Note: This article appears in the July 2016 edition of A&E magazine. To ensure that you can access this and other industry focused pieces, be sure to subscribe today!
When UV-LED desktop direct-to-substrate printers were introduced by Mimaki, Roland and Direct Color Systems more than six years ago, they were considered by some in the industry as an exciting new product for a limited niche market. Since then, that perception has changed dramatically.
New applications for UV-LED technology are appearing almost every day in the awards, engraving, sign, custom gift and technical industries. The high-end model printers introduced this year are much faster and can handle much larger, thicker and heavier items than ever before. At the same time, prices on smaller entry-level models continue to go down. Smaller capacity full-featured printers from Direct Color Systems, Roland, Mutoh and others are now available in the $14.5K to $20K range.
This article summarizes the capabilities of the new high-end models from Mimaki, Direct Color Systems and Roland. In addition, Rowmark’s GoVivid UV-LED printer systems are covered for the commitment to complete, bundled support. First, some basics.
THE ADVANTAGES OF UV-LED INK CURING
Prior to the introduction of UV-LED technology, only wide-format UV printers using high-power mercury lamps were available for printing on sheet stock for indoor/outdoor display. These mercury lamp designs continue to be used and sold today. Mercury lamps have certain disadvantages-they require a great deal of power and generate substantial heat that mandates water cooling and slow power on cycles. In addition, the lamps create some environmental concerns including the dangers of mercury use. The lamps can emit ozone, although this can be reduced by utilizing filters to remove ozone from the production area.
The use of a UV-LED curing unit resolves all the limitations of the mercury lamp design and allows the production of a compact, efficient UV printer that fits an office/light production environment. A UV-LED printer uses only 20 percent power of a water-cooled lamp model, offers immediate power on, and has a 10,000 hour LED lamp life.
The unique advantages of UV-LED printing are extensive: the ability to print on a wide variety of materials, both treated and untreated, including PVC, PET, ABS, acrylic, wood, glass, ceramics, boards, metals, soft fabrics, and leathers.
Ability to print on thick 3D items.
UV curable ink sets include CMYK, white and clear. Using the white ink as a base, a UV-LED printer has the ability to print white and full-color on dark items and both sides of clear glass and acrylics. In addition, inks can be built up to create 3D textures and braille for signs and awards.
The inks dry almost instantaneously on the substrate surface. Dot gain and color saturation are optimized because there is no time for ink dots to spread. In addition, there is no ink absorption into the actual substrate. The inks firmly bond to the substrate surface. Inks for LED curing have been improved to better deal with the concentrated, very narrow spectral light emissions of UV-LED systems.
Due to the instant drying time, multiple layers of both white and clear plus CMYK may be applied simultaneously in a single printing pass. This allows fine details and incredibly small fonts to be printed. The inks can also be applied selectively to build up embossed objects and letters, including unique custom textures and braille. In addition, the clear ink can be “flooded” over the entire or selected areas of the substrate to increase durability or provide a higher gloss finish. The level of gloss is dependent on the number of clear layers applied.
UV-LED inks as well as the printers are environmentally friendly.
Finished products are scratch resistant and exhibit good light fastness indoors. If necessary, laminates can be applied to extend outdoor life.
Fast production times are possible. Fully decorated items can be packed immediately right out of the printer. No additional production steps are required. Reduced production cost and the wide variety of product designs quickly justify the initial capital expenditure of a UV-LED printer.
All UV-LED printers, from entry level to high capacity/high speed, provide these same inherent advantages. Print speed, accuracy, resolution, and printed product size/weight all must be carefully evaluated to determine what level of printer to lease or purchase. In addition, most users I’ve spoken with find new uses for their printers after just a few weeks of operation.
2016 HIGH-END UV-LED PRINTERS AND SYSTEMS
Mimaki UJF 7151 Plus
The UJF 7151 Plus is the largest UJF model available. It has a printable area of 28 by 20 inches and can handle items up to 6 inches high weighing up to 22 lbs. Maximum print resolution is 1200 by 1200 dpi. Ink is supplied from 1-liter bottles, and white ink circulation technology is included. The 7151 is designed for efficient production. Six print heads in a staggered configuration provide print speeds on the UJF 7151 printer as fast as 45.31 sq. ft./hour. The printer is easy to operate and maintain. Users can connect to the printer via Ethernet or directly through a USB port. An event mail notification system is included, allowing printer status to be monitored remotely. Most importantly, the 7151 carries the UJF product line’s reputation for technical excellence and reliability.
The LEF-300 is a welcome high-performance addition to the LEF product line. The expanded printable area of 30.3 by 13 inches increases productivity and flexibility. It can handle items up to 3.94 inches high, weighing up to 18 lbs. Maximum print speed is 24.32 sq. ft./hr. One moving 4W UV-LED and one fixed unit are used for optimum ink curing. Four inline print heads with a maximum resolution of 1440 dpi are incorporated. Ink is supplied from 220cc and 500cc cartridges. Roland has incorporated, and improved upon, the best features of the LEF-12 and LEF-20 into this new LEF-300 production machine. All three LEF models are easy to operate with well-designed RIP software.
Direct Color Systems Direct Jet 7200z UV-LED
The 7200z is the new UV-LED printing system from DCS. It offers a max print speed of 320 sq. ft./hr. and features an optional Palette Shuttle System for automated continuous operation. This machine is designed to serve as a complete compact production center. Maximum printable area is 23.8 by 48 inches. Items up to 10 inches high and weighing up to 250 lbs. can be printed. Accuracy is a +/- 0.0015 inches. Printer resolution is 2880 by 2880 dpi. A single block print head with 10 ink channels is used to achieve high speeds. Inks are supplied from 10 300ml tanks. Two 6-watt UV-LED lamp assemblies are provided for rapid ink curing. Important options include ADA/Braille printing, cylindrical printing, roll-to-roll printing, and a vacuum table.
Rowmark’s GoVivid UV-LED System Solution
GoVivid is a separate Rowmark company that provides full UV-LED direct-to-substrate printer systems. Everything needed for success with this technology is provided by GoVivid. That includes two private label printer models (the Breeze and the Wave), RIP software, a variety of printable substrates, onsite installation, training, and full documentation.
The Breeze’s maximum print size is 11.5 by 31 inches. Items up 7.5 inches high weighing up to 20 lbs. can be decorated. Maximum print resolution is 1440 by 2880 dpi. Inks are supplied by 220ml cartridges.
The Wave is a more expensive model providing a larger 23-by-28-inch printable area for items up to 4.5 inches high. It is engineered for large multi-panel print jobs.
UV-LED direct-to-substrate technology is easy to fall in love with. Being able to print opaque colors on dark and clear substrates and adding textured images and raised prints has created a new class of high-end plaques and signs. Marking large assemblies and precision instrument panels is now possible using the same UV-LED printer. Short and large runs of thousands of promotional items can be economically produced. The variety of new products is only limited by your creativity.