Rigid substrates are traditionally used in mounting, but with the advent of flatbed UV printers direct printing is an option. Issues such as adherence, cracking, and stretching are addressed with the flexibility and durability of UV inks. Additionally, many low- to mid-range devices are now available, allowing for any print provider to enter the market at an affordable cost.
In the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association’s (SGIA) Industry Technology Adoption Full Report U.S. 2010, screen imagers were polled and 42.9 percent said they planned to purchase a flatbed inkjet UV-curable printer. With this increase in demand, manufacturers continue to provide UV-friendly substrates.
UV-curable ink continues to grow in use, but still comes in a far second from solvent printing. In 2009, SGIA polled 572 industry professionals—graphic imagers, garment decorators, industrial–use printers, and suppliers—in its Survey and Statistics Product Specialists Report U.S. and 53.8 percent of the graphic imagers surveyed used UV-curable ink.
“Generally speaking, users of UV-curable technology also utilize some sort of solvent printing technology. Professional print providers utilizing both asked us to produce high-quality solutions that perform equally well. With this in mind, LexJet invests a great deal of research and development to create high-performance, cross-platform plastic substrates used primarily in exhibit and point of purchase (POP) markets,” shares Jeff Leto, product line manager, LexJet.
In the same SGIA survey, popular rigid substrate applications such as backlit, POP, and indoor wall signage were predicted as some of the highest growing markets. For example, 53.7 percent of respondents believed POP to be an increasing demand.
With these applications keeping a steady pace, rigid substrate demand remains constant as well.
“We noticed an increase in sales/demand for our MightyCore line of rigid foam board and attribute this increase to UV printers becoming more affordable,” shares Candace Overcash, jr. product manager, EnCore Products, a division of Elmer’s Products, Inc.
The EnCore MightyPrint Expressions foam board line is designed specifically for the UV flatbed market. Based on the company’s experience in the art market, they choose to bring different surface papers on rigid substrates, such as high gloss and canvas, to the sign and display market.
Flatbeds allow for direct printing to a substrate to streamline the production process. With the elimination of mounting, as well as the additional cost of a flexible media to print on, labor and material costs are reduced, according to Joseph N. Masters, graphic display marketing manager/sustainability manager, 3A Composites USA.
Manufacturers continue to improve their products to support direct printing. Tim Cronrath, product manager, flat sheet products, Palram Industries, Ltd., says there is now a need for the substrate to be flatter, whiter, and offer a smooth consistent finish. This ensures a high-quality, efficiently produced print. Palram works closely with OEM partners such as Agfa Graphics, Hewlett-Packard, and Océ North America to supply products for testing and demonstration centers.
Many flatbeds now offer a white ink option, allowing direct printing on most substrates. “With the introduction of white ink, there are now more and better ways of printing to clear substrates or those rigid substrates that appeared flat when digitally printed in the past,” shares Jaime Giannantonio, marketing manager, Ultraflex Systems, Inc.
The ease-of-use of this new technology has made backlit signage more popular. As opposed to running an aqueous printer and using specially coated film to produce white, this is done in a single step with layering white on top of CMYK.
Another difference between traditional backlit and digital is double striking or creating a day/night application. Normally graphics are oversaturated to allow for proper viewing at night, and that same element does not translate well to graphics during the day. Layering with white ink eliminates oversaturation.
This revolutionized application means a lot for rigid substrates, such as higher demand, especially for colored and black boards. Bruce Merklinghaus, outside representation, Vycom Plastics, believes white ink is an economical option for printing on black. In relation to the white ink evolution, the company has experienced an increase in sales for its black material.
“White ink has been available for awhile, but it’s been a bit slow to catch on. As designers learn of its availability and the volume of requests for white ink applications increase, I’m certain we’ll see an increase in demand for colored or black sheets,” foresees Cronrath.
John Joyce, category sales manager, Graphic-al, Mitsubishi Plastics Composites America, Inc., agrees, citing interest in using colored or tinted board materials as increasing. Graphic-al anticipated the growth in the use of white ink with 28 stock product options, 19 of which are not white. The company also produces custom colors on request.
Along with a rise in fabric printing, the demand for rigid substrates remains strong, and flatbed technology is an enabler. Although many print providers receive requests for printing on unusual materials, such as wood, glass, or tile, traditional mediums including acrylic, plastic, aluminum, and foam board, are still popular. The next part of this series includes information on popular rigid board products primarily compatible with UV-curable ink sets. In addition, the sustainability issue of rigid substrates is discussed.