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Under Wraps

Media, Ink, and Finishing

Part 3 of 4

By Thomas Franklin

After the design file is to specification and site surveys are complete, a building wrap begins its journey from concept to creation.

While eco-solvent and UV inks gain traction in flatbeds, building wraps remain a predominately solvent-based application.

Thanks to a large install base of solvent grand format printers, most building wraps are produced with solvent inks, says Ruben Torres, sales manager, NuSign Supply. Large format UV solutions, however are beginning to gain ground. "We just started carrying UV products, there is a huge demand," he continues.

Mesh vs. Film
Heavier mesh, in the nine to 13 ounce range, is the traditional mainstay media for building wraps. Porous to admit airflow and rugged enough to endure the elements, it remains a staple of the outdoor market, explains John LoCicero, director of sales, Ultraflex Systems, Inc.

A newer media—textured surface film—is making its mark as an alternative to mesh for certain building projects. It adheres directly to surfaces, so a building doesn’t need to be fitted with cables or be drilled into to affix a graphic, explains Tim Boxeth, marketing manager, 3M Graphics Market Center. The film is used in unique locations that may not be as accessible or as accommodating to mesh.

Surface film has roughly the same outdoor lifespan as mesh, but since it’s flush with a building, it stands no chance of being blown down. Being opaque, it reproduces a very colorful, vibrant image. "A painted look," Boxeth adds. However, UV inks are not appropriate for using surface films, such as 3M’s. "You need solvent inks, because when heating the film to 300 degrees UV inks won’t be able to conform without cracking," Boxeth notes.

Mesh is compatible with UV inks and mesh wraps are faster to install than film, LoCicero argues. "You can install mesh at up to 20 thousand square feet per hour, depending on how it’s prepped." Unlike films, mesh is installed at any temperature and in humid conditions. Seeking to capitalize on the demand for "green" media, Ultraflex is preparing to launch a biodegradable mesh media in early 2009, LoCicero shares.

Arizona’s bluemedia, based in AZ, uses both materials—mesh and film—to meet clients’ wraps needs. "We direct our clients to the right solution," explains Jared Smith, co-founder and president, bluemedia. Choosing the appropriate solution, "isn’t a price issue," he adds. "Price doesn’t drive methodology. They tell us what they need, and we tell them the safest solution."

Finishing Out in the Field
No matter what media or inks you use, finishing is crucial to the production of building wraps. When CA-based Lithographix entered the grand format market, it imported finishers from the garment industry, explains Layne Morey, VP of marketing, Lithographix. "We have phenomenal finishers." A staff of 14 finishers at Lithographix wields mesh through a 105-foot Miller Weldmaster and two Consew industrial sewing machines.

When printing on mesh, panels must be stitched or welded together using industrial sewers or large format welders. Depending on how the wrap is secured to a structure, it may be necessary to stitch in webbing or pockets as well. For mesh wraps, the panels are typically seamed or welded together vertically. "There’s a temptation to hang one panel off the other to save time, but that’s a lot of weight for the top piece to carry," Smith cautions.

Surface film requires an overlaminate prior to installation. Several tools are used to clean the surface and then the final product is installed into mortar lines using a heat gun.

The Final Product
Finishing a building wrap is challenging for the simple reason that the product is so big. "An 1oo pound piece of vinyl can be cumbersome," Morey observes. Proper planning and the floor space to lay out the final graphic help ensure quality control.

The challenges of finding the right printer, media, inks, and finishing equipment are small in comparison to the issues involving the actual installation of a building wrap. With the correct finishing and install staff, these types of strenuous applications can go off without a hitch.

Next week hear more about wraps and customer service from Jared Smith of bluemedia.

Click here to read Part 1 of this exclusive online series, Grand Format Superman.
Click here to read Part 2 of this exclusive online series, Grand Prints, Wider Printers.

Oct2008, Digital Output

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