By Olivia Cahoon
Part 1 of 2
Paper, wood, and fiber rigid substrates are popular for their eco-friendly nature. While these materials are typically known for offering little durability and higher costs, new manufacturing techniques are paving the way for stronger, more affordable substrates.
Compared to other rigid substrate options like foamboard, aluminum composite material (ACM), and poly-based materials, paper, wood, and fiber are environmentally friendly options with exceptional print quality and lighter weight.
The Signage Industry Benefits
Paper, wood, and fiber rigid substrates offer the digital printing and sign industry a number of benefits, including lightweight, environmentally friendly products and superior print quality.
Paperboards in particular are a staple in the sign and graphics industry. “Lightweight and versatile, there are many options for these rigid, printable boards,” comments Andrew Londergan, national sales, Lamitech. Paperboard is found in a number of applications such as direct printed signage, mounting and backing for framing photos, and packaging.
Additionally, paperboard signage is environmentally friendly, inexpensive, easy to print, and suitable for cost-effective indoor signs and displays. “Paperboard signs offer a high quality yet budget-minded solution for all your customers’ indoor signs and displays,” adds Londergan.
High-performance paper substrates designed with sustainability and recyclability in mind offer digital print shops the ability to address growing concerns regarding the sign industry’s environmental impact. According to Chuck Kunze, director, product management and marketing, 3A Composites USA, the most significant environmental options are those manufactured with 100 percent sustainable and recyclable materials.
With the right product, paper, wood, and fiber rigid substrates provide exceptional print quality and cost control. “Our customers seek the highest quality printing surface that will make their signs standout while trying to keep costs down,” shares Stephen Echikson, co-president, Flech Paper Products. A variety of paper, wood, and fiber substrates are designed to deliver an ideal balance of quality and cost with options to meet customers’ specific needs. For example, Flech Paper Products drives costs down through a combination of materials and internal efficiencies gained in printing, cutting, and recycling while delivering exceptional quality.
Addressing Durability & Price
Paper, wood, and fiber products address durability and price concerns to remain competitive. Select rigid substrates offer paper cores and closed-cell construction for durability while manufacturers work to bring prices down.
New advanced manufacturing techniques, some of which are proprietary, enable manufacturers to produce extremely flat, stable, and lightweight structures that offer the advantages of traditional materials but with 100 percent sustainability. For example, Kunze says 3A Composites’ DISPA offers a proprietary embossed paper core that provides superior strength and durability. The embossed structure that forms the central layer is the result of extensive analysis and testing and provides a uniquely stable board.
Paperboard is typically made from high-grade paper fibers, which have superior dimensional stability and unmatched lay flat characteristics. “The result is great looking displays that hold their shape and color without extra laminating, mounting, or coating,” explains Londergan.
However, it’s important to note that not all paperboards are durable—it depends on the board’s construction. Some boards are very durable due to a closed cell construction that offers both lightweight and durability characteristics, shares Mike Madura, SVP, product, Mohawk Fine Papers Inc. This allows paperboard to be used in load bearing, structural 3D products, and recycled when the job is complete.
Other durability concerns addressed are water sensitivity. Select boards are now designed without water-based adhesives, which allows the product a fair amount of water resistance. “And we don’t have to worry about things like swelling, disintegration, or delamination,” shares Rowan Maher, CMO, Xanita.
Design also plays a role in durability as well as pricing. Xanita offers design support as one of its value-added services. According to Maher, its experience allows them to focus on fit for purpose and cost-effective designs.
While cost is still a concern for paper, wood, and fiber rigid substrates, manufacturers are working on decreasing price. Select products are less expensive than comparative foamboards while still offering environmental sustainability. For more expensive materials, the price reflects the quality. “We may be slightly more costly when compared to other types of paper honeycomb, due to our higher quality, thicker, and more durable quality of facing skins,” admits Steve Loudin, president, Tricel Honeycomb Corporation.
An Attractive Option
Paper, wood, and fiber products are becoming an attractive option compared to other rigid substrates like foamboard, ACM, and poly-based materials. This is due to simpler finishing capabilities, lighter weight, and environmentally sustainable characteristics.
Compared to traditional materials, paperboard provides a smooth surface for printing and mounting with no flute marks. It also cuts easily with a mat knife or guillotine and can be scored and filed for three-dimensional (3D) work. “Furthermore, printed paperboard is straightforward, inexpensive, and looks great,” offers Londergan.
In addition to cleaner, simplified finishing, paper-based boards are lightweight and environmentally sustainable and can be used for many of the same applications as foamboard, ACM, or poly-based materials, says Madura. “This allows retailers and trade show organizers a solution that reduces their waste as paper-based boards go in the paper stream recycling path.”
Looking at environmental sustainability, there is increasing pressure from governments and consumers for businesses to adopt sustainable practices and use sustainable materials. “It’s been talked about for a long time, but now we’re starting to see more action and traction with companies embracing sustainable solutions,” admits Maher. He believes traditional materials are effectively becoming the plastic straws of the industry, which paves the way for sustainable products to take a stronger foothold in the market.
Paper, wood, and fiber rigid substrates are used for a variety of applications often designated for traditional rigid substrates.
Due to their lightweight, paper substrates are ideal for point of purchase displays, hanging signage, window displays, trade shows and exhibitions, promotional campaigns, and even sophisticated packaging. According to Kunze, these applications are typically high-impact, short-term programs making sustainability and recycling of the utmost importance.
Paperboards are not only used in two-dimensional applications, but also in 3D structural print applications. With a high crush strength core and weight bearing properties, Madura believes select paperboard products are ideal for temporary to semi-permanent load-bearing structures like trade show booths, retail fit outs such as ceiling beams and bulkheads, and free-standing weight-bearing retail units and end caps.
Consider New Options
Today’s paper, wood, and fiber substrates counteract their negative stigma for durability and price by proving to be durable and cost effective. Compared to other rigid substrates, paper, wood, and fiber are an attractive solution, offering the ability to provide simpler finishing, lighter weight, and environmental sustainability.
The second part of this series provides an overview of available paper, wood, and fiber rigid substrate products.
Dec2019, Digital Output