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Tech Watch: CDigital’s Digital Heat Transfers

Plastics Decorating

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CDigital, Baltimore, Maryland, specializes in digital heat transfers which are ideal for quick production runs of large and small orders on products made from different materials (e.g., plastic, metal and glass) in various shapes and sizes and in a wide assortment of colors.

Digital heat transfers from CDigital, Baltimore, Maryland, provide businesses the opportunity to apply digitally printed labels on products made from different materials (e.g., plastic, metal and glass). The digital heat transfer process allows for quick production runs of large and small orders on products in various shapes and sizes and in a wide assortment of colors.

The manufacturing process for CDigital's digital heat transfers, as explained by Director of Sales and Marketing Eric Steinwachs, requires “the customer-supplied image to be pre-pressed for orientation and spacing on the web while eye-marks are added for registration purposes in production.” Following this step, the image is sent by a computer to the print engine and then the printed transfer film is flood coated with a substrate-specific adhesive. He continued, “If required, the roll is processed one more time to be slit down into rolls of the correct width.”

The best applications for digital heat transfers are “multi-colored, short-run, quick-turn projects,” Steinwachs acknowledged. However, there are times when a more traditionally printed transfer makes more sense than digital. Taking several factors into consideration – everything from the shape, size and surface of the print area to the total number of parts that need to be printed – will help determine what type of heat transfer or other printing process should be utilized. Some other points to bear in mind include the type of base material to be printed, the end use of the product, the tests required of the printed image to pass quality, the type of printing environment and the desired cycle rate.

Much like any process, digitally printed heat transfers have limitations: Projects requiring a metallic finish, such as gold or silver foil, would not be a good fit for digital printing. Additionally, if the area to be printed has a heavy texture or is hard to reach, or if the materials are soft touch or flexible, other options may be more suitable than digital heat transfers.

Utilizing digital heat transfers offers advantages over more traditionally manufactured heat transfers. For instance, there are no setup charges because the images are sent electronically to the print engine. “This eliminates the need for screens, plates, cylinders or color matching charges,” Steinwachs clarified. The fast turnaround time allows for quick samples, short lead times, lower inventory requirements and better response to customer requirements. “In most cases, digital heat transfers are shipped two days after receiving the artwork,” he continued. Furthermore, digitally printed heat transfers are an ideal short-run solution because they eliminate the need for ancillary print items. Customers have the ability to order several SKUs or different designs for the same product without making changes to the printing process: Images also can be provided in a requested order so the artwork changes in midstream without interfering with production.

Digital heat transfers also offer variable data or personalization. “Since the image is sent to the print engine every time an image is printed, it allows the image to be unique or personalized. The variable data can be used for barcoding, serialization, lot codes or security numbering.”

A pad transfer machine has been developed to apply the digital heat transfers. Typically, pad transfer equipment applies low-pressure heat transfers, which require a fraction of the force while applying the same size image. “This opened the door for a hybrid machine using pad printing pads and a heated platen,” Steinwachs said. This machine, in combination with digital heat transfers, features several of the same benefits provided by both pad printing and heat transfer. “You get the flexibility of the pad conforming to various shaped parts while applying a pre-printed multicolor image in one pass. This eliminates the need for custom countered dies and molds for various shaped parts. The flexible pad will also make up for greater part variation while still applying perfect images,” he added.

Technical details

CDigital uses a Xeikon 3500 press to print the digital heat transfers. The machine is capable of printing up to 1200dpi. To produce the image, the printer uses a toner-based 4-color CMYK process plus white (cyan, magenta, yellow, black and white).

Artwork is required to create the image. The preferred file types include AI, EPS or PDF, as well as TIFF or PSD files. Additional information is required: the type of material to which the heat transfer will be applied and type of equipment used to apply the heat transfer. For new projects, testing before producing production quantities is recommended.

While as few as one image can be printed, the typical run size ranges between 1,000 to 25,000, and even up to 1 million pieces.