For the past 18 months Cambridge-based IIJ has been working with Konica Minolta to produce a system that prints on a wide range of typical wallpaper media, such as paper, PVC and non-woven substrates, at linear speeds of up to 70m/min.
The target market for the system is wallpaper producers who are currently using high-speed conventional lines.
IIJ will invite wallpaper producers to its premises next month to see the latest demo version of the new system running. The demo model is 560mm-wide but the manufacturer is also planning to build systems in the future with widths of 1.2m, and 1.4m for the US market.
The company said the idea is to offer the system as a digital module that could be built into existing conventional wallpaper lines from manufacturers such as Olbrich and Emerson and Renwick.
IIJ managing director John Corrall said that while it is common to print wallpaper with inkjet, speeds are currently very low and the technology has previously been restricted to short-run “special” applications such as mural walls.
“A year ago we built a system for printing wallpaper, we started rolling it and took samples to all the wallpaper producers but they said it was too glossy and didn’t meet standards for emissions and wash and scrub tests,” said Corrall.
“We then did a year’s work, talking to a lot of ink suppliers, testing a lot of inks and making miles of wallpaper and at the back end of last year we finally got to a point where we believed it was working.”
He added: “We showed a video of the system and samples at Heimtextil last month and went round all of the big wallpaper producers again to show them where we’d got to and to ask them what they thought. They were biting our arm off and asking when we were field trialling it and when they could get it.”
IIJ said the system will enable “almost infinite image repeat length”.
“Conventional wallpaper is a repeating pattern every 600mm and is produced way faster, but it’s more limited in what can be done in terms of image,” said Corrall.
“Our system matches the 70m/min speeds of that while giving digital capability. There’s no 600mm repeat and you can do photographic images. For example, you could print a whole room with a landscape, like a 360-degree photo of Venice, in one hit.”
The cost-per-roll of the system is expected to be comparable to conventional wallpaper printing.
“There’s no doubt that our ink costs are about ten times what wallpaper producers are paying today but they’ve got no waste, no setup and no tooling,” said Corrall.
“We built complete cost models with two wallpaper producers and both said it was close to conventional.”