The Beginner’s Guidebook To Digital Printing
When attempting to enter into the digital industry it’s easy to become overwhelmed. What is the best way to produce this many labels? Can I produce my own coffee packaging? Do I need a finisher or can I buy them pre-cut?
When attempting to streamline your business the specificities may appear daunting at first. But don’t worry, here we have the first of several beginner guides to all the basics of digital printing you should know.
Where Did Printing Start?:
Digital printing is a relatively new technology that is fast-paced and continuously evolving to bring new innovations to us every day. Printing, in fact, began with things like Flexography.
Flexography: a rotary relief method utilizing a rubber or plastic plate, paired with fluid inks or dyes for printing on fabrics, papers, and more.
Flexography is utilized in many different markets like corrugate (fluted walls), flexible (bread bags, porches, sleeves), folding cartons, labels, and more. The possibilities are seemingly endless when it came to flexography. In fact, if you picture your favorite grocery store, a good composition of the aisle is flexo printed.
This type of printing works when the fountain roller picks up ink from the trough (or ink tray) into the anilox roller. An Anilox Roller is an etched pattern scraped by a doctor blade that then transfers the ink ultimately to the relief plate. The flexoplate allows ink to be transferred from the anilox cells; which control how much ink is utilized and transferred, to the plate.
Though complicated, flexography is responsible for many of the prints we see in our daily lives. Without the technology, digital printing wouldn’t have been possible. Innovations like Gravure printing, Relief Printing, Screen Printing, and Lithography have all come together to provide the technology that allows digital printing to be possible today.
Gravure Printing: in which ink transfers from a sunken surface.
Relief Printing: forms an image from a raised surface
Screen Printing: ink is passed through openings in a stencil
Lithography: prints photochemically from a flat surface
So Why Digital Printing?:
Digital Printing: Any method of printing from a digital-based image directly onto a variety of media.
When comparing offset to the typical cost of digital may be higher per page, the avoidance of the typical costs of the technical steps and plate manufacturing allows digital technology to fall into the hands of the everyday user. Just a few years ago, many of us didn’t have printing services at home. Now with the innovations of inkjet and laser, people are doing print jobs on a wide variety of substrates.
Digital printing processes are best suited for producing short runs at high speeds with many original or unique files. The quality of modern digital printing is now very close to the traditional offset printing methods.
How Does Digital Printing Work?:
Digital prints don’t require plates as offset printing does. Instead, digital printers utilize toners or inks. The key benefit to digital printing is its capability of printing variable data.
Everything You Need To Know About Laser Technology:
Laser Printers combine laser, high voltage charged ions, heat, and powered ink for their prints. They provide high-quality outputs at fast speeds but are very complex systems. They consist of many moving parts and can become extremely messy depending on which type of ink you’re utilizing.
The Imaging drum in laser technology allows an image to be drawn onto a photosensitive drum that “prints” with a laser as the drum spins. This drum is necessary as it picks up ink or toner for the prints. Another technology like heat technology is then used with the fuser assembly to fuse the toner particles into the paper.
Overall, laser printing systems go through 6 or so steps to bring your print to your page.
- Processing: the entire page that is supposed to be printed is put into the memory of the printer. A printer will not move until the entire processing phase is completed and must print the entire page at one time.
- Charging: A wire inside of the printer emits a negative charge to the photosensitive drum that will then rotate.
- Exposing: The laser will “write” the image onto the photosensitive drum. It works by removing the negatively charged ions wherever the laser touches.
- Developing: Toner from the cartridge is applied to the photosensitive drum. Because the negative charge from the wire repels the negative charge of the toner, the toner will only cure to the spots on the drum that the laser has removed the charge from.
- Transferring: In this phase, the toner is transferred onto the paper or substrate.
- Fusing: Lastly heat is applied to melt the toner onto the substrate, sealing the print in for durable, lasting prints.
There Are Different Kinds Of Toner?:
To complicate the already complicated process of digital printing, what if I told you there were different types of toners? Without specificities, there are actually numerous different types of toners, inks, and dyes but for now, we will focus on the difference between a dry toner and a liquid toner.
Toner is a powder or liquid substance used in a toner cartridge in digital electrophotogenic printers that can print on coated or uncoated substrates. Dry Toner specifically is composed of heat-sensitive plastic powders (typically acrylic or styrene) that are embedded with pigments instead of polymers.
They are generally used in desktop, office, or engineering copier systems on uncoated substrates. If you’re looking for a dry toner look towards Xeicon technology. Dry toners boast the advantages of being eco-friendly, little to no “drying” times, and crisper color payoff.
Liquid Toner is composed of dye or pigmented resin particles (acrylic) in polymer beads that are mixed with oil that will evaporate during the fusing process. These are typically used in commercial printing on coated substrates. They differ from dry toners as there is no warming of the printer required and the material is penetrated by the ink. This gives you a secured attachment of the image to the paper for higher resistance of smudging or fading.
Ultimately, the unique needs of your business will determine whether laser technology, dry toner, liquid toner or inkjet is correct for your business.
What is Inkjet Technology?:
Inkjet Technolgy is a relatively inexpensive technology which leads them to be the most popular, cost-effective option of achieving high-quality outputs. In comparison, the cost of ink can become expensive as they are the proprietary means to the ink that the printers were made for. For example, if you purchase an HP or Epson machine, they more often than not will need to take an HP ink or an Epson ink.
Inkjet works when an ink cartridge pulls a drop of ink and places it onto the paper. In a few consumer printers, the printhead itself is the integrated ink cartridge. With each use of ink, a new printhead is used and helps avoid clogs.
As with toners, there are many different types of ink all boasting their own unique benefits and downfalls. Dye Based Inkjet is a technology that comprises dye in liquid form almost always mixed with water but can be a solvent as well.
Dye-based inks provide quality color payoff while remaining cost-effective. They work when a color substance is dissolved into a liquid making them disperse into smaller particles. Because they are dye-based, they are prone to smudging or running when they come into contact with water.
Aqueous Pigments however are solid, opaque particles suspended in ink to provide color. They are ideal for businesses, photo printing, and labeling as pigments are water-resistant and hold up well to UV wear and scratching. These ultimately result in high-quality prints that are sharp yet also offer the longevity your business may be looking for. Aqueous pigmented inks are ideal for food packaging, labeling technology, and flexible packaging.
UV inkjet printers utilize UV digital printing to apply 2 dimensional and 3-dimensional objects onto a number of different substrates. It works when a digital image is sent to the UV printer’s memory where a UV light cures the ink to the substrate.
While it is a newer technology, UV technology involves less setup time, less curing time, and multiple parts can be printed at once. This not only increases the efficiency of your business but also saves you downtime costs or the deadweight loss of time due to the machine needing to be set up.
What is the Difference Between Digital and Traditional printing?:
The differences between digital and traditional continue to change as new technology emerges. If you’re looking for which benefits your unique needs more:
Traditional Printing Methods:
- Can print on nearly any substrate
- Boast high volume capabilities of larger than 40 inches
- Typically, faster than digital printing methods
- Have an economy of scale curve
- Can work with a wide variety of colors like metallics
- Is the benchmark quality that printing is striving for
Digital Printing Methods:
- Don’t require printing plates
- Have little to no make-ready time as the 1st one out is up to standard
- Clean up is easy
- The turnaround time can be as little as a few hours depending on the size of the job
- Variable data is possible to give your business the flexibility it needs
- The skill level required to operate is relatively low, a few pieces of training at most
Overall, when thinking of choosing between digital or traditional ask yourself the following questions:
- What volume am I producing?
- What material am I trying to print on?
- How much time do I need before this project is due?
- Is the color pay-off important?
- Is the job-specific and unique?
- Are samples needed?
By taking the time to ask yourself these questions, the determination of which technology to use combined with their specific benefits should help you choose the correct one.
What are the trends in Digital Printing?:
In 2020, the digital volume was estimated at around 17.4 % with a growth of around 3%. This is possible because digital printing offers you variable data. The need for short-run and on-demand prints is growing rapidly as new markets like photo products open up.
Economically, the relative costs are changing based on the new developments in digital and analog technology. For short runs, digital has lower setup costs and competitive pricing. It is important to note however that it isn’t an “either-or” approach.
Long-run is better suited for analog or traditional methods, many companies will utilize both digital and traditional technologies to give their business the best competitive advantage in the market. That being said, the market is shifting towards short-run leading to digital’s popularity.
Overall whether you choose to go with digital or traditional technology, your business’s unique needs will determine which is more suited for you. In the case you’re producing large quantities and don’t have to worry about make-ready times traditional methods may be for you. If short runs and variable data is something that is necessary, digital may be the correct option for your business.
Which Products To Start With In Digital Printing?:
While the specific needs of your business will determine exactly what technology you will need, there are a few benchmarks that can help you determine where to start.
For simple color labeling in smaller volumes consider:
Both of these options are entry-level tabletop systems that help you print your own labels in-house without having to worry about overstocking inventory or ordering too few.
Medium Tier Considerations:
Industrial Quantities, Flexible Packaging, and More: