Can Your UV Printer Win the Match?

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by Bordeaux DIGITAL PRINTInk

When wandering at wide format digital printing exhibitions, one cannot fail to notice the inflation of UV printers being offered. The variety is immense. The difference between them may not be evident to most except for the clear distinction between flatbed and / or roll-2-roll which cater to different needs and applications. There are different manufacturers, different printheads and different widths and sizes. However, in contrast to the variety in printers, there is little choice in the inks. Due to the high cost of a typical UV printer compared to a solvent printer, it seems logical that printers will adhere to original OEM inks in order to ensure zero breakdown and perfect matching to the printer since they are both purchased from the same source. What seems perfectly logical is where you may be burying your money.

 

The difference in printers vary by the manufacturers. The brand can tell you a lot about the quality and resilience of your printer but will also give you an idea on the budget. Durst, Vutek and HP manufacture UV printers which are more suited for industrial applications. This will be reflected in the speed of these printers, their function and their price. Many of these industrial UV printers can reach the speed of up to 300m2 depending again on the printer, the substrates and on the required image quality.

 

The choice of UV printers are innumerous and so are the applications which can be catered with UV printers but what about the ink? Print businesses who own solvent printers are moving to non-original inks and these are becoming more common even among the most conservative of customers. Owners of UV printers however are sometimes reluctant to do so. The reasons for this are varied but it is usually rooted in the high price of the UV printer and its complexity. In addition, printer owners tend to confide to OEM ink when still under warranty in fear that non OEM inks could void the warranty and prevent service and maintenance.

 

Non-OEM solvent inks enjoy a much higher rate of penetration than UV & UV LED. Print Service Providers (PSP) who own solvent printers are familiar with non-OEM inks even if they don’t use them and are surely familiar with some of the major brands. Testimonials convey that the substantial savings, straight forward installation as well as matched and even improved quality compared to OEM ink made it possible. What is true for solvent is also true for UV printers. Non-OEM inks can save money yet maintain the quality and the right alternative inks for your printer can even exceed the performance of the original inks.

 

There are quite a few inkjet ink manufacturers, but not every solvent or water inkjet ink manufacturer are also manufacturing UV inks. This is mainly due to the fact that these inks require high research and development efforts which not many inkjet ink manufactures poses. Choosing the right type of ink is not just a question of price and promises but making sure the inks can perform with the UV printer and deliver the best printing results.

For users and the average layman, even those who are familiar with UV printers and are accustomed to using UV curable inks, the composition of these inks does not hint on the complexity of manufacturing them. The stringent parameters which UV curable inks must comply with in order to achieve the optimal printing output is dependent on the perfect compatibility between the inks and the printers.

As is common with other types of inks, compliance with the printhead is the first and foremost criteria in matching the inks to the printer. However printhead compatibility is not suffice to determine its compatibility to the printer. UV curable ink also requires careful matching to other UV printer features since they also have a major effect on the overall print quality. One of the UV printer’s unique component is the UV light source. The ink must be compatible with the UV light source in order to achieve complete polymerization for optimal ink performance and ink film thickness.

 

The composition of UV curable inks share little with the composition of solvent or water based inks. While water and solvent based inks are based on a liquid carrier such as solvent or water respectively, UV inks are supplied as a liquid but once exposed to UV light source the ink cures and solidifies on the substrate as opposed to the evaporation required for drying in solvent and water based inks. UV inks are composed of photoinitiators that trigger the process, as well as monomers and oligomers that achieve the curing.

 

Photoinitiators are an essential ingredient in UV curable ink formula. The type and amount of the photoinitiator in the formula compatibility to the UV light source will affect the ink adhesion and ink film thickness. Their role is to trigger the polymerization process, in which the liquid ink cures and become a solid film. The selection of photoinitiators is critical for the compatibility with the Mercury arc lamps or UV LED lamp installed in the UV printer which is the UV light source of the printer. The cure dose of the lamp and the UV wavelength determine the photoinitiators ability to ignite the curing process.

 

The additional ingredients, monomers and oligomers must be carefully selected to ensure instant curing enabled by the crosslinking reaction of these ingredients. An indiscreet choice of monomers and oligomers will result in Insufficient curing which will affect the solidification of the ink. The ink will not dry and will lead to bad image quality.

 

The current market choice of UV printers is vast and therefore matching inks which are non-OEM may be tricky yet lucrative in the long run, but how can you know the ins and outs of UV inks for your printer? A PSP who would like to consider alternative UV inks must also consider other practical details such as packaging, chip solution and color profiles.

 

Many UV printer inks are supplied in different packaging. For example, the EFI™ VUTEk® is supplied in 3.25L containers while the inks for the Océ Arizona and the Acuity printers are supplied in 2L collapsible bags. In addition, the protective measures in the form of electronic encoding to the ink system have been imposed on many of the printers. In order to enable easy installation, non-OEM ink developers and manufactures must provide their solution in a similar container to the original inks and include a chip solution in order to be considered printer specific. Unfortunately most non-OEM ink manufacturers tend to sacrifice both dedicated ink manufacturing to a printer and dedicated packaging and relay on generic inks, which fit the printhead only and can result in less adequate print quality. In addition most of the ink manufacturers relay on packaging improvisations, such as open bulk systems. These solutions dramatically reduce the print quality and can result in printer malfunction, since in open ink systems there is no control over contaminates that might enter the ink system.

 

Having mentioned all these, you can see why not many non-OEM ink manufacturers support the UV & UV LED printers. However market oriented print service providers, know that as with solvent based ink, there is a lot you can gain from using non-OEM inks also on your UV printers. In addition to cost savings,

improved ink performance is a major reason for converting. But whatever the reason, PSPs must know that the ink they are installing has reliable ‘parents’ and could match all these criteria.

Besides the original inks, there are also a number of well-known non-OEM UV & UV LED inkjet manufacturers who took on the challenge of developing UV curable inks. An interesting case is that of Bordeaux, who have a high reputation in manufacturing inks for specific Eco and mild-solvent printer models and have extended their offerings of printer specific inks also for UV & UV LED printers.

 

Bordeaux developed UV printer specific ink for a variety of popular UV printer models and have achieved the best possible compatibility of the inks to the printer, like OEM, for better printing at a substantially lower cost. Bordeaux offers Printer specific inks for the popular Fujijfilm® Acuity™ printer series, Océ Arizona® printers and VUTEk® QS™ printer series. All these inks are harmonious with the distinct printer features and includes all the necessary extras for OEM equivalent printing experience.

 

There is no doubt that the market is evolving and that non-OEM ink companies are able to produce inks that are not only compatible but also exceed the OEM inks in quality. The market is rapidly moving towards non-OEM inks and expected to continue to do so in the coming years. Bordeaux is planning to expand their UV printer specific inks for additional models including the highly industrial printers as it is clear the market is eager for tailored solutions.

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