HP enters rigid printing market with new latex printing technology

HP’s new latex ink promises to overcome the limitations of the technology that has dominated the rigid printing wide-format market, and allow white ink to make a return to popularity.

Today, with the Latex R Series, HP is announcing an innovation in printing technology, a new type of latex ink for rigid printing that will allow HP to enter this market, and which will transcend the limitations that have existed with the UV technology that has been the standard in rigid printing for the signage and decoration markets. This announcement was just about the technology. Actual product announcement will follow in mid-May at the FESPA wide-format printing event.

“This is a completely new generation of latex inks that has been designed to print on rigid surfaces, and which will be very revolutionary,” said Joan Perez Pericot, General Manager, HP Large Format Graphics Business, at HP Inc.

The signage and decoration market has different solutions for flexible and rigid surface printing, and until now, HP’s latex printing technology has only been effective in the flexible printing market.

“For the first time, we will address rigid applications with the new HP Latex technology,” Perez Pericot said.

Perez Pericot said that UV technology has been the default standard in rigid printing for many years, and that there are good reasons for this: it can print on many different materials; the ink sticks well; and it is a known, trusted technology which has been in the market for many years.

“Customers do face challenges, however, when printing on UV,” he said. “The most common complaint is the smell of the inks. You usually have to wait for the smell to get out before delivery, or the customers complain. You can have gloss banding due to ways the inks are cured.” Other issues are peeling off, chipping cracking and silvering. Colours can be dull, and hard to match with technologies with a higher gamut.

“This is what we want to change with Latex Rigid,” Perez Pericot said.

The HP Latex R Series technology has a single, six-color ink set, for printing on a wide range of rigid materials, including foamboards, foam PVC, cardboard, fluted polypropylene, solid plastics, aluminum, wood and glass.

“This new technology allows us to bring latex from the flexible side, where it has been very successful, and have the same high quality that we do in flexible in rigid,” Perez Pericot said. “We will have vibrant colours, and the big thing, the biggest thing, is that we are preserving the touch and look and feel of the  material.”

Because latex is water-based, it is eco-friendly, and produces odourless prints, making it suitable for very strict enviroments like hospitals  restaurants and schools.

“A second big innovation is that we are introducing a new white latex ink.” Perez Pericot said. “This is something that customers have been looking for, but the way the UV technology works today, with solvent inks, it’s a problem. This will turn white ink into a growth opportunity. Our white ink is true white, very glossy, and most important, stays white over time. White in UV eventually yellows.”

White ink has been difficult to work with because it has used bigger and heavier pigment particles. They frequently clog printheads, or the mixture separates and the heavier parts settle to the bottom of the ink reservoir, requiring the decidedly low-tech solution of physically shaking the reservoirs.

“While white ink has traditionally been a very difficult ink to manage , we have invested a lot of effort in engineering here,” Perez Pericot said. “We also have removable printheads if the customer isn’t using the white ink, so there is zero waste. Thus, we have, for the first time, a solution that makes it easy to use the white, and make it a no waste solution when you use the white. We believe this is a big thing. Customers who used white ink in analog stopped using it in digital. We believe this new solution will  make white popular again.”

At this stage HP is not announcing any product. They say that will happen at the May FESPA event in Berlin. In the absence of product, HP was also unable to provide any information about pricing. Actual product is scheduled to be available in calendar Q3.