Although we touched upon some of this in our post on solvent vs latex, if you add UV into the mix (and if you’re shopping for new kit, why wouldn’t you?) the reasons behind which print technology and why for your business can seem a little bit more complicated.
For this post I’ll simplify some of the benefits and negatives of each system to help to guide and inform. No sales pitch, just what we’ve learnt from all these years discussing print options with customers.
As can be seen in our Roland post, solvent technology has been around for years. In fact, after the aqueous machines, solvent was the next leap forward and the first ink sets designed for longevity, durability and outdoor use.
These requirements still remain the same today and most manufacturer’s inks are well into their second and third generations. Constantly improving, solvent inks are renowned for their wide colour gamut, vibrancy and quality.White ink has also been developed for solvent.
Solvent inks are designed to penetrate the media and bind with the print substrate. On gloss media they remain glossy, on a matte finish they stay flat. This way the ink keys to a vinyl is why it maintain the ‘stretch’ - perfect for vehicle wraps and cast vinyls.
Solvent machines are available as single print and cut units - this post covers the differences between standalone print and cut compared with all-in-one solutions.
The negatives of solvent printing come down to the odour and the need for solvent ink to ‘gas off’.
The odour has got less and less noticeable with each ink formulation update but compared to both UV and latex, there is still a solvent smell. ‘Gassing off’ is the release of the solvents within the ink carrier and how these solvents dissipate away from the print media. This release needs to be unhindered and usually takes 12 or so hours (the new Roland VG2 has reduced it to 6 hours). It means that if the job needs to be laminated, it can put an extra day on production.
UV technology uses a light unit to instantly cure the ink onto the print substrate. It creates a strong bond - as strong as solvent - and because of how it works, it’s currently the mode of choice when it comes to flatbed direct printing.
As soon as the lamp passes over, UV inks cure instantly. There is only minimal heat from the lamp meaning no potential vinyl shrink issues.
No odour, no need to ‘gas off’, and with more cost effective white ink options, UV technology has steadily grown in popularity for roll-to-roll machines designed to produce window graphics and decals.
The only downsides are that UV inks can look slightly less vibrant when compared to solvent. They also don’t stretch quite as much as solvent inks so for vehicle wraps, UV may not be the best option. UV ink sits on the surface of the substrate which means it can leave a consistent matte finish. By sitting on the top, they create a slight uneven finish depending on ink levels and this can mean high-coat weight laminates are needed when finishing.
Like UV, latex inks instantly cure. They were first developed by HP and use a similar water-based technology that became synonymous with Hewlett Packard for over two decades.
With lower running costs than solvent, latex has proved itself as something of an economical workhorse within the print industry over the last 10 years. No odour, instant dry and again no need to ‘gas off’, prints from a latex can be finished and laminated as soon as they are off the machine.
In today’s ecologically conscious times, latex ink’s water-based tech has acknowledged green credentials where the other systems do not.
With HP’s latex solution deriving from the revolutionary HP5000, it uses the same plug and play printhead replacement plus all the internal system checks making daily maintenance a simple, automated task.
The colour vibrancy of latex is again, not quite up there with with solvent and similar to UV, there isn’t quite the amount of stretch when needed for vinyls. The machines do require more heat to cure the water-based inks and with latex there is currently no white ink option.
If stickers and decals are part of your business, there are no integrated print and cut latex machines. Again, whether separate machines are best for your production or an all-in-one, this post looks at the options.
Ok, so there will be other personal reasons why your business would benefit more from one print technology than another - talk to us and we’ll answer the questions relevant to you. If you need media samples printed on each technology, get in touch at email@example.com and we’ll help out wherever we can.