By Melissa Tetreault
Print service providers (PSPs) not only require dependable printing technology, but also demand durable and easy to work with materials to best suit their customers’ needs. Media manufacturers work to evolve the performance of digitally printable foamboards and PVC materials to address this.
Rigid substrates include aluminum composite materials, aluminum, paper-based materials, foamboards, and plastics such as PVC sheets, to name just a few options. When digitally printed on, these materials are used for a number of different applications including point of purchase (POP) displays for retail environments and trade show signage. Generally, rigid substrates need to be easy to work with, and be durable enough to last when installed in their final location.
Foamboards and PVC sheets are preferred for select environments, not only for the significant amount of time that they have been on the market, but also because of the range of options that are presented when working with them.
Above: Encore Products’ selection of foamboard products.
Foamboards and PVC sheets are commonly used because of the variety they offer. With the range of options available in color, thickness, and material, something is available for any particular budget. PSPs can pick their preference without having to sacrifice quality or design aesthetic based off of the price. These qualities make foamboards and PVC sheets a desirable choice for many.
Foamboards for example offer multifaceted uses, from traditional signage applications to furniture. “Unlike other rigid substrates, foamboards are light weight, which makes them ideal for signage and displays. Hanging signs in grocery stores, large menus in restaurants, POP displays, and trade show booths. Foamboards can also be easily cut on digital cutting tables to create unique shapes and designs,” explains Stephen Rosso, assistant manager – trade marketing, Encore Products.
Final environment plays a large role in deciding which material to use. “HDU sheets such as Corafoam are used for interior and exterior signage, such as monument signs, channel letters, and hanging signs. It is used in place of wood, PVC, and other substrates because it cannot absorb water,” shares Brad Burnett, HDU sales representative, Duna-USA Inc.
These materials are diverse in not only usage and cost, but also in regards to safety. According to Tony Lampariello, national rigid media manager, Agfa Graphics, “PVC holds the highest fire certification amongst lower cost rigid substrates. This makes PVC an easy choice for trade show, retail applications, institutions, and any commercial environment where fire rated materials are required.”
PVC materials are commonly used for emergency exit signage. “Photoluminescent rigid PVC sheets with a UL1994-listing are ideal for ADA sign making, such as staircase identification signs that are required nationwide inside high-rise building emergency staircases of hotels/motels, hospitals, and office/administrative skyscrapers,” explains Marina Batzke, GM, American Permalight, Inc.
Foamboards and PVC sheets offer durability and ease of use. This is achieved during the manufacturing process.
Brett Thompson, graphics market manager, Piedmont Plastics, shares typical production processes for both types of rigid materials. Foam PVC is typically a homogenous monolithic sheet material, but can be skinned or coated to address display or fabrication concerns. It is light weight by nature, and available in a variety of colors and sheet sizes. Thicknesses range from one to 30 millimeters.
He goes on to explain that foamboards, on the other hand, are composite products. “That is to say, a foamed styrene core is sandwiched between face stock materials. The foam core can be controlled to produce a very stiff material, ideal for flatbed printing, or a light weight product is a great choice for less demanding, low-cost work,” adds Thompson.
Foamboard face stocks range from Kraft paper to styrene film, with each affecting performance and price. In addition, face stocks can be different colors, further enhancing the aesthetic and cost.
Of course, each individual vendor has its own manufacturing process. At American Permalight, its photoluminescent rigid PVC is produced in calender process with high pressure and heat. The photoluminescent effect is not a surface-applied glow film, so there is no surface delamination. The photoluminescence is inside the rigid PVC surface and PSPs can use thinners or solvents to clean the rigid PVC surface—if needed—without impacting the photoluminescent glow.
Duna-USA continues to perfect the manufacture of its products. Corafoam HDU uses a specialized continuous manufacturing technique, which gives it an extremely tight cell structure. This allows it to produce chips instead of dust when cut on a CNC machine. Duna has honed in on the ability to create a material that is easily cut and produces minimal stress in the clean up process.
Sustainability is top of mind for many. Certain eco-friendly PSPs and their customers request more sustainable foamboards and PVC sheets, however not many options are available to them.
According to Lampariello, this is not for lack of interest in a sustainable product, but cost. “The issue of recycling and repurposing PVC and foamboards is not an easy task because it’s costly and time consuming. There are few alternatives available. Paperboards are the top choice. However, thicker gauge paperboards do not have the clean finished appearance of foamboards and PVC. Additionally, edge-banding paperboards are cost prohibitive in most cases and edge-banding materials are usually plastic based,” he admits.
Keeping the production process of rigid sheets “green” is important for many manufacturers. “We embrace the conversation, and will do whatever we can to add value for our customers; but sales of traditional foamboard and PVC sheet continue to grow and will not be displaced as the industry standard for a long time to come,” explains Thompson.
Piedmont Plastics is a Sustainable Green Printing Partnership Gold Patron. The company is regularly contacted about sustainable alternatives for PVC-based products. “This usually starts with an end user demanding a greener product from their print provider; the printer then turns to their supplier for help. A volley of sampling and quoting then ensues. Card stock, paperboard, or more recyclable plastics are offered up as potential solutions in the hopes the end user will pay a bit more and expect a bit less,” continues Thompson.
United Industries is also aware of the sustainable preferences of its customers. 30 percent of all the foam it extrudes contains recycled content.
At Encore Products, all foam scrap is reprocessed and put back into its foamboard process. “Polystyrene is an easy polymer to recycle. Due to its amorphous nature, it uses less energy to process than most other polymers used in the printable board markets,” shares Chris Domanski, R&D technical manager, Encore Products.
Static and Warping
Challenges are associated with any and all digitally printed surfaces, and foamboards and PVC sheets are no exception. Static and warping are two with these materials.
According to Wade Sisco, marketing director, UltraBoard, United Industries, “static issues tend to occur with printers intended to print on paper products that are being utilized for other forms of printing. These types of printers generally lack ample static dissipation within the printer.”
The reason a piece of foamboard or PVC warps differs. “There is nothing inherent about the process that impedes the ability of the manufacturer to address warpage before the product leaves their building. Poor packaging or palletizing is usually the reason for a warped PVC sheet. Foamboard tends to be more susceptible to changes in humidity and storage conditions,” explains Thompson.
“During the manufacturing process, we try to minimize moisture levels and tension between the top and bottom papers. The theory is the lower differential between the top and bottom, the less warping in the field,” adds Domanski.
Ink compatibility is also a challenge. “Corona treatments normally applied to materials ensure proper ink adhesion with many standard forms of printing. Recent printers introduced to the market may contain ink sets that don’t adhere to corona-treated materials,” says Sisco. As a result, United Industries has identified the need for non-corona treated materials.
Specialty foamboard and PVC products with chalkboard, canvas, and cork board surface finishes are popular options. They offer a different design aesthetic than a traditional white-faced board.
Agfa has experienced demand in regards to canvas specialty products, according to Lampariello. This mainly comes from the framing market.
“With the continued development of digital flatbed printers and inks, there are a lot more possibilities to create one-of-a-kind pieces on textured substrates. Designers in all fields are looking for unique substrates to create signage, art for home décor, and even gift items,” says Constance Henshaw, VP/GM, Encore Products.
Some specialty products have more of an effect than simply decorating. American Permalight’s products are an example of just this. “The nationwide building code requirements for photoluminescent egress path markings and staircase identification signs developed out of the 9/11 New York City World Trade Center attacks. The evacuation of many survivors was aided by photoluminescent staircase markings and the International Code Council, the writers of the nationwide building codes, established requirements for UL1994-listed photoluminescent markings and signage inside high-rise building emergency staircases,” explains Batzke.
Rigid substrates such as foamboard and PVC sheets provide stability and creativity. The range of durability, price, and quality available allow for these materials to be ideal options in many environmental scenarios thanks to features ranging from fire safety to weather resistance.
Feb2018, Digital Output