Commentary & Analysis
Successfully integrating digital printing into your manufacturing process requires more than a digital press. Prepress and post press workflow changes and equipment are often required. Most printers have inline coating on their offset presses. Offline coating may be a new area with the addition of digital presses. What is right for you depends on your customer’s needs.
By John G. Braceland
Published: June 10, 2013
The age of digital printing has added complexity to many printer’s manufacturing operations. Digital presses, including wide format inkjet, may require changes in the prepress and post press areas. Many printers try to drop their digital presses into their operations hoping to use existing equipment. In some cases this can be done. However, post press operations seem to require the most consideration.
Offset printers have been using coatings for years. Most have inline coating equipment that streamlines the process. As digital printing becomes more versatile and is used in a variety of applications the need for dedicated post press equipment becomes important. Covers and shells were often printed and coated if necessary on the offset equipment and combined with digital. Now as digital equipment grows in speed and versatility the need for offline coating is growing. It has become more important to have digital presses which produce value added short run printing for on demand products.
Just like inline coaters, printers need to look at the end use of the products to determine what they need. UV, aqueous, spot coatings or specialty coatings all have advantages and disadvantages and different applications. As digital presses push the envelope for capabilities so are coating manufactures coming up with new products. Today the sky is the limit. Security applications, dry erase, and metallic, as well as scratch protection and gloss are available.
Offline coaters are generally roll coaters or anilox coaters. Most coating equipment sold are roller coaters. Some manufacturers sell coaters using anilox rollers to control coating volume. Your customers, your future customers and your printing focus will determine where you need to be regarding the coating of your digital print. The price range is from $20,000 up to $125,000. There are full coaters and some market spot coaters. Most are for UV cured coatings. Some do both water and UV. The more versatile the equipment the more it costs.
Numerous coater manufacturers sell their own products. There is also private labeled equipment. The leaders in this area include (not listed in any special order): Duplo, Epic, Graphic Whizard, Harris & Bruno, Kompac, Tec Lighting and many others. Thousands are being sold annually. The large digital equipment manufacturers have created partnerships with various companies and have in some cases put the coating equipment inline with their digital printers.
HP, Xerox, and Kodak all have some equipment with inline coating. This can save time and expense and give you a finished product. An offline coater may still be needed. The inline coater may not be versatile enough for everything you need to do or you may have other digital presses that need coating.
The paper generally has to be treated to be receptive to the digital inks. Coatings or corona treatment helps prepare paper, board or film to be receptive to the digital material, which needs adhesion to the stock. Some substrates come pretreated with a coating, while others can be treated by the printer before the digital print by pre-coating the stock. While this is a general rule, some digital printers do not require special papers. However, they, like most of the others, do require a coating over top of the print to protect the finished product. Direct Mail, packaging and specialty printing will generally require a coating to protect the product.
As you evaluate what your needs are check some of the manufactures demo centers and see what coatings they are using as well as the equipment. This can give you ideas on what is possible and which coatings perform the best. Ask your coating vendor for samples of various coatings and effects. Because offline coating equipment tends to be smaller, regional shows or shows like Print 13 will often have equipment on the floor for you to look at.
It is a brave new world out there for digital printing. Make sure you look at what is available and do your homework before you buy.