Today’s wide-format printers are incredibly advanced, faster, less expensive, and have higher-quality output than ever before. But there’s a problem —everyone has one. As the quality has improved and pricing has decreased, the market is becoming saturated with printers. How do sign companies remain competitive? The answer might just be specialty inks.
Light inks are not specialty inks any more. They’re a commonplace offering and, although they still serve a valuable purpose, they’re not likely to help you rise above the competition. Early wide-format printers were CMYK-only and used large drops of ink. The mechanics behind inkjet printing meant that those large dots were scattered lightly throughout an area, resulting in visible red dots on someone’s face or arm. By adding light cyan and magenta, more drops of the lighter ink could be used instead, which improved the texture of the finished output. And while light inks come in cyan, magenta, or even multiple shades of grey, it’s important to note that the range of color does not change when using them over plain CMYK.
Printing on clear or colored vinyl has always been a problem with solvent or UV-curable inks because, generally, those inks are transparent or translucent. Without white behind the printed image the ink will still stick to the media, but there won’t be sufficient opacity to the print, so the image will be nearly invisible. Adding white ink to the printer will fix that, though.
White pigment particles are suspended in the liquid ink and are printed either before or after the other colors. Printing before the colored image allows the use of the white ink as a base, which aids the visibility when viewed from the front of the print. Printing white after the colored image is helpful when printing in reverse, for a second-surface application such as a decal mounted to the inside of a store window that must be visible from the outside. Some printers can print color-white-color. This unique setup can either be used for a two-sided decal or to provide excellent results on a frontlit-and-backlit panel.
One drawback to using white ink in solvent or UV-curable printers is that because the pigment particles (usually titanium-based) are heavier than the liquid in which they’re suspended. This means that settling can occur over time, which can clog both ink lines and printheads. Because of this, precautions must be taken. The ink containers must be agitated regularly to keep the pigment in suspension, and the ink in the lines must be allowed to flow—either by recirculation or by regularly printing with white ink. If less than 50 percent of your printing will require white ink, significant effort will be required to ensure the printer remains functional.
Unlike light inks, there are inks that can increase the gamut of a printer. Multicolor inks are additional colors added to the traditional CMYK mix. These additional colors, such as blue, orange, red, or green, fill in shortcomings in the CMYK gamut and, as a result, provide a much larger range of output. Anyone who has tried to match Pantone Orange 021 on a CMYK printer knows how difficult it can be to come remotely close. But with a printer that has orange inks as well, it’s a snap.
The downsides of multicolor inks are few, but notable. Proper color management is a must. Without a properly color managed workflow, the addition of extra colors increases the likelihood of poor output. This means that media must be profiled, and calibration is more important than ever. And with the added colors, calibration and profiling swatches are considerably larger and, therefore, take longer to read. Neither of these considerations should prevent anyone from purchasing a multicolor printer, but it is important to prepare for the additional complexity.