If you have been in the wide-format industry for more than ten years, you probably remember companies like Gandinnovations, Colorspan, Gerber or the Korean IP&I.
From 2005 to 2010, these companies ruled the wide-format printer industry. Besides manufacturing impressive UV-curing printers, they all had one thing in common: these companies liked to push the boundaries as to the type of media you could print on.
So people could expect to see the IP&I models printing on doors, the Gandinnovations Jeti machines printing on ceramic tiles, or the Colorspan printers, printing on concrete.
I still remember the nice Curt Bray showing me all the wooden souvenirs his Gerber Solara had printed just the day before at some ISA or SGIA show.
People like me were in awe. Apparently, those were the golden years of the UV-curing industry.
But in spite of the crowds gathering around these printers, the companies that manufactured them had one last thing in common, they suffered a similar fate.
As you probably know, all of those companies were either acquired (HP bought Colorspan; AGFA bought the remains of Gandinnovations) or went belly up (the case of IP&I).
How can the companies that make such awesome printers disappear from major tradeshows? And why are UV-curing printer manufacturers no longer touting exotic applications beyond signage?
As the industry learnt, UV-curing ink is not the best option to print on materials with granular or rough texture.
Printer manufacturers in the safe zone
If you have attended recent tradeshows, you might have already noticed how today, most successful printer manufacturers (EFI, Durst, Canon Oce, Dilli) are rather conservative as to the type of applications you can produce with their machines.
Today, most of these companies rarely ever go beyond the realm of signage applications. UV ink for Décor seems a risky area not many companies are willing to explore.
Adhesion issues with UV ink for Décor: my experience with a ceramic tile
A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Gandinnovations headquarters in Ontario, Canada, to write a number of evaluations on their impressive UV-curing printers.
The person in charge of our visit bought several materials to be printed with the Gandinnovations Jeti 1224UV, for our evaluation.
Among the applications he wanted featured were ceramic tiles. And because these turned out nice print samples for decoration, I took one of the tiles back home.
A couple of days after getting back from the Gandinnovations visit, somebody grabbed the ceramic tile, looked at it and left it on top of a toaster oven in the kitchen, which by the way was not being used on a daily basis.
A number of days after, I noticed the ink had begun to peel off in the edges. In a matter of days, the ink layer began to crack and pop off and lose adhesion almost entirely.
Apparently, the heat of the oven affected the ink layer and it started to come off. It was clear evidence that with UV ink, “you can print on anything, but the ink won’t stick on everything”.
Adhesion is still an issue on smooth surfaces like glass and some plastics. A technician explained that he would not attempt to print on mirror because the reflection might cure the ink inside the printhead nozzles.
However, we do have photos of mirrors printed on with UV-curing printers. Qres (previously Grapo), a printer manufacturer based in the Czech Republic, had several unusual applications on display in its headquarters.
Whether printed mirrors are a product you could sell on a large scale, is something we suggest to research before making a purchase decision.
Are we against UV-curing technology for Decor?
So far, you might think I am a UV skeptic. But in fact, I am an advocate of the UV ink for Décor applications for several reasons.
My intention with this article is not to discourage you to expand your services with a UV-curing printer, but to help you make a smarter decision, by giving you some key questions you should ask when considering a UV-curing printer.
UV-curable ink: The questions you should ask
Several years ago, it was easy to find articles written by PR writers hired by ink manufacturers claiming that you could print on anything and everything.
UV ink for Décor seemed a great opportunity to go beyond signage. Yes, in theory, you can squirt ink on any substrate you can fit through the printer.
But, will the ink stay on any surface? How quickly will the ink pop off? How quickly will the ink loose adhesion if the surface underneath is flexed or bent?
Besides, some materials inherently generate static electricity, which causes the ink to fly to parts of the material not intended to receive any ink.
When you consider applications with UV-cured ink, the question should not be how many surfaces can the ink print on, but how many surfaces will the printed image adhere to.
What Décor applications can you print with UV-curable ink
These are some of the applications you could consider with a UV-curing printer:
- Aluminum composites (Alubond)
- ceiling tiles
- ceramic tiles
Some of the creative architectural applications I have seen are
- Venetian blinds
- Toilet lids
Just realize that most of these media and applications need to be pre-treated. One of the most common ways to pre-treat a material is with a primer, which is a liquid coating to help ink adhere to the surface. Also, realize that priming takes time, and is an additional expense.
In general, our suggestion is not to print on architectural materials with rough surfaces, or applications that will be exposed to high abrasion, such as shopping mall floors, or basketball courts.
We will continue to share our findings in this interesting type of applications, especially because Décor is one of the print applications with more potential to grow.