Fespa, display graphics and beyond

Fespa’s main global expo continues to offer a fascinating insight into the state of the digital print sign and display graphics market, and this year’s show in Munich was no exception with a number of new printers announced covering all areas from high production down to entry level rollfed machines. 

There were a number of interesting trends worth noting, including several single pass printers specifically targeting the display graphics market, from Fujifilm and EFI. There was also a greater emphasis on squeezing more productivity out of mid-range flatbeds, and a growing trend towards resin, also known as latex, inks.

Without a doubt, the most eye-catching demonstration at this week’s Fespa show was Durst’s use of robots for feeding and stacking boards to its new P5 HSR large format printer. Durst has chosen to work with Kuka robots, which have been integrated with the Durst printers, with one either side of the printer for feeding and stacking boards. The robot can handle substrate stacks up to 1.8m in height but only takes boards up to 1.6m wide despite the 3.5m print width of the 350 HS. It can handle around 290 boards per hour assuming boards of 1.6 x 1.2m.

Durst also debuted a new addition to its P5 portfolio with the P5 350 HSR. This is a 3.5m wide rollfed printer that comes with an extra set of printheads as standard so that the printer can run two sets of CMYK for faster productivity.

Agfa has now certified its own inks for the Inca Digital X3 printers.

However, Durst was not the only vendor looking at robotics as Agfa also showed a robot for unloading boards from an Inca Onset. The show also marked a year since Agfa acquired Inca Digital and the first public showing of an Onset with the Agfa branding. More importantly, Agfa has also completed the transition from Fujifilm to Agfa’s own ink for the Onsets. For now, only CMYK and white inks are available though Mike Horsten, Agfa’s head of textiles and global press and PR, assured me that Agfa will shortly also offer other colours.

He says that customers should see a reduction in the amount of ink used of around 18-22 percent, noting: “We are printing less ink because the colour gamut of our ink is bigger and so you can use less ink for the same coverage.” However, Horsten wouldn’t disclose ink prices so any savings on ink costs are likely to be less dramatic, though he did tell me: “Ink costs will be similar or lower than the current manufacturer but it’s customer dependent.” He adds: “So jobs you could have done in four passes you can now do in three passes so the productivity of the machine has gone up now.”

Naturally all new Onsets now come with Agfa ink. Fujifilm will continue to sell ink to existing customers or alternatively those customers can switch over to Agfa ink, which takes about ten days. The process involves flushing out the old ink from the system and writing new profiles as well as installing Agfa’s Asanti RIP.

It also involves checking all the printheads and adding new waveforms to drive those heads. Horsten notes: “Also, heads that have nozzle outs might need to be replaced.” That will add to the cost but does at least ensure the machine is fully serviced. Horsten acknowledges that it might be an issue for some customers to have a machine out of action for such a long period but points out that some customers have more than one Onset and can balance the work between them and adds: “In the UK we can do the production printing for them at Cambridge (where Inca Digital is based).” 

Brother, which has a proven track record in selling DtG printers, is expanding its inkjet business into more industrial markets, starting with a brand new wide format latex printer. The WF1-L640 is a 1.6m wide rollfed printer that runs at up to 15 sqm/hr. It’s based on the chassis of Roland DG’s TrueVIS AP-640 resin printer but with printheads and inks from Brother. There are two printheads, one to lay down an optimiser and the second to print the CMYK colours. It will come with Roland DG’s VersaWorks RIP. 

EFI showed this Q3r hybrid printer.

EFI announced, but did not show, the latest addition to its Nozomi range of single pass printers, the Nozomi 14000 SD, which is a variant on the existing 14000 that’s designed specifically for handling the wider range of substrates found in sign and display applications. It will take substrates up to 1.4m wide. It prints CMYK but there are options to add white, orange and violet ink though it can only take a maximum of six colour channels.

Robert Frost, Nozomi sales specialist for EFI, says that the print engine and ink is the same as the existing 14000 LED, adding: “We changed the feeding station with a new feeder and new stacker. We have a different way of priming the media that allows us to a wider range of media.” It can produce 3000 to 4000 sqm/hr but Frost points out that this does depend on how fast the operator feeds the media, noting: “We are working on an automated top loader but hand feeding gives you more flexibility. But if you are running longer run lengths with less media changes than automation will be a benefit.” The price starts at around £1.8 million but goes up to £2.3 million for all the options.

EFI has also developed a UV LED inkset for thermoformed 3D sign and display uses. The Transform TF ink is a deep draw ink that’s said to be suitable for first-surface interior and second-surface exterior/backlit applications. It is available now for the Pro 30f flatbed and Vutek 32h hybrid printer models and will also ship in Q3 this year for the Vutek H3 and H5.

Fujifilm showed a model of its upcoming HS6000 single pass inkjet press, which is also aimed at the high productivity end of the sign and display spectrum. It’s based on a Barberan Jetmaster and uses Epson S3200 printheads albeit with a Fujifilm water-based primer and UV inkset. It can produce up to 6000sqm/hr but the Production mode of 4700 sqm/hr is a more realistic figure, which equates to 50mpm at 600dpi resolution. The press should be commercially available by the start of 2024 and the price is likely to be around €5 million.

Fujifilm showed off a new hybrid printer, the Acuity Prime Hybrid, which is essentially a roll-to-roll hybrid version of its existing flatbed models complete with a four-zone vacuum platen. Consequently it has the same print carriage as the Prime 20, 30 and L models and uses the same Ricoh Gen5 printheads. The maximum printable width is 2m and can produce up to 141 sqm/hr though a more realistic production speed would be 43sqm/hr, dropping to 14sqm/hr in its Fine Art mode.

Vanguard Europe, which is a subsidiary of Durst, used the Fespa show to introduce its latest UV flatbed printer, the VK3220T-HS. This is a 3.2 x 2m UV flatbed with a very flexible approach to upgradeability. The base model comes with two printheads for four colours. However, this can be expanded with up to five heads for light cyan and light magenta, white and varnish. On top of this, customers can add one or two extra rows of heads – up to 15 printheads in total – to increase the overall productivity. This gives a maximum speed of 360sqm/hr though 162 sqm/hr appears to be a more realistic production speed.

Canon’s Arizona 1380XTF gains the new Flow vacuum technology.

Canon showed off two new Arizona wide format flatbed printers, the 1300 GTF and 1300 XTF, which is just adding the Flow technology it introduced to the more expensive 2300-series last year. This is a vacuum system that can supposedly eliminate the need to tape substrates to the bed, which should save time and improve the overall productivity. Derek Joys, product marketing manager for Canon UK, estimates that this system should lead to up to 25 percent more productivity in terms of getting media and on and off the printer. He says that users can adjust the vacuum flow to match the particular substrates but that in practice most people set it once and leave it.

These printers have also gained several new print modes, including Quality-Smooth, Production-Plus and Quality-Plus that should lead to larger colour gamuts with light cyan, light magenta and white inks. The only difference between the two models is the size, with the GTF having a bed of 1.25 x 2.5 metres and the larger XTF offering up to 2.5 x 3.08m.

Canon also introduced a new Elevate feature to its PrismaXL software. This improves on the older Arizona Touchstone software for textured effects and now offers effects such as embossing and raised lettering up to 2mm high. 

Canon also brought along its new Colorado M, which was announced earlier this year and which I’ve covered previously. This is essentially a slightly more modular version of the existing model, which has proven very popular for wall paper printing.

Roland showed this EU-1000MF flatbed printer.

Roland DG demonstrated a number of new printers, including the TruVis AP-640, which I believe is the company’s first foray into resin or latex printing. This is a 1.6m wide rollfed printer that first lays down an optimiser, followed by the CMYK colours. This printer has been used by Brother as the basis for its new WF1 printer as detailed above.

Roland also showed off it’s new EU-1000MF flatbed, which does look strikingly similar to Epson’s V7000 and is the same 2.5 x 1.2m size though some of the specifications are different, with the Epson having 10 colours while the Roland has up to six. It has a vacuum bed that’s split into four zones. It comes with a Roland edition of the SAi Flexiprint Plus RIP software, which seems like a strange choice given that Roland has already developed its own VersaWorks RIP.

Roland had earlier this year rebranded most of its UV flatbed printers under the VersaObject and then announced a new VersaObject CO range of flatbed printers that are designed for some direct to object printing. There are six new CO models with Roland showing a CO-300 at Fespa which will take objects up to 200mm high. It has a printable width of 749mm and 1500mm length. The base machine prints CMYK but it can take up to eight colours, with the addition of red, orange, white and gloss. The maximum resolution is 1440 dpi.

Mutoh previewed a new industrial flatbed printer, the XpertJet 1462UF, which I’ve already covered. This has a bed of 1470 mm x 740 mm, which roughly equates to A1+ size. As a rough guide, it can print 81 iPhone 14 cases on one bed, and can do this in under 15 minutes. It can print to objects that are up to 150mm in height and is designed as an alternative to screen printing. It prints CMYK plus white and varnish, with resolution up to 1440 x 1440 dpi.

Azon Printer has developed the Matrix MonsterJet range of Direct to Object printers, with the aim of printing to much larger objects than most DtO printers. The series offers customisable table sizes and go up to 1 metre in height. For Fespa, the company showed off a version for printing to suitcases. The printheads are Epson DX5 and the inks come from Avery Dennison and are said to be EN 71-3 Certified, which means that they are phthalate free. They can produce either a matt or shiny finish. The printer can print up to five layers in one pass for embossing and can even print braille to the ADA standard for accessible design. It takes roughly 10 to 15 minutes to print the suitcases shown here.

Azon has developed this Matrix DtO printer that can print to suitcases.

On top of this, there was a diverse range of printers on show, including labels and packaging, textiles and industrial printing, despite the Fespa show traditionally being seen as a wide format printing event. Some of this is because many vendors have evolved wide format inkjet technology into more industrial areas. Some of it is because wide format printing companies are undoubtedly looking to expand and diversify their portfolios and are open to seeing what other types of printing are available. But there’s also still an element of catching up after the enforced hibernation of the pandemic.

Amongst the Chinese vendors, ShenZhen Yuxunda International has developed the Sunthinks range of printers and showed off a brand new model simply called Single Pass UV Printer. This prints CMYK plus optional white. There are five different models with the print width ranging from 120mm up to 580mm but the model shown was the 235mm, though I believe the print width is closer to 220mm. It will print to substrates up to 10mm in height. This should allow it to print to a range of items from packaging to decorating objects such as hardback notebooks.

It uses Epson I3200 printheads and can produce 40mpm at 600×600 dpi or 25mpm at 600×1200 dpi resolution. The samples did have quite a glossy look to them which is because there is no pining between the colours which has allowed the ink to flow a little. It will come with an SAi PhotoPrint RIP. This will be distributed in the UK by Axzyra who will likely add a conveyor system to help feed and unload items. It should be available later this year.

The Sunthinks single pass UV printer.

So overall, there was a lot more to see at the show than I had expected. The halls seemed busy to me, almost back to the levels from before the pandemic though I mostly judge these things by how easy it is to walk quickly through the show, which is not the most scientific method. The event was not quite as big as the last time Fespa was at Munich, using just four and a half halls.

Some of that shortfall is probably due to the upcoming ITMA show in Milan, with most vendors holding back their larger textile equipment for that show. But most vendors brought plenty of working kit so there was much to see and all the vendors I spoke to reported good sales from the show, suggesting that visitors and exhibitors alike found it useful. There was a much stronger international presence than at last year’s show with many Chinese exhibitors and I met also with many Japanese and American visitors.

I’ll round off my coverage from Fespa 2023 with a look at textile printers at the show, which was mainly DtG and DtF machines, in a separate story later this week.


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