. Extended gamut colors like orange and violet can help if you have a color requirement in the red and blue range that is outside the gamut of four color inks,” agrees D’Amico.
“Having an extended color gamut allows the printer to provide an accurate color representation when trying to reproduce certain brand or Pantone colors. The color gamut also affects photographic images, allowing gradients and transitions to be smoother,” notes Lopez.
Productivity and Speed
Today’s orders range from larger runs with multiple SKUs or versions to shorter runs with some variables to short runs of one graphic. With all the options, digital print—in our case flatbeds—are ideal.
“One of the most significant advantages of digital printing is running multiple images with different colors simultaneously. Whether it’s a short run, long run with various graphics, or repeating the same image, having such versatility leaves almost no limitations for PSPs,” says Lopez.
Parsley agrees, citing the software running the printer as one of the big reasons this is possible. “Actually the digital workflow allows for all the above situations. RIP software has evolved to the point that efficiency can be maintained with all workflows. Variable data printing and the ability to manipulate the digital image make most projects possible.”
Short to medium runs are the right fit for digital printing, according to Coldewey. “Today’s more productive printers have the workflow on the front end to allow for different images to be printed in the same time as the higher quantity runs of the same image. Make sure your evaluation looks at the front end workflow continuously feeding the print system.”
Brouhle finds that run lengths vary quite a bit, ranging from 50 to multiple thousands. “Having an adaptable UV inkjet solution is key as each customer’s needs and environment are different.”
Short runs range from custom graphics to pallet wraps with graphics localized for a specific region, asserts McConnell. “Digital print also allows brands and print providers to bring products to the market faster—whether that be for test markets or a national rollout, digital print has changed the way brands approach product launches.”
“Versatility in digitally printing one-offs and short runs is the more compelling driver compared to speed. Speed is still best accomplished on traditional flexographic and offset presses for mass produced quantities. Digital production is better suited for creating the prototypes for mass produced items or in producing limited short runs,” admits Paar.
Flatbed printers are designed to handle larger orders—variable or not—at higher speeds to meet tighter deadlines. Does this mean quality is compromised? Most corrugated POP applications are seen up close, so high visual quality is necessary.
“There are many high-production printers that offer great print resolution for in-store signage and displays—so quality doesn’t have to be compromised when it comes to greater throughput. There are often custom boxes produced on the same printer that is printing a free-standing display unit for retailers across the country. Printers often have a range of resolution options based on passes so quality expectations can often be met across a wide array of needs,” shares McConnell.
According to Paar, “every job is different. Knowing not just the capabilities of equipment but the viewing distance is key to determining the best print mode and speed to produce the work to a standard that the client will accept.”
For example, Coldewey says at DigiTech, to handle this, it prints at the highest speeds with the smallest dots at the same resolution. “It’s just more ink going down on each pass, but the corrugated paper can handle it. Larger lamps and a different vacuum system is also needed.”
Lopez says that typically, the faster the speed, the lower the resolution. Manufacturers like Epson with its SureColor V7000 have increased the number of printheads and staggered the printheads to increase speed, especially with multi-layer prints, without sacrificing quality.
“Most flatbeds and hybrids produce sellable prints at multiple resolutions so the work can usually be completed to the customer’s satisfaction. There is always a quality difference when a lower resolution is used. However the visual appearance of the highest resolution and the next lower resolution will be quite similar,” adds Parsley.
With PSPs looking to break into new avenues with existing technologies, display and POP in relation to flatbeds is an interesting consideration. Aisle call outs, shelf talkers, standees, and wrap arounds are all possible with corrugated materials. Today’s printers are equipped with the hardware, software, and ink sets to address some of the biggest demands at play in this segment.
May2022, Digital Output