Eco-friendly large format inkjet printers

New eco-friendly legislation is starting to change the way most wide-format print providers run their businesses. Since solvent-based ink is volatile and releases chemicals into the air, there are many health concerns starting to come to the forefront. New laws mandating the reduction of VOCs are leading printer manufacturers to develop less volatile inks and come up with greener products.

There is an increasing demand among worldwide consumers for products that preserve the environment. Today, larger corporations are looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint in this world, and this will eventually trickle down to mid-sized and small businesses as well. Therefore, we are starting to see more environmentally-friendly printers hitting the market.

While aqueous-based printers have always had an eco-friendly status, they have been used primarily for indoor print applications. Eventually, we’ll reach a point when customer demands for outdoor printing will drive the transition from solvent (traditional and mild/eco) to greener technologies like bio-solvent and UV inks. But, before this happens, customers will need to see advancements that will drive the cost per print and increase durability to a level equal or better than that of traditional solvent output.

At the recent CONSAC trade show in Toronto, we saw several new ink technologies which are heading in the right direction with being more environmentally friendly. While these ink formulations hold promise for the future, their image quality and durability has yet to stand the test of time, but we expect demand for these inks to rise as the technology advances. So, we would like to explore four environmentally-friendly print technologies available in today’s market.

Mimaki has announced its new 60-inch, UV-curable inkjet printer, UJV-160, using environmentally-friendly UV-LED technology, which does not generate heat and has a flexible UV ink that has been developed together with 3M. The UJV-160 will offer 4- or 8-colour printing, handle rigid media up to 7mm thick and offer print resolutions up to 1200√ó1200 dpi. The new 7-colour UV flexible inkset (CMYKcmW) will offer high pigment density and minimal VOCs.

Imaging with variable-drop sizes as small as 6 pl, the anticipated 4-colour print speeds will have a top speed of 140 sq. ft/hr. in draft mode (600 dpi, 4-pass), a normal mode speed of 43 sq. ft/hr. at 600 dpi, 8-pass and 22 sq. ft/hr. for fine-mode imaging at 1200 dpi in 16-pass.

Conventional UV lamps emit infrared rays that create excessive heat and sometimes ozone. Both of these negative effects of conventional UV printing are eliminated with LED-curing technology. The LED lamp emits only ultraviolet rays that do not create heat and, consequently, the power consumption is less than half of that needed by traditional UV lamps, thereby significantly saving energy costs. In this respect, UV-LED technology is a breakthrough new technology in step with the latest environmental demands.

Mimaki reports that it anticipates a shift toward flexible UV printing for various applications, such as P-O-P, imaging onto clear and metallic surfaces, textiles, rigid media and vehicle graphics. Projected price: approximately $80,000.

Mutoh’s new ValueJet 1608-64” is a hybrid flatbed printer using Mutoh’s new MUBIO INK, which is recognized by the EPA Design for the Environment program. The ink is composed of 80% plant-derived substances, contains no harmful VOCs and has faster drying times. The ValueJet Hybrid features drop-on-demand Micro Piezo Inkjet technology. It is a 4-colour printer with a maximum resolution of 1440 dpi and automatic media thickness detection. The MUBIO INK is available in 880ml ink packs.

The ValueJet 1608 can reach speeds up to 140 sq. ft/hr. in production mode and can be used for both car wraps or to print directly onto corrugated plastics, polystyrene, PVC, acrylic, polycarbonate, foam board, aluminium composite, banner, wall covering and more.

The quality coming off this printer is excellent. This is due to Mutoh’s Intelligent Interweaving print technology. Mutoh has taken a totally new approach with this technology. Ink is laid down carefully in optimized wave forms; not in straight lines used in traditional printing practices. This approach drastically reduces, or even eliminates, typical inkjet printing artefacts, such as horizontal banding, step mismatch banding, ink mottle, etc. In short, Intelligent Interweaving will allow bi-directional printing of all images, even for the most critical jobs. The new ValueJet 1608 hybrid printer will include the flatbed table and is priced at $44,997 Cdn.

HP L65500 Latex Printer

HP showcased its 104-inch HP Designjet L65500 printer for the first time in Canada at CONSAC. HP reports that these new printers with water-based HP latex inks are odourless and emit extremely low levels of VOCs. The printer, slated for an early 2009 roll out, is designed for outdoor as well as indoor applications—ranging from point-of-purchase displays, transit signage, wall murals and exhibition graphics to vehicle graphics and fleet marking.

The 6-colour roll-fed machine (CMYKcm) boasts a maximum speed of 800 sq. ft/hr. for outdoor-quality prints and a speed of 400 sq. ft/hr. for indoor-quality output. Its top resolution is 1200√ó600 dpi.

HP reports that the HP latex inks require no special ventilation to meet occupational exposure limits, and there are no requirements for air-discharge permits. In addition, they are not classified as hazardous waste, don’t contain hazardous air pollutants or sensitizers and do not produce ozone emissions during printing.

Aqueous Printers
With aqueous printers, water is the primary “carrier,” which carries the pigment or dye to the printed substrate; therefore, no harmful odours are emitted during this kind of printing process, making them environmentally-friendly printers, which can be used in any office environment.

From all the reports I have read, it is expected that the worldwide market for large-format aqueous inkjet will continue to grow, driven by trends in the photographic, giclee art reproduction, technical document, digital graphics and the general office/business environment.

Manufacturers such as Epson, HP and Canon have remained firm believers in aqueous-based printers. These vendors have recently added faster and wider models to their portfolios, suggesting a strong demand across the photography, fine art, proofing and display sectors (due to their expanded colour gamut and higher image quality). For short-term point-of-purchase work, aqueous printers are making a comeback as well. Canon has put a lot of research and development into their aqueous printer line-up, which now includes seven graphic arts printers and nine technical and general office printers. Prices start from $1645 Cdn.


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