Awards & Engraving

Start Here October '19

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18 S T A R T H E R E 2 0 1 9 and the typical cost of entry is around $22,000 for a tabletop UV-LED printer, Copeland says. Large wide-format printers can run much higher, but a tabletop unit is a good option for awards and engraving shops. While an out-of-the-box UV-LED printer is enough to get started, optional attachments are also available, Perrelli says. These attachments include a vacuum table for holding the material flat and stationary as well as jigs for printing on water bottles and T-shirts. Of course, like any new piece of equipment, you need ade- quate shop space to accommodate the machinery, but this often isn't a problem even if space is tight. Many UV-LED systems in awards shops are tabletop units that need about 3 feet by 3 feet of space, Tindal says. These UV-LED printers are compact and don't come with a lot of peripherals, so it doesn't take much space to store a unit. When carving out space for a new UV-LED printer, keep in mind that it should be in a clean, climate-controlled environ- ment and protected from humidity, Tindal advises. You don't want any dust or dirt getting onto your printed material or in the machine. "A UV printer isn't something you want to keep back in the shop with your sandcarving equipment because it'll get dirty," Tindal continues. "You want to treat this like a high-end piece of equipment rather than just a work horse." Like almost any new application, beginners should expect to face a learning curve, Tindal says. Most manufacturers offer on-site training for the software and production upon installa- UV-LED Printing (Photo courtesy Direct Color Systems) tion, which should be enough to become functional. However, developing expert-level skills in UV-LED printing takes time because of its customizable nature. "There's a lot of trial and error to find out which print set- tings work best for which substrate," Tindal states. "Your training technician will go through the types of projects you'll most likely handle, but there will be bumps in the road as you continue to experiment." As you practice on new substrates and items, Copeland recommends keeping a log for reference. Record the type of substrate, whether you used an adhesion promoter, and your print settings. By keeping a log, you won't have to waste time and materials when that same project comes up in the future. While the initial training is enough to equip awards shops to produce right away, Lee estimates that an operator with design experience can become truly proficient in about three to six months. Get The Most Out Of Your UV-LED Printer Of course, getting the best prints for your business starts with choosing the right printer. In Perrelli's mind, there's no substitute for seeing the printer in action and asking for printed samples. You need to understand what it takes to set up a file and print in a real environment, and see the output firsthand. "The back of a spec sheet tells the story, but it'll always be the best-case scenario," Perrelli says. "All too often, people will just see a video and buy the machine. It doesn't hurt to pause the buying process to get some samples printed, whether that's at a show or directly sending a request to the manu- facturer." When it comes to the printing process, it's generally the same for most applications because it's digitally set up, but there are a few variables to keep in mind. Depending on the substrate, certain surfaces are trickier to print on, such as glass and uncoated metals, Tindal says. In those cases, an adhesion pro- moter can help. With UV-LED printing, you can create textured effects for a more high-end finish. (Photos courtesy GCC)

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