Many print service providers are recognizing that the sooner they get into flatbed printing, the sooner they’ll see higher sales, revenues and profits.
And that makes perfect sense. One of the fastest growing segments of the wide-format market is point of purchase and retail signage. At the center of that market is flatbed printing technology. This month, Wide-format Imaging takes its annual look at the flatbed printer market, and how shops can leverage this rapidly evolving printing revolution to reap the greatest sales and profits.
Among the many good reasons for the increasing prevalence and importance of flatbed printing is its flexibility, says Ken Van Horn, Alpharetta, GA-based category manager for Hewlett-Packard Co.
“Flatbed has actually become more important in the last two years, as the printers have become more versatile,” he says. “[PSPs] can do something as broad-based as a national campaign, and on the other hand do something like producing a local tchotchke or award. It is versatility that allows them to do that. It gives them the ability to print on fiber, wood, plastic. The range of substrates is so broad, as is the ability to use UV inks to print on various substrates.”
The growth in flatbed printing also has much to do with efficiency, says Randy Paar, display graphics marketing manager with Oce North America in Itasca, IL. Flatbed printing, he observes, cuts out the huge and time-consuming step of mounting and laminating. “You’re eliminating a number of steps, but you’re also eliminating waste,” he notes. “When you look at a conventional process of mounting on to a board, the print can be ruined in that process. You’re not only wasting the board it’s mounted upon, but the print itself when you have to go back and print again. [With flatbed] you’re printing directly on to the board, [so] you’re eliminating that risk and the waste associated with it.”
One Device, Many Functions
Palo Alto, CA-based Hewlett-Packard Co. offers mid-range devices with flatbed and roll-to-roll printing in the FB500 and FB700. The company’s high-volume true flatbed, the FB7600, takes on both rigid and flexible substrates.
“PSPs have the ability to use one device for a wide variety of functions, letting them handle any printed piece a campaign might call for,” Van Horn says. “It might be a static cling, decal, sign, free-standing display unit, or floor graphics.”
Flatbed printing has become more viable in the past two years because UV inks have evolved to the point where they can print on a wide range of substrates, including canvas, paper-based, plastic based, wood and fiber, without changing the ink set. That’s a big change from the days when it wasn’t possible to cut to the edge of the ink without the ink chipping or cracking. In those old days, the ink cracked when the piece was bent. It also had an odor.
“All that’s gone away,” Van Horn says. “Now you have a chance to use it indoors or outdoors. So it doesn’t matter where your application is going to go, UV meets the requirements and goes well beyond the alternatives, like solvent and dye sublimation. You have the ability to quickly turn around a job, and go directly to the substrate without additional finishing.”
While the cost of the equipment has come down, the real economies in today’s flatbed printing have resulted from greater efficiencies, he adds. Printers have grown faster, cost per copy of the ink has come down significantly due to better coverage, and the reliability of the equipment makes it possible to print more copies and get more consistency than possible even four years ago.
What’s more, UV inks used with flatbed printing provide the ability to print white. That enables PSPs to sell a wider range of products and become more efficient. “You don’t have to use a preprinted white substrate,” Van Horn says. Or you can print to a static cling or a styrene, and do a spot white behind it, getting opacity where you need it without having to lay ink down across the substrate.”