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Rigid Ways

Flatbed Printers Enable Substrate Options


By Cassandra Balentine


The ability to print onto rigid media is a benefit that many of today’s digital wide format flatbed printing devices provide. As these solutions continue to permeate the market the demand for rigid substrates, including board, plastic, wood, glass, and sheet metal is apparent. With this capability, print service providers (PSPs) raise the bar on services they offer, while reducing labor and consumables costs by eliminating the need for mounting.


In addition to unique mediums, traditional wide format white boards are popular, and the demand is met by a variety of manufacturers and distributors. Additionally, desired features such as glow-in-the dark effects and recyclable and recycled components are in the mix of substrate options.


The advantages of printing on rigid media expand as it continues to match the improved capabilities of inkjet technology. Simultaneously, the expertise and skill of PSPs improves as they become more accustomed to the possibilities and capabilities afforded with the right combination of technology and media.


Specialty Media

Advancements in ink sets and engineering enable the use of unique media selections. The ability to print directly onto rigid materials enables marketers and PSPs to think outside of the box. With a range of options available, savvy PSPs educate customers on the endless possibilities of rigid substrates.


Depending on the application, media is selected to serve a purpose or make an impression. Marina Batzke, GM, American Permalight, Inc., points to features of its photoluminescent products, which are are utilized for fire wayfinding signage. “Permalight photoluminescent rigid PVC sheet—model CC-RIGID; photoluminescent aluminum sheets—model CC-ALU; and polyester thin film—model CC-TAPE, are UL1994-listed by Underwriters Laboratories and ideal for printing staircase signs in compliance with the 2012 International Building and International Fire Codes to help building occupants evaluate a darkened building,” she says.


During a fire, power failure, or at night, these three glow-in-the-dark substrates aid occupants in the event of a building evacuation, leading the way for firefighters unfamiliar with the building. Batzke notes that the substrates are well receptive to solvent-based digital printing inks. The rigid PVC and aluminum are also used to create ADA signage for the visually impaired with the addition of raised floor numbers and the insertion of small Braille beads.


New Limits

Media is an important element of color management. Vendors pay attention to material to maintain product consistency.


“We buy raw materials from stable sources only,” states Marcus Tam, sales executive, Eastsign International Ltd. Additionally, the company utilizes color management tools to ensure the hue meets customer requirements.


PSPs also use the white point values of media selections as a benchmark for color management. 3A Composites USA sets manufacturing standards for each product line to provide the brightest white possible. “If a manufactured product does not meet these standards, it is not sold to our customers,” admits Brandon Wyatt, marketing manager, 3A Composites.


When developing its product line, EnCore Products works with both suppliers and customers to achieve the desired white point. “Once produced, our quality assurance team uses a collaboration of tests to ensure the product is within our specifications,” says Candace Martin, jr. product manager, EnCore Products.


She explains that the ink set, printer mode, and curing time affect how the colors appear on a media surface. For example, for solvent-based inks, the company recommends EnCore White FoamBoard, PilloCore, MightyPrint Glossy, and MightyPrint Canvas for its white surfaces. For UV-curable inks it recommends EnCore FoamBoards, MightyCore, MightyPrint Expressions, and MightyBull for its extra-rigid core.


It is important to test media before a full run. Calibrating and profiling the printer is essential. Tam suggests starting in low pass mode and increase printing speed step by step if the result is satisfactory.


Static is another major consideration. “The largest failures we see are from two major things, static and banding. It is important to gently wipe sheets down with water to rid them of static and always make sure the nozzles of the printer are cleaned and aligned properly,” explains Jerry White, national sales and marketing manager, graphics division, Kommerling USA, Inc. The company’s Komatex sheets feature a surface tension ideal for mounting, screen, and digital printing.


Plaskolite, Inc. provides OPTIX DA – Digital Acrylic solution for UV printing. The company does not commonly refer to the substrate’s white point, but if white is needed, white ink is flooded on the back of the image or a white vinyl backing is used. OPTIX DA – Digital Acrylic 7328 White provides 32 percent light transmission. The company suggests that most OPTIX DA is printed for in-store signage and point of purchase displays.


Texture Considerations

A substrate’s texture plays a critical role in final output. Media manufacturers may choose to add dimension to enhance the final look of a direct print.


“The texture and/or shine on a board’s surface will affect the output,” notes Martin. She offers the example of MightyPrint Glossy’s high-gloss surface, which appears through unprinted and light areas of the image adding a reflective dimension. “The kraft surface of the MightyPrint Premier Kraft is effective in creating rustic motifs or a white layer of ink may be applied to add a different tone,” she suggests.


Martin adds that a board’s surface affects the final output regardless of ink. “The ink set determines how glossy or matte the image appears, but the unprinted and lightly printed areas still add to the end product.”


Additionally, while direct to print is an option for flatbed printing devices, the need to mount is still present for those requiring a texture not attainable on rigid board.


Distributor Ties

Maintaining a full stock of substrates is essential to a PSP’s productivity. Therefore, distributors that cater to the wide format printing segment are important to the market. Many carry a variety of products to serve as a one-stop supply shop for PSPs; this includes Laird Plastics, Inc. and Parallax.


Rigid Success

Wide format applications are designed for functionality as well high-impact messaging. The ability to print directly onto rigid substrates with digital flatbed printing devices provides potential for PSPs willing to think outside of the box.


Click here to view the Rigid Substrates Target Chart - an all-inclusive information resource!


Feb2013, Digital Output

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