Curves and colours

Software is often overlooked when we talk about digital printing but in most cases it’s the software that pulls the print solution together. So I was encouraged to find quite a few software companies exhibiting at the last InPrint show.

Debbie Thorpe, Business Development director for Global Inkjet Systems (GIS).

All software developers complain that people making printer hardware tend to regard the software as an optional extra and that they are brought onto the project at a very late stage. This was particularly true in the industrial sector a couple of years ago when few people had heard of issues like colour management.

Graham Chapman, OEM solutions evangelist for Caldera, says that industrial printing still needs a RIP, adding: “People often start off with a plan to design a machine and only when they get printed data out they realise that they need more control.” But he says that people are now starting to think of the software at the design stage, either to get the right colour or to process the right data through to the machine. He adds: “We find that we can give advice to the product in other areas like printheads and inks because we have partners across the industry.”

Chapman notes that “automation is often important to industrial printing,” adding: “That’s been part of Caldera for a long time. We can control all the RIP features through an API to integrate to industrial processes.” He continues: “We work on specific solution integration projects so we can help customers with specific development for their process.”

Gerrit Andre, Trainer and product specialist for Colorgate says: “The industrial market is growing and is much more interesting than wide format and is quite a challenge.” Colorgate’s core business is still developing RIPs but that these days that includes printing to ceramics, wood, glass bottles and cans as well as specific applications like floorboards and concrete tiles, all of which means dealing with new customers. He says: “They at least know what they are looking for but mostly digital printing is an emerging market for a lot of them so things like colour management are hugely different but they know what they want.” He adds: “A lot of people know about colour management, particularly in packaging. Packaging will be the biggest part of industrial applications but it’s not our only focus.”

Colorgate demonstrates the range of industrial packaging applications that it covers.

Andre says that Colorgate’s Production Server is migrating into an industrial version for packaging and other applications, noting: “Colour consistency is the biggest upcoming topic because people want stable production so they have to validate and recalibrate. So we want an in-line auto calibration workflow in 2018.”

Most printers are designed to print to flat surfaces but another issue is how to print to curved objects. Debbie Thorpe, Business Development director for Global Inkjet Systems, says that most people are printing to tubes, which means you just print to a rectangle and wrap the shape around the tubes. However, she says that people want to print to complex shapes, adding: “The next step is cones, which are much more difficult because you have to compensate for the conical distortion. Also, it will be spinning faster in one area than the other. We have developed a tool that allows you to compensate so we can correct for dot gain and for screening artefacts.”

There’s an obvious application for these shapes in bottles and to some extent industrial printing has been hijacked by the packaging industry with manufacturers looking at ways to eliminate the printing/ converting stage from their production. This also explains why there is now suddenly a lot more interest in things like colour management. The question is, will industrial printing mainly be seen as a subset of packaging, or will the packaging industry lead the way, helping to develop inkjet technology to the point where it becomes more attractive to other industrial users?




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