Do You Need a Flatbed Printer?

Over the past year, the use of flatbed printers in the wide-format imaging market has grown tremendously. Flatbed printers are decreasing in price, improving speed and flexibility, which allows printers to raise production levels and, therefore, their bottom lines. Many printers have chosen to add flatbed printers to their fleet of presses and some have continued to increase their output by installing additional presses.

One company that has discovered the advantages of installing a flatbed printer is Excell Color Graphics of Fort Wayne, IN. Excell recently installed a Fujifilm Acuity Advance HS UV flatbed press. Tom Parrot, president of Excell, said, “It just gave us another avenue to offer products and services to our clients, rather than going to many other sources.”

When it came to choosing the new flatbed printer, Parrot said that he immediately thought of going with Fujifilm. “Fuji is one of our major suppliers, so we just went with them,” said Parrot.

Additionally, Parrot had done some research on the type of press that would best suit the company. “I heard a lot of good things about this device, so I felt comfortable in choosing it.”

Excell previously operated as an offset printer before choosing a flatbed printer to increase the shop’s ability to create and print POP signage and other retail products. Parrot said that the main objective for Excell was to find a flatbed printer that would be able to produce the type of quality customers had come to expect from the company. Parrot said, “Print quality was the determining factor for us.”

Hybrid vs. Flatbed—Which One is Best?

Olympus Group technical director Andrew Arkin discusses the difference between a hybrid and true flatbed printer. A hybrid is able to print both flat substrates and roll-to-roll, but typically, one will print better than the other. A hybrid may be able to print both, but the printer is primarily targeted to one or the other.

“The thing about a true flatbed is that it uses a vacuum table, which is great if the substrate is not flat. The vacuum table sucks the substrate down into the press and takes the bed out. The hybrid is belt driven, so you have to think about the substrate.”

When it comes down to making a choice between a true flatbed and a hybrid, Arkin said that the company must consider the substrate. In the case of Olympus, versatility to print on a wide variety of substrates helped to make the final decision to install their Screen Truepress Jet2500UV. Olympus also runs a Vutek QS2000, which was an upgrade from their Vutek QS3220.

“I’m shocked as to how many people print on four substrates all day long. It’s all they do because that’s what the business demands. I like the flexibility of being able to supply our customers with whatever they need. With our customers, we have such a wide range.”

Arkin said that it was the company’s customer base that pushed Olympus into expanding printing capabilities. Customers began to demand more and more, plus higher quality than what some other presses could offer. Additionally, the requests for certain printed materials created a need for a flatbed printer that could accommodate those requests.

“We stock 50 different kinds of substrates. There’s just a wide variety. When people call to say that they want something unusual, I want to be able to give that to them.”

Unusual Uses and Trends

Olympus has had some unusual requests for work since the installation of the Screen Truepress Jet2500UV. One of the major jobs currently being printed by Olympus can only be printed on the Truepress.

“We print on clear materials like Lexan and then heat bend it into a unique shape,” said Arkin. “It’s unique, it’s different, and its fun. Previously you would have to screen print this type of product.”

The interesting thing about this particular job is that the clear material can be printed in such a way that different graphics can be printed front and back. The material is then illuminated using a patented technology from Flex Lighting. The opaque white ink laid down by the Truepress becomes illuminated. Using the press’ technology, Arkin also stated that printing front to back can be done accurately, although there was somewhat of a learning curve on perfecting the process.

Parrot of Excell also discussed printing on some unusual products for its clients. Perhaps the most unusual project involved printing on ceiling tiles. A local hospital requested that their logo be printed on ceiling tiles that would be used throughout the facility.

Is It Time to Buy?

According to Parrot, printers seeking to get into the retail signage end of the printing industry should definitely consider purchasing the Fujifilm Acuity Advance HS UV flatbed press for its high quality, performance, speed, and versatility.

Arkin also offered sound advice for printers who may be interested in purchasing a flatbed printer. Arkin claimed that the purchase process may seem daunting to many because there are a lot of manufacturers in the market out there.

“If a shop is looking for a new press I would tell them to sit down and think about what they need. I’d tell them to ask themselves four questions: They need to think about their quality requirements, speed requirements, substrate requirements, and budget. Once those questions are answered, they can go out there and begin to weed out the presses that would work for them. Then they should get with each one (vendor) and run a ton of samples.”

Arkin added, “Whenever we look at a press, we want to make sure that it is better than what we had before in terms of speed and quality.”

Arkin stated that anyone looking for a flatbed printer should consider purchasing a product from Screen. While the major competitors in the field are Vutek and Durst, Arkin believes that Screen can compete, despite its lack of presence in the wide-format imaging world.

“Screen is not a well known name. I know them from the offset printing world. When I heard they were making these items, I was excited,” said Arkin. “They have to get past the fact that they are a relatively unknown name in the screen printing industry.”