By Elizabeth Quirk
There are a lot of new ways to market products and promotional specials, from textile-based signage to pressure-sensitive materials like floor graphics, wallcoverings, and wall decals. However, there is still massive staying power in rigid substrates used in point of purchase (POP) displays including corrugated board, plastic, and foamcore. They offer a lot of versatility, like hanging from ceilings, self standing on a table, or framed.
Above: Specialized acrylics include Plaskolite’s OPTIX DA, which is designed to provide optimal adhesion of UV curing inks without adhesion promoters.
Some think of rigid substrates as a staple in visual merchandising, despite competition from newer options such as soft signage and/or digital displays. Rigid substrates perform functions that complement some of their competition, serving as the base—literally and figuratively—for many display and POP applications.
“Rigid substrates continue to be a top choice for POP displays. As long as brand buyers and retail merchandisers continue to value lightweight, rigid substrates that can be customized to meet their exact needs—unique shapes, boxes, stands, and dividers—there will be a demand for this type of product,” explains Garrett Thompson, national sales manager, sign and graphic product, Laminators Inc.
When asked how rigid substrates stand up to some of the newer options available, Michelle White, technical market manager, Vycom Plastics, says rigid substrates are favorable in POP applications because of the necessary rigidity and lightweight required of the display, as nearly all options are self standing. Rigid media can be pre-printed and cut, shipped in bulk to retail stores, and assembled on-site for eye-catching displays.
“If the promo is a self-standing shelving unit, no further assembly is required, which is not an option with a soft signage display. Rigid media complements digital displays in a POP application by providing a customized structure to hold the promoted product,” reports White.
The most typical end uses for rigid substrates are POP, point of sale (POS), directional signage, structural displays, menu boards, and custom packaging. They’re also known for being a good and inexpensive solution for temporary indoor signs or displays.
“Rigid substrates are ideal for applications where the sign will be freestanding or hung from above. These applications usually require minimum hardware versus a frame system needed to display soft signage,” adds Matt Buckley, business development director, wide format, GPA.
A number of substrates are used to build and extend branded environments, many of them thermoplastics such as acrylic, polycarbonate, and for interior use, PETG. These offer similar benefits in terms of strength and durability, but there are notable differences as well, and their compatibility with new and emerging design technologies can vary based on application.
Beyond sign and graphics, architectural designers also realize the benefits of wide format printing and varied textured substrates to customize the interiors or exteriors of building projects. Think rustic lodge interiors, with custom imaged components such as wayfinding and common room elements that are either structural or signage related.
Newer Options Available
As retailers try to attract customers with immersive brand experiences, they use many different materials that are expensive and difficult to maintain such as reclaimed wood. Looking to cut costs while adapting to smaller footprints for brick-and-mortar stores, brand owners find digitally printed rigid substrates are an important part of their promotional strategy.
Jane Nash, sales development director, Plaskolite, explains that textured printing is a new technique that creates a three-dimensional (3D) effect on substrates such as acrylic and polycarbonate and is used to make those substrates resemble natural—and more expensive—materials. Texture in visual displays is an attractive alternative for many applications.
“The ink used in the process doesn’t adhere well to standard acrylic—the smooth surface lacks the minute waves and crevices the ink needs to ensure its grip—but there are specialized print receptive acrylics specifically designed for this type of printing,” adds Nash.
These specialized acrylics include Plaskolite’s own OPTIX DA, which is specifically designed to provide optimal adhesion of UV curing inks without adhesion promoters. It delivers all the benefits of continuously processed acrylic sheet in a specially formulated product for printing. OPTIX E-DA has the same high-quality, direct-to-print surface on one side with the added benefit of an abrasion- and chemical-resistant coating on the other.
According to White, wood-grain texture is gaining popularity in a variety of substrates. “This is captured extremely well with expanded PVC signboard as it is application friendly, durable, and visually appealing. It can be imaged using popular large format flatbed printers, routed for an engraved look, fabricated into structures that double as signage, and withstand the elements for dozens of years. Plus, it looks good for the length of installation.”
Applications include indoor and outdoor POP signage for sporting goods and home improvement stores; wayfinding for parks, playgrounds, zoos, and marinas; and corporate identity signage. Other applications include menu boards, custom home address placards, and museum displays.
For the most part, newer rigid products involve paperboard options. These are rigid substrates that are an equivalent weight, lighter in most cases to save on shipping costs to replace PVC-based rigid materials. Coatings on the paper products allow print quality similiar to PVC.
According to Jenifer Doumas, national account manager, exhibits/display, Polymershapes, many of these products support the same load capacity for structural build as PVC, with some capable of supporting a larger load capacity—this allows for great applications like furniture.
Paper-based options are also eco-friendly. Chuck Kunze, director of product management and marketing, 3A Composites USA, notes its own 100 percent recyclable rigid substrate—DISPA, which is a uniquely laminated structure of embossed formed paper. “DISPA is ideal for short-term promotional campaigns and can be used to create POP and POS displays, hanging signs, window displays, trade show displays and exhibits, and 3D displays. It’s also ideal for creating sophisticated packaging,” he continues.
“With our new Neenah Imagemax Signage, we believe that we are bringing something different to the market as well. Our customers are looking for more sustainable options in retail signage and this year we are excited to bring them a 100 percent paper-based, 100 percent recyclable product,” offers Jeremy Frank, director, sales and marketing, wide format and emerging categories, Neenah.
High-performance aluminum composite material (ACM) is another popular rigid substrate used in POP and display. According to Thompson, “ACM panels span across longer, unsupported distances than traditional plywood and other rigid substrates—making them ideal for floor displays, endcap displays, pallet displays, interactive displays, kiosks, cosmetic walls, store-in-store, full store, and signage.”
Requesting Rigid Substrates?
Typically, requests for rigid substrate products usually come from fabricators, end users, engineers, and designers.
Frank claims that a multitude of requests come from nearly all aspects of the retail environment for rigid display options because the landscape of product requirements is so large. Wide format demand ranges from freestanding displays to short-run packaging and from ceiling hangers to insert signage and that’s just barely skimming the surface.
According to Andrew Londergan, national sales, Lamitech Inc., any brand, agency, or retailer that is passionate for an environmentally friendly promotion without going over budget requests paper-based rigid substrates in particular.
This print customer often understands the complexity of recycling plastics and exotic substrates and appreciates the simplicity of recycling paperboard at the retail level. Many questions are asked at the design level, including, will this substrate sort correctly in a recycling facility? Will it have any issues with reprocessing? And finally, are there domestic end markets in existence willing to buy the material made from this project?
“It’s common for end users to request environmentally responsible products as companies are under pressure to be good corporate citizens. Paper-based options are becoming a must-have to compete in this space properly,” adds Frank.
Visual Merchandising Staple
In Kunze’s opinion, the request for lightweight and durable rigid substrates for creating unique POP and graphic displays shows no sign of slowing down as technological advancements continue in flatbed digital printing, fostering market growth and enabling new, creative approaches to display and POP applications.
Most retailers design a permanent sign infrastructure in store to hold or display rigid signs and displays. This infrastructure is an effective medium of communication between the retailer and the customer. Rigidity often promotes unique and innovative designs that grab the customer’s attention. The result is a printed promotion that increases retention and is made to last.
On the other hand, Buckley believes while there will always be a need for rigid substrates, brands are moving away from plastic materials and are looking for more eco-friendly options such as blockout paper, backlit paper, and paper boards.
Frank suggests that because rigid displays offer the simplest and most impactful solution to get a message across, there will always be demand for it. “These displays can be removed from the box and installed in a multitude of applications. Look around any trade show floor and you are guaranteed to see the landscape filled with rigid substrates as easily insert-able rigid panels allow for the fastest installations and time to market,” he implies.
There will always be a call for rigid substrates in the display and the POP arena—and not just for the versatility of rigid plastic media—but also because performance plastics can be part of a circular economy. Depending on the manufacturer, PVC sheets are formulated with a percentage of recycled plastics and can also be recovered through recycling programs.
Answering the perpetual question “what do I do with my used signage and scrap,” Vycom unveiled plans for its new Recycling Take-Back Program, which is intended to take back and recycle printed and unprinted PVC sheets, as well as scraps and drops from finishing and fabricating. The program is intended for users of PVC and PE products to recycle used signage and scrap, which is returned to the company’s Scranton, PA facility and recycled into its PVC and HDPE products, ensuring these materials do not end up in landfills.
Still in Demand
All in all, professional displays require digital printing and durability, making some rigid signage, whether it’s placed in retail, restaurants, or at events—still in high demand. Advancements in ink laydown to create unique textures that resemble natural-made substrates, manufacturers creating durable yet eco-friendly products, and enhancements to ACM panels contribute to the staying power of rigid board.
Apr2020, Digital Output