Is inkjet a real threat to industrial screen printing?

The future of screen printing is moving toward digitalization with greater speed, quality and efficiency every day and there is a strong interest in industrial print innovation. So is inkjet printing, as a technology, a true threat to the dominance of screen printing in the industrial process? I set out to investigate …

Having followed this discussion on a blog, it would seem that many digital printing companies regularly get work that previously went to screen printers. The speed and cost of production for digital printing is being reduced constantly and the digital quality is also a key selling point to customers.

Yet screen printing does have a place in the commercial print market. Screen printing is still viable for long runs or to hit specific spot colours. Here’s a breakdown of the advantages of the screen printing process, as explained by PNEAC (Printers’ National Environmental Assistance Center)

Screen Printing Pros

Screen printing is arguably the most versatile of all printing processes. It can be used to print on a wide variety of substrates, including paper, paperboard, plastics, glass, metals, fabrics, and many other materials. Some common products from the screen printing industry include posters, labels, decals, signage, and all types of textiles and electronic circuit boards. The advantage of screen printing over other print processes is that the press can print on substrates of any shape, thickness and size. Another major advantage to screen printing besides its durability and fade-resistance is it’s the least-expensive method of printing for volume runs.

A significant characteristic of screen printing is that a greater thickness of the ink can be applied to the substrate than is possible with other printing techniques. This allows for some very interesting effects that are not possible using other printing methods. Because of the simplicity of the application process, a wider range of inks and dyes are available for use in screen printing than for use in any other printing process.

According to PNEAC, the utilization of screen printing presses has begun to increase because production rates have improved. This has been a result of the development of the automated and rotary screen printing press, improved dryers, and UV-curable inks.

Wide format UV-curable inkjet Pros

When we compare the advantages of UV-curable printers, they are indeed more environmentally friendly than screen printing and one of the biggest benefits of UV inks is the ability to print directly on a variety of rigid media. Direct to rigid printing reduces waste, simplifies the print workflow and greatly improves the opportunities for print recycling. InfoTrends reported earlier last year that the “UV-curable inkjet market today is the smallest segment of the overall wide-format digital-printing industry but is also the most dynamic and fastest growing technology.” Because the curing of UV inks requires less than a second of exposure to a UV light source, this enables UV printers to print at higher speeds (and this printing speed is increasing year by year).

UV-curable printers save sign print shops money by reducing the number of man-hours of labour, while lowering ink and substrate costs. This can be argued to be one of the major advantages. The advantage of direct printing on numerous substrates is by far the greatest strength of UV printing and Oce’s line of Arizona UV-curable printers has been the best selling UV-curable printers worldwide, so we were thrilled to see a new affordable entry level Arizona released last year. The new Oce Arizona 318 GL printer is a highly capable introductory UV flatbed model which offers small to medium sized shops an entrance into UV-curable printing. Oce, Agfa, Durst, HP and Mimaki are some of the better-known UV-curable inkjet manufacturers on the market.

Conclusion

How long before screen printing becomes obsolete – no one knows. The answer really lies with the developers of inkjet printers and how well they can market them. In China today flatbed digital inkjet printers are already being used in many industrial applications where they have replaced screen printing. So if China is any indication, the trend towards digital inkjet printing has already begun. There are pros and cons to both traditional screen printing and digital inkjet printing. Investigate to determine which method best suits the needs of your business.

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