Mimtec, a thermoforming specialist based in Portsmouth, has taken the plunge into print production after ordering an Acuity Advance Select printer with Uvijet KV inks from Fujifilm.
Prior to its inkjet investment, Mimtec specialised in moulding screen-printed plastic sheets to create POS displays, 3D backdrops and 3D vending machine branded cladding up to 1.2x2.3m.
Mimtec managing director Mark Waring said: "We're a thermoforming business that does a fair bit of moulding of pre-printed sheets working both with screen printers and direct with clients.
"We've done some forming of digitally printed sheets in the past where a client has brought them to us and found if it's a shallow form you can just about get away with it, but this is the first time we've seen an inkjet solution that can print onto plastic substrates to be formed into 3D shapes."
Mimtec is the first UK customer for the Uvijet thermoforming, UV-cured ink, which is manufactured at Fujifilm's Broadstairs facility in Kent specifically for use with the Acuity Advance Select and Acuity Advance Select HS devices.
The company, which has no other commercial print equipment, has invested £200,000 in the printer, inks, Quadraxis Thermo 3D software suite, and associated building works and is in the process of going to market with its new short-run service.
Waring added that Mimtec was "taking the initiative" in launching the service, which it will offer direct to its clients as well as to the trade screen printers it works with, enabling them to produce low-runs and prototypes at a significantly lower cost than screen.
"The big issue with screen, especially when you're doing distortion correction of the artwork prior to printing, is that you often have to go through several iterations to get the image to match the form and for each one you need four screens and have to do 10-15 pulls.
"With the Fujifilm inkjet solution and the digital workflow from Quadraxis we're able to go through the same process much more cost-effectively. It's simply a case of printing a standard test grid onto the sheet, forming it, imaging that with a camera and feeding that back into the software, which stitches the shots together and calculates the distortion that needs to be applied to the artwork."
Waring said that the digital service was complementary to traditional screen-printed thermoforming, adding: "It's such a specialist print solution that most printers are going to see it as too niche to invest in and most thermoformers aren't interested because it's not thermoforming."
He added that the firm had been particularly impressed by "the performance and stretching capabilities demonstrated by Fujifilm's Uvijet KV inks". "They don't crack during the thermoforming process and maintain high quality and vivid colours without any compromise to the print speed," he added.