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Go far with flatbed

Sep 1, 2005 12:00 AM

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The wide-format imaging industry continues to change as equipment, ink and market innovations allow it to grow. One of the most significant developments in the past few years has been the introduction of flatbed inkjet systems. Digital imagers are innovative sorts, and the digital imaging industry has embraced flatbed technology and the possibilities it brings. Flatbed machines can print on a variety of substrates—including rigid substrates—of various sizes. Currently, flatbed systems have size capabilities that range up to 96 inches.

Most flatbed inkjet systems use UV-curable inks, which provide the widest number of possibilities for inkjet products. The introduction of flatbed and UV-curable inks to inkjet printing has resulted in a reduction in the steps required to achieve print durability. With theses advancements, the need for over-laminates to protect the print from rain, sun exposure or fingerprints is, in most cases, no longer needed.

While most of the systems use traditional CMYK, some use expanded ink sets, which provide either a wider color gamut or improved tonality. Recently, opaque white was introduced into some ink sets. Using opaque white allows the printer to image directly onto nonwhite substrates by first laying down the opaque white coat, then inkjetting the remaining colors on top. Spot varnish also has been introduced into one flatbed system.

Just how wide are the possibilities?
In the past year—in addition to using flatbed systems to image onto commonplace substrates such as foam board, Sintra, corrugated cardboard, Plexiglas and a variety of plastics—imaging companies have been pushing the envelope on materials used. Some innovative companies now are imaging successfully onto leather, metal, glass, stone, wood and more.

The number of processes used to make a completed flatbed print into a marketable or saleable product are as varied as the end products produced using the technology. Today digital imagers are using flatbed units to produce for a number of different graphics markets. The first of these is the sign market, where full-color, short-run signage for retail sales, special events or wayfinding always are in great demand. The next is point-of-purchase display. Using flatbed printers, companies are able to produce products as simple as countertop signage or as complex as huge displays heralding a product launch or a new movie. Other companies now use flatbed systems to image interior design elements such as ceramic tile, wallpaper and doors. Flatbed users also are creating attractive short-run product packaging.

As the speed of flatbed equipment continues to grow, flatbed inkjet likely will achieve significant percentages—even dominance—of these and other important and lucrative markets.

Pushing flatbed forward
Most of the innovation driving flatbed printing comes from the industry itself. Equipment and inkjet head manufacturers continue to refine their designs, bringing increased efficiency and speed to their products. Ink developers continue to refine their formulations, seeking the formulation that has the highest level of physical flexibility, durability, color quality and substrate compatibility. Imaging companies push innovation from their end of the industry, working with customers to create unique solutions to their printing, promotional or product needs.

For companies looking to expand their product offering beyond traditional ink-on-paper approaches, flatbed inkjet printing might be worth considering, because it establishes any company as a one-stop-shop where publications, signage, banners and other products can be printed under one roof. Flatbed carries with it all the traits that made digital printing different in the first place: It makes short runs feasible and affordable; it makes full color affordable; it provides for customization; and it allows for rapid turnaround.

Profit from digital imaging
Make digital imaging a profitable revenue stream with two new books from SGIA/DPI: “The Digital Print Sales System,” by Terry Nagi and the “2006 Guide to Digital Imaging: A Useful Guide to the Markets Served, Materials Used and Equipment Utilized in the Digital Imaging Industry,” by DPI staff.

These books, coupled with the steady flow of industry information found at, provide a competitive edge for any company looking to enter, grow or diversify in the digital imaging industry.

Decisions, decisions
Currently, there are more than 20 flatbed systems available for digital imagers, and the number of machines is sure to grow. To help companies better determine the machine that fits their needs, the Digital Printing & Imaging Association (a subsidiary of SGIA) maintains its interactive guide to wide-format output devices. Using this helpful tool, companies can create a customized list of the flatbed or other digital imaging equipment that fits their specific needs. They can search by company, ink type, print size and more. See

The Specialty Printing & Imaging Technology Show (SGIA) will be held Sept. 28-Oct. 1 in New Orleans. More than 14,000 visitors are expected. They’ll have plenty to see: 500 exhibitors will show flatbed presses, die cutters, mesh, media, software, services, inks and more. If your work includes banners, signs, posters, ad specialities, POP, labels and decals, you’ll see tons of new technology. For more information, see

Dan Marx is the director of communications and service development for the Digital Printing & Imaging Assn. (DPI), a division of the Specialty Graphic Imaging Assn. (SGIA). Contact him at>/i>

See also "What's so special about specialty imaging?" and "The wide world of specialty imaging."