Why your next printer will probably be UVgel

Canon’s product manager for Display Graphics, Garry Muratore, talks to Australian Printer about what makes UVgel such a breakthrough.

AP: Obviously the wide-format display print market is serviced by a range of print technologies, why does Canon see UVgel as such a breakthrough?

GM: I guess it comes down to the market need. We see two undeniable market trends: volumes are growing and demanded turnaround times are becoming shorter and shorter.  More and more is being printed, new applications are continuously being developed and greater than 40 per cent of print jobs need to be turned within 24 hrs. Both these trends are expected to continue. The demand for higher service levels drives investment in faster printers, with instant drying. The conclusion is that in the current market productivity is obviously a key factor.

AP: Do you see those same trends across the entire market?

GM: We see the market need as a near linear relationship of speed and investment, so the more money you are willing to invest the faster the printer becomes. Looking at the current product offerings in the market, there is a huge gap this offering. Most of the product offerings are 1600mm (64”) low-volume Latex and eco-solvent systems. These printing machines are easy to use and they require a low investment but they are also very slow and are not designed for production demands. Customers that need a more productive solution, an industrial-type robust production device, are forced to turn to high-end 3.2 metre UV- and Latex systems. They are high speed, industrial and heavy duty, but also very expensive. Today there is no other product between these two extremes, there is a big gap in the middle. In order to fill this gap, the world is in need of a new technology. We believe that technology is UVgel.

AP: Given that there are several roll-to-roll printing technologies on the market today such as Latex, Eco-Solvent, and traditional UV. What’s the advantage of UVgel?

GM: The total market of large-format/graphic arts sector shows solid growth mostly due to the growth in both Latex and traditional UV. However, the market for eco-solvent printers looks to be decreasing. All three technologies have their advantages but also their limitations. When you are looking for the best combination of colour gamut, light fastness, indoor usage, no drying time, productivity and low temperature; you have no single choice currently.
That’s why UVgel technology has been developed: to close this gap to offer a productive solution at a reasonable price. This breakthrough UVgel technology enables Canon to introduce real game-changing roll-to-roll products in the market. UVgel combines the benefits of the traditional technologies, and at the same time resolves many of their issues.
The key to this new technology is that the ink is essentially a gel, based on UV curing principles. At the time of jetting, the heads turn it quickly into a liquid. When the ink lands on the media, it instantly turns back into its gel state. The droplets are then pinned immediately and do not require any immediate external pinning like curing. Because the ink lands as a gel on the media, coalescence between the ink drops is prevented and spreading (gain) of the ink is prevented. This allows the complete image to be jetted onto the media in fewer passes then competitive technologies and without the need for intermediate curing. This unique post-cure architecture ensures that the curing process is not the limiting factor of print speed. This produces a combination of high print speed with outstanding print quality. Although based on UV curing principles, the main disadvantages of traditional UV do not apply to UVgel technology. For example, the UVgel ink layer is smooth, suited for lamination, as opposed to the unevenness of traditional UV. Moreover traditional UV is prone to UV banding; an effect that can only be mitigated by a higher number of passes and thus lower productivity.

AP: A lot of roll to roll printers are based upon a common OEM inkjet head, is that true of UVgel and the Colorado?

GM: The print head, the ink and the curing concept are all patented Canon-Océ technologies and combine to create the UVgel technology that is unique and new to the large format graphics arts market.  Canon’s new UVgel technology will be at the core of a whole family of new roll-to-roll printing products, the first being the Colorado 1640 which we debuted at Pacprint last month. In the longer term you’ll see family of printers based on the UVgel platform, all of them will be highly productive, have unprecedented levels of automation and be able to print a wide and unique range of applications on a wide and unique range of medias.

AP: Why was the Colorado 1640 marketed as a latex killer at the show. What do you base this claim on?

GM:All current print technologies have their advantages. When latex came on to the scene it had clear advantages over the then dominant solvent technology. With no odour and instant dry print results. The market quickly swung in favour of the technology. We firmly believe that the Colorado and UVgel offer not only all of the latex advantages but also address the negating factors of latex such a thermal incompatibility of some medias and slower speeds for quality modes. Add to this the excellent colour gamut normally associated with eco-solvent technologies and it becomes obvious that UVgel has the potential to become the dominating market technology in time.

AP: What speeds can a customer expect?

GM: Typically the lower end eco-solvent and latex machines operate their quality modes anywhere from 8 to 20sqm/hr, the Colorado offers similar quality at speeds of 40sqm/hr and, in some cases 67sqm/hr. .In banner or express modes, we can achieve speeds of up to 159sqm/hr, so we are confident in saying we are the best in class when it comes to speed.

AP: What enables you to achieve higher quality at much higher speeds?

GM: Firstly, you only need to look at the build quality of this printer. Weighing in at 790kg, the robust frame dampens most of the vibrations caused by the ink and curing shuttles traversing across the platen. The second important factor in achieving such print quality at higher speeds is the media step accuracy. With the robust frame and industrial motors a reliable media handling system has been developed. In addition, an optical system that continuously monitors the media step has also been added. This is done by printing virtually invisible marks at the side of the print when operating in a quality mode. These marks are read by a scanner that uses this information to continuously correct the media steps as needed.

AP: During the PacPrint presentations, you made the claim that operator maintenance could take just 10 minutes a month. How does that happen?

GM: At the end of each print job, the Colorado will perform an automatic clean of the heads. This is achieved using positive air pressure without the need to flush the head with ink or solvents. However sometimes printhead nozzles fail temporarily and generally mid-print. This is a well-known problem in inkjet printing that can be caused by debris for instance. UVgel technology supports on-the-fly quality control called Piezo Acoustic Integrated Nozzle Technology (PAINT) in the printheads, the nozzle status is continuously monitored acoustically, without the need to fire droplets (no waste ink). When a malfunctioning nozzle is detected, this nozzle is (temporarily) switched-off and neighboring nozzles replace the switched-off nozzle (nozzle failure compensation). This whole process runs fully automated, not requiring any operator intervention.

AP: We saw two rolls of media loaded in the machine. Why?

GM: The Océ Colorado 1640 has been designed with a heavy-duty drawer mechanism for easy loading. There is space for two rolls of media to be loaded at the same time. Each roll can weigh up to 50 kilos, enabling the machine to print 100 kilos of material in one go. This could be two rolls of the same material, or two rolls of different media, e.g. self-adhesive vinyl and a banner material. When switching between the two different media, the new roll is automatically fed through the system. Loading a new roll is really easy too. It’s simply a question of twisting the roll and the system picks it up automatically. You are correct this, type of automation has never before been seen in type of printer (roll to roll).

AP: Finally, can you give our readers a quick take out for the key points for UVgel and the Colorado?

GM: Breakthrough productivity; never seen before automation; superior image quality over a broad application range; and the lowest operational cost in its class.

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