Flat out

By PrintWeek Team, Monday 29 October 2012

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How to balance
the flatbed equation

Flatbed kit has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years, but its added flexibility comes at a price and isn’t always the best option. Words Jon Severs

Paul Calland, director at H&H Reeds Printers, stares at the calculator for the thousandth time and lets out a long sigh of disappointment: the sums that would enable him to buy an Océ Arizona flatbed press just don’t add up.

“The Arizona has fantastic quality and the colours are amazing – I am sold on the machine,” he explains. “I just can’t make the business case for buying it – or any other flatbed – work.”

Calland’s issue is one that many small and medium-sized wide-format companies face. Manufacturers are pushing flatbed machines as the holy grail of wide-format, arguing that they produce board work more efficiently and are a portal to lucrative high-margin applications. For the most part, printers can see the logic behind the sales gusto. However, formulating a business case to ditch roll-to-roll methods that are currently paying dividends without the need for a £100,000-plus flatbed investment, is a tough ask. Hybrids may be a useful stepping stone between the two, but even the manufacturers appear to find it difficult to agree as to any definitive point when a printer should make the leap up to flatbed capability, which makes the printer’s job all the more harder.

Ten years ago, there wasn’t really a debate to have – flatbeds were of dubious reliability and the quality of some was simply not good enough. The technology, though, has constantly improved and for the most part it is agreed that flatbed performance is now broadly equivalent with that of roll-to-roll machines.

“Flatbed used to be niche sector and people could not work out why they would want one – the speeds were slow and the quality was not as good,” explains Tudor Morgan, Fujifilm European Group marketing manager. “But the market is now quite mature and these issues have long been overcome.”

"The flatbed option broadens your appeal. We have had a lot of work come through printing on everything from limestone, through glass, to wood – having the flexibility is essential in today’s market."
Brandon Boyall, Boyall Graphics and Print

“In terms of speed and quality, it is not a case of one being better than the other now,” adds Rob Goleniowski, business manager for sign and graphics at Roland DG. “It is purely a case of how much money you are willing to spend, whichever technology you choose.”

For some, this parity is not of much interest – for those whose business is dominated by flexible media printing, wrap specialists for example, roll-to-roll is the only option. But for those involved in the more general wide-format markets of display and signage work, the emergence of viable flatbed technology has been the cause of a few headaches.


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