The following article originally appeared in Issue 1 / 2017 of Specialist Printing Worldwide. For more details on Sophie Matthews-Paul, visit her website at: www.mrs-inkjet.com
Typically, as we move into each New Year, across our industry most of us have a tendency to review events of the previous twelve months and assess where we are heading in the future. Unlike the situation a decade ago, of course, we are far less likely to be reeling from the surprise of a new and unexpected technology hitting the streets. But, while part of the reason for this is that we are all becoming accustomed to innovation and onward developments, we are now far more accepting of the products being introduced worldwide by manufacturers. Some of these might simply be extensions to existing ideas that are already in use; others lean more towards creativity that can be applied within the functional segments of print and are the results of the blend of the known and proven with new elements that are still in their infancy.
From an outside perspective onlookers can be forgiven for not noticing subtle changes to the technologies that are being introduced and used today. But this is a situation that applies across the board and not just to print. Refinements often sneak their way in to everyday products without our realising there are significant changes being carried out under the bonnet. If we look at the graphic arts market as a good example there is, as always, on-going development that makes its mark both on the analogue and digital sectors.
The value of traditional methodologies
The value of conventional presses doesn’t go away as these still fulfil the requirements for generalised printed products that have been in demand for generations. Medium and long run jobs continue to reap the benefits only available from traditional methodologies, and everyone can take for granted that no compromises are required when it comes to generating special textures and colours, particularly in the screen-printing arena.
While machine design and build might not have changed dramatically in the past few decades it is here, in particular, that ancillary products have been privy to the greatest advances. Endorsement is shown frequently in Specialist Printing Worldwide where specialist articles prove that refinements and increased quality continue in terms of emulsions, stencils and meshes, as well as inks for specific and demanding requirements. In the ink-jet segment, versatility is also coming to the fore, showing how digital is moving forward into new environments far removed from pure graphics.
Behind the scenes
So, across all sectors, the traditional printing press in its many guises might not have changed much in principle – or in appearance – for many years but the work going on behind the scenes has continued relentlessly in order to keep abreast of desired quality, present day environmental needs plus health and safety essentials. The same is beginning to be noticed in wide-format digital printing devices where the basis for a well engineered and robust engine has continued as the primary platform for print production. However, the fine tuning of print-heads, nozzle performance, ink formulations and their relationship with the substrate is on-going, complemented by more advanced drying techniques, material feed and off-loading and the potential for automation.
Although technology is often newsworthy, it is gratifying to note that manufacturers involved in more traditional markets have not downed tools; nor have they given in to state-of-the-art solutions because rumour has it that digital is the only practical driver. Again, screen-printing continues to dominate in many areas where its sheer versatility cannot be challenged. This isn’t to say, of course, that by incorporating the benefits of digital technologies, its limits can’t be extended; combining the best of both worlds is becoming ever more commonplace, particularly in the industrial and functional market segments.
As an example, visitors to the InPrint expo, held in Milan last November, might have been expecting a show that concentrated totally on digital technologies. But this event certainly provided a strong platform for the screen process and endorsed the role it still plays in the production of many manufacturing processes.
Putting print processes into context
As 2017 gets well underway, many will certainly follow the belief that only digital technology can be at the root of innovation and versatility. But this ethos needs to be put into a clearer context because, ultimately, it is the capability of the final machine and its components that play the primary role in allowing more diversity across applications of all types and sizes. There is more than enough specialist development expertise to cover all sectors, plus opportunities to bring together both digital and analogue into one device or process to get the best of both worlds. With industrial and functional print rising to greater prominence in the public eye and altering the concept of many manufacturing principles across the board, this year should demonstrate continued harmony and growth across all industry sectors.