Not sure which wallpaper printing technology is the best option for you? This article provides an overview of the most popular methods the industry offers today, advantages and disadvantages included.
Conventional wallpaper printing
Conventional printing technologies for wallpaper include screen printing, flexographic printing and gravure printing, the latter being the dominant technology. Gravure or rotogravure printing revolutionized the wallpaper industry when it was first introduced back in the 1950s. Much less labor-intensive than screen printing, gravure wallpaper printing involves engraved steel rollers which are submerged in ink. After rotating onto a blade to remove all excess ink, the steel roller transfers what’s left of the ink in the engraved cells onto the substrate. While lauded for its beautiful effects, gravure printing also has its disadvantages. Gravure printing on textured substrates is challenging, for one, and only large batches make up for the cost of the custom-engraved steel rollers. Not unimportantly, gravure limits the creativity of wallpaper designers as the pattern must repeat every 64 cm.
Digital wallpaper printing
Much of the current wallpaper revival has to with digital wallpaper printing technology becoming more and more accessible, qualitative and cost-efficient in the last few years, as well as the Millennial consumer’s taste for customization and web-to-print ordering solutions. Unlike gravure, patterns don’t have to repeat and the wallpaper design can be sent straight through to the operator, no custom hardware needed. In other words, if you know you’re going to print plenty of short runs, digital is the way to go. All that’s left for you to do, then, is decide whether inkjet or electrophotographic printing is the best match for you.
Main ink types used in multipass systems for walldecoration are water-based, eco-solvent, latex and UV. The inkjet printing process essentially comes down to print heads ejecting droplets of ink of different colors directly onto the substrate to form the desired image. The two main inkjet technologies are continuous inkjet, which forms the image by deflecting selected drops from a continuous flow of ink, and drop-on-demand (DOD) inkjet, which produces ink drops as needed to construct the image. Depending on the technology used to eject the ink, DOD inkjet is further divided into thermal (e.g. latex printing) and piezoelectric systems (e.g. UV printing). DOD is currently the dominant digital technology for wallpaper and in most cases is built into multi-pass platforms such as large format printers.
One challenge inherent to DOD technology, however, is linked to the print heads. Made up of an array of nozzles, the print heads can get clogged or misfire, compromising print quality. Other challenges include ‘banding’ in multipass systems, which results in disturbing lines on the print.
Xeikon’s electrophotographic (EP) printers apply electrostatic charge and heat to dry toner and the substrate. As a result, the toner gets fused to the paper. This type of digital technology emits no VOCs and is unmatched in terms of quality and speed, printing up to 900 m² per hour. All Xeikon wall decoration suites also come with prepress software that allows for automated tiling – indispensable for easy photo wallpaper printing – and are all perfectly compatible with a web cleaning unit, web varnishing module and coreless wallpaper rewinder, allowing manufacturers to print and finish all in one go.