A new era for decor printing
Pfleiderer offers its customers a wide range of decors – many of which are available in lot sizes as small as one. These decors now include less common, extravagant decors, which would previously have been uneconomical to produce in small lots. The ongoing development of digital printing technology is what has made this variety and flexibility possible. The Palis 2250 decor printer from Schattdecor AG is an example of how the digital printing procedure has now become viable for industrial use. Pfleiderer can use this printing method to enact the various requests made by clients even more quickly and in an even more tailored way.
Previously, gravure printing was the only method used for producing the various decors. This method is only economical for purchase quantities of one tonne or more. “It is a very reliable and cost-effective printing procedure that is predominantly used for large and medium-sized lots. The processes have been developed and optimised over the decades. With our gravure printing presses, we achieve a very high level of reproducibility and we have extremely low complaint rates,” explains Marco Verhasselt, Key Account Manager at Schattdecor AG. His company offers a wide range of products in the area of gravure printing but it is now also a pioneer in the area of digital printing. After all, with the launch of the new digital printing plant, Palis 2250, Schattdecor is the first decor printer that is capable of producing digital prints with widths of up to 2250 mm in industrial lot sizes. The machine can print up to 20,000 m² per hour at a resolution of 1200 DPI. “Digital printing opens up new possibilities. This procedure frees us from the limitations that gravure printing imposes in terms of print repeat lengths and maximum total area coverage. In turn, this enables us to create completely new surfaces that are viable on an industrial scale We now offer over 200 digitally-printed designs – we call them Digital Visions,” says Marco Verhasselt.
The paper and ink used in the digital printing process is relatively expensive. Nevertheless, since this procedure is much simpler to set up than gravure printing, Pfleiderer can now also offer its clients exotic and unusual decors that are not part of the current collection. These decors are available in small purchase quantities – even as small as a lot size of one. Pfleiderer therefore has the flexibility to rapidly produce individual items. The decors in the current collection will still be produced using gravure printing. “This is simply because the process is quicker and more cost-effective for large quantities,” explains Christiane Gebert, Head of Development and Design at Pfleiderer.
“Here at Pfleiderer, we hope that in the future we can use a combination of digital printing and gravure printing. Our goal is to be able to switch between the two procedures without much effort. This would make it possible to break down the lifecycle of a decor,” says Christiane Gebert. In future, the digital printing process could potentially be used while a new decor is being introduced, as the initial quantities are usually less than one tonne. As time goes by, some of the new decors will become more established and more popular. At that point, a ten tonne batch of the product may be required from time to time. It would then be advantageous to switch to the gravure printing method. If new trends emerge after a few years, the circulation of the old decor may decline and we can go back to using digital printing. In this way, we can continue to support customers who are still interested in that decor,” says Christiane Gebert.
Schattdecor can already print numerous decors digitally. Numerous samples that have been colour tested and assembled in the laboratory are already being printed digitally at Schattdecor as well. The samples then enter the production process.. At Pfleiderer, switching smoothly between printing procedures is not yet possible across the board. At the moment, Christiane Gebert is only able to switch between procedures prior to the sampling of the decor because technical limitations mean that a 1:1 reproduction of the decors is not yet possible. “Special-effect pigments such as mother-of-pearl, gold, silver and opaque white are still particularly challenging, as are intensive, dark colours and large sections of plain colour. But we will overcome these obstacles,” Marco Verhasselt affirms. In the meantime, Pfleiderer will predominantly use the digital printing process for unique decors that enable the company to differentiate itself on the market.
As a designer, Christiane Gebert is particularly excited about the creative precision offered by the digital printing process. “From a design perspective, it is incredibly interesting,” she explains. “With the gravure process, you have to make lots of compromises but with digital printing, you can work with much more precision. You can define each individual drop of ink, which makes it possible to create more of a sense of depth.”
Although the digital printing process has many strengths, for the foreseeable future, gravure printing will continue to play an indispensable role in the decor printing sector. “Although the Palis 2250 is a significant step towards industrialising digital printing, I think that in the medium term, this technology will supplement gravure printing rather than replace it. Gravure printing is a mature technology that will retain its important role on the market in the future due to its high levels of reproductive precision,” explains Marco Verhasselt. Christiane Gebert, however, is keen to start using the innovative digital printing procedure alongside gravure printing. “Digital printing is an excellent supplementary service,” she says. “I very much hope that it won’t be long before we can switch seamlessly between digital printing and traditional gravure printing. On this issue, I am counting on the expertise of our decor printing partner.”