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Paper Trail

How Wide Format Media is Evolving to Capitalize on New Technology

by Thomas Franklin

Below is the first part in our four-part series on Media & Substrates. Look for a feature article on the topic in the April issue of Digital Output.

At first blush, the term paper technology sounds like an oxymoron. However, paper and media technology (chemistry mostly) have evolved right alongside advances in print head and ink technology, moving nearly in lockstep to compliment the emergence of new capabilities.

As print head technology changes, so must the media, says Ed McCarron, marketing manager, InteliCoat Technologies. Media for wide format printers has become more versatile, durable, and capable of displaying higher resolution graphics and images, say media manufacturers and distributors.

"Scratch resistance, color pop and longevity aren’t options, they’re mandatory," says Randy Carone, digital media manager, Beacon Graphics, a media distributor. The biggest change in media offerings has been the move from coated to uncoated media to work on solvent and eco-solvent wide format digital printers, Carone adds. The most significant improvement born of this transition has been lowered material costs, as the uncoated material is both cheaper and no longer requires lamination.

Another seismic shift has been occasioned by higher resolution wide format printers and improvement in pigmented inks. Suddenly, applications like fine art reproduction, with its exacting color, resolution, and longevity expectations, are within the reach of digital printers. "HP and Epson really awoke this industry to the possibility of fine art reproduction," McCarron adds.

One giant leap in media capability has been in the realm of longevity, comments John Gowan, director, HP Supplies, Large Format. As paper makers target the fine art market, they have begun to advertise wall-life’s of up to 150 years using certain combinations of paper, ink, and printer. This longevity "vastly exceeds" what the average fine art customer is expecting, adds Dave Edmondson, a solutions manager in the HP Supplies Large Format division. "They’re happy with 75 years."

When bench-marking paper longevity, Edmondson says HP submitted its papers to the Wilhelm Imaging Research (WIR), a kind of de-facto standards body which tests papers and inks for durability. While not universally accepted by every paper maker, WIR’s test methods will likely correspond to a forth-coming standard developed by the International Standards Organization (ISO), Edmondson adds.

The next step is to work with clear coating companies to hone the finishing requirements for fine art papers, Gowan says. Intelicoat’s McCarron says he’s seen an increasing demand for "inkjet receptive canvas."

Demand has been growing for a greater variety of media options now that solvent printing on vinyl media has become so commoditized, McCarron comments. "It’s like bond paper now." He adds that most media for solvent printers will work as well (if not slightly better) on UV printers. "The UV cure is a forgiving print technology."

Even while traditional applications are expanding, the types of media are as well. There’s no longer just vinyl and paper but also wall paper and textiles to consider, says David Wierengo, president, Gregory, Inc., a media distributor. McCarron also notes that his company was examining packaging materials, such as cardboard, which printers could offer as proofs and prototypes.

Part two of this four-part series on Media & Substrates will discuss individual substrates and the equipment they are compatible with.

Jan2006, Digital Output

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