What is UV Printing?

wall decal

April 02, 2021 (Last updated)

6 min read

UV printing is a distinctive form of digital printing that involves the use of ultraviolet (UV) light to cure or dry UV ink almost as soon as it is applied to a prepared substrate. The UV printing process is unique. The substrate can include paper as well as any other material that the printer can accept. This can be foam board, aluminum, or acrylic. As the UV ink is distributed onto the substrate, specialized ultraviolet lights within the printer are immediately applied to the material over the top of the ink, drying it and adhering it to the substrate. 

The UV printing process was originally developed to be used with gel nail polishes. After the gel polish is applied, a UV light is used to cure the polish onto the surface of the nails. The result is a quick-drying, long-lasting and flawless manicure. Eventually however, the benefits of ultraviolet light applications expanded and they began being used in commercial and industrial markets. This forms the foundation of UV printing services and the associated printing industry. It is now used to create everything including flyers, leaflets, signs, screen printing and even bottle labels as just a few examples. The process of UV printing is similar to that of traditional printing. However, the inks used and the drying and curing processes differ. This is in addition to the distinct nature of the printing technology itself.

With traditional printing, solvent inks are applied to a substrate and heat is used to cure the ink. Solvent-based inks can evaporate, spread out onto the surface of the substrate before they are dried, and release volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The heat that is used to cure the solvent ink to the substrate produces an unpleasant odor. Additionally, spray powders are used to prevent the offsetting and drying of ink and the process as a whole can take a number of days. Furthermore, the solvent inks are absorbed into the substrate which can result in faded colors. Traditional printing is generally limited to paper and similar materials due to the nature of the printing press. It cannot be used on other materials such as metal, plastic, glass, or acrylic. 

With UV printing, specialized UV inks are used. Instead of heat, high-intensity LED ultraviolet lights are used to cure the ink onto the medium that it is printed on. The ultraviolet light follows closely behind the ink as it is distributed onto the substrate and as a result, the ink dries immediately no matter what material (or materials) are used. Since the ink dries almost immediately, it does not evaporate and as such, it cannot spread out onto the material that it is printed on. Additionally, no VOCs, ozone, or toxic fumes are released into the air. For companies that prize sustainability in their printing processes, this feature will be of particular interest. In addition to the quick-drying capabilities and the eco-friendliness of UV printing, this type of ultraviolet printing method and the associated form of ink transfer can also be used with a variety of materials, including paper, plastic, foil, acrylic, foam etc. 


Benefits of UV printing

uv printed accessories

UV printing offers a whole host of benefits over traditional printing. The most notable benefits include: 

  • Increased efficiency.

  • Time saving.

  • Faster output.

  • Improved turn-around time due to how the UV printer cures the ink.

  • Increased durability: the UV cured ink is much more resistant to damage such as scuffs and marks.

  • Increased vibrancy: the colors of the UV cured inks are much sharper than the colors that are printed using traditional printing methods.

  • Instantaneous drying thanks to the UV lights. No waiting for hours on end for the ink to dry or cure. 

  • More consistent, higher quality results thanks to the UV coating and UV inks.

  • Eco-friendliness as the UV inks and UV curing process itself together release virtually no VOCs.

  • Increased flexibility, as UV printers can print on virtually any material thanks to the UV lights.  

With so many benefits, it is easy to see why UV LED printing has become so popular and why UV printers are so widely used in the commercial and industrial markets. 


What can you do with a UV printer?

So, what exactly can you do with a UV printer? What types of product can you make? Virtually anything you can think of! The following are just a few examples of the customized items that can be made with the help of a UV printer. This is popular with many different types of business for use in their merchandise. 

  • Apparel, such as T-shirts, sweatshirts, jackets etc.

  • Handbags, purses, backpacks, briefcases, wallets etc. 

  • Glassware, mugs, cups, water bottles and thermos flasks.

  • Linens such as pillowcases, sheets, blankets and quilts.

  • Holiday decorations including Christmas ornaments, custom Easter plastic or glass Easter eggs, Halloween treat buckets etc.

  • Custom writing utensils such as pens, pencils, crayons and markers.

  • Cellphone, laptop and tablet cases.

  • Custom computer mice and mouse pads.

  • Notebooks, journals, diaries, book covers and bookmarks. 

  • Candles, candle holders and lanterns.

  • Switch plate and outlet covers, lamp shades, night lights etc. 

  • Keychains, keys and lanyards.

  • Beer bottles, wine bottles and bottle openers.

  • Flags, welcome mats, banners etc. 

These are just a few examples of the items that a UV printer can be used to make. Essentially, if you can imagine it, you can make it with a UV printer. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are flatbed printers so expensive?

There is one downside to UV printing and that is the cost. The price tag of a flatbed UV printer can be quite high, but why? There are several reasons. The LED lights that are used to emit the UV spectrum that cures the ink are quite expensive to produce. Additionally, the specialized inks that are applied to the substrates as part of the printing are costly to produce, as are the numerous advanced technologies that the printers contain. UV printers are worth their weight in gold, so to speak. Given all of the benefits that a UV printer provides however, the high cost is understandable. For those who intend on using this type of printer for business-related purposes, the investment is worthwhile and the accessibility of the menu means that you don't need to be an expert to get started with ultraviolet printing. 

How can I get something UV printed?

If you don't have access to expensive UV printers, you can check your local digital printing company if they offer any UV printing services. However, not all digital printing companies have a UV printer. If they only offer paper printing or banner printing then they probably only own large format printers. But if they offer a signage, or any of the use cases mentioned above, then they most likely own a UV printer.

How long does UV printing last?

UV printing can last for at least 2 years without experiencing any fading.