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Ideal Applications for Rigid Substrates


Where They Are Used


By Amber E. Watson


Part 1 of 2


Today’s UV flatbed printers print to substrates once not possible. Print service providers (PSPs) output directly onto rigid media such as foamboard, wood, metal, glass, and recycled composite. With a range of rigid substrate media, PSPs profit from high-profile indoor and outdoor signage, point of purchase (POP) displays, and exhibits.


The once common step of mounting flexible media to rigid board is minimized. This saves on cost as well as time, and expands direct board-to-print options. Pioneering PSPs output on untraditional materials including wood and eco-friendly composites. They also test media thickness, durability, ink adhesion, and overall quality of rigid media prior to offering it to their clientele.


Depending on the environment for which the media is intended, several factors must be considered, including durability, short- or long-term use, and the overall creative vision the client hopes to achieve. Some print jobs, such as outdoor signage, require more durable media to withstand the elements, while indoor short-term displays do not necessitate the same long-lasting traits.


Due to the varying needs of businesses, designers, and marketers, PSPs that offer a variety of rigid media print options are able to assist with projects including high-rise building maintenance, retail display design, and trade show exhibits.


Directional Signage

Signs are a popular application printed on rigid substrates and can be found in environments including offices, commercial areas, and government buildings. Printed on material such as aluminum, metal, vinyl, and foamboard, signs capture attention and provide information—whether it is the name of a business, parking restrictions, or to direct people.


Signs are created for short- or long-term use, but those printed on rigid media are typically made to last. Whether small, flat rigid signs or large structural ones, exterior signage must be created using substrates that withstand consistent sunlight exposure, rain, and snow. Many rigid substrates such as wood and vinyl are firm and durable—designed to withstand the outdoor and indoor elements outdoors.


Indoor signs printed on rigid substrate can be drilled into walls or doors. Reflective rigid signs are used outdoors for road and parking signs, and photoluminescent rigid PVC is often used for safety signs placed in the stairwells and hallways of large buildings.


American PERMALIGHT, Inc. promotes several applications well-suited for this type of rigid media. “Glowing rigid PVC is ideal for screenprinting, digital printing with solvent-based inks, ADA sign making by adding raised graphics and inserting beads, and as backing panel for evacuation maps,” explains Marina Batzke, GM, American PERMALIGHT. “Rigid substrate also bends into three dimensional (3D) signs—V- and L-shaped—on a strip heater/heat former.”


This glowing rigid media complies with the 2009 and new 2012 IBC and IFC codes requiring non-electrical luminous egress path marking in emergency staircases of multi-story buildings such as high-rise businesses, educational institutions, and hotels. Safety signs assist in evacuation during power failures and fires.


Since photoluminescent rigid PVC is non-electrical, it also offers an environmental benefit. “It illuminates in full darkness without electricity, and therefore helps reduce a building’s electricity bill, while providing emergency evacuation guidance,” notes Batzke.


POP Displays

POP displays are a highly effective marketing tool often used in retail settings. Rigid substrates including cardboard, acrylic, and glass are used to create eye-catching exhibits and kiosks to sell products.


Rigid substrates are an ideal choice for POP because many elements of a display need to be self standing or mounted on a ceiling, wall, or window.


PSPs print directly onto cardboard, wood, or other rigid stock to create a stand or display rack, which holds the product it is intended to sell. Some POP structures are even 3D, consisting of cut outs and stacked panels.



Similar to POP displays, trade show and museum exhibits rely on sturdy structures and larger than life graphics to capture attention. While media selection changes based on the target environment and required lifespan, rigid substrates offer many choices when it comes to exhibits.


Many exhibits and kiosks require framing as well, so printing onto panels to frame a space or create a temporary wall, is another way to utilize rigid substrate.


Paper-based foamboard is a common substrate used indoors. Many vendors tout eco-friendly aspects of rigid media such as EnCore Products’ foamboard, contains recycled content—both internally and externally generated. “In 2010, the recycling program at EnCore’s manufacturing facility kept over 700,000 pounds of materials from landfills,” says Candace Martin, junior product manager, EnCore. In addition, its foaming agent is 100 percent ozone-friendly and the process is formaldehyde-free.


Many Rigid Media Options

Today, there are many rigid substrate options available and media is created and improved on as hardware evolves. Experienced and knowledgeable PSPs benefit from the high demand of applications utilizing rigid media.


Part two of this series shares tips on how to care for and print to rigid media for the best output.

Click on the link above to get more information on the vendors mentioned in this article.

Dec2011, Digital Output  DORS1211

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