Although the advancements of ink sets and improved durability of media are recognized, overlaminating films and liquid coatings remain an important part of the finishing process. One could argue that short-term, indoor graphics do not always need this additional step; however it is still an important element to graphics designed for long-term use, or those exposed to harsh elements—including fingerprints, foot traffic, and UV light.
End users are often tasked with deciding the best choice of ink, media, and finishing for a job. It is important that their graphics withstand the demands of the environments they are placed in. After all, it’s their reputation on the line.
A Time and a Place
ICON Sign Company, LLC is a well-diversified sign business based out of Grand Rapids, MI. The company produces a series of wide format applications including banners, vehicle wraps, site signs, magnetics, trade show displays, canvas wraps, posters, Gatorfoam, and backlits. In business for seven years, the company staffs ten employees.
Lamination is an important consideration for the shop. “We laminate all of our rigid trade show prints, vehicle wraps, and some exterior, long-term signs,” says James Mikrut, owner, ICON Sign. He estimates that approximately 15 percent of the shop’s output is laminated.
There are several factors that determine whether or not a laminate is used. “We laminate everything sales people use for trade shows. We found they don’t care about the displays since they don’t personally pay for them. So, we need to make them indestructible—well as indestructible as we can for an affordable price,” says Mikrut. He notes that all full-color vehicle prints are also laminated. “I think overlaminates are overkill on anything that isn’t going to suffer from some type of interior or exterior abrasion,” he adds.
ICON Signs uses 3M Graphics Market Center premium laminates for vehicle wraps. Otherwise, they stock a glossy and matte calendared 3-mil clear laminate. The company also utilizes an adhesive-backed, fabric-like material for wall graphics from General Formulations.
Since purchasing a UV printer at the end of 2010, Mikrut admits that laminating isn’t as necessary on a lot of trade show prints since the ink is durable. “I think the need will decline as inks and printing processes become more durable. But there will always be a time and place for laminates. High-end, aqueous full-color prints can’t be beat as far as superior color and quality, which in my mind will always be enhanced by a good protective laminate. I don’t see vehicle wraps and high-end display prints losing their need for laminate any time soon,” he adds.
A Necessary Component
Park Printing Solutions is a Verona, WI-based provider of conventional offset, commercial digital, and digital inkjet roll and flatbed wide format print. The company excels at environmental graphics, which often incorporate the use of all its devices, different substrates, and a dimensional look and feel.
With the help of a 63x126-inch Inca Digital Printers’ Spyder 320 UV + White flatbed printer, a Roland DGA Corporation VersaCAMM VS-640 print-and-cut device, a Roland SOLJET PRO III XC-540 printer/cutter, a Roland SOLJET PRO II V, a Mimaki USA, Inc. JV5, and an EskoArtwork Kongsberg i-XL 24 router/cutter, the shop is able to satisfy almost any large format request.
For many of its environmental graphic packages, the company partners with creative agency, ZebraDog Studios of Madison, WI. The two organizations recently revitalized Duke University’s athletic center with an environmental graphic package that incorporated large format graphics, layered with other elements to create a dimensional look. Prior to its makeover, Duke’s Varsity Wall consisted of a long, white, drywall with hanging pictures. The university wanted to revamp the space and depict a history of its standout athletes and coaches.
Park Printing started with Type II commercial grade wallpaper from LexJet Corporation, which was installed across the length of the wall. The shop then partnered with a high-end woodworking company to craft the tops, bottoms, and casework of the wall with oak. This was finished with pieces of three-quarter-inch, 30/30 acrylic Plexiglas. “This high-end 30/30 Plexiglas is great for stand-off graphics. We can flatbed print on them with our Spyder on the face or backside to show dimension and still see through the acrylic to view the wallpaper behind it. It’s all about thinking visually and not blocking layered graphics off,” says Mike Stolen, account executive, Park Printing.
The durability of Park Printing’s work is important. Stolen says the Duke University installation is similar to any graphic installation, as the graphics are expected to stand up until the client feels they need to do a refresh, which could be up to five, ten, or even 20 years. “With the commercial grade wallpaper, we always liquid laminate. It’s not a must, the technology of the inks are great these days, but it adds that extra layer of protection for anyone scuffing or cleaning it,” says Stolen.
The Duke Varsity Wall was laminated with Neschen America’s AccuLac 1200 matte clear with a Seal liquid laminator. Stolen says they do not need to liquid laminate every wallpaper job, but choose to. The installation team is able to use more force while applying the product.
A reputation for high-quality graphics is important to Park Printing. This is largely related to staff knowledge, the right equipment, and smart media choices. “We’ve been printing commercial grade wallpaper for seven or eight years now, and haven’t had a rejection or something destroyed,” he adds.
Peace of Mind
A lot of work is on the line in regards to high-end graphics. Winning jobs for distinguished customers is not only about price, but performance. Prominent clients are often looking for a trusted partner—leaving the decision to laminate or not—in the hands of the experts.
For applications such as indoor environmental graphics, designed to last decades; and vehicle graphics asked to withstand rain, heat, and other hazards; they still benefit from the added protection of an overlaminate or protective coating.
Click here to read Part 1 of this exclusive online series, Preservation and Presentation.