Learn how to find a flatbed that's right for your operation and what you can do to take full advantage of its capabilites.
What kind of support should I look for from the manufacturer? Some manufacturers do little more than deliver the equipment and provide manuals. Others have complete programs ranging from installation, training, and applications assistance to advanced training in RIP operation and color management. The best value is generally realized when you obtain comprehensive support along with the equipment.
Are flatbed UV inkjets as fast and efficient as claimed in literature from the manufacturers? You need to find out for yourself. The only print-speed data that count are certified by the manufacturer based on the level of quality you require using the substrates you will print on most frequently. Getting that number should be part of the demonstration process.
What is the secret to having a good demonstration? With just a little bit of preparation, you can have a great demonstration and find out everything you need to know about the flatbed UV inkjet printers you are considering. Here are a few tips:
• Make sure competing vendors use the same materials you will be using. This is particularly important if you are geographically separated. Materials readily available to the vendor may not be available in your location. You need to know that the inkjet system works well on your substrates.
• Take care in constructing your demonstration file. Forget about getting vendors to recreate a beautiful large-format color print that visitors will drool over. You can do your own later. A high-end inkjet is designed to do gorgeous process color, but will it do your bread and butter work? To find out, make sure your demonstration file includes large areas of flat color. Also include small text, knockout text, horizontal and vertical lines of different thickness against white, color, some images, gradients—everything you will run into all in one file.
• Be consistent. Once you have constructed (or obtained) a good demonstration file, print it on the devices you already own. Then have everybody you visit print the same file, so you can make a good, apples-to-apples comparison of printer capabilities.
• For more flatbed shopping tips, see -Figure 6.
A flatbed future
Rather than competing with screen printing, flatbed UV inkjet printing complements the process by enhancing a screen shop's productivity, expanding its profitability, and opening the business to new areas of opportunity. Neither the cost of entry-level flatbed printers, workflow-integration issues, nor training requirements should be barriers to entry for most progressive screen shops. Adopting this technology appears to be more of a question of when rather than if. But those shops that choose to implement the technology early will find themselves in a stronger competitive position.
Figure 6 Shopper's Checklist for Flatbed UV Inkjets
Use the following checklist when assessing any flatbed UV inkjet to determine whether that model is a good choice for your operation.
• Prints on substrates you plan to use
• Set-up time for printer and start-up time from image to image is efficient
• Offers flexible image quality to accommodate your customers' expectations
• Produces saleable image quality at the expected speeds
• UV inkset optimized for the widest range of substrates
• Prints the desired width
• Designed to minimize substrate waste
• Facilitates fast changeovers between various material widths and sizes, as well as rigid and flexible substrates
• Has tight integration with associated finishing equipment for user-friendly automation
• Built for reliable, non-stop operation
• Uses reliable printhead technology
• Manufacturer offers help transitioning to digital technology
About the author
Scott Schinlever is vice president and general manager of EFI's ink company, Inkware, Meredith, NH. Prior to joining VUTEk in 2001, Schinlever served as vice president of strategic marketing for Xerox Corp.'s Office Systems Multifunction division. He also has held marketing and general management positions in several small companies and ran a small graphics-software business. Schinlever holds an MBA from Duke University and a bachelor's degree in managerial economics from the University of California, Davis.
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