Digital puts the zing into signage

A photograph of Epson Phil McMullin.
Phil Highton with the Epson SureColour The SureColor SC S60600 printer printing a orange juice bottle The SureColour S80600 new ink drop technology.

Wide format digital inkjet production is a fast and cost-effective printing option and increasingly versatile in the applications and designs it can handle. Epson UK sales manager Phil McMullin explores some of the possibilities.

A cocktail of developments continues to spur the expansion of wide format inkjet technology with print service providers attracted to technology that can enable them to do existing work more efficiently while developing new markets to grow their businesses. Improvements in print head technology, ink formulations, media and higher production speeds have combined to make this a reality.

In 2014 Smithers Pira issued a report on: The future of signage in an electronic world to 2020. This claims that while offset was the dominant printing process for indoor applications and screen for outdoor work, by 2020 inkjet would dominate in both areas of the global POS and signage market.

Sales of digitally printed media have exploded in the past five to 10 years. It is growing at a rate of about 7% per annum. Inkjet has created new opportunities for print service providers and the applications are really only limited by the designer’s imagination. Many brands are using wide format digital inkjet technology for their marketing campaigns. At the other end of the chain, print service providers are constantly striving to produce items faster, for a lower cost without compromising on quality.

Eco-solvent printers

For the past two years Epson’s SureColor SC-S Series, (the ‘S’ stands for signage) has been the number one model in the wide-format eco-solvent printer sector in Western Europe. It has increased its market share from 9% in 2015 to 43% in 2017, according to independent research carried out by Infosource.

The SureColor S series of printers are built for performance and profit. The SureColor SC-S80600, SC-S60600 and SC-S40600 operate with four to 10 colours (including white and metallic) and offer up to 95.3m2/hr single-pass productivity. The Precision Core TFP printheads and GS3 ink enable printers to achieve 1440 x 1440 dpi quality output if required and the variable size ink drop technology works as well on coated and uncoated stocks to give vibrant results.

Inkjet technology has evolved to enable higher productivity, using inks with a faster drying time and the ability to print onto lower grade materials. With improved ink formulations, users can still get exceptionally high quality, vibrant results. Furthermore, prints produced on low cost monomeric vinyl, look as good as those printed onto high grade cast media but produced for a fraction of the cost.

Shorter print runs

Signage doesn’t always need to last for years. There may be some exceptions, corporate branding on a vehicle for example, but even this can be refreshed easily. Most signage applications today are regularly updated to remain topical and reflect current promotions and trends. This has been fostered by competition from digital signage products, which allow messages to be changed instantly. As a result, today there is demand for shorter order cycles for printed signs and more print overall rather than longevity.

Inkjet is versatile; it can print on to selfadhesive media, vinyl, mesh, backlit products, textiles and paper. The SureColor S series of printers can be used for applications as diverse as car and building wraps, roll-ups, pull-ups, backlit, indoor and outdoor signage. Initially ecosolvent inkjet was used more for outdoor applications but as the quality of output has improved, indoor applications are enjoying the biggest growth – and that POS expansion continues.

Epson’s focus on inkjet, which is supported by a Euro 400m investment in new production facilities in Japan and other markets, has been bolstered with a further Euro 185m specifically for developing its PrecisionCore inkjet printhead technology over the next few years.

Colour management software

Epson has built-in good colour management software so users just have to change the profile that’s relevant for the media used and the printer will do the rest. There is no overlaying of colour as there would be for cut vinyl. It is simple, clean and there are no nasty chemicals involved. Epson’s SureColor technology uses ecosolvent inks. Quality is paramount and this has helped secure and build its reputation in this market. In the past year Epson has seen customers switching back from latex to eco-solvent, which is making a dramatic return because of its superior chemistry and vibrant results.

I had never seen such quality on a roll to roll machine, irrespective of whether it was printing on to paper or vinyl

Epson has succeeded in bringing its expertise in the photographic market to bear on the signage sector.

Motion in Leicester, traded in an HP 360 Latex model for its first Epson printer, a SureColor SC-S80600.

“The accuracy is bang on, the quality is outstanding and it has not only allowed us to supply existing customers with almost photographic quality print results but it has won us new business in the backlit and stickers markets,” says managing director Phil Highton.

He approached Darren Walker at Perfect Colours, a company that supplies large format print solutions, for advice when Motion was finding issues with substrate and image distortion using heat-based latex technology. Perfect Colours invited him to view the Epson SC-S80600.

“I had never seen such quality on a roll to roll machine, irrespective of whether it was printing on to paper or vinyl,” says Phil. “It is an eco solvent printer so there was no stretch or distortion issue and its ability to print in nine or 10 colours and achieve 98% of the Pantone range means we achieve a depth of colour that is exceptional and has given us a stand out advantage with duratrans/backlit work and stickers as well as our core business, POS.”

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