The digital revolution has its sights on a new challenge, and decorating three-dimensional objects offers no shortage of puzzles or possibilities.
By Debbie Thorp
Inkjet product decoration is not a new phenomenon. As mentioned, small flatbed inkjet systems have been on the market for many years, successfully decorating promotional items such as lighters, mobile phone cases, and USB sticks. But recently, we’ve seen several new vendors enter the market, offering both small- and medium-sized systems that are more advanced both in productivity and capability. Some of these units can print bigger items than before; however, most significantly, we’re seeing that many systems are now capable of printing onto curved objects – tubes, cylinders, and bottles – opening up new opportunities in product customization and personalization at a low entry cost.
Although most inkjet printers designed for product decoration cannot compete with the productivity and cost-effectiveness of screen and pad printing, the latest generation of production inkjet systems go beyond the short-run argument for adopting digital. Today, some of these systems can print 15,000 bottles per hour and have the capability to reach up to 36,000 bottles.
Interestingly, a couple of surprising names have entered the market. One was Xerox, which drew crowds at drupa last year printing personalized bottles on its Direct to Object (DTO) printer. Heidelberg drew similar crowds at InPrint 2015 in Munich with the launch of its Omnifire 250, printing onto footballs for show attendees. Heidelberg showed the unit in the US for the first time at the InPrint 2017 show in Orlando; last year at InPrint in Milan, the company unveiled a larger, full-color version, the Omnifire 1000.
Whether large or small, printers and converters now have many options when considering whether inkjet technology fits into their product decoration services.
Breaking Down Technology Barriers
The increasing adoption of inkjet technology for product decoration demonstrates the market’s acceptance that it’s a reliable technology capable of being used not only in small systems, but also implemented in true industrial environments – even in high-throughput, 24/7 manufacturing lines. Achieving this level of reliability and robustness is the result of many years of innovative system design, process development, advances in ink formulations and curing technologies, and data processing software to enable variable-data printing at high speed and high resolution.
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