Digital printing technology offers endless opportunities for custom designs, on a wide variety
of media.

We’ve known for some time that the digital age is here, but it’s interesting to see the many areas it encompasses — literally. Digital printing for surface technologies is now being used to a greater extent in the woodworking industry.

David Steranko, vice president for Anderson America Corp., doesn’t mince words when he describes the importance of the technology offered by the digital printer to woodworking applications. “In terms of applications, it will be bigger than CNC routers,” said Steranko.

“This technology offers a much bigger up side to users in things like value added. CNC routers were revolutionary, but their best value is in labor savings whereas [digital] technology offers value added and saves on material costs. This technology allows users to use lower value materials while giving a high-end look.”

Resolutions of 720 dpi are possible with today’s digital
printers. The technology can be used with water-based
finishes (shown) and also UV.

Endless Design Opportunities
Jeff O’Dell, WoodWork Automation, a CNC technology consultant, is familiar with digital printing and has been working with the CoJet system. “We have been developing some interesting applications,” said O’Dell. “Through a partnership with one of the major manufacturers of printing drums for the flooring industry, we can now print exotic ‘veneers’ on inexpensive substrates. The woodgrain patterns are printed with ink that is UV hardened.”

O’Dell said the printer allows manufacturers to develop high-end products from a wide array of materials. “The printer can take inexpensive material like MDF and transform it so it looks like a high-end bubinga veneer or an inlay. Custom graphics, such as logos or inlay patterns can be printed at the same time as the woodgrain patterns. You can quickly do applications that would normally take a lot of time and labor using the real veneer or inlay.”

Also seeing the growth and possibilities of digital printing is Panel Processing. A panel processor, the company offers Eco-Finish White, a water-based paint that is formulated for high definition direct-to-board digital printing. John Empfield, director of marketing for the company, said Panel Processing can apply the coating to hardboard, MDF and HDF, 1/8-inch and thicker. “The panels are then ready to print.”

Empfield said the bright white coating is specially formulated for digital printing and makes the colors really pop and lets the images stand out. Users include store fixture manufacturers, POP manufacturers, sign makers and niche markets.
“Restaurant interiors need to be changed frequently to keep the look refreshed and this offers users a cost effective way to get a high-end look without spending a lot of money,” added Steranko.

“It also can be used as an accent on wood furniture, teamed with real veneer. It is a little like tattooing for furniture,” he said. “You could put printed burl veneer on a piece and add actual burl as trim. You can print popular figures on children’s furniture. This is emerging technology so people are experimenting with applications.

“The benefits are that you can add design appeal on demand. I think it will be appealing and offer the most ‘upside’ for store fixture applications, where you need to do frequent, quick design changes to remain current with the fast-moving trends. I think it also will have appeal to furniture manufacturers who might want to jazz up a plain dresser, for example, by inserting a variety of printed drawer faces, such as a checkerboard pattern or something with color teamed with a woodgrain.”

Although the technology is relatively new in the United States, there have been applications in Asia. The National Park in southern Taiwan used ink-jet technology to produce a floor decoration at the new Guide Room. According to Shawn Teng, coordinator of new products for Anderson Taiwan, the printing was performed on PVC material, which was then connected into a seamless design. “After every floor puzzle has been covered on the floor [it is] then coated; the epoxy resin on it is about 3mm thick, preventing the direct contact of the ink.”

Exotic “veneers,” such as zebrawood, can be printed on
inexpensive substrates, giving added value to the product.

Machinery in the Marketplace
Companies which offer digital printing technology in the United States include Anderson America, which offers the CoJet Series, and Stiles Machinery, which distributes the Wemhoner MasterDigital line.

Using UV-curable inks, the large format CoJet printer is capable of printing up to 720 dpi graphics in color, white and translucent patterns. According to Anderson, vivid photographic images can be printed on MDF, wood, plastic, composites, acrylics, glass, aluminum, rock, foam board and tile materials. The machine was displayed at the 2009 AWFS-Vegas Fair and also at Ligna.

Also displayed at the 2009 Ligna, Wemhoner’s MasterDigital, a water-based, multi-pass system, is designed for both on-demand and batch production. It is also possible to use UV printing inks, and the controller can also be used for single-pass printers. Available in the United States from Stiles Machinery, the company says the MasterDigital printer offers capacities of 45 to 160 m² per hour, with resolutions of 600 to 720 dpi, with higher possible, although it reduces the capacity of the production line. The print heads work with variable dot sizes in four steps.

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