An emerging class of digital, direct-to-substrate inkjet printers is allowing screen shops to expand into ad-specialty products, promotional items, and more.
Screen printers know the drill: Short runs are rarely profitable, given the amount of time and materials involved in setting up even the simplest job. And forget about one-offs and prototypes. But just as wide-format inkjet printers have enabled screen shops to take on low-volume flat-graphics work economically and efficiently, the technology—albeit in a smaller size format—is now making it possible for them to diversify their product offerings, introduce an expanded range of services to their customers, lure in new business, and keep their screen presses focused on the profitable, high-quantity work.
Flatbed inkjet printers that are designed to print three-dimensional items offer an alternative to pad printing, which historically has been the imaging method of choice in many promotional-products applications. The machines can accommodate very thick products that can’t always be handled on other inkjet devices. Via standard or custom parts fixtures, they facilitate direct printing onto products ranging from smart-phone covers to golf balls. These machines typically use UV-curable (often UV-LED) inks and most offer high-speed output in at least four colors.
White and clear inks are becoming commonplace in digital printing, and this emerging category of three-dimensional printers is no exception. Many of these machines incorporate white and/or clear, allowing a greater range of materials to be decorated (including darkly colored and transparent substrates) and enabling effects such as highlights and blockouts to add “pop” to colors. Primers are making inroads as well, opening the door to typically challenging media, such as metal. Read on to find out about some of the systems that are on the market. (A number of vendors also offer higher-speed inkjet systems designed for in-line manufacturing, but in this article we’ll concentrate on machines that would typically appeal to commercial shops.)
Direct Color Systems
The Direct Jet 1024UVHS, the latest UV-LED printer from Direct Color Systems, incorporates several recent upgrades including greater flexibility when printing white and/or clear and print speeds up to 50% faster than earlier models in the line. The machine features eight print heads (CMYK plus two channels each of white and clear), allowing bi-directional printing of both white and clear through a feature the company calls inline printing. The 10 x 24-in. printer offers four production modes ranging from 1440 x 720 to 5760 x 1440 dpi (optimized resolution) and can print items up to 6 in. thick.
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