A few weeks ago, I came across Darren Gapen’s blog post UV Printing: Can You Afford Not to Make the Investment? on his blog on the PIWorld site. In his post, Mr. Gapen pondered the question of purchasing UV printing equipment and asked if printers could afford to not take the UV printing plunge. His blog post resonated with me because we were faced with those same questions nine years ago.
In 2001, we were primarily known in the printing industry as a large-format photographic printer. We were printing with Durst Lambda digital photographic printers in addition to traditional photographic printing with negatives and enlargers. The industry at that time was in a in a state of flux – it seemed like our niche was going to move towards ink jet based printing, but we were not sure if it would settle on solvent or UV inks. In a fortunate stroke of serendipity, Durst informed us that they would be introducing their first UV digital screen printing press – the Rho 160. We were able to get a preview and see some samples produced by this machine. We were impressed enough to take the plunge – we purchased one of the first Rho 160s in the US.
It took us several weeks to get the Rho 160 integrated into our production flow, but once we did, it slowly but surely began to change our business – for the better. We could now offer our clients new products and services produced more efficiently and economically. As we began to experiment with the Rho, we began to realize that we could also begin producing brand new products as well. We installed two more Rho 160s within six months of our first installation. Over the next few years, we added two Rho 351s, a Rho 600, and two Rho 800s. We are now running seven UV digital screen-printing machines around the clock.
Adding UV digital screen-printing capabilities was more than just a good move for us – it was transformative. UV printing allowed us to enter markets that had previously been closed off from us, in addition to giving us a whole new set of products to offer our clients. We went from competing against other photographic printers to contending against screen printers. Most importantly, UV printing helped us move into the realm of green printing. A quick word on the environmental benefits of UV printing:
UV inks are environmentally friendly because UV ink printers don’t emit volatile organic carbon compounds (VOCs). VOCs are emitted by traditional solvent-based screen printing inks. UV inks have three major green benefits:
- UV inks are healthier for the employees working around these machines.
- UV inks use less energy to print, because the ink is dried as it is printed – the inks do not require the lengthy drying period that solvent-based inks do.
- UV ink is easily liberated from the substrate when the substrate is pulped; it does not permanently stain the substrate fibers (like traditional printing does), allowing for better greater yield with material recycling.
Reading Mr. Gapen’s post reminded me how far we have come in the last nine years. In reflection, I think that had we not jumped into the UV screen-printing pool, our business would be struggling or we would be out of business completely. With that in mind, I do not know how any large-format printing company could not afford to add UV printing to their repertoire. I understand that each company’s circumstance is different, but for Graphic Systems, the advent of UV printing was a significant game changer as the move from traditional photographic printing to digital photographic printing. For us, there is no going back. We wouldn’t want to.
At Graphic Systems, we pride ourselves on our ability to find custom solutions to fit our clients needs, whether it’s creating custom graphic effects or finding ways to print specialized graphic promotions quickly and economically. Earlier this year, Sunglass Hut put us to the test by asking us to create a version of a Prada graphic that could be produced at a lower cost, in large quantities, and with a quick turnaround time.
The prototype consisted of a piece of .125 clear acrylic with multiple layers of vinyl that were applied to the back of the acrylic. It also had hand cut gold foil applied to different areas of the image to give it a unique “printed on gold” visual effect. Sunglass Hut was pleased with the prototype but wanted to produce the graphic quickly and cost effectively, which was when they challenged us to find a more effective way to produce this graphic.
We readily accepted the challenge! Our first step was to create a team to work on the project from inception to completion, ensuring the consistency and quality of the project. Once assembled, our Prada team analyzed the prototype and began working on a solution that would allow us to reproduce the graphic quickly and efficiently.
They explored several different printing options including: screen printing, testing multiple substrates, and using white ink. After several days of research and testing, our team found a solution. They would:
- Remove the “gold” areas from the digital image file so that those areas would not print on the graphic.
- Reverse print the graphic on our two Durst Rho 800 printers on clear .020 and .125 PETG.
- Apply white ink behind the image (minus the “gold” areas).
- Apply a thin layer of gold foil to the back of the PETG so that the gold foil was visible through the clear areas of the graphic, creating the desired “printed on gold” effect. This also eliminated the need for hand cutting and applying the foil.
There was also an unintended positive side effect to our prototyping: printing on .020 PETG would allow us to roll the graphics for shipping, thus significantly reducing Sunglass Hut’s shipping costs! We sent our prototype to the client to get their input.
Sunglass Hut loved our solution and gave permission to proceed with the project. We ended up producing several versions of the graphic as well as managing the production of related graphics by other printers that were used for this promotion. We also managed the distribution of all the graphics via our online Promotions Management Program, ensuring that the correct graphics got to the correct locations.
The result of this exercise was that we were able to value engineer a complex graphic that met Sunglass Hut’s expectations quickly and efficiently, as well as managing the production and distribution of their entire Prada promotion.
Sunglass Hut/Prada Job Overview:
- Quantity – 1525.
- Sizes – 38” x 84”, 30x72, and 10x14.
- Material – .020 and .125 PETG.
- Print process – Reverse printed on our Durst Rho 800 using UV inks – 6 color plus 2 levels of white.
- Finishing – Gold foil backer.
- Shipping – Rolled and tubed.
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