New UVGel Technology Seeks to Revolutionize Wide-Format
THINGS ARE changing in the wide-format digital print industry. Research into wide-format trends conducted by PRIMIR for NPES found that 75% of respondents expected their wide-format volumes to increase in the coming 12 months. Backing this up, a recent IPG survey of higher-ed in-plants found that the same percentage (75%) said their wide-format work had increased over the past 12 months.
In IT Strategies’ “WF Inkjet Graphics Summary 2015,” worldwide growth of combined wide-format print volumes across latex, eco-solvent and UV roll-to-roll printing technologies are forecast to increase from 1 billion sq./m to more than 1.6 billion sq./m in 2020.
Looking at the wide-format sector as a whole, KeyPoint Intelligence (formerly InfoTrends) expects print volumes to see a compound annual growth rate of about 3% between 2015 and 2020. This continued growth is the result of increased adoption, new technologies and expanding ranges of applications, as well as more efficient workflow solutions.
While current wide-format technology has improved dramatically the past several years, it still has its challenges. Low-volume 64˝ latex and eco-solvent systems boast a relatively low initial investment and are easy to use, however they do not fully address productivity, quality and media versatility needs.
In order to get the production speeds some print providers require, they have turned to high-end, 3.2 m UV and latex systems. These technologies offer high output speed, the option to work in dual-roll mode and are able to cope with industrial production volumes. However, they represent significant capital investment (> $150,000), which may be beyond the scope of small- to medium-sized print providers.
Minding the Gap
Seeing this “gap” in the market, Canon looked to create a product with industrial speeds and end-to-end productivity; to provide high output quality, suitable for a variety of applications; and to offer maximum media versatility — all within a 64˝ design.
Canon’s new UVgel technology is essentially a gel, developed according to UV curing principles. The printhead, the ink, the platen and the curing concept are all Canon-Océ developed technologies.
How does it work? Inside the printheads, Canon UVgel ink is heated and turns from gel into liquid. The temperature-controlled platen maintains the substrate at a constant 28° C, regardless of environmental factors. On contact with the media, the liquefied ink drops return to their gel state. In their gel state, the ink droplets are “pinned” instantly to the media, assisted by a partial LED “precure” process. The full LED curing takes place at a later stage, after the image swathe is completely formed and gelled on the media.
What makes it different? Although based on UV curing principles, the LED-UV curing system employed in UVgel technology moves independently from the printing carriage. This means that Canon UVgel ink is not cured until the complete image has been deposited, giving the individual ink drops the opportunity to settle. This delivers a flatter, smoother profile, which makes it suitable for lamination.
Additionally, because the image can be laid down in fewer passes, the time to print the image with the same apparent resolution is reduced.
Cold Cure Reduces Media Distortion
Because UVgel technology uses LED curing — a “cold cure” process — the ink and print are instantly dry when cured, and media distortion is negligible, even with highly heat-sensitive media. Current evaporative technologies may heat the media to temperatures as high as 100° C, leading to media deformation and distortion.
Also, Canon UVgel ink does not contain water, which ensures improved dimensional consistency by eliminating the problems associated with swelling of media.
This technology will be at the core of a new roll-to-roll printing products family. The first of these is the Océ Colorado 1640, a 64˝ roll-to-roll printer unveiled at last month’s One Canon Event in Boca Raton, Fla.
The Océ Colorado 1640 incorporates all of the advantages of UVgel, and adds automation features designed to make the printer even more productive. The printer features a top speed of 1,710 sq.ft./hr. for applications such as billboards or outdoor banners. Even at the highest level of quality for close-up indoor applications, it operates at 430 sq.ft./hr.
The dual-roll configuration of the Océ Colorado 1640 enhances productivity, not only decreasing the time required to load media, but also enabling users to switch media quickly when producing mixed applications. The heavy-duty drawer holds two rolls of media. Both rolls can be fed into the print engine without operator assistance. The media height can be added to the media profile and, upon loading the media and media profile, the printer then automatically adjusts the print gap accordingly, ensuring the best possible quality print and preventing printhead crashes. The new parameters are then stored into the media library for future use.
Reliability is key for a true production-oriented printer, and the machine must be able to print while unattended. This is why Canon developed several technologies for quality assurance and control. The UVgel printheads incorporate continuous nozzle monitoring to detect and correct any underperforming nozzles.
During every printing pass, Canon’s nozzle monitoring technology automatically checks all nozzles using acoustic sampling, and even detects whether nozzles are going to misfire before they actually do. In the event of nozzle failure, corrective maintenance is performed automatically.
Canon’s UVgel technology features ink consumption much lower than competitive technologies — as much as 40% lower, according to numbers provided by Canon. Additional savings can be realized through automation features that help reduce operator machine handling time by up to a third.
“Canon is looking forward to the U.S. debut of this product at the ISA Show in April,” says Toyo Kuwamura, executive VP and GM, Business Imaging Solutions Group (BISG), Canon U.S.A. “We know that there has been a lot of anticipation around this technology and we are very excited about what the future will bring.”
Denise Gustavson is the Editorial Director and Special Projects Editor for the Printing & Packaging Group, which includes Printing Impressions, packagePRINTING, In-plant Graphics and Wide-Format Impressions magazines, among other brands. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of Wide-Format Impressions.