There may be a lot of industry buzz of late about new, sexier substrates for large format print suppliers and their customers. To some, vinyl may seem old hat, a tried and true option for banners and other wide format print applications. But just because the digital print industry has a relatively long history—and intimate familiarity—with vinyl, doesn’t make it any less important to the print supplier’s business model. Vinyl remains an incredibly popular medium, and for good reason.
Vinyl has become a ubiquitous substrate in large format graphics. It’s being used across the nation in a variety of indoor and outdoor applications—posters, POP displays, floor and window graphics, tradeshow signage, billboards, murals, vehicle graphics, and more. Why does the industry continue to love vinyl? Why do customers continue to demand it?
It’s a no-brainer. Vinyl is affordable, durable, and available in an array of colors and levels of opacity. Similar to the variations you’ll find in paper substrates, vinyl isn’t a one-size-fits-all medium. Printers may choose vinyl products in any number of weights and configurations, including very wide format rolls. Vinyl substrates are versatile, often compatible with dye, pigmented, UV-curable, and eco-solvent inks.
An All-Purpose Option
Vinyl substrates may seem "a dime, a dozen," with more than a hundred variations of the substrate available, but there’s good reason for the diverse product landscape. The uses and applications in demand in the wide format digital print market are equally as diverse.
There are plenty of all-purpose vinyl substrates that are well-suited to any number of print intentions and types of inks and print technologies. The following provides a narrow snapshot of versatile solutions.
Agfa’s :AgfaJet Premium Vinyl (PV) is a calendared vinyl with self-adhesive backing. It is well-suited for both indoor and outdoor applications; features a water-resistant coating; and may be used with dye or pigmented inks.
Avery Dennison’s Avery Graphics Media is an extensive selection of pressure-sensitive, adhesive-backed media, films, and scrim banner materials.
BF Inkjet Media’s SignMaster Family comprises indoor and outdoor vinyl solutions, including opaque scrim vinyl, and white, matte adhesive-backed vinyls.
CLEAR FOCUS Imaging’s ClassicVue is the most popular substrate on the supplier’s menu of media. It’s an uncoated, perforated vinyl film, compatible with solvent inkjet, UV-curable, screen, thermal transfer, and e-stat printing technologies. The vinyl is ideally suited for vehicle window wraps and window signage for POP, retail, and commercial applications.
Dietzgen’s Magellan 900 is a bright white scrim vinyl banner material with a waterproof matte coating. It comprises a polyester fabric between two layers of vinyl for tear resistance, and is compatible with thermal and piezo inkjet printers, as well as dye or pigmented inks.
Dr. Graphix Imaging TR61 Universal Outdoor Matte is a tear-resistant banner material compatible with most dye, pigmented, and solvent-based inks. It offers superior water resistance without lamination, and is available in 24-, 36-, 42-, 50-, and 60-inch-wide rolls.
FDC Graphic Films offers a full range of versatile vinyls, including cast, metallic, and calendared products.
Graphics One GO 8-mil PolyPro Gloss/Matte/Satin is an economical media that offers excellent tear resistance and durability. With a universal coating, the substrate is compatible with dye and pigmented inks, as well as thermal and piezo printers.
HEXIS SUPTAC is a 2.7-mil high-performance vinyl film with eight- to ten-year outdoor durability. It is available in 83 colors.
InteliCoat Technologies’ Magic is a ten-ounce scrim, reinforced banner vinyl made with a layer of polyester scrim embedded between layers of PVC. The vinyl is suitable for indoor and outdoor banners, and compatible with dye and pigmented inks.
MACtac’s IMAGin JT5000 Series Digital Media is compatible with a wide range of OEM and after-market inks. The vinyl is designed for solvent and UV inkjet applications, including indoor signage, outdoor billboards, fleet marketing, and building wraps. It applies to virtually any surface—flat or contoured—and is available in a range of widths up to 79 inches.
Neschen Americas Inkjet Solvent Vinyl utilize a permanent adhesive technology that enables them to adhere well to flat surfaces, or those with simple curves. The 3.2-mil calendared and monomeric vinyls are compatible with solvent inkjet solutions from Mimaki, Mutoh, Roland, Seiko, and others.
Oracal 3551 is a calendared PVC inkjet media with a permanent adhesive and seven-year lifespan.
Qúe Media Monarch Backlit is a water-resistant scrim vinyl for outdoor applications. It features a quick-dry coating designed to accept heavy ink coverage. It is available in 36-, 50-, and 60-inch widths.
Roland Vinyl Media is a comprehensive family of vinyl solutions, including high-gloss, water-fast, premium cast, and clear-adhesive vinyls, among others.
Sihl Digital Imaging 3988 Classic Vinyl is a white, self-adhesive, matte vinyl featuring a permanent, solvent-based adhesive with a siliconized kraft liner. It is recommended for use with select printers from Encad, Epson, HP, Mimaki, Mutoh, Roland, and Xerox.
Xerox Self-Adhesive Vinyl is available in several widths—24, 36, 42, and 60 inches wide.
If a special project demands a special substrate, sign shop owners might consider a specialty vinyl to do the job.
Arlon, for example, makes a 2-mil cast vinyl that simulates an etched—or, sandblasted—appearance. Available in clear and silver, the manufacturer says it’s an ideal choice for both interior and exterior applications, such as windows, mirrors, and displays.
For wallcoverings—borders, murals, and indoor banners—Cooley Group developed COLLFLEX dreamscape, available in 12 standard textured surfaces, as well as a number of custom finishes. The 20-ounce vinyl materials may be used with most solvent, eco-solvent, and UV-curable print solutions.
FLEXcon offers some unique vinyl substrates. SHIMMERcal, for example—a metallic substrate available in polyester and vinyl metal-flake films—is often used to add pop to POP displays.
GBC’s Octiva Lo-Melt, available in 38"x250' rolls, is a textured vinyl that simulates printing on canvas. The company also offers SurePrint Window Vinyl, a perforated, calendared substrate with a black adhesive for installations that require one-way viewing and privacy.
KAPCO Graphic Products developed Ultra Cast Vinyl, a 2-mil cast vinyl film with a permanent, clear, acrylic, pressure-sensitive adhesive. It has a seven-year outdoor life expectancy.
For an intense burst of color, KAPCO also has a line of fluorescent cast vinyl films in six colors. Designed for short-term exterior life, the product conforms best to flat surfaces.
Mutoh America promotes its Mutoh Diamond Shield 20-mil Reflective Banner for billboards, lamp-post banners, and other outdoor applications. The material has a high reflectivity index, enabling the print to be seen in low-light conditions. Ambient lighting causes a flashing effect that naturally attracts attention. The substrate is water-resistant and boasts a one-year outdoor life expectancy with no lamination.
As with most vinyl media, printers may apply a pressure-sensitive laminate film or liquid laminate to extend the life of the print even longer.
Cutting and print-to-cut solutions enable sign shops to meet customers’ demanding turnaround expectations for vinyl and other jobs.
"There are some really cool things going on with vinyl," suggests Laura Wilson, product manager, inkjet solutions, Roland DGA Corporation. "Reflective materials have obviously been around for quite some time, but there are other specialty films—that were once sold as cut films—that have been introduced to the roll-fed digital market."
Indeed, vinyl still accounts for a majority of substrates being used by large format print suppliers. It remains a stable, capable option for a wide range of applications—everything from floor graphics to banners, from vehicle graphics to window treatments.
Besides being a durable, cost-effective substrate solution for many large format print installations, vinyl is versatile; it can be finished in any number of ways. Protective coatings are helpful when the job requires extended longevity.
And printers can get creative with finishing when they complement their existing digital print equipment with slick vinyl cutting tools.
Contech manufacturers the DigiCutter, which features optical sensors that read register marks. The solution butt cuts, gap cuts, and trims the edges of printed media.
"GCC has been manufacturing cutting plotters since 1995," recalls Jeff Lee, sales and marketing director, GCC America. "Our Jaguar-series equipment is designed for professional and advanced applications, as it uses DC servo control, which allows high cutting speeds of up to 60 inches-per-
second and a cutting force that’s the highest among the competitors."
Gerber Scientific manufacturers Gerber P2C Plotters, capable of cutting vinyl at a speedy 55.5 inches-per-second.
Graphics One offers an entry-level cutting system—the GO SignCutter—in two configurations, 24 and 48 inches wide. It cuts up to 31 inches-per-second and comes bundled with GO SignCut, a user-friendly software application.
Graphtec America developed four models of its FC7000 Series High-Performance Roll-Feed Cutting Plotters, capable of handling media up to 72 inches wide. They feature an Automatic Registration Mark Sensor and Dual-Axis Correction, which adjusts the cut line to compensate for minor print distortions, according to the manufacturer. Users can choose from several types of cutting blades, plotting pens, and pouncing tools, depending on the job’s requirements. FC7000 Series cutting plotters may be configured to be front or rear loading, and an optional media basket may be added to protect the media, as well as cut down on static when cutting vinyl and other films.
MGE’s i-cut system, when used in conjunction with the Kongsberg system, can cut all types of materials including pressure-sensitive vinyl, papers, and various other materials.
"We have a vinyl knife attachment that will work with any of our machines—the 1000, 3000, and 5000 series—in any table size," notes John Harris, director of sales and marketing, MultiCam. "It is a very inexpensive accessory, $650, and does an excellent job cutting vinyl."
Mutoh America bills its Ultima Series Cutting Plotters as the perfect complements to any print engines capable of printing to adhesive-back vinyls. Available in two versions—a 33-inch and 55-inch model—the solution enables printers to cut, plot designs on paper, and punch media. It also manages contour cuts for pre-printed signage and other vinyl adhesive products.
Neschen Americas developed the SEAL AccuCut Table Mount System, which is adept at cutting and trimming a variety of substrates up to 3⁄8-inch-thick—vinyl, paper, cardboard, polyester, and other materials. It’s available in either a 60- or 100-inch configuration.
The SummaCut family of vinyl cutters remains Summa Digital Imaging Technology’s most popular line. The solutions have integrated media rollers and roll-end flanges that enable users to load vinyl straight—and keep it that way, even when cutting at top speed.
Zünd America takes a modular approach with its cutting solutions. Customers can choose from 16 sizes—31x31 to 126x188 inches—and a wealth of media-handling and tool options, including those that enable kiss-cutting, creasing, and routing. The cutting system may also be complemented by material transport and feeder options, including a sheet feeder and automatic winder.
Vinyl-based substrates are the perfect match to print-and-cut solutions from manufacturers like Mimaki USA and Roland DGA.
Mimaki has an entire line of cutting plotters, which includes the Mimaki CG-160FX. Equipped with a photoelectric eye sensor, Mimaki says it’s capable of fully automating even the most complicated contour cuts.
Roland DGA developed integrated models within the SOLJET and VersaCAMM families of digital print engines. Roland’s VersaCAMM VP-300 and VP-540 use quick-drying ECO-SOL MAX ink (CMYK), and offer up to 1,440 dpi resolution. Chameleon-like, the new VersaCAMM VP models can be used as a printer only, as a printer/cutter, or as a standalone vinyl cutter.
"We’re very proud of the fact that we’re one of the few equipment suppliers to have full line of media options, as well," Laura Wilson says of Roland. It gives our users a pre-packaged solution. They purchase the printer, which comes bundled with RIP software. And within that RIP software, there are dozens of ICC color profiles for each print mode and each type of substrate."
Wilson says that Roland has sourced products from across the globe to find the best possible substrates for its customers, including at least a dozen different types of vinyl. "We have a tremendous range of adhesive-back vinyl, because we recognize that not one product suits every need. Customers need multiple finishes, multiple adhesive types, and multiple levels of quality."
"I have noticed that there are some alternatives or substitutions for vinyl coming to the market. They may be a little more green, or a little less expensive, but typically they don’t meet the needs of most signmakers, simply because of the flexibility and conformability factor," she cautions.
While vinyl may have once been the only substrate option for durable and cost-effective large format print jobs, today, it’s just one of many.
Certainly, it’s important to explore the sexy new realm of substrates. Introducing your customers to new media options—fabrics, textiles, and coated and uncoated papers—is an essential strategy for print suppliers hoping to expand their market reach. But don’t count vinyl out; it will continue to be a staple for years to come.