When I was still living in Chicago, I had the opportunity to see a large flatbed printer owned by Digital Imaging Resources, Inc. DIR was closely connected with Printmakers Chicago, a giclee printing company owned by John Cisco. Even though it appears to be two separate companies, in fact the two companies work together on some projects. They were and are both located at 650 W. Lake Street.
The giclee printing (Epson, mostly) is done by Printmakers Chicago, but when they want to print on rigid substrates, such as Duho panel, they use the Durst Rho owned by DIR.
The Durst Rho and other similar digital flatbed printers offer certain advantages one can't get from even the best giclee printers, including the ability to print on diverse flat and rigid substrates such as glass, metal and wood, and the ability to print with opaque white ink (which is particularly handy on glass). Typically, digital flatbed printers are used to produce POP (Point Of Purchase) displays, where the graphics are printed directly on rigid materials such as Gatorboard or Sintra, as opposed to having to mount the prints on such materials.
While the lion's share of the work done by companies offering digital flatbed printing is commercial in nature, it also has fine art applications, and it's being used in that way by artists such as Bonnie Lhotka.
The ability to print directly onto plate glass would be useful as a prelude to creating the etched or engraved pieces of plate glass needed for a fine art printmaking process known as vitreography. One could just print one's reference image on one side of the glass, and then hand engrave the glass using a tool such as the Turbo Carver.
One might also use a digital flatbed printer for making negatives to be used for a historic process known as cliche verre. That process was traditionally difficult, inasmuch as it involved a reverse process involving coating the glass with dark tallow and then selectively scratching it away (a bit like scratchboard), but the digital equivalent would be much faster and easier.
From my perspective, the option I would like to explore involves digitally printing images as "underpaintings" on panel board, and then enhancing the prints with real paints such as acrylic paint, if desired. (Of course, that isn't essential, since there are software programs, such as Alien Skin Snap Art 3 and Topaz Simplify, which can do a very good job of emulating the look of natural art media.) There are various ways of transferring digitally printed images to art panel, but some of those ways are a hassle or a mess, involving such things as heat or solvents or acrylic medium. How much easier to simply send one's digital files to a company like DIR and to specify the substrate on which the images should be printed.
To see a video showing the use of the Durst Rho, visit http://youtu.be/1jXVqk9WzAQ.
It should go without saying that the average home computer user lacks the funds with which to purchase one of these huge printers, to say nothing of lacking the space needed in order to install and use one. Therefore, for the foreseeable future, there will always be a need to work in partnership with a company such Digital Imaging Resources.
I know that all of the things mentioned in this blog post ought to be possible, and I look forward to exploring these options in the future in order to create high quality pieces of fine art.