3D “Printers” For Signage
Reality Check for Clearing up Misunderstood Product Names
Increasingly trade shows have been featuring “3D printers.” But 90% of the equipment that are mentioned are not printers whatsoever, they are rapid prototypers. Since my Hellmuth family background is architecture, I have worked with actual 3D printers (which are used to make architectural models). Some use piezo printheads; other brands use thermal printheads (HP or Canon). But all the others use stereolithography of various kinds to create additive manufactured objects.
Drupa 2016 press releases kept repeating that they were going to change their focus and move to innovative technology (a great vague and smoke and mirrors concept). Drupa PR releases kept mentioning 3D printers, but it was unclear whether they really understood what is a printer and what is a manufacturing device or a prototyper?
So if even the major trade show organizers misunderstand what we would like to show what is really 3D printing and what is really 3D signage or graphic display (and 3D printers are not in this list; they are too small and best for producing cute models or comic characters at tiny size). Sorry, you can’t make a billboard with a 3D printer and for a mall or airport you would need a fortune to have enough 3D models to catch someone’s eye).
So let’s look at true, realistic 3D signage: vacuum heat-formed is one. Thermo-formed is the usually jargon word. At expos around the world occasionally the booth of (Canon) Oce has examples, especially at Sign Africa in Johannesburg (now FESPA Africa). Fujifilm occasionally has examples in their booth. But consistently you can see more in the booth of EFI VUTEk, which would be the nice SAGA booth here at SGI 2015.
Most UV-flatbed printers can handle this application, but you need a special ink which can be stretched without the design disappearing. 3M and an ink company in South Africa are the best known sources of such an ink. You also need a vacuum-forming heating machine, and a mold over which you press the flat plastic-like material.
Since the experienced Medhi Berrada Baby, Massoud Saad, and Abdallah Ghalayini and their capable team members at the SAGA booth can answer your questions directly, and since Fujifilm and Canon Oce all have booths, you can also ask them directly. I would estimate that Dilli and comparable brands can also produce 3D signage with vacuum thermo-formed workflow.
I look forward to doing a future article for ME Printer magazine on step-by-step how to create 3D signage from vacuum heat-formed ink and work flow, but since you are at SGI today and reading this article, I wanted to mention in which booths you can find real 3D signage potential, since you won’t find it in a 3D printer!