The first digital printing solutions were made with low-volume, scanning, wide-format printers using existing graphic art inks to print wood-grain designs. These were very useful for proofing and test marketing. In the following phase, inks were tuned to enable short run production at high prices for niche markets. In today’s session we will discuss the recent profitability of digital printing onto decor paper for laminate production and also the productive, direct-to-board digital printing for all types of decorative panels.For printing onto decor paper, the key advantages over traditional gravure printing include short set-up time, no costly engraved cylinders or space devoted to storing them, variable run-lengths with rapid switching from one design to another on so-called rainbow rolls, and economically viable short run-lengths that eliminate massive quantities of unprofitable printed stock.
These advantages are particularly attractive for printing the decor paper used in flooring and furniture laminates.This quantum leap in decor paper digital production printing is powered by dedicated primer and water-based ink sets, delivering a wide color gamut with amazing print quality, while also lowering ink consumption. With target pricing significantly below current standards, these digitally printed ink-primer sets can compete head-to-head with high volume analogue printing. The high speed and cost efficiency of roll-to-roll digital printing offer huge incentives for the established decor printers as well as for in-house decor paper production by flooring and furniture manufacturers.Integration within existing manufacturing facilities is easy; the digital printing technology is fully compatible with conventional processing (impregnation, pressing, cutting & milling). Other important decision criteria that will be discussed are overall image quality, color gamut and metamerism and more specifically, light fastness, Gurley tests, cross-cut tests, boiling water tests and other important tests for laminates in the flooring and furniture markets. In the direct digital printing onto board, quality has improved a lot over recent years. But the biggest advantage is that all steps can be handled in one production line. Firstly the boards are brushed and cleaned, then via a roll coater, an adhesion promotor is applied and cured to achieve a perfect bonding on a wide range of wood and other composite materials such as SPC, PVC and MDF. A base coat is applied to ensure the board is uniformly white before printing the design with 4 to 6 UV inks, depending on the equipment manufacturer. Because UV inks are very shiny, an intermediate matt protective coating is applied.Recent industrial single-pass inkjet printing can produce very convincing reproductions of natural materials like wood and stone but people quickly spot the difference when the authentic 3D texture is missing. Unilin Technologies has the first and most comprehensive patent portfolio for digitall printed structures on boards. The structure is produced either via digitally printing a fluid onto a wet, wear layer and then partially vaporizing the fluid or selectively removing portions of the wear layer. Textures with a depth/height of 120 micron can now be achieved. Fast, single-pass, roll-to-roll and direct-to-board, high-quality and affordable digital printing technology is available, offering all of the typical advantages of other well-established digital printing technologies, such as easy sampling, short make-ready times and JIT manufacturing. The press, print heads, substrate, ink and primer should all be perfectly compatible; licensed IPR and trade secrets can dramatically shorten learning curves for early adopters. Mass digital decor production printing is now a reality — it’s time to embrace this digital era!