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Print Protection

Inks, Coatings, and Overlaminates

By Amber E. Watson

Whether a graphic is intended for short- or long-term display, customers expect the print to last. Protecting wide format prints against different sources of damage is important. Outdoor applications are subject to inclement weather, UV rays, and dirt. Even indoor projects face damage from light sources, chemical solutions, and abrasion.


In many instances, a protective coating or overlaminate is recommended, yet due to ink types becoming more durable, in some cases protective substrates are not needed.


Long Lasting Ink

In business for over 70 years, Independent’s Service Company prints billboards, banners, backdrops, point of purchase (POP), transit graphics, and vehicle and signage decals from a 35,000 square foot facility in Hannibal, MO.


Although the print service provider (PSP) does not rely solely on durable inks as the only protection for wide format graphics, Allan Atkins, VP, Independent’s Service Company and its 85 employees, feel confident putting graphics outside for up to three years without protection if printed on an Hewlett-Packard (HP) Scitex FB700.


Atkins and his team match the process to the substrate, end use, and price and durability expectations of the customer. Depending on those factors, they may choose liquid clear coat, a traditional self-adhesive overlaminate, or none at all. “Undoubtedly, not having to overlaminate or clear coat saves time and money for both us and the customer when compared to traditional protection methods,” says Atkins.


Independent’s Service Company recently completed a stadium project for the University of Southern Mississippi in which 15 3x12-foot panels were printed on clear lexan using the HP Scitex FB700.


“The client wanted to give its legends wall a unique look for displaying the names and numbers of the college’s legendary players,” explains Ken Nieman, account manager, sports graphics specialist, Independent’s Service Company. “They did not want traditional vinyl banners, so we used the lexan material for the long-term application.”


Clear lexan panels at a thickness of 3/16 inches were reverse printed, then a flood coat of white ink was printed on top; no overlaminate was used. Each panel featured a different design and took about an hour to complete.


Liquid Coating Adds Longevity

One to three years fade resistance/overall durability is the approximate standard expressed by ink manufacturers for uncoated material outdoors. To enhance longevity, coatings and overlaminates are preferred in certain circumstances.


Some media manufacturers rely on protective substrates to enhance the durability of their product. Photo Tex Group, Inc. began coating its media in 2009 due to the breakdown of the solvent and latex inks in certain outdoor weather conditions. “We felt a protective coating was needed for longevity,” states Walter Gierlach Jr., president, Photo Tex.


The Photo Tex office, located in Boardman, OH, prints in house for military accounts, and relies on Marabu North America’s ClearShield liquid laminate to add durability to its product.


“Marabu ClearShield provides protection from fading in the sun; it features a waterproof capability, so one may clean the signage with a damp rag; and it is scratch resistant,” shares Gierlach.


The company transitioned from hand rolling or spraying the liquid lamination to applying it with a 64-inch Marabu StarLam 1600R laminator, which allows for a more even and fast application of the liquid due to its roll-to-roll capabilities.


KiteString LLC, a customer of Photo Tex, requires all of its Jarhead Wall Graphics to utilize liquid lamination. This is essential for the Marines and other military facets due to the diverse places and surfaces on which the prints are placed. “When Marines use these posters in the states or overseas, we want to make sure they are protected from all weather,” says Dennis Hackemeyer, partner, KiteString.


Indoor Protection

While films and coatings protect outdoor applications against factors like abrasion and UV rays, coating is also applicable for the protection of wide format prints indoors. Applications, such as fine art, may be subject to damaging UV rays, as well as variations in temperature. Coatings also help enhance prints ascetically.


Forty Fort, PA-based fine art reproduction specialist Lizza Studios understands the benefits of coating firsthand. “Since I mostly print on matte canvas, the coating provides versatility for a range of finishes from matte to gloss depending on how many coats are applied,” explains Bob Lizza, owner, Lizza Studios.


Lizza Studios started protecting canvas and paper with Krylon Kamar Varnish in 1999 to provide a more consistent surface. It settled on LexJet Corporation’s Sunset Gloss Coating for best overall results.


Since coating by hand is difficult, Lizza relies on an HPLV spray system and a spray booth. “If the guns are kept clean, the machine is dependable,” he notes. Lizza prefers the more natural look.


Lizza Studios recently produced a long-term display for the Mount Airy Casino in Pocono, PA, in which a large 69-foot, nine piece giclée was stretched onto canvas from nine, 36x36-inch originals.


The casino’s goals were to obtain a true-to-color fine art reproduction on canvas that offered high visual impact for people passing though. 564 square feet of printing was performed on an Epson Stylus Pro 11880 inkjet printer with LexJet Sunset Select Matte Canvas and coated with Sunset Gloss Coating. It took several weeks to finish.


Outlast with Overlaminates

While liquid coatings offer a viable solution for the protection of wide format prints, some PSPs prefer the efficiency of overlaminates. Auburn, WA based Industry Graphics relies on pressure-sensitive laminates from Arlon Graphics, LLC to protect many direct-to-substrate UV, roll-to-roll UV, eco-solvent, and latex applications.


In business since 1983, the company employs 19 people out of a 15,000 square foot facility. The choice to overlaminate is made partly out of convenience and practicality. Industry Graphics began laminating when it started offering large format digital printing nine years ago. “The overlaminates protect prints from abrasion during routing, transportation, and installation,” shares Pete Scholl, partner, Industry Graphics.


The benefits Scholl and his team gain from using an overlaminate include custom finishing the print surface to any look or gloss level preferred. “It also makes prints easier to hand mount to a substrate,” he adds. The main challenge is keeping the print clean and free of dust during lamination, as he points out that even a small piece of lint can ruin an expensive print.


Industry Graphics recently installed long-term window graphics on exterior windows in multiple locations. Overlaminates add longevity to the street-level prints, where wear from abrasion is a concern.


Some spots required blockout vinyl, in which Arlon’s DPF 6000XRP and Series 3220 laminate was used, while others required perforated window film, such as Arlon’s DPF 45WF with Series 3200 laminate. “We utilized lamination for three reasons. To make the installation process more efficient, protect the print on street-level applications, and keep rain and dust from collecting in the holes of the perforation,” explains Scholl.


Depending on Ink

Several ink manufacturers offer ink sets that meet stringent durability standards and hold up well in both indoor and outdoor applications.


EFI UV-curable ink, for instance, offers versatile indoor and outdoor uses on a variety of materials and surfaces. The use of LED curing enables PSPs to work with traditionally difficult materials, such as thin films. EFI’s VUTEk GS3250LX uses its own ink formulation to enhance productivity and adhesion without compromising quality or speed.


“The key to making ink that provides the best fade resistance is the selection of high-grade automotive pigments,” states Stephen J. Emery, senior director, ink business, EFI. The company's standard fade warranty, similar to most fade warranties in the market for UV-curable inks, is two years outdoors.


“High UV exposure regions generally require an overlaminate film or UV clear coating to achieve the best warranty,” notes Emery. “When one expects to have weather or abrasion resistance, such as a car wrap in a car wash, the use of an overlaminate film is highly recommended.”


Fujifilm North America Corporation offers a number of solvent and UV-curable ink sets with two year outdoor durability with no topcoat or laminate.


As John Kaiser, product marketing manager, Fujifilm explains, “the outdoor durability of an ink is influenced by the choice of pigment and binder.” The company uses quality automotive grade pigments with a high rating for lightfastness and resins that resist chalking and cracking.


HP UV-curable inks print on a variety of flexible and rigid media, including plastics, corrugated substrates, and aluminum Dibond with crosshatch level adhesion. Both HP UV-curable and latex inks provide strong ink adhesion and lightfastness.


“HP’s experience in ink development, including recent advancements in UV-curable and latex inks, allows us to offer top performance to our customers, minimizing the use of laminates or other protective films,” shares Eyal Duzy, marketing segment manager, Scitex Industrial Solutions, HP.


The newest HP FB225 Scitex inks for the HP Scitex FB7600, for example, adhere better on plastics and improve flexibility on corrugated media, allowing customers to reduce the time required for finishing. The inks also feature reduced odor and the ink system is Greenguard Children & Schools Certified, offering reassurance that prints produced are suitable for use in indoor environments. The inks alone offer between two and four years estimated outdoor durability.


INX Digital International Co. provides a line of two year outdoor durable inks. Ken Kisner, president, INX Digital, explains that high-performance automotive grade pigments in the ink sets give maximum outdoor durability for organic chemistry.


For applications such as automotive wraps, Kisner believes that a protective hard laminate is still important to get the necessary level of outdoor durability required. “We use the same pigments in our UV-curable and solvent-based systems, therefore, they exhibit similar results for durability,” he says.


INX Digital inks undergo durability tests with less than a 10 Delta E in order to pass ASTM standard. “We also make a line of clear laminates that extend the outdoor durability further,” adds Kisner. The company offers an extensive Worldwide Outdoor Durability and Ink Train warranty, which explains in detail how long products last in different conditions and environments.


Durability depends on many factors, including media compatibility, the length of time the application must last, as well as the location, but the composition of the ink itself is a solid start. With durable ink sets, PSPs save time and money.


Picking the Right Protection

Though advanced ink sets feature added durability and fade resistance, finishing with a protective film or liquid coating is still common practice among PSPs and recommended for increasing longevity. Graphics are challenged to withstand a number of factors, including fading due to UV light inside or outside, abrasion, changing or enhancing light reflection, and contact with chemical cleaning solutions.


While indoor applications may not require the extra step of a coating or overlaminate, each application must be considered on a case-by-case basis. The overall goal is to provide the best product possible by using the most durable inks along with protective substrates and coatings to help do so.


Jan2013, Digital Output

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