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Wide Format Printing: Brushing up on Ink Basics and Equipment Offerings

December 2, 2014

 was recently talking to PRI Graphics in Phoenix about the latest and greatest wide format printing. developments. As I took a virtual tour of its facility, I noted it offers wide format Latex printing. I recalled first hearing about Latex offerings from HP when they debuted in 2008.  Mimaki/Ricoh has now entered the arena and HP now is courting entry-level users, too.

But as it has been awhile since I have covered wide-format in depth, I was prompted to look for an explanation of ink options. I liked these resources from UK-based Hudson Display Services and FESPA.

Here are some highlights from Hudson Display:

Aqueous or water-based inks come in two varieties: 1. Dye inks are best thought of as cordials - the color is dissolved in the water - and like spilt cordial the ink soaks in and stains the page as the water evaporates. The colorant size in dye inks is tiny, allowing a very small dot size which allows for detailed images with smooth tones. 2. Pigment (UV) inks - best thought of as chalk dust suspended in water. The colorant particles are bigger than those of dye inks, but not by a great deal.

Why use pigment inks over dye?  Once dry if you pour water over pigment inks the particles will largely remain behind on the surface, so the print is considered short term waterproof. But most importantly, the pigment inks are stable in UV light.

Solvent inks are generally pigment inks. They contain pigments rather than dyes, but unlike the aqueous version where the carrier is water - in solvent inks it's volotile organic compounds (VOCs) - solvent. The chief advantage of solvent inks is that they are comparatively inexpensive and enable printing on flexible, uncoated vinyl substrates, which are used to produce vehicle graphics, billboards, banners and adhesive decals.

UV-curable inks: After printing, the ink is cured by exposure to strong UV-light. The advantage of UV-curable inks is that they "dry" as soon as they are cured, they can be applied to a wide range of uncoated substrates, and they produce a very robust image.

Latex inks are said to offer equal or improved performance compared to solvent ink for printing on PVC (vinyl), as well as printing onto paper, fabrics, polyester and polyethylene – substrates that solvent technology struggles with. The latex ink, which is water based with a polymer that is bonded to the substrate by heat, doesn't need air purification or solvent extraction.

In other wide format news:

Here are SGIA 2014 highlights from Rich Romano

SGIA commentary from pundits Richard Greaves and Scott Fresener (mostly screen printing but hugely entertaining)

Did you know Milan is the hub of digitally printed fabrics?

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