Digicor is a patent and technology package that offers an alternative solution that makes the switch to digital printing in a production environment feasible and affordable.
Up to now, decor paper for the laminate market has been printed on large, highly productive gravure presses. Their costly set up, low overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) & high production speeds mean that gravure printing is only profitable when printing large volumes of the same design and colorway.
Short run-lengths, reduced time to market, stock & waste reduction, and design variations are just some of the advantages delivered by digital printing with Digicor.
Our partner in research and development is AGFA, the Belgian inkjet ink manufacturer, known for both its UV and water based inks.
Conventional laminate production process
1. Decor paper mills
Internationally well-known companies manufacture tons of printed base paper used for flooring and furniture production.
2. Gravure printing companies
Decor and wood designs are traditionally printed using mixed spot-color, water-based inks on high speed, wide-format gravure printing lines. It takes several weeks from design until printing. Gravure cylinders have to be designed, ordered and manufactured in-house or by specialized companies. Besides that, setting up gravure press, mounting and dismounting the cylinders, achieving the exact color match, etc. take time and resources.
Costly set-up, low OEE (overal equipment effectiveness) and high production speed mean that gravure printing is only profitable when printing large volumes of the same design and colorway.
The printed decor paper is shipped to the impregnator or manufacturer where the paper is impregnated with melamine on an impregnation line and then dried.
After drying, the now brittle and fragile cured paper is cut into sheets or rewound. This printed layer is laminated together with other layers under heat and pressure, forming laminate or furniture panels.
In a last step these panels are cut into planks, click profiles are machined when required and the final click flooring or furniture components are prepared for transport.
Key digital laminate production elements
So far, digital techniques have not been adopted for decorative paper printing, mainly because of their high cost and low speed.
However, during the last 5-10 years, Unilin has worked with partners to develop a high quality solution for digital printing, with an affordable cost per kg of paper.
The combination of the right equipment, ink, substrate & primer, together with our know-how and intellectual property is key in this project.
INK - The crucial decision maker when going digital
Another very important element when moving into digital printing is selecting the ink and consequently the ink supplier. Unilin Technologies worked from day one with AGFA who is specialized in developing and finetuning an ink towards a specific market.
Developing a specific ink for printing on decor paper for laminate production requires:
- Perfect image quality and a large color gamut, because of the selection of the exact ink- wetting and -color strenght
- Reliable and stable printing quality resulting in a perfect ink - head and ink - press match
- An ink formula tuned to fit the current impregnation and lamination process
Water-based inks comprise a pigment dispersion, because the pigment cannot be dissolved in the water-based ink carrier, the dispersion is obtained by a milling step. Next to water, the ink carrier comprises organic co-solvents which regulate ink jetting, ink wetting and speed of drying.
The selection of the pigments is defined by the laminate application, especially the following requirements:
- Reproduction of the wood colors
- Obtaining low metamerism (see later)
- High level of color constancy
- Good light fastness (see later)
The laminate market ink of AGFA consist out of an ink set comprising Cyan, Red, Yellow and Black inks.
Huge design freedom when printing digitally
1. Sharpness & quality: accurate register and high resolution
2. Contrast & color-range: accentuating details on specific spots without influencing core parts of the decor and design adjustments that can be immediately evaluated in rapidly printed results.
3. Repetition & formats: decors with virtually no repetition and even more color play within incorporated lamellas. Board and panel formats are virtually unlimited; long planks are possible.
For us it is clear that digital printing will color our future and will probably evolve towards a leading production process because it offers significant design advantages & freedom compared with the traditional workflow. In our quest towards the best looking decors, textures and true-to-nature appearance, we are now able to offer major benefits including: