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Lightweight Print Opportunities

Honeycomb Board Offers a Variety of Options

By Steve Aranoff and Robert FitzPatrick

New media opportunities are evolving. One such material is honeycomb board, which represents a new type of corrugation. The center runs vertically between two sandwiched layers of printable top and bottom—similar looking to a honeycomb. This material not only provides the stability and rigidity of products created from heavier materials, such as wood, but it is also eco-friendly. Honeycomb board decays in landfills within the recommended limits for "green" products and is easily recycled.

Major print buyers demand environmentally friendly materials and solutions from their print industry suppliers. Many print shops initiate green policies that include producing graphics with UV-curable printers or machines using aqueous, bio, and latex inks to avoid the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) produced by solvent. Lighter, recyclable media is an increasingly important part of this movement.

Overall, honeycomb boards provide for environmentally friendly, fully recyclable, repulpable, and printable lightweight opportunities in a range of sizes and surface finishes. The flagship products of all honeycomb board manufacturers are strong kraft-based composite boards—kraft being brown paper processed from wood pulp. Combined with the ability to be easily shaped and cut, these boards create an endless range of application opportunities. The base honeycomb, the internal core of all the products, is made from 100 percent recycled kraft. Some manufacturers even include versions that are moisture resistant for outdoor use.

In addition to flexibility, the boards can be laminated with virtually any paper or veneer finishes and be either screen or digital flatbed printed. Once printed, these boards are easily cut and shaped either with a hand-held knife, for the simpler straight cuts; mitered using a circular saw; or cut via CAD-CAM systems with X-Y cutting capabilities, directly using electronic cut-to-print files and vision capabilities. Finished products are suitable for a number of industries such as signage, building and construction, shop fitting, furniture, print and display, exhibitions, transport, packaging, film, and point of sale (POS).

All of these applications are highly functional when created from traditional rigid sheet material, but are extremely heavy. Honeycomb is lightweight due to the special core properties. The weight enables the large sheets to be easily maneuvered and carried by one person.

Leading the Charge
Some European printers—responding to demands from customers and growing restrictions from government—are already advertising their ability to print on honeycomb board. They are leading, not waiting on, their customers. Consider this text from the Web site of a large UK wide format and specialty printer manufacturing honeycomb board under the name Ultra board, "Why print your exhibition on plastic based substrates when you can use environmentally friendly materials? Applications include POS and exhibition panels. The honeycomb core is made from recycled paper. Recyclable Ultra board is approximately 10mm thick and comes in sheet sizes up to 2400x1200mm. We can print direct-to-surface using a UV flatbed printer. The combination of UV inks and Ultra board is an environment friendly print solution. At the end of the campaign Ultra board is 100 percent recyclable. A fireproof Ultra board is also available, ideal for exhibition halls."

In the old printing era, printers waited for customers to bring them jobs and specifications. The printers competed on price and turnaround time. In this new market, the printer’s role is to offer ways for their customers to cut costs and also to educate them on how technology can be better used—which is what the above UK wide format printer has done. Media is now as crucial as capital equipment and honeycomb board presents such an opportunity.

Honeycomb in the Real World
The importance of this new honeycomb corrugated material is that it expands printing opportunities. Also, by introducing the advantages of the material to existing customers, it ensures a long term customer relationship. As with all powerful new trends, if you don’t bring this to your customer’s attention, someone else will. The following examples illustrate the wide breadth of products being created with honeycomb board.

Major retail firms’ interests derive from both the green aspect of the material and its weight. Temporary store displays, such as those used for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Valentine’s Day are easily manufactured out of this material. Also, it is so lightweight that it significantly reduces shipping costs and can therefore be held together with simple fasteners. Such material, when used to develop a holiday-themed set of panels, such as wrapping store columns during a season, can be unpacked and assembled in minutes. This is versus the hour or more it might take with today’s standard alternative.

Indoor honeycomb board is currently used in Woolworths South Africa as part of their in-store suspended signage and displays. The board is printed either by screenprinting or digital means and is considered a viable ecological alternative to the standard plastic commonly used in signage as it is both fully recyclable and repulpable. Even so, this kind of product carries a three year useful life expectancy and the color and finish of the final printed product can exactly replicate chosen samples from materials previously used.

By using a lightweight and recyclable product, an international coffee chain achieved major cost savings. The chain’s product design manager shared that they allowed one hour per store for installation of their 2007 Christmas display using traditional media. With a decision to move to honeycomb board, installation at each store took less than five minutes. A 90 percent time savings was achieved by the chain’s installation crews. Furthermore, the displays can now be installed by store personnel, rather than specialized display teams—a further cost reduction.

In developing a major holiday store campaign for a cosmetic/perfume manufacturer, another chain was able to simplify. It took only one day to print and cut the honeycomb boards. With a pre-defined and almost instantaneous store mounting process it was a major cost savings with no downside, whereas using traditional materials, the process took a week to ten days to fabricate.

In addition to in-store signage, trade show booth displays are manufactured out of honeycomb board. Recent trade show booths were completely constructed out of this honeycomb type material. It was pre-printed and accurately cut into many shapes, providing for walls, signs, conference rooms, furniture, and other typical needs.

In some parts of the world, wood is scarce and adds significant costs for treatment and fumigation when used for shipping containers. One dealer in Japan has a business catering to packaging companies who now use triple ply corrugated and honeycomb board to provide lightweight and better padded packaging for their customers. While this may be a different market than printing signs, many sign shops now use their cutting systems to design and sell custom packaging to their print customers and for their own shipping containers. This saves money and provides an added product to sell.

Through the above discussions we hope that we have shown the promise of a new, lightweight, eco-friendly, and structurally sound, print material. Hopefully you will consider adding it to your current range of substrates. As we’ve always said, offering more to loyal customers is a big bonus to your bottom line. In the case of the honeycomb board, the opportunities seem to be endless.

Jul2008, Digital Output

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