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The Best of What’s Around

Making the Right Media Match

by Thomas Franklin

Part 2 of a 4-part exclusive online series

Choosing media for your wide format printer is no small consideration. There are basic compatibility issues to consider—will it work with your solvent, aqueous, or UV printing technology? There are performance issues—will it produce the results you expect and your clients demand? There are logistical concerns—will it be in stock and delivered on time? There are support questions—does the vendor have the ICC profiles you need and the tech support staff on hand to help should problems arise?

Slighting any of these questions has consequences. The wrong media will not only fail to perform, chewing into your bottom line and eroding your reputation, it can even damage print heads.

Drilling down into each of the questions above will let you maximize your media purchase. A broad survey of media suppliers and end-users yields some basic rules of the road.

Take compatibility. As a basic premise, you need to understand what media works with your printing technology. As a general rule, coated media is geared for aqueous printers while uncoated materials are geared toward solvent. UV can print to either, in flexible or rigid form. These general distinctions, however, are steadily blurring as vendors introduce universal products designed to straddle several platforms.

Solvent printers generally print to uncoated vinyls; PVC banner material; photorealistic papers; films; and cotton, canvas, and polyester fabrics. Aqueous can print to all of the above alongside photobase and presentation papers, fine art, and coated papers. UV offers direct printing to foam and poster boards, and a host of textiles and media.

If you’re confused, most suppliers and distributors will offer a compatibility chart which will let you know whether your printer and ink combination will work effectively with a given media. The best course, vendors suggest, is to order samples and do your own testing. Print performance, particularly for color-critical applications, hinges on the surrounding environment. The only way to know with iron-clad certainty whether a media is right is to get it inside your own facility—running through our own printer and ink set.

Then there is the emerging field of universal media that can be used in both solvent and aqueous printers, which promises to ease inventory concerns and some of the confusion around the proliferation of options.

"They can perform as well as dedicated materials, but a lot will depend on the printer," says Ed McCarron, director of marketing, InteliCoat Technologies. "From an inventory standpoint, they’re very attractive, but they’re not going to replace" all stand-alone products, he says. InteliCoat is broadening its universal line, he adds, recently introducing a universal block-out polyester for banner stands.

"We are working on universal coatings to reduce inventory and make it easier on customers," states Tom King, sales manager, 3P-Inkjet Technologies. The company will expand its current line-up of universal products but "we’re not sure if it’s the right approach for every application."

You can use many BF products in mild solvent applications, notes Max Bowers, owner, BF Inkjet. "The key, in my view, is to create a product which is optimized for a specific printing method that consistently images as desired." Bowers compares the universal media to a screwdriver. "You can occasionally use a small flat head screwdriver to tighten a cross tip screw, but you’re generally far better off using a cross tip screwdriver to begin with."

When eyeing up universal products, rougher surfaces, like matte papers, tend to perform better than slick surfaces, like polyester films, says Jerry Hill, VP of sales, Drytac Corp.

There is also a subset of universal products that don’t span printer types, but ink types. Within the aqueous market, Kodak is offering media that can be used with either dye or pigment inks, such as backlit film, says Kevin Shimamoto, worldwide marketing manager, Kodak Graphics Communications.

For solvent printers, papers that can accept eco-solvent and solvent inks are one area of focus for GBC, notes Cindy Pilch, senior product manager, GBC. Though the inks do behave differently—solvent inks bite into the paper, while eco-solvents use heat to open up pores in the media—the company’s SurePrint Select line of vinyl is geared to bridge the gap.

With apologies to John Donne, no media is an island. Its performance hinges on the interplay of the printer and ink. If one part underperforms, the whole suffers. The cause of much suffering can be traced to color management.

Most vendors will include a selection of canned profiles for certain ink, media, and printer combinations on their Web site.

"When we launch a new product, we start with a basic package of profiles and fine tune as we receive requests from our customers," says Dan Halkyard, director of marketing, Océ North America.

For some businesses, these off-the-shelf profiles will produce sellable results, while other firms prefer to create their own custom profiles to achieve an even closer match.

Look for the April issue of Digital Output for a full feature article on Media Trends.

Click here to read Part 1 of this exclusive online series, Better Printing Through Chemistry

Mar2007, Digital Output

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