Small format coffee printer have distinct character and variety of special applications that belongs to them in ways that you don’t see with, say, the narrowest versions of solvent roll fed printers.
The compact proportions of the smallest A3 bed models means they’ll squeeze into places where you wouldn’t put a wide format printer, and also the relatively low entry prices signify they’re attracting the kind of user that can’t accommodate or perhaps can’t afford a “conventional” flatbed.
Just like more importantly, these baby flatbeds are built to take deep, often three dimensional objects which are situated on the beds by vacuum and jigs.
This materials handling ability more than anything else is driving the applications, such as objects like phone and tablet cases, laptop lids, leather folder, book and iPad covers, pens, USB sticks, golf balls, plaques, ceramic tiles and plates, trophies and office nameplates. To get more industrial purposes, the printers can be used for backlit instrument panels, touch switch panels, component marking and the like.
They may print on anything that’s relatively small and solid, really. Most of these small printers use UV-cured inks, which sticks to numerous surfaces, while many (like Mimaki) can optionally print a primer fluid that increases the plethora of substrates that can be handled. Copytrax offers both strong solvent and water-based gel inks as well as UV curing.
Modest curves could be printed on, but not anything having a significant variation in height since the accurate “throw distance” from the ink droplets is comparatively small, as with any inkjet. For example golf balls can only be printed inside a fairly small circle throughout the highest point, rather than the entire of just one hemisphere.
This class of small flatbeds have vacuum beds, however if you’re printing multiple small 3D objects you’ll need a jig to keep them in predetermined positions, so the printed image is applied off to the right areas. Jigs can be made from wood, foam, metal or Perspex.
The jig is connected to the design system or Rip through simple templates that position the artwork objects to align together with the physical jigs. Mimaki demonstrated a jig-free camera based position locator and automatic registration system at drupa 2012, but hasn’t released it as being a production system up to now.
The FESPA Digital event in Munich this season saw the most up-to-date arrival on the baby flatbed party. Mutoh announced its ValueJet 426UF, a keenly priced A3 flatbed printer that fills a gap in their range where it couldn’t previously take on its fellow Japanese rivals Mimaki and Roland DG.
This new model is due to ship in September 2014 and we’ll consider it in more detail partly two, along with the equally interesting products available from several of the smaller European developers: Copytrax/Azon and Bergstein.
This Mimaki UJF-3042FX features a jig on its bed to position small gifts – in this case paper cutters.
Actually Mutoh has arrived rather late to the party. Mimaki announced its first A3 flatbed, the UJF-3042, five-years ago and has since revised it with a number of variations plus an A2 version. Mimaki itself wasn’t the first to build uv printer, as there was attempts to get small solvent flatbeds up and running in early 2000s.
However, Mimaki’s combination of UV inks and LED curing lamps using a deep adjustable-height bed, coupled with its marketing clout, made the UJF-3042 an immediate sales success. Priced below €30,000, these printers sold as quickly as Mimaki may make them for your first year or so.
The very first UJF-3042 was revised and renamed UJF-3042FX in the year 2011. It will take items up to 50 mm thick and today costs about €21,500 (a drop around 25% since launch)). This Year it had been joined from the €38,000 UJF-3042HG, which may accept 150 mm deep objects. An A2 format UJF-6042 was introduced in 2012, for around €50,000.
All models print a maximum of 1,800 dpi and present CMYK plus light cyan and light-weight magenta and will optionally print a primer coating if necessary.
The first UJF-3042 prints either white or clear ink, whilst the other two can run within a similar unit. There’s a choice of high durability, stretchable or wide gamut inks, and the white has recirculation.
In accordance with Mimaki, the UJF-6042 can print a complete bed between 2 minutes 30 seconds and 7 minutes 37 seconds based on the quality settings.
Kebab fits in the deeper beds from the Mimaki UJF-3042HG as well as the UJF-6042 and includes motors to rotate cylindrical items.
In some markets Mimaki offers optional “Kebab” holders for the deep-bed UJF-3043HG and UJF-6042 that can rotate cylindrical objects including wine bottles, candles or cardboard tubes beneath the heads. Cost is about €3,800 and yes it takes objects from 10 to 110mm diameter or higher to 330 mm long.
Foiled metallic effects are loved by personalised giftware, but none of the small flatbeds have metallic inks yet. However at the end of this past year I-Sub Digital, a UK based Mimaki dealer, launched Digi-Foil, an array of metallic and decorative foils which were specially developed for use together with the UJF-3042 and 6042 models.
This works with a heated applicator to get a largely manual process after initial printing. A unique adhesive ink can be used within the printer as being a separate pass, allowing prototypes, one-offs and short runs of foiled try to be produced without making use of hot foil dies and presses. I-Sub says that the foiled area can be anything “down to dexmpky56 single dot.”
Roland DG’s first small UV flatbed was small indeed. The VersaUV LEF-12 comes with an A4 printing area. It had been initially priced at little below the bigger Mimaki UJF-3042 models, which limited its appeal despite some nice features for instance a sealed lid and optional carbon filter to lessen dust and ink mist.
Roland fixed that in 2013 by launching the SRA3 format LEF-20 at a price that briefly undercut the Mimaki around €25,000, while reducing the LEF-12’s price considerably: in britain it is actually now the equivalent of €16,400.
The LEF-20 takes objects up to 100 mm high. It offers CMYK plus white and clear ink, in 220ml cartridges. With the two Roland models there’s a choice of matt or gloss finish when curing the clear coating.
By using a maximum 1,440 dpi resolution in the LEF-20, Roland says it will require 7 minutes 20 seconds to print a complete SRA3 bed with CMYK only; or 12 minutes 44 seconds with CMYK plus white; and 17 minutes 20 seconds with CMYK white clear.
In Part 2 we’ll take a look at further options from the dtg printer, as well as a take a look at where they can fit alongside existing analogue and alternative digital processes.