Rigid substrates are gaining in popularity due to the increase of flatbed printer use. There are a variety of media products available for flatbed printing, especially UV-curable. Many boards have levels of plastic or PVC, in them that qualify as non-recyclable. Attempting to match the sustainability of soft signage, many vendors are researching more environmentally friendly rigid boards.
“Print providers should look to eco-friendly substrates. Many displays are for limited time duration and will need to be disposed or recycled. Larger companies and government institutions already have carbon neutral initiatives in place and offering these boards makes their overall programs more compliant. This requirement is accelerating and pending legislation adds to this eco-friendly demand,” explains Jeff Stover, president, Artgrafix.
It isn’t all about the substrate either. As Connie Hartman, owner, Hartman Plastics, Inc., points out, her company simply restructured their production process. The new method does not emit harmful pollutants into the atmosphere.
“When you consider that graphic output can have varied deployment in terms of time use, ultimately, all designers are challenged to think of the lifecycle and what is produced. The pure volume of material used in the print community requires that the entire supply chain consider the environment when specifying the media used for projects,” adds Tim Boerst, director, industrial and international market, Decorative Panels International, Inc. (DPI).
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a popular certification process that many vendors undergo. There are two parts to the system, forest management certification ensures that the forest is managed to high standards covering social, environmental, and economic issues. Chain of custody certification traces the wood from those forests through all stages of processing and distribution. Vendors receive FSC certification from accredited FSC certifiers, third party companies conducting audits.
Cost is, as always, an issue. If a sustainable product is similar in price to a non-eco-friendly substrate, that’s fine. But customers are rarely willing to pay more in today’s economic climate, and most environmentally friendly products do cost more.
Rigid Substrate Options
Here are a few products offered that work well with digital UV printers. If any are considered eco-friendly, they are noted.
3A Composites USA offers Omni-Flute, Fome-Cor, Sintra, Gator, and Dibond. Omni-Flute is the newest addition, a flute polypropylene sheet for creating signage and short-term point of purchase (POP). It is compatible with aqueous, UV, and solvent ink. Products in the Fome-Cor and Gator graphic display board lines are FSC-certified, all of the paper used is produced from FSC-controlled wood.
Artgrafix offers foam, PVC , corrugated, gator, heavy duty, paperboards, and plastic surface boards. Some are compatible with digital flatbeds, most with screenprinters. The company offers biodegradable foam boards in both adhesive-coated and plain versions. In the adhesive version, the adhesive is biodegradable as well.
DPI’s Green Core Rigid Print Media (RPM) is offered in 1/8- and 1/4-inch thicknesses, coated one or two sides white. The standard size is four by eight feet. It can be printed with solvent, UV, and latex inks. Made from source fiber certified by the FSC, Green Core RPM is biodegradable.
EnCore Products, a division of Elmer’s Products, Inc., offers foam rigid substrates, such as FoamBoard and MightyCore. The foam boards are compatible with solvent and UV inks. POP displays, exhibits, models, and indoor signage are just a few of the applications created. EnCore has a sustainability team dedicated to researching alternate materials, methods of recycling, and has made significant improvements in the process.
Hartman’s HardBoard is a white clay coated foam-centered board available in standard and custom sizes. It is compatible with solvent and UV flatbed printers. The center is made up of polystyrene, because it is a composite of paper and plastic, it is not biodegradable. However, the company’s HartPlus is polystyrene faced on both sides, with all plastic foam-centered board, making it 100 percent recyclable.
LexJet offers PVC, polycarbonate, and polyester rigid substrates compatible with almost all of the UV-curable ink on the market today. Recently, they launched a series of rigid substrates manufactured using recycled content, making them 100 percent recyclable. (MORE TO COME)
Mitsubishi Plastics Composites America, Inc. offers four products in its Graphic-al line. Graphic-al Original (OR) is rigid and lightweight, with a foamed polyethylene center and two sided aluminum skins. Graphic-al Direct Print (DP) has a similar chemical make up, except one side features a high-quality polyester UV receptive coating and grey back panel. Graphic-al Light & Tough (LT) composite materials are double-sided .10-inch aluminum skins with solid polyethylene centers and high-quality polyester coatings. Graphic-al High Performance (HP) offers a high-performance polyester coating that comes with a ten year coating warranty. All are compatible with most UV direct printing inks.
Palram Industries, Ltd. markets three types of plastic sheeting—PVC, polycarbonate, and acrylic. PVC products include Palight Premium Flat Foamed PVC, Palight General Purpose Substrate (GPS), and Palight Outdoor. All of the Palight products mentioned are suitable for digital print. Most of the company’s products are manufactured with some recycled content. For example, Palight GPS is manufactured with as much as 50 percent recycled content. It is also 100 percent recyclable.
Ultraflex Systems, Inc.’s UltraStyrene Translucent is available in a 14-point thickness. It is a tough, rigid, plastic material—polystyrene, best suited for backlit signs printed UV or solvent. UltraStyrene Opaque is a 20-point tough, rigid, plastic material—polystyrene, best suited for frontlit signs due to its structure and opacity.
Vycom Plastics offers rigid substrates that consist of solid PVC and foam—expanded PVC. The Celtec family of products, including Celtec Expanded PVC and Celtec Ultra White, are lead and heavy metal free. Currently, Vycom is developing eco-friendly products.
Flatbed Relationships with Rigid Substrates
With a variety of products available, it’s no wonder print providers continue to find success digitally printing onto rigid substrates. Interestingly, the flatbed revolution or evolution has played a large part in this medium’s demand. Faster print speeds, advanced printheads, the discovery of white ink, are all important factors.
Click here to read Part 1 of this exclusive online series, UV's Relationship with Rigid Substrates.