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3 Things you need to know before buying your first UV printer

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Integrating your first UV printer into an already existing sign shop is no easy endeavour.

Whether you have experience in the wide-format sign business or are just planning to start, we would like to share some ideas that will make the process of preparing your sign shop a lot easier.

First, as you probably already know, one of the main advantages of a UV printer is that it widens the range of materials you can print.

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These are some of the unusual applications printed on with the Mimaki UJF-3042 MKII UV-curing printer at APPPEXPO 2018.

While you can print adhesive material on a solvent printer, and then mount it on a rigid surface, a UV printer can print directly onto the rigid board. Besides, UV printers can also print on roll media.

But since the technology of a UV printer is more complex, it also means that it is more fragile.

In some sense, comparing the technology of a solvent printer with the technology of a UV printer is like comparing a mechanical typewriter to an iMac.

I know the comparison is a bit exaggerated and even offensive to solvent printer manufacturers, but it serves to emphasize the fact that a UV printer is more easily broken, if the following details are overlooked.

Here is what you need to consider.

 

1. Physical Space for your first UV printer

Take into account that most UV printers come assembled in one piece. If you buy a roll-to-roll UV printer, you can easily make it fit through a 2m (6.56 feet) entrance.

But if your first UV printer is a combo transport belt printer, or a flatbed printer, you would need a bigger entrance.

Most UV printers are classified by their print width. You would hear print shop owners say “I just bought a 2.5 m flatbed printer”.

Just take into account that those 2.5 m are only the print width, to which you should add another 1.5 to 2 m of the body of the printer, which would result in a total of four to five meters.

This type of printers usually require a crane to unload from the truck, so consider space for both the truck that transports the crated printer, and the crane that takes the printer down.

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Two printer operators assembling the accessory table on the EFI VUTEk 3r roll-to-roll UV-curing printer. Considerable space is needed to handle tables and media.

 

Because of the daily workflow of a UV printer, you would need at least two meters at the front of the machine, and two meters at the back.

Some engineers and sales staff would insist that one meter in front is enough, but we have visited hundreds of sign shops, and one meter really leaves you in a very limited work environment.

Handling a full size rigid board, or a media roll wider than 2 meters is a challenge in small spaces.

This space might vary depending on whether your UV printer model comes with accessory tables to handle rigid boards or not.

The Site Preparation Guide of each model would tell you more detail on this matter.

 

2. The environment on your sign shop

Most wide-format solvent printers are all terrain machines. In developing countries, some entry-level solvent models are installed in very cluttered and open environments, where dust easily accumulates.

But the electronics of a UV printer are more sophisticated and therefore, more delicate. This is why there are some environmental requirements that need to be taken care of, before installing a UV printer and during production.

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An ICA Duster unit cleans the air in this UV printer demo room.

 

For example, static electricity can damage the printer’s electronics, including the printheads. It can also affect print quality. (This Roland document shows more in depth how static affects a wide-format printer).

This is why most Installation Guides require to place ant-static flooring or carpeting before installing the printer.

Cleanliness of the air is also an important aspect that needs to be addressed. Before installing your first UV printer, you must make sure the environment is closed and free of dust and particles.

Dust can accumulate and clog the printhead nozzles. On the other hand, you also need a system to get rid of harmful substances produced by the printer.

While UV printers produce significantly less VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) than a solvent printer, most honest Material Safety Data Sheets state that UV printers do release harmful substances into the air.

Depending on the size, some UV printers need an air supply system, which is typically not included with the printer. The air supplied to the machine should be dust-free and moisture-free.

Check with the manufacturer for the requirements of the air compressor you may need for your printer.

 

3. UV ink needs to be handled properly

When you visit a printer distributor or a printer manufacturer’s booth at a trade show, you will notice that regardless of the size, the ink containers of a UV-curing printer are always dark.

This is because the chemistry of UV-curable inks react with sunlight. So, in your sign shop, you need to consider a closed area for ink storage.

The room or area designated for ink storage should also be a cold place. This Mimaki FAQ states that UV-curable ink should be stored in a room with a temperature of 0 – 20℃ (32 – 68℉).

Depending on the brand, UV-curable inks have on average a shelf life of one year. This is because the viscosity of the ink needs to remain within certain parameters to remain usable. UV inkjet ink is special in this case.

Viscosity of inkjet inks is measured in centipoises (cP). According to Nazdar, UV inks for screen applications can vary up to 250 cP in a twelve-month period and still word adequately.

But if UV ink for an inkjet printer has a viscosity variation of 3 cP, it starts to cause printing problems, such as printhead nozzles clogged.

These tips will help you be better prepared to install your first UV printer, or to improve your production floor, if you already have one.

 

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