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Protecting Prints

Benefits and Uses of Films and Coatings

By Amber E. Watson

Though advanced ink sets feature added durability and fade resistance, finishing with a protective film or liquid coating is still common practice among print services providers (PSPs) and recommended for protection of wide format prints.


Graphics are challenged to withstand a number of factors, including fading due to UV light, abrasion from foot traffic, human touch, changing or enhancing light reflection, and contact with chemical cleaning solutions.


Film and liquid coatings are also applied for aesthetics. Coating finishes such as glossy, luster, satin, or matte add scratch resistance, shine, deflect light, or texture.


Film laminates are used in posters, trade show displays, window graphics, and banners. Uses for liquid laminates include vinyl banners, vehicle graphics, and wallcoverings.


While applications such as outdoor signage, vehicle wraps, tabletop, dry erase, floor and carpet graphics, and those needing anti-graffiti protection, require protective coating, extra time and cost are factors to consider when it comes to the necessity of protecting indoor or short-term displays.


The Case for Media Protection

Considering where a finished application will reside and the environmental factors it will be subjected to help determine the necessity of applying a protective liquid or film, and what type is most suitable for the job.


Angela Mohni, VP marketing, Neschen Americas, suggests addressing the following questions when determining which is best, “will the print need protection against UV, or moisture and scratch resistance? What is the desired look or effect—does it require texture, glossy, matte, or something in between? Does it need to reflect or absorb light?” Neschen’s most popular pressure-sensitive laminate is Print Shield Standard UV—an all-purpose 3-mil laminating film available in a variety of sizes and finishes, and contains UV protection for outdoor use up to three years.


UV protection continues to be a key reason PSPs add film or liquid coatings to images, yet today’s inks are more resistant to fading than in years past. “Laminates are still needed because of handling issues, placement in high-touch areas, lighting, and other factors,” notes Dione Metnick, product line manager, LexJet Corporation. The company’s laminates are grouped into three categories, Performance, Elite, and Specialty. Adhesives are compatible with aqueous, low-solvent, solvent, UV-curable, and latex inks. Special features such as PreLume—reflection technology—are built into the Elite laminates.


Not all inks are made with durability in mind, and graphic protection is a concern when printers use ink systems that do not hold up well when exposed to UV light or outdoor extremes. “This is where the selection of overlaminate is important and it begins with understanding the application,” explains Steve Allard, product manager, FLEXcon. FLEXcon’s durable product material (DPM) line of two- to five-year overlaminates range from thin gauge polyester, DPM clear gloss, or clear matte; and UV clear gloss five-year outdoor, which help protect inks and reduce fade caused by UV rays; to a textured 8-mil polyolefin with UV inhibitors.


Aqueous-based ink usually prints on paper media and lamination is required to protect from UV rays, tearing, dirt, and liquid, while enhancing the image with different finishes, thickness, and textures.


“Solvent-based printing onto vinyl media is popular,” shares Tony Caruso, Eastern regional sales, Advanced Greig Laminators, Inc. (AGL). “These ink systems provide better protection from UV rays; however, thermal films cannot be used with vinyl media. This creates a need for pressure-sensitive lamination films.” Cover-Rite V4.75 T is an environmentally friendly, “green” laminate that uses no plasticizers, lead, or phthalates in its construction.


Media protection is a wise choice for outdoor applications because of the conditions graphics must withstand. “Outdoor signage and vehicle wraps face high UV levels, extreme temperature flux, and exposure to harmful chemicals such as air pollution,” states Ritchie Daize, international digital sales manager, Arlon Graphics, LLC. “These factors cause premature degradation of the image and/or the base substrate. A good film laminate protects against this.” Arlon offers four lines of laminates including Series 3200, a high-gloss optically clear overlaminate; Series 3220, cast overlaminate available in gloss, luster, matte, and satin; Series 3420—calendered overlaminate available in gloss and satin; and Series 3350, anti-graffiti PVDF overlaminate available in satin.


Anti-graffiti properties are also important for outdoor applications. Hard laminates resistant to chemicals are best in environments that might be exposed to vandalism. Jim Hingst, business development manager, R Tape Corporation, notes that polyvinyl fluoride (PVF) overlaminate films provide the utmost protection against vandalism; however, they can be costly. “PVF is a low-energy plastic to which paint has difficulty sticking, but because they don’t stretch, they are only used for flat applications.” R Tape’s most popular overlaminates are 3-mil PVC films and three, five, and ten polycarbonate overlaminates.


Martin Kugler, corporate communications manager, Hexis S.A., shares a product lineup of self-adhesive vinyl films for use as cold laminates, which includes an anti-graffiti option. AG700 is a 1.4-mil anti-graffiti polyester gloss. Carprotect is an optically clear urethane paint protection product available in gloss or matte.


Paul Roba, technical manager, North America, Avery Dennison Graphics, advises matching the overlaminate to the application. “Cast overlaminate with cast film and calender overlaminate with calender films.” Avery’s DOL 1060 gloss and DOL 1360 gloss are popular for vehicle wraps, while DOL 1360, thinner, is ideal for installations with compound curves.


Matt Buckley, technical specialist, FDC Graphic Films, Inc., shares information about FDC’s 7000 Series—a cast film for flexibility, conformability, and longevity. “The 7006 Series is a cast film, but the low caliper—1.5-mil thickness—provides conformability for vehicle applications. 7010 Series is a general purpose laminate that provides flat and curved surface flexibility, a moderate price, and durability,” he says.


“Protective films and liquid laminates have multiple functions, not the least of which is helping a graphic look good longer and perform better,” notes Adam Larson, marketing supervisor and Mark Elvester, senior technologist, 3M Commercial Graphics. 3M Scotchgard Graphic and Surface Protection Film 8991 is a polyester laminate that provides resistance to stains, graffiti, abrasion, and UV light.


Providing Print Protection

Since 2005, Crunch Graphix, a print shop located in Somers, CT, offers point of purchase (POP), vehicle wraps, signage, window graphics, cut vinyl, canvas, and banner services. The three-man operation runs out of a 75,000 linear-foot facility.


Larry Delesio, managing partner, Crunch Graphix, recommends film or liquid laminate protection for any application that requires long-term UV fade and scratch resistance. Retail displays subject to constant human interaction, banners exposed to outdoor elements, and window graphics challenged to maintain color and durability all benefit from protective laminates. Crunch Graphix applies a protective coating to the majority—75 percent—of its overall output.


The shop recently printed and installed a 15x50-foot window street graphic for the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford, CT. Each of the preflight paneling sections were printed using Hewlett-Packard 780 low-solvent ink and coated with DAF Products Inc.’s Safeguard 3.2-mil color lamination film.


Media East, Inc., another PSP that laminates the majority of its output, began as a media production company in 1989. The addition of mounting and laminating services in 1993 added to the shop’s printing capabilities.


About 70 percent of Media East’s output requires some type of lamination or protective finish. The shop uses pressure-sensitive laminates for most output where protection is the primary concern, and liquid coatings for prints on canvas. Laminate is applied to protect the print from scratches, spills, environmental degradation, and in some instances, rough handling by clients.


The shop laminates airport graphics, which benefit from UV protection; and trade show graphics, which require a tough polycarbonate laminate to hold up to repeated handling and setup. “Most inks are fragile and scratch easily until protected by a laminate,” shares Jeff Sheffield, president/owner, Media East. “Spills and fingerprints are rarely removed without doing some damage to the inks.”


For other print jobs such as museum graphics, lamination is applied for added quality and overall look. “While museum prints require some durability, the finish is usually the most important requirement because the expectation of perfection is much higher for a museum print,” explains Sheffield.


Three employees work from Media East’s 5,000 square foot facility in Virginia Beach, VA. Aqueous and eco-solvent printers, including a Roland DGA Corporation 64-inch eco-solvent, Canon U.S.A., Inc.’s imagePROGRAF iPF9000 60-inch aqueous and iPF8000s 44-inch, and two ColorSpan dye-based printers for producing backlit graphics produce a variety of indoor and outdoor large format prints. The shop recently purchased an Epson Stylus Pro 9700 to replace the aging ColorSpan printers.


A 60-inch Seal Image 600md from Neschen is utilized for all jobs. “We apply just enough heat to soften the adhesive and allow it to flow correctly to prevent silvering. The 600md is capable of running high temperature thermal laminates but we never use them,” adds Sheffield.


Media East produced background graphics for the set of a new cable television show. The graphics, designed by Tymm Smith, owner, NoSkyStudios, were printed on a Canon imagePROGRAF iPF9000 with aqueous inks on LexJet Matte Opaque Display Film, and then laminated with a 15-mil LexJet Elite Polycarbonate Laminate. “The polycarbonate provided a durable finish that was curved to the shape of the truss system without causing ripples or unwanted effects,” shares Sheffield. “Although it looks like a backlit display, it is lit by front lights only—the matte textured surface was a good choice to reduce glare and hot spots from the lighting.”


Cost/Benefit Analysis

PSPs must consider the cost-to-benefit ratio of adding a film or liquid coating, particularly for short-term applications because it typically raises the price. If the application is not intended to last for more than six months, added preservation may not be worth the investment.


“While it may not always be necessary due to short-term usage, coating a temporary graphic adds to the overall look,” notes Jason Yard, marketing applications specialist, MACtac Graphic Products. For example, a glossy finish makes the graphic pop and a luster overlaminate helps reduce the glare of an indoor graphic. The company’s most popular offerings are in the Permacolor line and include the Permacolor Rayzor series of cast matte and gloss, and the ColorGard series matte, luster, and gloss laminates.


Indoor POP and other short-term signage benefit from the use of liquid laminates to prevent wear from high-traffic areas when film is too expensive to justify the cost. “Using liquid laminates with indoor applications such as wallcoverings and fine art where film laminates are not feasible, adds scratch resistance to prints as well as chemical resistance from cleaners,” notes Patrick Forney, product manager, Marabu North America. Marabu’s ClearShield Original liquid coating is available in gloss, semi-gloss, and matte finishes. ClearShield Type C is used for canvas and other porous substrates where protection is required without losing the texture of the substrate. ClearShield Production Clear is specifically made to promote adhesion to UV and eco-solvent inks.


Liquid coating is generally more cost effective and quicker to apply and is requested and used more often. However, awareness of the qualities and requirements of liquid laminate is important. “For instance, liquid coated cast vinyl may require a pre-mask tape to allow for successful application,” warns Delesio.


Ed Pierce, product manager, lamination supplies, GBC, cautions against possible tearing of liquid laminates. “GBC’s pressure-sensitive lamination films are used primarily on printed adhesive-backed vinyl and vinyl banner materials. Thermal films are generally used to protect printed inkjet media for indoor applications.”


The switch to a new film or liquid product should not be taken lightly. As Sheffield contests, “each laminate has its own idiosyncrasies and does not always show performance problems until months after a project leaves the shop. The last thing you want is returned graphics because a laminate failed in some way.”


Protection Done Right

Film and coatings protect a graphic, change its finish, or stabilize the base substrate so it is easier to apply and handle. Mostly all outdoor and some indoor applications require a film or liquid coating.


While media protection is a staple of most PSPs’ finishing services, the selection of film and liquid products constantly changes and grows. New products, such as floor and textured laminates for concrete, brick, and other surfaces add to the wide selection of options available.


In almost every case, lamination adds that extra polish that just isn’t apparent with a bare print. The need for protective films or coatings continues to be in demand, and when done correctly, it is as though they aren’t there at all.


Mar2012, Digital Output

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