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Solvent As an Option

Flexible Technology Produces a Wide Range of Solutions

By John Coyne, Marc Spada, & Peter Sutton, product line managers, Charrette LLC

Wide format solvent printers open doors in the printing world; the largest—outdoor applications. These machines sell in increasing numbers, and many new vendors are appearing.

Solvent inks contain pigment in a carrier fluid with resin to adhere to the media. The solvent carrier then evaporates with the help of a heated drying process. The resulting state-of-the-art output created with solvent technology is weatherproof, fade-proof, and stands up to the harshest outdoor environment. The printer itself may seem like the main selling point of solvent technology, but look a little closer for an impressive array of solvent media with an equal number of bragging points.

Can You Do That With a Solvent Printer?
Increasingly today the answer is yes, no matter the subject. Over the past five years, the low-end solvent market has boomed, in no small part due to traditional aqueous users adding solvent to their portfolio. As the population of solvent printers has increased, so has the demand for new types of media on which to print. What was once considered an outdoor vinyl printing technology, has now expanded as users push for new applications with their solvent printers.

What Attracts Providers to Solvent?
The drive toward solvent technology started with graphics providers searching for a more economical outdoor printing solution. In comparison with aqueous, solvent consumables, such as ink and media, are less expensive and the output has substantially greater outdoor durability. The increase in durability is a result of extremely aggressive solvent inks that are capable of biting directly into select uncoated media. Solvent graphics feature excellent scratch, fade, abrasion, chemical, and water resistance. Graphic providers recognize the overall benefits of cost savings and outdoor durability, and they continue to look for new applications for their solvent printers.

What Are Providers Printing on?
Solvent media, once mostly uncoated vinyl, has expanded dramatically. The development of solvent inkjet coatings has opened the door for textiles, photobases, synthetic papers, and non-vinyl films. These coatings provide the ink with the base required to anchor to the media, just like aqueous coatings.

A solvent provider can choose from a wide variety of printable substrates including canvas, photobase, fabrics, polyester, polypropylene, polystyrene, and, of course, vinyl. The results thus far have been phenomenal. In addition to the traditional solvent applications such as vehicle wraps, banners, building graphics, wall murals, and floor graphics, solvent providers now produce posters, back-lit displays, rollable display graphics, long-term canvas reproductions, and unique POP utilizing two-side-printable polystyrene.

Additionally, solvent offers the advantage of width. If a provider wants to print over 60 inches wide, their options are very limited in the aqueous world. Using solvent, providers can print up to 98 inches without overburdening their capital budget.

Where Is This New Solvent Media Coming From?
The steady stream of new media is coming from providers such as 3M, Avery, InteliCoat, Sentinel, and Sihl. Established aqueous powerhouses like InteliCoat and Sihl are focusing on their more popular traditional aqueous media and translating them to solvent platforms. In some cases, media providers are introducing products that work on both solvent printers and aqueous UV printers, saving time and developmental costs verses developing independent solvent lines.

What About Aqueous Printing?
Aqueous inkjet printing is a proven technology that does not require a deep knowledge base of color management or printing to capture quality output. It remains the most logical choice for photography, fine art, and high quality indoor signage applications. The technology in inkjet coatings, along with easy to use equipment, has propelled aqueous inkjet printing to the highest share of the digital printing market. Simply put, when providers enter the market, aqueous is still where they start.

Where Does This Leave Solvent?
The solvent boom is a major source of excitement in the graphics industry. While aqueous is still the best solution for high quality graphics, the range of solvent applications has expanded with new choices in media and technology improvements. These new applications have enabled a growing number of graphics providers to capture new business by adding solvent to their portfolios. As the technology matures, new media will continue to offer greater flexibility and provide a wider range of solutions for the graphics industry.

 Mar2006, Digital Output

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