20 March 2017 Events

The large format opportunity in Birmingham

Sign & Digital has become an event that will interest commercial printers looking to diversify what they offer customers as much as it is a show for hard core display printers and sign makers.

Thirty years ago, an exhibition for sign makers and display printers launched. This was pre inkjet days. At the time digital printing meant large electrostatic printers or dyeline machines, expensive and limited.

Today the show, Sign & Digital, is a fixture in the industry calendar steadily growing and evolving as the sector it addresses continues to develop. It has embraced inkjet printing for banners and posters, and now for industrial applications, wallpaper and rigid materials included. In turn the audience has changed.

“We have seen a significant increase in commercial printing companies visiting the show in recent times to fully understand the benefits of adding wide format to their businesses,” says show director Rudi Blackett.

And this has had an impact of what exhibitors bring to the show. It had been a show for distributors and for less expensive technology and this remains so, but higher ticket items are present with companies like CMYUK bringing larger flatbed machines, and others like Fuji privately admitting that skipping the event last year was possibly an error.

And as seems essential these days, the organiser is staging a series of talks across six theatres, albeit that two are the Adobe and Corel theatres and one is the signmakers' workshop. The Creative Theatre and the Business Theatre will hold greater appeal to business owners.

The first looks at new applications and opportunities that display printers and sign makers can tackle. This includes information about the latest technology and trends for retail signage, interior decor, variable data and the importance of colour management. The Business Theatre takes on ways to capture new business, accessing finance, employing apprentices under the new levy arrangements and ways to deliver new services.

These, however, remain the dressing on the main dish of the technology, the consumables and the show stands enticing visitors through a wide range of methods, from decent coffee and a place to sit to the opportunity to win significant items of equipment.

Roland DG has taken this approach (along with a decent coffee bar) offering the chance to win a TrueVis SG-540 print and cut unit, the required training and a year’s warranty, amounting to a £12,000 package. The machine is the latest of the print and cut machines and will be on show along with the Soljet, flatbed and UV printers designed for promotional items.

One of the most expensive machines on the floor will be the SwissQPrint Impala 2, the highlight of the Spandex stand. This is a high quality UV flatbed printer than can be configured as a customer requires to include different sized tables, roll feed as well as flatbed and choice of colours. The latest introduction is a feature which allows print to start from the position it was when interrupted without any impact on quality.

While expensive, the machine’s versatility stands it on good stead. Steve Pridham, UV specialist sales manager at Spandex, says: “Customers can take on a much wider variety of jobs from standard hoarding signs to luxury retail graphics without needing to invest in multiple pieces of equipment.”

That said, Spandex will also be among the dealers showing HP Latex and Roland DG eco solvent wide format printers.

HP will have its own presence to support the distributors and to enable it to show larger or newer items of equipment that have yet to reach resellers. A couple of years ago, it chose to preview its PageWide printers at Sign & Digital.

The breakthrough launch this year should be the first appearance of the Canon UV Gel technology that has been developed in Venlo. The company has shown this to the European media and customers at the start of the month and Sign & Digital would seem the perfect opportunity. It promises very high quality at speed and an attractive price point. The Venlo plant is behind the ColourWave products which have evolved from plan printers to posters and to more sophisticated applications with a UV cured ink.

Canon has described an Sign & Digital line up that includes the Arizona 2280GT flatbed for its UK show debut, Colorwave 700 and the ImagePrograf Pro 4000 roll fed printers that were launched little more than six months ago.

Roll fed printers have been the backbone of the event. There are multiple dealers for HP, Mimaki, Roland DG and Mutoh as well as Epson.

Epson plans to have its own area where the SureColor SC-S80600 will be the flagship printer on display. It is a ten-colour machine suited to proofing as well as high quality large format printing. It works with the UltraChrome GS3 ink set which includes a red as well as white and metallic inks to cover off more corporate brand colours.

The printer will be used to print out car wrap materials designed by students at the the Longdean School in Hemel Hempstead to decorate a Toyota Aygo. Elsewhere on the stand soft signage is to the fore with the SureColor SC-F9200 dye sublimation printer and high speed plan printer is covered off by the SC-T5200 MFP, able to print an A1 sheet in 228 seconds.

The company is hoping to appeal to companies that are looking to upgrade their current roll fed printers. “Sign & Digital comes at just the right time,” says sales manager Phil McMullin.

Signmaster will showcase the ColorPainter E-64S the latest inkjet printer from Oki. This uses eco-solvent SX inks for low to mid volume applications. It is on course to achieve the 3M MCS warranty for vehicle graphics and has Greenguard certifications to certify its use for wall coverings.

Many want to move into flatbed printing, either for large format rigid substrates or perhaps for smaller format UV printing on promotional items. The Mimaki UJF range is typical. It comes with jigs to hold phone cases, pens and the like or a ‘kebab’ version to allow cylindrical objects to be printed.

The latest model is the 610mmx420mm UJF 6042 that i-Sub will have at the the show. It will print on an object 153mm thick and up to 8kg in weight. There is a choice between two nine-colour ink sets, covering the main production colours, white, printer and clear inks. The primer is used for tricky surfaces that do not absorb ink.

I-Sub director Nick Davies says: “2017 will be an exciting year for us at the Sign & Digital show. We have over 75 years’ combined experience across the wide format print, packaging, textile and finishing technology arenas, and we’re looking forward to sharing our industry knowledge with visitors to our stand.”

It can offer dye sub printers, either from Mimaki or from Epson. The TX300P-1800 is the latest of the Mimaki printers and will be at Sign & Digital for the first time. It can run different ink types to cope with both manmade and natural fibres. This will be on the Hybrid Services stand as Hybrid is UK distributor for Mimaki supporting a network of dealers.

The stand will also feature the UJV55-320 LED UV roll printer delivering up to 3.2m print for backlit graphics applications where its combination of price and quality “has taken the market by storm” according to Hybrid national sales manager John de la Roche.

The JF200 flatbed machine which has been a popular entry level machine is Mimaki’s offering in this sector. The new machine will be the Jetrix LXi8, a 3.2m wide flatbed that is using an LED UV curing system. It runs at more than 206m2/hr in its fastest mode. Even with single-pass direction at the highest resolution, the printer delivers at productive levels. It will be receiving a world launch in Birmingham.

The Korean made Jetrix is sold in the UK through InkTec Europe where national sales manager Ben Woodruff says: “The LXi8 will open up exciting new printing opportunities for sign and display companies, thanks to its speed and efficiency coupled with optimal printing results.

“We're hoping to attract a huge amount of interest from potential customers looking to take advantage of our new developments and upgrade their current equipment. As well as its stunning top speed the LXi8 has a host of new features including InkTec's latest generation LED-UV inkInkTec's latest generation LED-UV ink.”

The Jetrix has been a popular machine for printers looking for an alternative to the Océ/Fujifilm Arizona printers in the medium output flatbed sector. It uses Konica Minolta print heads, accepts rigid media up to 3.2mx2.03m and to 100mm deep. Maximum resolution is 1080x720dpi with LED diodes for curing. At the show it be displayed alongside the workhorse KX7 flatbed printer.

InkTec CEO Dr Kwang-Choon Chung will be in the UK for the launch where he will be available to talk with print businesses as well as the team from InkTec Europe. He says: “I am delighted to be attending this worldwide launch, which is a fitting way to celebrate our achievements over the last 25 years. As a manufacturer of printers, inks and media it's so exciting to see how our ranges come together to maximise the printing possibilities and new business opportunities.”

Less visible perhaps, InkTec will be showcasing the different inks that have been developed to run in Epson, and eco-solvent printers from Mimaki and Roland DG, and new media. This includes a latex media developed specifically for HP machines. It is tacky material that can be lifted and re-positioned, comes in satin and gloss finishes and is “very competitive on price”.

Colourgen will be at the show for the 17th time, bringing the new Mutoh ValueJet 1638UH, its first twin-head LED UV printer. It is a hybrid machine able to take rigid and rollfed media, printing CMYK plus white and varnish.

Media as well as inks has become a key feature in recent years. Soyang Europe will show the Senfa Decoprint line up of textiles. This is a textile material intended for backlit displays. The appeal comes with the lightness of these materials compared to the alternatives.

Antalis carries the flag for the larger merchants. It stand follows an American Diner theme, with virtually every surface covered in products it handles, including the surface you walk on.

This will be a Drytac substrate as well as the merchant’s own brand Coala products. Wall graphics and hanging signage within the diner are equally a combination of its own label and 3rd party branded products.

Chris Green, head of channel at Antalis Sign & Display, comments: “This year, not only do we have a real ‘wow’ factor American diner themed stand designed to encapsulate the creative design possibilities available from Antalis but we are thrilled to reveal also our new hardware partnership, further consolidating our offer.”

These will be supported by courses in its Digital Academy where operators can attend training courses and where Antalis can act as an independent adviser.

Drytac will also showcase a full range of Drytac film materials including the ReTac Texture white polymer PVC film that can be repositioned easily and is aimed at interior decor application where the different textures can add interest to otherwise flat graphics.

The new launch is Protac anti-bacterial film. This will be useful for school, healthcare, restaurants and nurseries where hygiene is particularly important. The product delivers protection against mould and contamination from a host of bacterial infections, including MRSA, E.coli and salmonella.

Finishing is a vital part of the process with Zund and Kongsberg equipment featuring around the hall at the NEC. Art Systems will have the Summa cutting tables. These include a pair of new features, an automated depth control application which is available for new F series users and can be added to F series machines in the field. It cleans the routing head and automates the process of setting the cut depth of the tool. Summa, also available from GPT, has also introduced a high frequency routing module which results in a smoother finish for solid materials including acrylics.

Another pitching to those interested in flatbed finishing is Blackman & White. It builds its Versa-Tech machines in the UK offering routing and both knife and laser cutting. At Sign & Digital it will introduce a higher speed oscillating knife unit, faster changeover from laser to knife heads and new 60mm creasing wheel that can take on more substrates including corrugated boards.

Managing director Alex White says: "We've chosen S&D UK to demonstrate our new developments in cardboard cutting and creasing as this is a key way that sign and display companies can differentiate themselves and their services. Our team designed the Tiger Pack module of our workflow software to work with Adobe Illustrator files, meaning there's now no limit to the bespoke boxes, POS and packaging that can be designed and manufactured.

With an increasing use of textiles and other non-traditional media in POS and display, our customers also benefit from the most versatile cutters on the market and the opportunity to invest in new cutting modules as and when they need them rather than paying for all the options up front.

The ability to create packaging and boxes that match completely with other branded materials such as POS using a single machine also guarantees consistency of quality and output across a range of products.”

The options on finishing include the award winning Easymount Air laminators from Vivid Laminating Technologies. These have earned accolades in the US as well as Europe and recognition of a design that includes pneumatic roller pressure control which ensures that pressure and height are maintained during operation.

The small format Matrix laminators will also be in evidence, Vivid reasoning that many visitors will have small format digital as well as large format. The show will be the launch for a new luxury range of laminates.

Marketing communications manager David Smith says: “Sign & Digital UK will see us launch our new brand of luxury foil consumables ‘Aqua Aura’. We’ve named the product range after the Aqua Aura quartz and gold crystal, which gives iridescent rainbow-coloured flashes, perfect for the multiple colours of foils we offer.

“There’s a significant demand for printers now able to bring in-house bespoke foiling on digital print jobs without having to pay for expensive outsourcing and set ups.”

And finally for this brief tour of Sign & Digital's highlights, mention must be made of the Magic Touch, a perennial at the event. It will highlight image transfer decoration for promotional clothing and products. The CPM transfer material is printed on an Oki ProSeries 7411WT printer and, by using a ball-shaped platen, the image can be applied to a panel soccer ball.

The quality of the images is set by the high quality of the Oki printer, which prints at a rate that amounts to less than 10p per panel to apply to the polyurethane surface used on football balls. “It offers a great business opportunity for those in the awards and recognition market to develop over the coming months and years,” says Magic Touch managing director Jim Nicol.

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