By Lisa Guerriero
Manufacturers are responding to a growing demand for direct digital printing on rigid substrates. Digital Output classifies rigid products into five main categories—foamboard, plastic, paper-based, aluminum composite material (ACM), and aluminum. Print service providers (PSPs) consider weight, durability, and even eco-friendliness when choosing the correct media for an application. The final print’s environment and lifespan determines substrate choice.
Here, we profile PSPs that regularly use one of the five rigid substrates outlined above.
IntegraColor was founded about 60 years ago under the name Horticultural Printers. For much of its history, the company focused on the horticultural market. Its tags can still be found today in the plants at Lowe’s Home Improvement—but much has changed, too. The company now provides a variety of printing, finishing, and fulfillment services, and works with clients around the U.S. Based in Mesquite, TX, IntegraColor employs about 280 people.
Nearly 15 years ago, IntegraColor started in wide format digital printing to expand its business and meet the needs of its clients. “It’s our largest growing segment,” notes Mike Runyon, director of procurement, IntegraColor.
It frequently uses InSite Reveal foamboard from the Gilman Brothers Company. A paper-faced foamboard, InSite Reveal is clay coated to ensure ink adhesion and color brilliancy. The material is light but not too fragile, so it’s suitable for an array of indoor jobs. Runyon observes that the foamboard has “endless uses.” Applications include point of purchase (POP) and other temporary and semi-permanent retail signage. For example, IntegraColor recently used InSite Reveal to create printed messaging on snowflakes later hung in a store.
IntegraColor relies on a Durst Image Technology US LLC Rho 1000 with UV inks for printing on InSite Reveal foamboard. It averages between 3,000 and 5,000 sheets of InSite Reveal each month, but that number varies depending on what jobs the company is handling at any given time.
Runyon says InSite Reveal, in particular, is a high-quality, high-performance foamboard product. It’s sturdy and easy to work with. It can be used for screen printing and more, he notes. Runyon also appreciates the little touches from Gilman Brothers. The sheets arrive free of debris and neatly packaged, so IntegraColor doesn’t waste the labor cleaning them prior to printing.
Established in 2003, Conestoga dpi LLC provides large format digital flatbed printing, roll-to-roll printing, and finishing services for the commercial market. In 2008, the company came under its current ownership. Based in Manheim, PA, Conestoga works nationwide, although most of their jobs originate in the mid-Atlantic region.
Shawn O’Neal, co-owner, Conestoga, says it purchased its first UV flatbed printer in mid 2005. “We were providing wholesale sheet-fed digital output to clients and they started requesting larger output so we moved to meet their needs, adding wide format services. Initially, output was primarily paper posters and laminated trade show graphics,” he recalls.
Conestoga then branched out from posters and trade show graphics. The company is a frequent customer of the Palight portfolio from Palram Americas. O’Neal describes Palight as a good all-around material. “We direct print to it for interior signs and POP used by retailers and consumer goods marketers and brand managers,” he explains.
Conestoga—which consists of three regular employees plus temporary workers during peak periods—prints on the three-, six-, and 12-millimeter 4×8-foot sheets of Palight. It uses about 30 to 50 sheets a month, printing on an Océ Arizona 460 GT UV flatbed from Canon Solutions America (CSA).
PVC tends to be light, which cuts down on shipping costs. “Since most of our output is for retail POP graphics, long-term outdoor durability isn’t a concern but shipping weight is,” says O’Neal. However, he observes a range in durability in various PVC products, and notes that Palight is less likely to crack and seems stronger. O’Neal also notes that Palight is slightly denser than some other foamed PVC products, which he considers a plus. “It routs and knife cuts very cleanly and appears denser than some other foam PVC products, resulting in a nicer finish,” he explains.
Another advantage is that Palram ships the material well packed and clean, so it’s ready for printing. There’s one final factor in Conestoga opting for Palight, location. The two companies are relatively close to each other geographically, and Conestoga prefers to buy local. Moreover, though PVC-based materials aren’t generally considered very earth friendly, “buying locally reduces transportation pollution and Palram has a record of manufacturing that focuses on a low impact to the environment,” he shares.
Color Ink: Paper-Based
From its headquarters in WI, Color Ink, Inc. supplies in-store visual graphics for several large retail stores in the U.S. and Canada. “About 60 percent of our business is retail marketing, the balance is consumer packaging, direct mail, and commercial printing,” says Todd Meissner, president, Color Ink. He adds that in addition to wide format, Color Ink, established in 1984, offers small format digital printing, sheet-fed lithography, and creative services.
The PSP added wide format digital printing in 2009 due to demand from its clients. “They expressed an interest in awarding projects to a single source who could combine lithographic components and wide format digital pieces into the same kit. Up to that point, we could only bid on litho projects or we had to outsource the printing of the wide format components,” explains Meissner.
Falconboard Print, by Hexacomb Corporation, is an important substrate at Color Ink. The company, which employs about one hundred full-time employees, developed its own consumer product line. Called FunDeco, the portfolio includes craft items, toys, games, portable furniture, and home décor. “Many of the items are manufactured utilizing half-inch thick, all-white Falconboard Print,” notes Meissner.
He adds that Falconboard Print, and other Falconboard variations, are ideal for many applications because the material is durable, lightweight, and highly printable. “In addition to the consumer product line, we also use Falconboard on a commercial level for producing trade show displays, retail merchandisers, and POP displays,” he observes.
Color Ink stocks the paper-based sheets in 48×96- and 60×108-inch sizes. In 2014, it purchased over 10,000 sheets of the material. The company prints on Falconboard Print with an Inca Columbia Turbo and an Inca Onset Q40i from Fujifilm North America Corporation Graphic Systems Division, as well as an EFI VUTEk GS3200.
Despite being extremely lightweight, the paper-based Falconboard Print proves quite sturdy. “The construction of the material provides tremendous strength with far less weight than the more dense products in the marketplace,” says Meissner. “We produce chairs and tables with this material that will hold an excess of 200 pounds.”
Like other paper-, fiber-, and wood-based products, Falconboard Print is valued for being “green.” Color Ink produces many temporary, single-use displays. “Having the ability to easily dispose of or recycle the material is a big selling point,” acknowledges Meissner. “Since it is made of 100 percent paper, we are able to promote the sustainability of the product.”
Cushing started out in 1929 in Chicago, IL, with roots in blueprinting. Today the company’s leaders say they’ve always been involved in wide format printing—it just evolved from blueprints and traditional printing to graphics and digital. That evolution brought them into wide format inkjet, xerography, and large format photography about 25 years ago.
With a team of about 45 employees, Cushing offers print and digital communications services, including large format display graphics, architectural printing, short-run collateral, and managed print services. The company serves metro Chicago but assists its clients with projects worldwide through its affiliation with ReproMax, which provides access to over 200 local print shops.
Dibond, an ACM from 3A Composites USA, is one of the tools in Cushing’s portfolio. The PSP uses it for exterior and interior signage, as well as dimensional lettering. Matthew Cushing, inside sales representative, Cushing, says there are several reasons the company likes using this product. “Longevity, it is lightweight, and the final printed product always looks outstanding. It is unique since it provides a brushed look to the final product,” he notes.
Cushing says ACM is lighter than acrylic and easy to work with, without sacrificing durability. Printability is also in Dibond’s favor. Cushing shares that printed graphics hold up well because they use UV-cured inks, printing on a CSA Océ Arizona 550 GT flatbed. It uses about 20 sheets of the substrate each year, although that figure varies depending on clients’ needs.
All scrap material from the manufacture of Dibond—from the polyethylene core as well as the aluminum sides—are recycled, according to 3A Composites. Cushing notes that, being such a hardy product, ACM offers sustainability when used in long-term applications. “Once installed it is fairly permanent, depending on client goals and objectives,” he points out.
Sheets and Boards
The five main classes of rigid substrates are diverse and the materials offer varying benefits. The overall weight, durability, and even eco-friendliness of each type of rigid substrate must be matched with the application and the customer’s preferences to ensure success with the final outcome.
Feb2015, Digital Output