January '21

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1 2 G R A P H I C S P R O J A N U A R Y 2 0 2 1 G R A P H I C S - P R O. C O M U V-LED printing has been around for 20 years, but it has only been the last five to 10 years that have seen the in- dustry really come into its own because of advances in inks, print heads, and light sources. This technology is rising in popularity, in large part because shops can print a project and package it immediately be- cause the inks dry so quickly under the UV or LED light. The sign industry was an early adopter of UV technology because it "skips a lot of manual processes they had to incur," says Michael Maxwell, Mimaki USA. Another segment that was an early adopter of UV- LED was the point-of-purchase and pack- age prototyping industry. "UV curable cre- ated an opportunity to create a mockup in a short period of time, a day or two, or a couple of hours, depending on the need," he adds. Jay Roberts, Roland DGA, says that he loves the fact that he can print on a product, like a keychain, and it is ready to go immediately. You can pull it off the printer, wrap it up, and ship it out instan- taneously. He adds that the processes have gotten faster, and the textures of the im- ages have gotten better. WHAT IS UV-LED PRINTING? UV-LED printing is a one-step pro- cess, unlike heat transfer printing and dye-sublimation where heat presses are necessary to set the inks. In UV-LED printing, a thin layer of ink is spread over the printable surface and instantly cured or hardened using ultra-violet or LED lamps, which makes the overall process versatile and quick. Other types of large-format printing re- quire numerous passes to achieve a multi- colored image, whereas on a UV-LED printer, all colors can be laid down at once because the ink dries so quickly. These machines remove steps other technologies must take to print an image, cutting back on time and cost. "The UV printing pro- cess has a trifecta of ingredients that create the mechanics of the machine; they in- volve the lamp, the print head, and the ink. If any of these are out of whack, then you have to reformulate, regroup, or re- new," Roberts says. INK ADVANCEMENTS If a printer manufacturer wants its ink to have better adhesion to a specific substrate, certain chemicals come into play that make them bond better to met- al, steel, Teflon, or glass. Those bonding agents do impact how fast the ink can travel through the print head and how they are cured by the heat of the lamp. And the work is never done. Manu- facturers work closely with customers to re- work their inks to better serve specific needs so the innovation will continue. Mimaki is just one company in the printing industry to originally dedicate effort into the UV-LED space. "The ink technology was the biggest stall in the whole chain of events here," states Max- well. "Mimaki engineering decided to in- vest in LED technology and manufacture the inks in-house, creating our own chem- istry. We streamlined the process." The company dedicated its resources to making inks that would work well with different printers and a variety of sub- U V-LED printing has been around for 20 volve the lamp, the print head, and the ink. If any of these are and the ink. If any of these are Instant Print A LOOK AT THE GROWTH OF UV-LED PRINTING B Y P A U L A A V E N G L A D Y C H UV-LED printing is a one-step pro INK ADVANCEMENTS al, steel, Teflon, or glass. Those bonding agents do impact how fast

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