New capabilities available through the latest generation of digital presses are shaking up the design world’s ideas of what can be achieved in affordable, short-run or personalised print projects.
The concept that every copy can be different is two decades old, but until now the print has always been, well, flat. That’s literally flat because print is generally a two-dimensional medium, but visually flat too, as digital processes have previously been limited to coloured inks, mostly on plain white substrates.
This is, however, set to change. The past year or two have seen the introduction of digital special effects for production-scale presses, including raised and textured images that emulate embossing, variable-pattern clear coatings, and metallised effects. These maintain the advantages of digital printing, including personalisation, short lead times, low set-up costs, on-demand single copies or very short runs. Here we chart the options that are now available to let your print projects leap of the page.
Raised effects are created by building up layers of ink or toner. Often it’s subtle, so you first notice it when you brush your fingers across it or it catches the light. But some systems produce print that simulates embossing, a mechanical effect that normally needs expensively tooled metal block dies and special presses.
This isn’t just for raised lettering and heraldic crests, it can also be used to add realistic textures over parts of images, such as orange peel, canvas, leather, crocodile skin and braille. High gloss isn’t compulsory: semi-matt and true matt is usually possible.
Digital spot varnishing puts down a clear high gloss, silk or matt image. UV spot/pattern varnishing is long established in conventional printing, but going digital opens up the possibilities of small quantities and variable imaging.
Metallic effects are often used to catch the light and give a high quality feel to print, especially book covers, and wine and spirits bottle labels. Even though digital presses have been around for two decades, it’s only recently that ways have been developed to produce metallic images.
All these effects require high-cost industrial-class printing presses or in some cases dedicated production machines. With the possible exception of the more compact wide-format inkjets, they’re not going to be available to you in-house any time soon. However, they all work with image layers generated in standard design and layout programs, so they can be set up in any studio.
Systems to produce these effects are comparatively new, so installations are fairly rare in the print service sector. In some cases there are none yet in the UK. However, everything mentioned here either has at least one UK user or the first installations are due in the next few months.
HP added the ability to create raised print on its Indigo 7600 SRA3 format digital press, which was introduced. The image is built up by using up many layers of thin coloured or white ink before transferring them to the paper. This makes it a slow and comparatively expensive process, though still cheaper than physical block embossing. HP Indigo presses are unique among digital production-scale presses in their ability to print up to seven colours. There’s also an option to create true physical embossing on the 7600 press, by building up raised ink on underlay sheets on the impression cylinder, which then moulds the actual job sheets. This isn’t as effective true die embossing, according to Lawrence Dalton, managing director of London print company 1st Byte, an early UK 7600 press user. He says he prefers the raised-ink option.
Kodak makes a toner based SRA3+ format printing press family called NexPress. Since 2009, it’s offered an option on some models called Dimensional Clear Raised Ink, with about 18 to 20 installations currently in the UK. This prints a raised clear image up to 28 microns high in the same pass as the four conventional colours. It’s subtle, but catches the light and is obvious to the fingers. It’s also possible to generate textured effects.
Scodix developed a dedicated raised-image B2 format inkjet system called Scodix 1200 three years ago, followed last year with the improved S74 and the lower cost B3 format S52. The process was originally called Digital Embossing but has been renamed Sense. It takes pre-printed sheets and applies the coating in register on paper or card up to 675gsm. The height is the highest on the market, with a maximum of 250 microns. The coating is extremely clear and can be set to be highly glossy, but with options for matt and semi-matt.
The Scodix machines cost as much as a mid-range printing press and only one UK printer has them so far: RCS in Retford, which has a pair of the 1200 models.
MGI is a French company that has developed JETvarnish 3D, a B2 inkjet broadly similar to the Scodix in concept, although the maximum image height is 100 microns at present. It takes paper or card weights up to 600gsm. So far three have been sold into the UK for installation this spring, though their users don’t want to be identified yet.
Roland DG’s VersaUV LEC printer-cutter inkjets can build up raised and textured images with clear UV-cured inks. They are available in 30- and 54-inch widths, and take roll-fed flexible media or thin hand-fed card. A built-in knife can cut digitally controlled shapes in self-adhesive vinyl or card.