Dedicated Flatbeds vs. Combination Printers

Fact 1: Flatbeds Are Not Combination Printers

Combination printers are roll-to-roll printers designed to enable a feed table to be used to handle rigid stocks.The quoted print speed on combination printers typically refers to printing onto roll stock only, since material feed systems on combination printers typically handle roll stock more effectively than rigid material. The speed at which combination printers produce rigid material in register, and at an acceptable quality, is therefore often much lower than their quoted print speeds.

Fact 2: Market Prices Vary Widely

The market price for graphics printed onto banners and other roll stock is typically 50% to 70% less than graphics printed onto rigid materials. This price disparity is due to the numerous methods by which a banner can be produced, and an increased level of competition for this type of work which in turn depresses the market price. Conversely, printing directly onto rigid materials, such as polystyrene and foam core, is limited to either screen printers or owners of digital flatbed equipment. Limited production methods for rigid materials, and less price competition, will result in higher and more sustainable market prices.

Fact 3: Combination Printers Feed Systems Compromise Versatility

Combination printers typically are not capable of printing multiple sheets in one print cycle/run. This is due to the fact that feed systems on combination printers are designed to handle one sheet at a time. Attempts have been made to incorporate templates or “jigs” to allow for multiple sheets to be fed through the printer. This type of system is cumbersome and greatly increases the handling time for loading the material. A dedicated flatbed printer easily enables multiple separate sheets to be printed in register due to the vacuum table. This method keeps loading times at a minimum.

Fact 4: Flexibility vs. Cost of Output

The main selling point for combination printers is their flexibility in handling rigid and roll materials. The reality is that the cost of output on combination printers is significantly higher than a solvent roll printer due to the capital investment required, the higher effective printer print speed of dedicated roll printers, and the increased operating costs for combination printers. Higher cost of production and competitive selling prices results in a very low net margin for roll materials produced on combination printers. This is especially true when run lengths increase.

Fact 5: Challenges Due to Combination Printer Design

Combination printers, due to the nature of their design and feed systems, have difficulty handling thin gauge materials as they tend to buckle or slide when feeding through the printer. This results in loss of print quality due to banding and registration. These printers struggle to be used in combination with conventional print equipment such as screen or offset presses. Challenges also exist for combination printers in holding print registration. This is especially true on double-sided prints, or prints that require production in both reflective and back-lit mode.

Demonstration Proof Point: Flatbed vs. Combination Printers
Before you make an investment in a dedicated flatbed press or combination printer, compare and evaluate the following during an actual print demonstration:

  • Print rigid materials of varying thicknesses
  • Time the loading and unloading of rigid materials
  • Observe how well they print in register
  • Count the steps necessary to acheive register
  • Quantify the change-over procedure between rigid stock of varying dimensions
  • Print multiple images and observe how well the printer maintains register over a long print run


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