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Copyright 2010 Peterson Publications, Inc.

Plastics Decorating Magazine 
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When is it Time to Digitally Decorate?
by Craig Smith and Darlene Putz, Innovative Digital Systems, LLC


Remember the days when a customer asking for custom decorated parts or components needed to order them by the thousands or more? Now, order sizes are getting smaller, while deadlines are shorter. With digital printing, industrial printers can meet the needs of today’s market.

Beyond the Basic Advantages of Digital Printing
Industrial markets have quickly recognized the advantages of digitally printing their products. The basic – and well-known – advantages include fast turnaround time, minimal changeover time and rapid sampling and prototyping, thanks to the ability to change artwork via computer. Small sample runs can be run back-to-back with large quantity projects since screens and plates aren’t necessary. With quick-curing UV inks, no solvents are involved and there is no time-consuming ink mixing, reducing ink waste. Tooling costs are low, since digital printers do not use clichés, pads, plates or rollers, providing more cost and time savings. In addition, digital printers have a relatively low investment cost, considering the flexibility offered with custom printing, leading to a rapid return on investment.

But there are advantages to digital printing that go beyond the basics. These include sustainability, customization, reduced inventory and an increase in quality.

Green is a very popular color these days. The digital printing process has distinct advantages in this area. If companies are serious in applying green solutions in their decorating processes, digital printing should be considered. There is very little waste and numerous recycling programs for consumable items. The process gives a company the ability to produce in its market area by keeping the on-demand decorating jobs in-house and still allowing the necessary outsourcing of parts. The ability to decorate in a selling target area equals savings in transportation costs and that also has a positive and green environmental impact.

We have seen an explosion in personalization in the past year. The younger generation is very focused on personalization. This generation is computer savvy and the Internet is its comfort zone. The über popular online shopping is its wheelhouse. Placing orders online and uploading personal graphics is second hand – you cannot ignore this strong market segment. With the ease of online ordering comes the expectation of quick turnaround for product deliveries.

Personalization opens up new markets to a company with existing product. With the ease of changing artwork, this can take an existing product line to a new level, adding value that increases the bottom line.

No one wants to keep a stock-pile of decorated product on shelves waiting out the 80/20. That 80 percent may sit for months or years, eventually to be considered scrap. Many times in manufacturing the same component is sold to a variety of customers. The components then need to be identified with individual company specifications and branding. There was a time that there were no other options – now there is digital printing. The bottom line is that everyone wants what they want now, without commitment – on demand.

High-Quality Graphics
Many markets are moving toward less packaging and more direct product decoration, which increases the need for high-quality graphics. With digital printing, the imaging comes from the computer-generated artwork and is sent directly to the printer – plug and print – resulting in high-quality print with excellent drop placement accuracy printing CMYK, white and clear when needed. Direct digital printing offers high resolution of up to 1200x1200dpi, compared to 300dpi with traditional pad printing or silk screening.

Entering the Digital Print Market
Step One. First and foremost, pick a company with experience that can offer you a total decorating solution for your digital printing. Expertise in overall product decoration allows for a smooth transition from your current method of decoration to digital printing. Look at how a digital integrator addresses future developments – and whether or not it will adapt to the future needs of your company. The digital world is still an emerging market that is ever-changing, with new developments occurring on a regular basis. A company should have all of the solutions for digital printing, including access to major print head manufacturers, ink development (don’t settle for a one ink fits all solution), in-house printing, testing capabilities, software and good technical support.

Step Two. Evaluate the product and the printing expectations. Can your product be decorated with the digital process? Are there any printing difficulties to overcome? Don’t over-engineer a printing solution – be practical with the limitations of the digital printing process to your application. Ask questions: how is this digital process more cost-effective and what is the value added?

Step Three. Once the product evaluation is done, if your product is a good direct digital candidate then ink selection is critical. In this step, you should provide enough substrate material for ink testing. Testing can determine the proper ink set for adhesion, durability and resistance for your particular industry standards.

Step Four. Your environment will require some pre-planning before launching into digital print. How much floor space needs to be dedicated to this decoration process? Is the environment clean enough for the digital printing process? Is the environment climate-controlled? What type of labor will be used (manual versus automation)?

Step Five. Which type of digital printing equipment is right for your application? Ask yourself what type of throughput is needed now and in the future? There are small tabletop printers and large format flatbed printers which can be manually loaded with parts or set up for automatic loading. For much quicker printing output, there are high-speed single-pass and custom high-speed printing systems that integrate into the manufacturing process. These systems can be set up for in-line production printing, off-line printing or integrated into work cells. The printing work cells easily can be ramped up for expansion should the work demand increase. Using modular work stations can help assist in growing the digital printing operation as new digital printing advancements are introduced into the marketplace.

Digital printing is growing by leaps and bounds, with numerous advantages over traditional product decorating options. However, the industrial aspect of digital printing must be carefully mapped out, with consideration given to all of the variables.

Innovative Digital Systems, LLC, provides industrial printing turnkey solutions as an integrator of digital technology and a manufacturer of high-speed digital single-pass and custom printing systems, and also is a servicing dealer for Mimaki. For additional information, contact Darlene Putz at 704.882.5985 ext.106, via email at [email protected] or visit