Is UVgel and the Colorado 1640 a Latex killer?
The latest issue of Print 21 magazine carried a cover that said "Colorado 1640, Inkjet Game Changer, Latex killer makes all the right moves". A powerful statement that should have generated some serious concern within HP and other Latex ink manufacturers in addition to all the 40,000+ printers that have invested in Latex printers across the globe.
So we asked Garry Muratore (Product Manager of Display Graphics) at Canon/Océ, the man who is spearheading the Colorado 1640 and UVgel charge to justify the statement. We also asked HP to respond to the claim but sadly, they declined to respond.
Perhaps when giants like these protagonists clash, the printer/customer can be the winner, we will have to wait, watch and see (if we can) the market share of each as it unfolds.
Here's Garry's justification for making the claim......
|The Colorado 1640 was announced on the 14th March this year - see our article|
At the recent Pacprint exhibition in Melbourne Canon debuted the Océ Colorado 1640. This is the first wide format graphic arts roll-to-roll printer developed by Canon Océ. Built to print 64” (1600mm) wide on all sorts of flexible media, coated and uncoated, it features disruptive UVgel technology that combines the speed and heavy duty of high-end systems with the ease-of-use and accessible investment level of low volume systems. This entirely new Océ Colorado 1640 production printer is designed for breakthrough productivity, offering never seen before automation capabilities, superior image quality in a unique and wide application range.
The Current Situation
If you look to the 64” roll to roll printer market, three printer/ink technologies currently exist. For many years the dominant technology was eco-solvent, however in recent years we have seen latex based ink technologies eat heavily into the solvent placements to become the dominant technology. While developers of 64” latex and eco-solvent printers have improved output speed with later iterations of these technologies, gains have been incremental rather than radical, due to the inherent limitations of the technologies, namely:
|*||The high degree of dot gain/coalescence of 64” latex and eco-solvent inks limits the volume of ink that can be laid down without compromising image quality|
|*||This means that 64” latex and eco-solvent technologies require a high number of passes to achieve desired image quality over a given area|
|*||This slows printing down, or forces printers to compromise quality for higher output speeds|
|*||64” latex and eco-solvent processes require a drying stage to evaporate the water/solvent|
The third technology is UV curable inks which tend to be found in higher end solutions (certainly this is the technology of choice in the flatbed printer space) Customers looking for a more ‘industrial’production solution may also turn to such technology which are typically 3.2metre wide devices These devices offer high output speed, the scope to work in dual-roll mode, and are therefore able to cope with industrial production volumes. However, they represent significant capital investment (>$200,000.00), which may be beyond the scope of small- to medium-sized print establishments. To invest in this type of device, the printer requires clear visibility of consistently high production volumes to assure them of an acceptable ROI. Usability for short runs is questionable with these systems. They also occupy a large physical footprint, which may not be suitable for certain businesses.
The prevailing technologies have their individual advantages, but also their limitations. For printers looking for the optimal combination of productivity, quality and media – and therefore applications - versatility, there is no single choice today. The reality is that printers must compromise one attribute for another. Canon believe that there is a clear opportunity for radical innovation in the roll-to-roll market to match customers’ productivity requirements, while also meeting or exceeding their expectations of quality and applications diversity.
Identifying the Technology Gap
Having identified this technology gap, Canon set out to create a more comprehensive technology solution that would put an end to the compromises printers have to make today when choosing from latex, eco-solvent or conventional UV solutions. Canon’s objective was to develop a technology that would offer:
|*||Industrial speed and end-to-end productivity, for growing volumes of fast turnaround jobs|
|*||High output quality, suitable for a wide applications spectrum including demanding indoor and décor applications.|
|*||Maximum media versatility, to enable PSPs to produce multiple applications using a single device.|
Canon also focused on controlling total cost of ownership (TCO), to assure printers of rapid return on their capital investment and low ongoing running costs. The result is Canon UVgel technology, and the first printing device to make use of this disruptive technology is the Océ Colorado 1640
What is Canon Uvgel technology?
The Canon UVgel technology comprises several specially-developed elements that combine to achieve a process that retains the advantages of prevailing printer technologies, while eliminating many of the compromises, these include:
|*||A Canon/Océ developed UVgel piezo-electric printhead.|
|*||Canon UVgel ink|
|*||Low-heat media platen|
The key to Canon UVgel technology is the fact that the ink is essentially a gel, developed according to UV curing principles. The simplified stages of the Canon Uvgel printing process are as follows:
|*||Inside the printheads, Canon UVgel ink is heated and turns from gel into liquid.|
|*||The temperate controlled platen maintains the substrate at a constant 28oC temperature regardless of environmental factors.|
|*||On contact with the media, the liquefied ink drops return immediately to their gel state.|
|*||In their gel state, the ink droplets are ‘pinned’ instantly to the media, assisted by a partial LED ‘precure’ process.|
|*||Full LED curing takes place at a later stage after the image swathe is completely formed and gelled on the media.|
Key Benefits of the Canon Uvgel process
The gel ink enables this innovative, instant dry, ‘print-then-cure’ process. The Canon UVgel technology concept delivers multiple productivity and quality benefits:
|*||The solidified state of the pinned gel dot prevents coalescence (merging) between individual ink drops, delivering optimal control over the dot to prevent spread (dot gain).|
|*||By controlling dot gain, much more ink can be deposited in fewer passes, improving speed.|
|*||Because LED curing is performed later than with existing technologies, images have a more uniform, smoother surface.|
|*||By eliminating the need for immediate curing, productivity is substantially increased compared with conventional UV because curing no longer limits print speed.|
|*||Prints are instantly dry, requiring no evaporative drying process.|
The printhead, the ink, the platen and the curing concept are all own developed Canon-Océ technologies. They combine to create the Canon UVgel technology, which is unique and new to the large-format graphics arts market.
How does Canon UVgel technology influence print speed and overall productivity?
Canon UVgel technology is completely different to evaporative ink technologies such as latex and eco-solvent. Canon UVgel ink is ‘pinned’ to the substrate by virtue of the physical gel characteristic of the ink itself. Every droplet of Canon UVgel ink is pinned instantly upon contact with the media. Once pinned, the UVgel ink drop is fixed to the substrate and dot gain is highly controlled. This is in sharp contrast to evaporative ink technologies, in which the ink drops naturally flow on the media, growing in size and coalescing with adjacent drops in an uncontrolled way until dried by evaporation of the water or solvent content. Consequently, evaporative technologies e.g. 64” latex and eco-solvent technologies exhibit substantial dot gain and uncontrolled growth on the media. To overcome the challenges of this characteristic, it is necessary to build the printed image gradually, in multiple passes, to minimise the effect of ink coalescence. This has a substantial impact on productivity in higher-quality modes. The natural behaviour of Canon Uvgel technology delivers unprecedented control of dot gain or coalescence of the ink between jetting and curing. Therefore, with Canon UVgel, the appropriate amount of ink can be laid down in fewer passes, reducing the time required to produce the finished print.
You can see from the above illustration evaporative ink droplets immediately beginning to grow when reaching the substrate. This spread of the ink on the media results in uncontrolled dot gain and undesirable coalescence of the ink droplets, filling the print area with poorly focused, erratically spaced and overlapping ink droplets, all contributing to lower print quality. The limitations of evaporative ink technologies actually get worse at higher print speeds and/or on media with higher rates of absorption. Canon UVgel ink drops are deposited on the media and immediately form a gel on contact with the temperature controlled substrate, preventing uncontrolled dot gain or unintended coalescence. The ink is effectively ‘pinned’ to the media on a drop-by-drop basis, delivering more accurate area coverage and drop position. The result is superior print quality compared to evaporative ink technologies. Other positive performance factors also improve end-to-end productivity compared with existing technologies. For example, continuous nozzle performance is critical to inkjet productivity and image quality. Temporary failure of printhead nozzles is a well-known problem in inkjet printing that can be caused by dust, for instance. Canon UVgel technology deploys on-the-fly quality control called “Piezo Acoustic Integrated Nozzle Technology” (PAINT). In the printheads, the nozzle status is continuously monitored acoustically (by sending a small, electro-acoustic pulse though each nozzle and listening for an uninterrupted ‘echo’).
This monitoring occurs without the need to fire droplets, thus eliminating the need to waste ink to check nozzle function. When a malfunctioning nozzle is detected, the affected nozzle is (temporarily) switched off and replaced by neighbouring nozzles. This whole process is fully automated, requiring no operator intervention. Being instantly dry and cured, the Canon UVgel print is suitable for immediate post processing and lamination, further improving end-to-end productivity.