World Digitalization News

This is how UV inkjet printing has evolved so far with examples of custom sporting goods

Mika Orimo

Recently, there has been an increase in the number of services that enable original printing on various items, but we would like to introduce in detail how "printing" is performed and how it differs from conventional methods, using sports equipment as an example.

Have you ever heard of cricket, a sport that originated in England? It is not so familiar in Japan, but it is said to have the second largest number of players in the world, and is especially popular in India. The bat used in cricket, which is said to be a prototype of baseball, is made of wood and shaped like a large feather board. Increasingly, services are being offered to decorate the flat surface of these bats to create original team designs by utilizing inkjet printing technology.

Until now, printing on such tools has been done by silk screen printing, pad printing, or spray painting. However, these methods require special printing plates, so it is not possible for individuals to print what they want in small lots.... Because it costs money to make a plate, once a plate is made, it is not worth it to print many copies of the same item. However, it is now possible to print directly on plastic and wood with UV inkjet printers, and to produce full-scale stickers in very small lots of one or a few pieces. The principle is the same as that of home-use inkjet printers. As long as you have the data, you can easily print various illustrations and letters in the required quantity without making plates.

Padel, a racket game similar to a combination of tennis and squash, is also a new sport that is gradually gaining popularity in Europe and the United States. The racket used in paddle is not gutted like a tennis racket, but rather a board with holes in it, and a service that uses UV inkjet printers to print illustrations, letters, brand logos, etc. directly on the board is also attracting attention.

However, it is not just a matter of printing. Some of you may have experienced misalignment when printing greeting cards using a printer at home. In order to print directly without misalignment, you need a tool to hold the racket in place. This is called a "jig," and it plays an important role in improving printing accuracy and efficiency.

In addition to cricket and padel, inkjet printing can be done on a variety of other sporting goods as long as you have a jig. For example, table tennis, in other words ping-pong, have become a popular sport in Japan thanks to the success of some star players over the past few years. The rackets are covered with rubber, and inkjet printing can be applied to the rubber surface as well. Rubber is considered unsuitable for printing because it is easy to peel off due to the low adhesion of ink. Primer treatment is necessary to improve ink adhesion, but this inevitably results in a poor surface texture. However, the selection of appropriate inks and equipment has solved these problems, and the number of materials that can be printed on with UV inkjet printers is increasing rapidly.

(Image courtesy of Wizard)

So, can UV inkjet printers print on anything? As the name suggests, inkjet printers print by ink. Inkjet printers, as the name implies, print by jetting ink, so if the printed surface is bumpy or curved, the ink will not reach the surface evenly, making it difficult to print.

However, by devising jigs, these problems are beginning to be solved. Baseball is one of the most popular sports in Japan, and it is probably still fresh in your mind that the whole country was excited by the WBC championship 2023 series. The baseball bats used in baseball are thin and cylindrical. Conventionally, UV inkjet printers were not very good at printing this kind of objects. However, a completely new concept of printing while slowly rotating a jig with a rotating axis has made printing possible.

Direct UV printing is also possible on spherical surfaces to a certain extent, thanks to an ingenious device that ejects ink from the inkjet nozzles with a high degree of momentum.

UV inkjet printers are evolving rapidly. Perhaps it will be possible to print on things that are considered "unbelievable” to do original printing. It may become commonplace to create your own special design on your favorite tools.... What kind of things would you like to print on? Just thinking about it, your dreams are likely to expand.

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