UV-Curable Technology, Part III: Exploring the World of UV Printers
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UV-Curable Technology, Part III: Exploring the World of UV Printers

UV printer technology is the latest trend in the industry. Find out what the major players have to offer.

By Jennifer LeClaire

Printer manufacturers are coming out with next-generation ultraviolet printers. Are they all the same?

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  • As inkjet manufacturers perfect ultraviolet (UV) curable inks that can be successfully applied to both flexible and rigid substrates, equipment manufacturers are beginning to introduce wide format inkjet printers that use UV inks.

    3M, Durst, Vutek, Zund and Sitex, among others, have jumped on the UV bandwagon with new machines designed to print on everything from wood to glass to vinyl.

    “UV technology is an excellent fit for the wide format market,” says James Balcerski, Ph.D., market development manager for Sartomer Company, a global supplier of specialty chemicals used in manufacturing ink and coatings. “In addition to the near instantaneous cure rates and low VOC’s, UV curable inks can now be developed which exhibit excellent durability and high print gloss.”

    Web Consulting estimates that machines utilizing UV curing technology will nearly equal the rate of sale for solvent base units by 2005. Further, the firm estimates that more than 4,000 ultraviolet wide format units would be sold during the next four years.

    3M’s Total System
    3M recently came out with its 2500UV for Scotchprint Graphics. The new printer is capable of printing on roll-to-roll and rigid substrates and allows companies to set up shop without requiring extensive ventilation systems to drive out solvent fumes. The 2500UV, manufactured in cooperation with L&P, works with 3M’s integrated system to provide a total software, hardware, ink and media solution.

    “Customers are asking for flexible machines capable of digitally printing technology to the large format graphics industry,” says Anthony Carrozzella, a spokesperson for 3M’s Commercial Graphics division.

    The Durst Rho
    Durst has been out with its Rho model for more than a year. The Durst Rho 160 is a high performance large format production inkjet printer capable of outputting directly onto rigid and flexible (roll-to-roll) materials without the need of expensive dye receptive coatings.

    Utilizing UV-curable inks, the Rho 160 is engineered to output onto virtually any substrate and to easily switch from uncoated rigid substrates to uncoated flexible and rolled media with minimal effort and time. The 360 dpi, four-color Rho can print on rigid panels up to 62" wide and 1.58" thick. The Rho can produce from 500 square feet per hour in the high-quality mode and 1,000 square feet per hour in the standard print mode.

    The Rho 160 uses the same proprietary UNIX-based user interface as the Durst Lambda photo imager with on-the-fly image processing (scaling, pixel interpolation, sharpening, cropping, paneling and corrections) for fast production and minimum hard disk usage.

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    Scitex Sees UV
    Scitex Vision recently launched the innovative Scitex VEEjet, a wide format digital flatbed printer for rigid and flexible substrates, using VisionInk’s environmentally friendly UV100 Supreme, specially developed UV curable ink with an up to two-year UV durability.

    This state-of-the-art printing machine prints on flexible and rigid substrates, up to 40mm thick, up to 2x3m/ 6.5x10 feet image size. The Scitex VEEjet is targeted for screen and digital printers supplying products for point of purchase displays, exhibitions and all other applications in need of the ability to print on rigid and flexible substrates. From banner, self-adhesive vinyl and paper to PVC, cardboards, aluminum, wood, glass, ceramics and more, the Scitex VEEjet prints on them all sheet-to-sheet.

    “The system offers the ability to print directly on a wide variety of both rigid and flexible materials,” says Scitex Vision chief executive Dov Ofer. “This valuable feature is coupled with printing speeds of up to 380 square feet per hour, and high quality resolution.”

    Vutek’s View
    The new PressVu UV 180 EC printer from Vutek is designed to provide the flexibility screen printers expect with all the advantages of digital printing. A flatbed device that can quickly be adapted to roll-to-roll production, the PressVu UV can image a wide range of rigid or flexible substrates of unlimited length, in widths up to 72 inches and thicknesses up to one inch.

    “Another advantage of this EC method is that for distant viewing applications, the light ink jet heads can be filled with the dark colors and the printer will print at twice the speed,” says Vutek spokesperson Joe Lahut. “This gives our customers the advantage of doing almost photographic output and also serve the general signage market at higher productivity. The 600 and 360 nomenclature is used for the two different models of this product, 600 dpi and 360dpi. Higher resolution equates to higher print quality, but slower printing speed.”

    Vutek solves this problem on its roll-fed solvent-system printers by heating the platen, which introduces enough heat from below the media to drive off the solvent and control dot gain. Lahut says this can’t be done on a flatbed printer, so the range of printable media for the original PressVu is limited to vinyl, styrene, PETG, and other materials on which the ink will flow predictably. (Other substrates like acrylic and polycarbonate must first be screen printed with a receptive coating.)

    The UV inks used on the 180 EC don’t spread after printing, according to Lahut, so print quality can be maintained on a much wider range of substrates. Vutek has tested glass, acrylic, polycarbonate, and many other substrates with good results.

    Choosing a Printer
    3M’s Carrozzella says sign makers should choose a printer carefully.

    “First, they need to determine what types of applications they are looking to print,” he says. “Then, take into account the capabilities of the printer.”

    Carrozzella suggests asking the following questions:

    • How versatile is the printer?
    • Does it print on vinyl so I can do graphics?
    • Does it print on rigid substrates for point-of-purchase signage?
    • Does it print on fabrics for banner applications?
    • Is it a complete system, i.e., software, ink, materials, printer, service?
    • Who is backing the quality of the product?

    Whether you are looking to invest in ultraviolet media or just exploring the landscape, experts say it is inevitable that you will start hearing more about this technology. Be sure to check out parts one and two of this series for more information on UV media and inks.

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