About 15 years ago—give or take—in a monthly humor column I wrote at the time for the late, lamented Micro Publishing News, I proposed the idea of a drive-through wide-format printer for vehicle graphics. Well, that hasn’t quite come to pass just yet, but it was one of the things that came to mind (my mind, anyway) during Guy Gecht’s presentation at EFI Connect earlier this week. Specifically, he had talked about “The Imaging of Things,” a counterpoint to the current vogue for “the Internet of Things,” whereby all the objects in our life are Internet-enabled and, apparently, operate of their own accord for the benefit of us humans. (Which brings to my mind a billion dystopian science-fiction stories about helpful technology that eventually destroys and/or enslaves the human race.)
Anyway, the far more benign “Imaging of Things,” on the other hand, refers to the ability to print on just about anything, making every object in our lives—from clothing to carpeting—potentially customizable and personalizable. We’re not far from that today.
You will have seen reports on EFI Connect from other members of the WhatTheyThink team, but from a wide-format standpoint, EFI’s VP Marketing, Inkjet Solutions, Ken Hanulec, gave an update on the “state of the inkjet art.”
First of all, the Cretaprint ceramic printing system has been fully integrated into EFI Inkjet, and Hanulec said there were 500 Cretaprint installations worldwide. Printing on tiles is a very different process than typical display graphics printing (assuming there is such a thing as “typical” display graphics printing today!), but being able to leverage the entire EFI ecosystem of hardware and software helps improve the process.
I have mentioned in past event write-ups that wide-format equipment manufacturers are now filling in the gaps in their product lines, and likewise EFI is looking to see where their 19-product portfolio can be expanded. Hanulec identified entry-level textile printers as one particular gap. The company also seeks to expand more into packaging and a key to making that come off is not so much on the hardware side but on the ink side: matching certain brand colors (think of the Home Depot orange) isn’t always easy or possible using standard wide-format ink configurations. To that end, Hanulec said that EFI will be introducing violet and orange inks for their high-end units in Q1 2015, and light black and clear inks in Q2.
I have also written in the past (and done some video) about EFI’s thermoforming inks, and the whole thermoforming workflow in which images are printed on plastic substrates, then exposed to heat and stretched around a three-dimensional object. The trick to the inks is to get them to keep their color and other mechanical properties during the heating and stretching process. The process has opened itself up to some unique applications—kind of 3D printing but not the 3D printing everyone is talking about today—such as snowmobile windshields, slot machines, and various types of retail displays. Hanulec talked about digital printing and thermoforming as a screen printing replacement, part of EFI’s strategy of “analog to digital conversion.”
Vehicle graphics are another accelerating applications, and the exhibit space at Connect did feature an elaborately decorated Tesla. So while the drive-through wide-format printer is probably a long way off—or is more likely just a product of my own fevered imagination—the “imaging of things” is well underway.