Business Advice

Getting started with haptics: swissQprint

by FESPA Staff | 28/05/2024
Getting started with haptics: swissQprint

Carmen Eicher, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer, swissQprint and Claudio Müller, Application Engineer, discuss the business of building haptics.

Explaining the process of haptic (or tactile) printing

In haptics printing we put down multiple layers of ink to build up height and texture. It looks very similar to a topographic map, building up mountains and valleys using ink. We can achieve a certain height with each layer: we can go up to 0.5mm per layer. This height varies depending on the application and the desired fineness in the steps and is freely adjustable by the operator. The lower areas, or valleys, will be filled up by the first ink layers, and the final few layers will only be covering the tips of the mountains. Then everything is covered with a white layer and finally the image file is printed on top of that. This method will provide substantially high resolutions and will offer a high quality and premium look.   

We develop curing and quality settings (like density and number of passes) for each setting for each layer and for the end-product so all the layers connect to each other and to the substrate.

Multiple layers and time in production

The feedback we have received from our customers is that we are very quick regarding our production time. With past equipment, the printer would be preoccupied executing one job that could take several hours. Our machines are significantly faster. Of course, the time for each job is dependent on what you would like to achieve in terms of size and haptic effect: the more ink you want to lay down the longer the production time will take. A very small haptic is quick to produce. However, for example, it would take a longer time for artists who want to reproduce their original artwork, and want to mirror the same height in the haptic print. For example, to create seven A3 reproductions of pieces of art would take around 25 minutes.

Tactile foliage printed by swissQprint technology

Head distance

On our multipass printers, one layer needs to be finished and then it will come back and start producing the next layer. It builds up one layer after the next, much like a 3D printer. To contend with the increasing height of the ink, we also introduced a software element called auto incremental head distance. When you print with a UV printer, to assure quality, it is important to keep close and even distance to each layer. The software adjusts the distance between the print heads and the substrate automatically as we build up the texture.

The benefits of haptics

Haptics adds height, tactility and texture to products and provides a better experience to customers above and beyond a flat image. For example, you can help the visually impaired by printing Braille, or you can add all kinds of special effects. On top of building up layers of ink, you can add varnish. For example, on packaging, you could add something like water sprinkles and draw attention to them by making them stand out and become more appealing both to the eyes and to the sense of touch. Other special effects include rubber, leather, sand, textile or wood effects. In the end, for our customers it is a way to add value to a product.

Braille printed using swissQprint haptics

Signage to fine art

We would recommend that as soon as you want to reproduce something existing, use a 3D scanner. These scan every inch of a painting, or wood floor or concrete structure with different light angles to build up a textural profile that you can reproduce. But if, for example, you wanted to create wayfinding signage with some simple text and add some texture, you can achieve that without the cost of another machine and simply use Photoshop or Illustrator.

All our swissQprint flatbed and roll to roll printers machines offer haptic functionality, so even if someone decides to buy a printer now and does not need it, if their business changes or customers start to request haptics, they can still use their existing printer.

Client applications

The creativity that our clients are showing is always growing. We asked them to send in the most creative work they had ever done as part of the swissQprint Creative Challenge: there were so many successful projects with a tactile effect. These went from packaging with varnish embellishments to wayfinding signs with Braille.

We are also seeing more and more digital art with haptic finishes: furnishings and interior decor surfaces, or for example menus that are printed on what looks and feels like wood to match the design of the shop.Printed tactile wood effect

There has also been an increase in customers producing fine art reproductions. Only few people can afford the real art in the market, but with tactile printing you can sell a picture very similar to the original. Now a wider range of individuals can afford to buy textured art by great artists. The Louvre would never release the Mona Lisa to allow us to scan it, but in principle you could build up a topographic map of the painting to reproduce. But the possibility to produce textures prints gives more  artists the chance to sell more and make art accessible to more people.

The only limit on creativity is the height of the haptic printing – currently the limit is approximately 5mm and the size of the printer, our biggest is 3.2m x 2m. The creativity of our client is never limited, although it is important for them to have a creative pre-press team who can make ideas become a reality. Who knows what the next few years have in store in terms of applications... but we expect great creative leaps forward in the near future.
 

by FESPA Staff Back to News

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