By Melissa Donovan
Many print service providers (PSPs) are one-stop shops, a jack-of-all-trades and they require hardware that also acts like this. When it comes to roll-to-roll printers—for the purposes of this article we are discussing wide format, over 24 and under 100 inches in width—a device that can “do it all” is important. Ink sets and specific features dictate a printer’s versatility, here we look at some standout components.
Above: A dual roll drawer on the Canon Colorado series of printers makes media switching and production versatility easy so you can include a canvas material on one roll and window media on the other.
The One to Do it All
Print providers with a variety of needs are ideal candidates for an all-encompassing roll-to-roll device, but in truth, it’s not a bad idea for every PSP to have one in its arsenal.
Mike Kyritsi, president, swissQprint America, believes “any print provider needs to have something in this range if they want to be competitive. It is harder to specialize in a single type of work as many equipment manufacturers produce machines that offer more options that add value in different markets. Since space and capital can be somewhat limited at times, having a single printer that covers many different types of work allows PSPs to keep costs down without sacrificing quality, or speed.”
A majority of Mutoh America, Inc.’s customers are “mom and pop” and smaller operations looking to grow a home business. “Having the ability to tell a client ‘yes, we can do that’ while keeping relative costs low is a really great selling point,” says Tony Simmering, product manager, Mutoh.
“Many factors play a role in the need for an all-in-one device. Labor and availability, space within the print production area, and the desire to best serve prospective and current clients can often be the biggest factor,” shares Becky McConnell, segment marketing manager – wide format inkjet, FUJIFILM North America Corporation, Graphic Systems Division.
Roll printers are versatile for many reasons. “Versatility comes in various forms including ink features that print on many substrates, devices that cut after printing, or printers that have more than one ink type on board to expand the application gamut,” admits Hugo Gonzalez, applications supervisor, Mimaki USA, Inc.
Another example is the capability to print rigid and flexible media on one device, as they are often available as hybrid configurations. “This eliminates the need to print and then mount, freeing up time and eliminating the extra waste from trimming and mounting,” continues Glenn Shull, senior technology portfolio manager, Ricoh USA, Inc.
“The implementation of a hybrid printer provides the ultimate flexibility to address rigid and flexible media. For smaller shops with a variety of needs or larger companies with seasonal or varied production requirements a hybrid printer can offer the perfect solution,” agrees Larry D’Amico, sales director, Durst North America.
With the right hybrid printer, the sky is seemingly the limit. “Utilizing a hybrid’s roll-to-roll capabilities, the printer behaves and prints just like a standard roll printer. The added benefit is that the end user can also print cutsheet flexible as well as up to two-inch thick rigid media,” says Mark Crawford, managing partner, Fluid Color LLC.
David Lopez, product manager, professional imaging, Epson America, cautions that roll-to-roll printers are a “significant” investment, so it is imperative to conduct due diligence prior to committing to a purchase. “It’s essential to find a printer that offers versatility, a wide color gamut, and speed. It must meet current needs and grow with the business and evolving trends.”
“Before you jump in, look at your existing customer base and talk with them about what wide format products they are purchasing. Based on this information you can get a good handle on what type of technology may best suit your shop,” seconds John Kaufman, senior marketing specialist, Canon Solutions America.
Initial consideration involves ink. UV, solvent, latex—any derivative of these main options—are available. Determining the best ink set is based on the aforementioned, customer base, products, and future applications.
Gonzalez recommends asking the following questions when it comes to determining the best ink for a business. “Will it stick to the substrate? Will curing damage the substrate? Does the ink/printer provide the speed for my shop’s order volume? Does this ink give me the results I’d like?”
“Every technology has its strengths and weaknesses depending upon the application and media involved. While many of these technologies are perfectly suited for multiple applications, it really depends on which applications you want to focus on, and which ones you wish to drive the most profit from,” admits Kaufman.
He suggests considering the true cost per square foot when deciding upon a specific ink technology in a roll-to-roll printer device. This includes the ink cost, the ink consumption, ease of use, color consistency, the automation, media loading, true productivity, and sellable output speed of each device. In addition, look at dry times and lamination cost.
McConnell says the applications that a PSP is targeting help choose the best ink. “There are some applications where one ink is better than the other, but for someone who is targeting sign and display, UV inks provide safe, effective printing for most applications.”
“UV inks have many advantages that allow PSPs to offer a greater variety of work because UV LED curing allows you to instantly cure the ink without the need for heat or time allowing for heavier coverages, which means an increased variety of media. It is also an option to use inks that wouldn’t otherwise be possible such as varnish effects that range from matte and satin to gloss and even textured versions,” agrees Kyritsi.
Shull sees a combination of latex and solvent/eco-solvent ink as popular. “Aqueous resin inks, often referred to as latex, are gaining traction compared to eco-solvent ink. A big contributor to this is that latex ink is not hazardous, making it ideal for indoor operation and installation environments.”
Resin inks allow for a range of applications to be produced from one printer. “Printers using water-based resin ink offer versatility in terms of what can be produced. During the printing process, optimizer is used as a coating and allows for printing on various substrates such as uncoated papers, adhesive vinyl, wallpapers, and even some textiles,” explains Lopez.
Eco-solvent is another popular choice. “Eco-solvent ink widens the gamut and allows the user to achieve the exact colors needed for any given job,” shares Daniel Valade, product manager of digital print, Roland DGA Corporation.
“I believe that solvent ink is versatile because of the number of media it can print on without additional pretreatment. This combined with its excellent outdoor durability and wide color gamut make it a great choice for most providers,” adds Ken Parsley, product manager, Mutoh.
Versatility can mean many things, and feature sets found on roll-to-roll devices aid in achieving that versatility. For example, the ability to print to multiple media types expand the applications possible from one device. This is enabled by things like mesh kits used to print to linerless media or dual roll drawers. Additional ink channels or colors offer a level of versatility. Print-and-cut devices present an option for those struggling with smaller footprints. Media feed and take-up systems are also of importance.
Certain components of the printer may allow for printing to porous substrates or media without liners. “Features like mesh kits, without wet ink left over, allow linerless porous medias and full-bleed, edge-to-edge printing. Therefore, PSPs can utilize a greater range of medias that are more cost effective while also allowing better media usage with less waste,” shares Kyritsi.
“If linerless mesh needs to be printed we recommend using a true roll-to-roll device with a mesh option as a standard part of the printer,” adds Crawford.
Along the lines of multiple media types is the ability to quickly switch between multiple rolls. “A dual roll drawer on the Canon Colorado series of printers makes media switching and production versatility easy. For example, it takes 30 seconds or less to change a single roll of material out and only 60 seconds to change two rolls in the Colorado. You can have two of the same or two different medias loaded, and once initialized, the print engine can switch jobs between rolls without operator assistance,” explains Kaufman.
Another feature to look for when shopping for a roll-to-roll device is a printer with a wide color gamut. “Look for printers with extended ink color sets, including red, orange, and white ink. The Epson SureColor S80600 solvent printer features red ink and an optional white or metallic silver ink, designed to help PSPs hit hard-to-print colors and reach over 98.2 percent of the Pantone color guide,” recommends Lopez.
“Additional ink channels or colors can expand the application potential of a roll-to-roll printer as well, so it’s important to consider all the applications a PSP plans to produce in order to make the decision on what will best serve their business now and in the future,” says McConnell.
For shops short on space, the feature of print and cut in one device is attractive. “Integrated print-and-cut capabilities of devices like those offered in our TrueVIS series allow for printing and contour or perforated cutting a simple, seamless workflow,” suggests Valade.
Media feed and take-up systems help promote media versatility. “They offer the ability to run very thin and light products to the heaviest products like reflective and magnetics without cockling or poor re-roll,” says Shull.
The right roll-to-roll printer can make any PSP versatile. The key is to look for attributes that match the wants and needs of the shop. We talk more about roll-to-roll printers in our most recent webinar. The broadcast is archived on our website, digitaloutput.net, head over and view it today.
Mar2022, Digital Output