Using over 20 years of studying and evaluating UV-curing printers, Andrés Morataya from DPI Insights/FLAAR Reports outlines the different structures of UV-curing printers. This article appears in Sign Africa Journal.
By structure we mean the mechanism used to handle media. So far we have identified at least four types of UV-curing printer structures:
• Dedicated flatbed.
• Dedicated roll-to-roll.
• Combo transport belt.
A dedicated flatbed printer prints only on rigid boards. But even the flatbed printer, which is the most common type of UV-curing printer structure, can be classified into several categories:
• Superwide format flatbed printer (3.2 metres and above).
• Wide format flatbed printer (1.6m wide to 2.5m).
• Mid-sized flatbed printer (0.9m to 1.6m wide).
• Desktop flatbed printer (0.4m to 0.7m wide).
By Types Of Material
• A dedicated flatbed printer handles rigid media only.
• A dual structure flatbed printer is the type of flatbed printer that has a roll-to-roll mechanism that allows it to print on flexible media, in addition to rigid boards.
As you might have noticed, most UV-curing flatbed printers are not squared. Generally there is a larger side. So we also distinguish a flatbed printer (of any size) by whether they print across the narrow axis, or print across the wide axis, although it is faster to print across the wide axis.
A mid-size flatbed is also larger than a desktop, and 95% of mid-size flatbeds have their own base.
Desktop Size Flatbed
These are for A3 or tabloid size (or a bit larger); for printing on ballpoint pens, golf balls or any other small batch of objects. About half the desktop size flatbed printers literally sit on any table or desk, but some of these printers have their own base. 96% of desktop size printers use UV-LED curing ink; but a few are made for eco-solvent ink.
Dual Structure: Roll-To-Roll Over Top
A dual structure is a flatbed printer with a roll-to-roll mechanism where you load at the back and take-up at the front.
The first UV-curing printers were small roll-to-roll solvent printers retrofitted with UV-curing lamps. In theory, these printers could handle rigid and roll material. This is why we called them hybrid.
This kind of printer is inadequate for seriously thick and flat material because the pinch roller system is too lightweight to move most flat boards. The pinch roller system is unable to move media forward without any skews, causing headaches to the printer operator. We had to use a photo from a factory visit in 2007 because even Chinese brands have stopped making this unrealistic faux (un) flatbed printer.
A dedicated roll-to-roll printer will handle only flexible media. The widest printers in this category are 5m wide.
Combo Transport Belt
This is a printer that moves media with a conveyor belt. We have always called this type of printer a combo. But in the brochures, most companies call this type of feeding mechanism a ‘hybrid’. We reserve hybrid as a name for pinch-roller over grit roller.
The conveyor belt kind of printers are best known thanks to manufacturers like Durst and EFI VUTEk. These can handle both rigid and roll-fed materials.
In-Line, Belt Structure
The main reason for this kind of structure is to have a single-pass printing technology.
It handles a post print heater in the front.
DPI Insights/FLAAR Reports www.flaar-reports.org