The world of large-format printing continues to evolve and experience rapid growth and change as new technologies come to market and as demand for these products increases. It takes time to understand this large-format market, and so we share with you the pros and cons of some of these printing technologies and how they relate to the graphic arts printing market. The large-format printing market consists of three distinct segments:
Technical printing – which includes architectural, GIS, engineering, and construction documents
Production printing – which includes posters, signs, trade-show exhibits and banners
Large-format creative printing – which includes prepress, photography, and fine art printing.
Today we will focus on the graphic arts market. InfoTrends reported some time ago that 86% of large-format printing was sent out to copy shops and pay-for-print service providers. This represents a huge opportunity for print companies, but the big question is which technology to invest in. Let’s look at some of these different inkjet printing technologies.
Aqueous Inkjet Printing
The worldwide wide format aqueous inkjet market is a fairly mature market and represents 78% of all large-format printers sold in 2012.
PROS: Aqueous printers use a water-based ink that is environmentally friendly. You can set these printers up in any office environment with no harmful fumes. These printers plug into a regular electrical outlet and require no special ventilation. Aqueous printing still produces the finest resolution. Getting good quality colour reproduction out of the box, is much easier with an aqueous printer and manufacturers such as Canon have introduced a 12 colour pigmented ink set, which boast the largest color gamut available. A big plus is that these printers are relatively inexpensive to purchase.
CONS: Aqueous printers require a special coating on the media for ink to adhere properly for graphics applications. Paper and ink can be a little more expensive to run on these printers.
Canon, Epson, and Hewlett-Packard have all launched new systems to increase speeds and improve resolution and image quality. They also use new ink formulations to expand the colour gamut and improve short-term outdoor durability. These printers are generally used to produce printing for prepress/proofing, professional photographers, fine art, indoor signage and short-term outdoor banners and signage.
Latex Inkjet Printing
The latest developments in the inkjet ink field are the latex inks and resin-based inks. Both ink systems use water as the main ingredient but the carrier for the pigments is either latex or resin-based. Latex inkjet printers using these types of inks also need heaters built into the printer, so the media becomes receptive to the ink and also to allow the ink to dry properly.
PROS: Since the inks are water-based there is no need for extra ventilation to remove any harmful substances emanating from the printer. The water-based formulations of latex inks reduce the impact of printing on the environment. They produce durable printing for outdoor and indoor applications. Prints look very good for signage applications.
CONS: Latex printers require preprint and postprint heaters to cure the media, resulting in higher energy consumption compared to other inkjet technologies. Some substrates may buckle under the higher temperatures.
HP first came to the market with this latex technology, but Mimaki and Ricoh have also now joined the fold. Mimaki claims the drying temperature of their new model is below 60°C, while the HP printers need around 120°C, which implies lower energy consumption for the Mimaki Latex printer.
Solvent Inkjet Printing
PROS: Solvent printers produce a very durable, scratch resistant product that is typically used for outdoor applications such as banners, vehicle graphics, etc. They print on uncoated materials and essentially “etch” the surface of the material to bond securely to the substrate.
CONS: First and foremost are the fumes. You have to have good ventilation if you’re running a hard solvent machine. Complete drying can be an issue for vinyls that need to be laminated.
UV-based Flatbed printers
UV-curable printers, unlike aqueous or solvent printers, use ink where the carrier is not evaporated and the ink doesn’t dry – it is cured using an ultraviolet light.
PROS: UV printing does not require coated media, resulting in cost savings on many materials. UV-curable ink essentially dries (cures) almost immediately and is very durable outdoors. UV-curing inks can print onto just about any substrate like foam board, wood, cardboard, glass, vinyls and much more.
CONS: UV inks are less conformable to media that stretches such as vinyl for vehicle wraps. The main con of UV is that UV ink does not dry flat on the media. Because of that, a perfectly dried UV-printed image is going to have a matte look to it. While the gamuts of UV machines have made great strides in the past several years, they’re still not in the league of solvents, or (in some cases) latex. Good UV machines are expensive.
Whichever inkjet printer you decide on, make sure you have a well defined market for its capacity before signing on to buy.