WE CAN THINK of few shops that don’t drool over the thought of owning a UV printer. What’s not to love? Inks that adhere to essentially anything. A printer that can safely operate in an office environment as there are virtually no VOCs. By definition, the image is UV safe for outdoor usage. Heck, what’s keeping everyone from taking the leap?
You may have heard about early adopters finding a number of issues with UV printers. The inks tended to be more matte than glossy and could crack or scratch depending on the media. The lamps used to cure the inks put out a lot of heat — so much that they could literally warp thin metal sheets and melt thin plastics to distortion. Probably one of the biggest downsides in those days was their speed. If you pour that much money into an asset, then you would expect it could handle sufficient production to pay for itself.
We are very happy to report that the issues encountered by the first UV printer users have been by and large solved. Prices have even become more accessible. You should still expect to pay a premium when compared to eco-solvent class products, but you will gain immensely more flexibility. So, what factors should you consider and then look for in a new UV printer?
To begin, ask yourself what you want to do with the printer. If you are looking to create small items like phone cases, golf balls and the like, then you can get away with a small-format printer that supports custom jigs. Make sure it can accommodate the thickness of all the objects you want to print. If you are working with rigid boards, then you have a different set of considerations. How large of a table do you need? Many shops run multiple copies, having the operator unload finished prints while the printer is working in a different location on the table. You may also want to opt for a zoned vacuum table to help streamline the loading/unloading process.
Another consideration is whether you need to print on flexible media such as rolls of paper or vinyl. For flexible substrates, just get a roll-to-roll model as opposed to a flatbed. But if you want maximum flexibility, look for a hybrid machine that can handle both rigid and flexible media, or make sure that any flatbed you choose allows for an add-on roll-to-roll option.
Many UV models offer a white ink channel for printing on non-white media, as well as clear varnish options to add gloss and textures.
For the best quality prints, numerous ink options abound, depending on the manufacturer. If printing on non-white media, many machines offer a white ink channel. In addition you can find printers that have clear varnish options to add gloss and even interesting textures to the print. Finally, speed can be found — for a price. Roll-to-roll machines can get close to 3,000 sq. ft./hr. More moderately priced machines can reach 200 to 2,000 sq. ft./hr. Like cars, though, speed costs money.
So, virtually all of the issues found in the early days of UV printing have been addressed. Ink selection, print size and the right speed for your needs can be found. Just think about your budget and the type of work you want to do. The right UV printer is out there.
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Published first here: https://signsofthetimes.com/still-unsure-of-uv-printers-dont-be/