Graph Expo, the largest annual printing trade show in North America, which was held this year at Chicago’s McCormick Place. Graph Expo has traditionally been known as a “big iron” show, because manufacturers like Heidelberg, Goss, KBA, Komori, and Manroland would set up huge presses a month in advance to ensure a successful presentation. Today, many attendees believe that the event should be “rebranded” as a digital show because the Graph Expo moniker no longer adequately describes the integrated communications role that today’s commercial printers must play. Expansion in the industry was widely evident throughout the show floor.

Graph Expo claims to offer North America the most innovative and exciting exhibition of digital presses, wide-format inkjet devices, offset products, and services for the commercial, converting and packaging, publishing, mailing, in-plant, and industrial printing industries. This year, however, the large conventional litho and flexo presses were not displayed and are not likely to be seen again at this event.

Innovations in Wide-Format

The featured product in EFI’s booth was the H1625 LED UV Wide Format Printer. This 60-inch printer offers LED cool-curing and enables a wider range of media choices, including a flexible membrane as well as thermoforming films. It can print four colors plus white on an extended range of flexible and rigid substrates. Increased customer satisfaction is possible with near-photographic images, saturated colors, and smooth gradations with true 8-level, variable-drop grayscale print capability.

HP had one of the largest booths on the show floor. A number of dealers were also prominently displaying HP products. At Graph Expo, PriscoDigital demonstrated HP’s Latex inkjet printing technology using the new Latex 360 print engine. The Latex 360 uses a third generation, eco-friendly water-based latex printing technology. With the addition of a contour roll cutter, a print service provider has everything required to produce banners, point-of-purchase signage, and a variety of other displays.

Single-Pass Commercial Printers

Canon’s ColorWave 900 printer has a raw print speed of over 12,000 square feet per hour. Delivering 3.4 billion 1.2 picoliter drops of aqueous ink per second, the machine is capable of producing 1,600 x 1,600 dpi resolution. While the Colorwave 900 is extremely fast, it carries a relatively high price point and is somewhat limited in application due to its use of only dye-based inks.

Xanté’s Excelagraphix 4200 wide format printer has single-pass speeds of up to 12 inches per second. It will accept sheets of corrugated and paper board stock up tofive-eighths of an inch thick. The printer will handle variable data at full rated speed. It is designed for creating custom signage, point-of-purchase (POP) displays, and point-of-sale (POS) displays in full process color. The device uses Memjet aqueous inks, which have no volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and require no ventilation.

Other Product Introductions

Mimaki USA was showing its JFX200 LED UV cool curing flatbed, which is an entry-level device priced below $90,000. Earlier JFX printers were difficult to install in small shops due to their size, but the new JFX200 has a smaller footprint (4 feet x 8 feet). Meanwhile, the Mimaki JV300-160 is the third-generation JV model that uses solvent and aqueous dye-sublimation inks. While the user must choose the ink type in advance, a common platform for aqueous or solvent can simplify maintenance. The JV300’s ability to print with white ink and specialty solvent colors using SS21 CMYK + light black, orange, and green (as well as Sb53 dye-sublimation inks) make it attractive to shops that handle everything from posters to exhibit graphics and soft signs.

Epson showcased its multi-staggered head array, which is using the company’s latest-generation head that can be applied for label applications.

Roland was showing its hybrid UV LED 64-inch-wide printer, and two new solvent printers: RC640 & XC640. The RC640 is offered without the built-in contour cutter that is available on the XC640. Also shown at the Roland booth was the LEC-540, a 54-inch width hybrid UV roll printer with a built-in contour cutter. Because it offers white and clear inks, it can be used in packaging prototyping applications for a complete finished design that can incorporate folds and perforated cuts. Roland also demonstrated its version of a bench top LED UV Printer, the “Magic Box” Versa UV LEF-20.

InfoTrends’ Opinion

Graph Expo continues to expand into an ever-growing number of application areas, including label making, direct-to-substrate small-format UV flatbed for ad specialty items, T-shirts, dye-sublimation wide-format for banner and apparel printing, short run-cartons, and flatbed cutters and routers for packaging prototyping and short runs. This convergence of previous specialty applications is occurring across the entire digital printing industry. The print-for-pay options are now multiplied many-fold. Reaching across all of these channels will require cross-training and a new breed of sales representatives. Training and support requirements will increase as specialty markets like 3D printing enter the application mix. Mission-critical support and response times will also get shorter as companies become more demanding.