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Where are we going to?

Where are we going to?

In its new report Novel Applications for Printing Technologies, PIra takes an in-depth look at novel printing methods and potential markets over the next 15 years. Here, the report's author, Sean Smyth, looks at future possibilities for wide-format inkjet printing.

The majority of inkjet wide-format printing uses standard graphics quality inks, which together have grown market opportunities for the likes of building wraps, exhibition graphics, retail displays, vehicle graphics and many more niche products. But inkjet has a far larger world of possibilities, especially once the ink-sets are swapped out. But more of that in a moment. First, let's start with the more immediate novel applications afforded by wide-format inkjet printing - such as lenticular printing, where there looks to be the greatest opportunity if you want to differentiate yourself.

Lenticular 3D printing and simple animation are not particularly new but are growing in conjunction with large-format offset and wide-format inkjet. For the lenticular novices among you, the process works by printing or laminating interlaced images in precise register with a lenticular lens that allows a viewer to see different images depending on the viewing angle.

The lenticular plastic sheet has one smooth side that is printed, and another side made of lenticules, which provide the visual effects. Each lenticule acts as a magnifying glass to enlarge and display the portion of the image below it, depending on the viewing angle. There are different lens designs where thickness and viewing angle differ; a narrow angle will give an optimal 3D effect and a wide angle will work best for an animation effect. Lenticules for animation effects may run vertically or horizontally. When the printed item moves and the viewer remains stationary, lenticules in the horizontal direction give cleaner action and far lower likelihood of ghosting. When the viewer moves and the printed item remains stationary, such as posters and POS displays, lenticules in the vertical direction are better.

There are various techniques that allow you to offer a novel application. Lenticular card printing effects can be used separately or in combination with flip, 3D and simple motion animation. Zooming, where images appear to leap out at the viewer, is produced by combining many sizes of the same image. The appearance of motion is created by having a constant background image and printing a foreground object in different positions.

Another common technique is the morph, where two or more images seamlessly transform into each other. HumanEyes Technologies offers lensless systems that allow printers and designers to produce 3D effects directly onto non-lenticular materials, such as glass or acrylic (Plexiglas). The HumanEyes 3D technology uses mathematical algorithms to create unique projections and reconstruct multiple viewpoints which create the effect of viewing a scene from different directions. The technology is suitable for creating 3D images for print and for presentation on displays and monitors and it's worth noting that patented 3D depth effects are gaining popularity.

In terms of more novel applications for wide-format inkjet, the technology's ability to print on interesting materials is opening up possibilities in many diverse fields - including electronics and bio-medical applications.

DaiNippon Printing is one of the world's largest print operations and in addition to traditional ink-on-paper products it produces decorative materials such as flooring and laminate surfaces - and printed electronics. It makes display screens and claims to be the first company in the world to succeed at mass producing colour filters using inkjet, investing some ?175 million in a plant using inkjet to manufacture LCDs for Sharp that will go on-line in 2009.
There are many other developments regarding the use of inkjet in electronics, and there is much research being conducted into nano-inks and conductive fluids to produce the next generations of low-cost, often flexible, electronic devices in memory, circuitry, displays and photovoltaics.

The ability of inkjet to deposit small quantities of many types of fluids means the spread of the technology is broadening into bio-medical fields. The first applications becoming commercialised are bio-sensors and there is work on drug delivery and even "printing" artificial tissues for non-invasive testing of new drugs and even potential organ regeneration to help trauma victims and genetic malformations.  
The possibilities for inkjet seem to be only limited by the imagination of developers.
For more details on Novel Applications for Printing Technologies visit www.pira-international.com/businessintelligence

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