A Post-SGIA Expo 2016 Synopsis

The sign and digital print industry is changing, but which course will it – you – choose?
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Paul Niedermeyer, on his curb-side classic blog, tells of how the grandmotherly 1960 Ford Falcon chassis was carried over to the ’65 Mustang series, the Mercury Cougar, the Ford Fairlane, the Ranchero pickup and at least a dozen other succeeding Ford vehicles. The 85-hp Falcon was an American-made alternative to the newly imported and increasingly popular 36-hp Volkswagen Beetle, and Ford’s ingenious carryover of the chassis reduced the development cost of other, later-introduced models.
Today, similarly, GM’s Epsilon platform (its mid-size, front-wheel drive set) is shared by the Chevrolet Impala, the Buick LaCrosse and the Cadillac XTS. The Epsilon framework also appears in Opel, Fiat, Saab and Buick Riviera vehicles and, like the Ford Falcon platform, similar Epsilon sets underpin many other GM vehicles.
Activist Antonio Gramsci, in the 1920’s, titled such manufacturing progressions as “Fordisms.” The term described the technological manufacturing “beginnings” that advanced business and national prosperity. Henry Ford, of course, invented the assembly line, which utilized then-modern advances, but only because others, such as Thomas Edison, were also producing high-tech systems. In his book “Out of Ashes”, Konrad H. Jarausch describes Fordism as “prosperity advanced not only by technical inventions but also by greater efficiency in manufacturing, which lowered prices and made products accessible to a wider public.”
Such progressions are dominant in the sign industry. They relate to past practices, but also to the high-tech present. For example, Fabien Papleux, global IoT director, Accenture, in a recent Denver talk, said continuous engineering – Fordisms – address the ever-present need to rethink, redesign, reintegrate and re-innovate products and systems. He said continuous product improvement allows engineers to eliminate the costs of unnecessary reinvention, along with high downstream costs, while taking advantage of cross-discipline decision-making and collaboration, like the Ford Falcon’s well-travelled chassis, or the tweaks and innovations we’re seeing in the digital print field today. Think fabric printing, dye sublimation and other innovative print-imaging processes that initiated, like the modest Falcon founding the Ford Mustang, from unassuming parents.
The 2016 SGIA walkabout
Chris and Kathi Morrison, ST’s authoritative technology reviewers, traveled to the SGIA Expo 2016 tradeshow in Las Vegas to look at, and comment on, new technologies and innovative changes. Last week, they shared their notes from the show, which I combined with mine, to form the following assessments. Note that our lists do not recap all the exhibits – the SGIA product display floor was enormous – and, as well, because of the show size and our time frame, we surely missed products that should appear here. But consider these a sample of what there was to see, and contact us with ideas for possible future inclusion.
Sign Fordisms
Mimaki’s Profile Master 3 software is a progressive change example, a Fordism, because, although Mimaki is a machine manufacturer, its new profile software system addresses such print-related software issues as color management (on diverse media) and job workflow. In essence, Mimaki’s Profile Master 3 allows you to simulate various ink sets, media and resolutions on a Mimaki printer or, if needed, multiple Mimaki printers.
Such complex systems exist today because of 64-bit computer systems. A 64-bit system is able to access four billion times as much physical memory as a 32-bit system, so imagine the capability of the 128-bit system arriving someday. Today, 64-bit computers speed and abet design and color-processing tasks.
Adobe (San Jose, CA) recently released its Adobe PDF Print Engine 4 (APPE 4) that it says will enable printers to increase workflow efficiency via integration with Adobe InDesign CC, Illustrator CC, Photoshop CC, Acrobat DC and JDF core technologies. Available with 32- and 64-bit platforms (and 16-bit color), APPE 4 resides in numerous wide-format printer manufacturers’ systems and those offered by prepress software producers. The Adobe engineer’s braininess appears in the “tile” parallel processing function that reduces rendering time for large-file processing. The software accomplishes this by sectioning such files (tiles) into smaller sections with each section assigned to a separate CPU core.
See Adobe’s parallel processes which are like six people making sandwiches instead of one.
Roland
Earlier this year, Roland DGA Corp. (Irvine, CA) announced its TrueVIS™ VG series 64- and 54-in.-wide printer/cutters as a new series of advanced, eco-solvent inkjets that feature innovations in printhead design and control and firmware engineering. This series allows you to create vehicle graphics, banners, posters, displays, labels, decals, packaging prototypes, apparel-heat transfers and more. The TrueVIS VG features four newly developed FlexFire™ printheads that offer high control and firing frequencies, as well as precision droplet placement. They also added a 25% wider print swath, which allows the machine to reach high-quality print speeds up to 374.6 sq. ft./hr. in its dual CMYK configuration. The printers, which can be set for unattended operation, feature the VersaWorks® dual-RIP software and utilize Roland’s new, GreenGuard-certified TrueVIS inks in your choice of seven- (CMYKLcLmLb) or eight-color (CMYKLcLmLk plus White*2) configurations. A newly developed Roland DG MobilePanel allows users to perform control-panel functions with smartphones or tablets equipped with iOS or Android OS and a Bluetooth connection.
More recently, Roland added the 54- and 30-in.-wide TrueVIS SG series printer/cutters – the SG-300 and SG-540 – to the TrueVIS line, as its value-packed models for the series. These CMYK models also feature FlexFire printheads and have improved integrated cutting technology. They perform with the new TrueVIS ink and print at speeds up to 101.2 sq. ft./hr. The increased productivity of the SG series printer/cutters provides up to 60% faster imaging than previous models in high-quality mode. Also, a new cut carriage and blade holder provides greater downforce and accuracy, which expands the available media options.
Roland’s Marc Malkin said the SG series printer/cutters are specially designed for shops and businesses just getting started in wide-format, or smaller shops on limited budgets that want to take their businesses to the next level. He said they’re ideal for numerous applications, including indoor and outdoor advertising, vehicle graphics, banners, posters and displays, labels and decals, apparel heat transfers and more.
When Roland introduced the TrueVIS line last spring, I noted that the series is more refined than most new products, because, in the design process, its engineering team reconsidered every component in Roland’s collection of digital-printer systems and added, enhanced or re-engineered the machine structure, printheads, nip-zone systems, the multi-drive system’s synchronization, the ink-feed systems and core software. In one view, you could see this like blueprinting a racecar engine, to get maximum performance sans fluff. True engine “blueprinting” requires intricate measuring and weighing of each component, so that they’re mated equally and work together at maximum efficiency.
For fabric printing, Roland offers its 64-in.-wide Texart XT-640 dye-sublimation printer that transfers inversely printed graphics on transfer paper for subsequent heat transfer onto polyester textiles or polymer-coated, rigid substrates. Another notable is the benchtop-size LEF-300 (from Roland’s VersaUV family) that can print directly on virtually any substrate, including 3-D objects up to 3.94 in. thick. It offers a wide print width and heightened productivity features, to produce both higher quantities and larger items more quickly and easily.
Mimaki
Mimaki USA (Suwanee, GA) displayed its JFX200-2531 dual-bed UV-LED flatbed printer that doubles the print area of previous models to increase productivity by enabling the operator to print on one side while prepping the other. The print area ranges up to 98.4 x 122 in. and the machine accepts media up to 2 in. thick. (It ships in two parts, to ease installation.) The flatbed features dual origin points and a twin vacuum-pump system that allows you to position up to two 4 x 8 ft. boards, multiple jigs or smaller pre-cut pieces onto the table for continuous printing. While one section (origin point) is printing, the operator can unload finished prints from the previous section and affix the next board or jig without stopping production. Features include Mimaki’s Advance Pass, Waveform Control, Circulation and nozzle recovery systems, as well as media registration at either origin point, an ionizer bar to minimize static electricity, low heat UV-LED lamps and several ink set choices.
Mimaki also displayed its TS500P-3200 Dye-Sublimation Printer that features 12 staggered configuration printheads and the buyer’s choice of a four- or six-color ink system. This machine – it prints just over 10 ft. wide – allows you to image on virtually anything that accepts dye-sub ink. In addition, it provides variable dot sizes (6-24 pL) with resolutions of 360-1,080 dpi and prints at speeds up to 1,937 sq. ft./hr. (four-color draft mode) compared to 1,130 sq. ft./hr. (six-color draft mode).
Find a minute to read Craig Miller’s article on dye-sublimation printing in the September Big Picture magazine (September, 2016, p. 16) an ST sister publication. Miller said, “I will make a bold statement, without reservation: In all of wide- and grand-format printing, if you select the right printer, ink, paper and substrate, these is no combination of print technology and media that can produce large images that rival dye sublimation to rigid media. It’s simply the best.” Miller is a principle shareholder in Pictographics (Las Vegas).
Mutoh
Mutoh’s ValueJet series printers range from 24-104 in. wide and feature such proven technology as Mutoh’s Intelligent Interweaving (i²) and DropMaster systems. The 64-in. wide Eco-Ultra ValueJet 1624X sign and display printer offers two ink types: Eco Ultra and Universal Mild Solvent. Its piezo inkjet printhead and drive system image at production speeds up to 242 sq. ft./hr. Engineered for the production of long-term outdoor prints on various uncoated and coated substrates, the 1624X will produce posters, backlit signage, wall coverings, point-of-sale displays, vehicle graphics, stickers and more. It also features an automatic sheet-off mechanism, an anti-cockling feature, a smart end-of-media-roll feature and a tilt-ink cassette holder.
This is another of Mutoh’s workhorse printers and, like the company’s other ValueJet printers, it’s known for producing durable, high-quality, photorealistic prints.
INX Digital
INX Digital (San Leandro, CA) produces the JetINX™ printhead drive and ink recirculation system that, it says, delivers the firepower and serves as the catalyst for two key printers – the CP100 UV digital cylindrical printer and the InkCups Helix rotary inkjet printer. The CP100 prints on two-piece cans, bottles or other cylindrical objects, and allows designers and brand owners to quickly print and test design concepts in-house. The Helix rotary inkjet printer produces high-quality, single- or multi-color images at exceptional speeds and minimizes part set-up time with a single, advanced, quick-change tooling fixture designed for both cylinder or tapered parts. The all-digital process eliminates the need for pre-press or screen making.
These are “out of the box” machines for signmakers that could become separate profit centers, especially for storefront and franchise signshops. Jim Lambert, VP and general manager of INX Digtial, told me the CP100 allows you to accomplish unconventional work, which could bring new opportunities to a signshop. He said the Helix rotary inkjet printer, designed for short-run and high-volume production, is remarkable in that it will print on a cup within a few seconds. Imagine the association, club and tourist businesses and then imagine the signwork following such connections could bring in.
Sawgrass
Sawgrass displayed its Virtuoso 25-in., eight-color HD Product Decorating System that features the 1,440 x 1,440 dpi Virtuoso VJ 628 printer for creating (at speeds up to 52 sq. ft./hr.) hard and soft signage (e.g., flags, custom backdrops and exhibit displays), as well as many more additional applications. Its eight ink channels can be configured with various SubliJet HD ink sets for various applications. The VJ 628, a roll-to-roll printer, delivers speeds up to 52 sq. ft./hr. It features industrial-grade, drop-on-demand, piezo printheads (180 nozzles with a minimum drop size of 5 pL) and eight ink channels that can be configured with various SubliJet HD ink sets for numerous applications.
You can order the VJ 628 with a dual CMYK ink set that offers high image quality and fast print speeds; however, if your shop produces fine-art type images, consider the Pro Photo ink sets that add light magenta, light cyan and three different levels of black. You can get even more colorful by choosing the XG ink set, which has CMYKLcLm, orange and blue cartridges. Or, step up one more brightness grade by selecting the FL set that replaces blue and orange with – get this – fluorescent pink and yellow.
Agfa
Agfa’s (Elmwood Park, NJ) 1,000 x 1,200 dpi Jeti Mira flatbed UV printer incorporates fast print speeds, productivity functions and the company’s six-color (CMYKLcLm) plus white ink set, with an option for a varnish as a protective coating, or to add dimension or 3-D lenticular effects. The primer ink allows you to pretreat such difficult substrates as polypropylene and polystyrene. The print systems also feature a pin registration system and the “Print and Prepare” utility that allows you to load boards on one side of the table while the opposite side prints. Print speeds range from 97 sq. ft./hr. (high quality) to 2,486 sq. ft./hr. in draft mode. The production mode is 753 sq. ft./hr., which produces 23 4 x 8-ft.boards per hour. In addition, Agfa offers the roll-to-roll Anapurna RTR3200i LED, the flatbed Annapurna FB2540i LED, the Anapurna H2500i LED and the Anapurna H2050i LED hybrid devices (www.agfagraphics.com).
You may also choose the roll media option, i.e., a self-contained, 6.72-in.-wide, detachable roll-to-roll unit.
Canon
Canon U.S.A. Inc. (Melville, NY) has announced its UVgel printing technology that, it said, will be featured in a new line of roll-to-roll printers that will help customers increase their print production while lowering ink costs. Canon said the ink instantly gels on contact with the media, which results in precise dot placement and area control that allows consistent high-quality images at high speed. The soon-to-arrive, 64-in. wide UVgel printer’s piezo printheads, via acoustic sampling technology, will monitor nozzle performance during printing; an independent LED UV-cure sub-system ensures consistent ink curing does not add heat to the media.
I’m not privy to Canon’s UVgel ink secrets, but many UV-cure gel inks require unique print machine functions. For example, the warming of the media to a temperature that causes the gel to settle prior to the UV-cure process allows a more distant placement of the UV-cure lamp. As noted above, Canon said its system does not heat the media. Another gelled ink method comprises inline measuring and analyzing an initial dot application, to determine a media temperature set point, which could explain Canon’s sampling technology. Gel inks are common in industrial applications and offer the advantage of consistent ink-dot sizes (via limiting spread) and cost-effective ink use. Scientists at the Xerox Research Centre recently demonstrated a cured gel ink that is still in the research phase. One observer said the ink, after it is jetted through the Xerox printheads, has the consistency of peanut butter but turns rock hard when exposed to UV light.
Remarkably, the ink dot is the smallest unit in the printing process, the true rubber-meets-the-road union, but uncontrolled ink-dot gain can gravely affect print quality because, unrestrained, it can transfigure gamut, tonality and image resolution and increase ink use. Inkjet engineers express dot gain as a numerical value, (i.e., the difference between the wanted dot value and the resulting dot value), which is usually measured across a printed, mono-tone surface. In addition, ST columnist Theresa Jackson advised me that you could affect dot control in Photoshop color settings by creating a new color profile.

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