By Gretchen A. Peck
Sticky graphics—that’s what print buyers want. Whether artists or marketers, they share a common goal to create images that grab attention and leave an impression, images that compel you, and perhaps even haunt you. Sometimes the vision calls for those images to become part of the environment, to be stuck on a wall, wrapped around architecture, placed over windows, and all kinds of surfaces.
It’s not unusual in large format graphics to print to interesting substrates that are both visually intriguing and install challenged. Specialty substrates—such as metallic and chalkboard—with adhesive applications abound, but print service suppliers must be both left- and right-brained when choosing among them. Print buyers look to the print provider for technical and performance guidance, as well as creative insight into how ideas may be achieved.
Craftsmanship in Practice
Brooklyn, NY-based Ken Allen Studios brings art to life in the form of big print, primarily for two market segments—fine artists and photographers, and the more commercial realm of museum exhibits and special event displays. This is all highly creative, color-critical work, according to Ken Allen, founder, Ken Allen Studios.
Allen produces print for artists and museums, which become part of permanent installations at institutions such as the Brooklyn Museum and the Guggenheim.
Perhaps it’s the clientele and nature of the work that contributes to an omnipresent pressure to create something visually distinctive. Allen says he’s fielded some wild requests for substrates, including specialty media designed to adhere to sometimes unforgiving surfaces.
“With artists, you have to be careful with experimentation, because not every material that has the look they want is really appropriate for fine art printing applications,” suggests Allen.
Perhaps the stickiest part of experimentation is managing media inventory. A print supplier conducting a lot of testing and proofing on specialty substrates may wake up one day surrounded by unused rolls, which never found the right job. But it’s that willingness to experiment that distinguishes Allen’s business from others; clients come to him for creative consultation and media expertise.
Not only does Allen think creatively and demonstrate technical knowhow, but he must stay up-to-date on new media coming to market. He relies heavily on trade shows and vendors, such as LexJet Corporation, for that. He uses Bling! metallic polyester with pressure-sensitive adhesive (PSA) from DreamScape and distributed by LexJet, for wall murals and museum exhibits. It features a semi-matte metallic finish and is compatible with eco-solvent and solvent print systems.
Allen notes there has been considerable research and development (R&D) in adhesive-backed media for applications like automotive wraps, but he doesn’t often brush up against those materials in his line of work.
Innovation is most apparent in ink and print engine improvements. Allen owns an Epson SureColor S70670 printer with white and metallic ink capabilities.
“The white is critical when you’re working with specialty materials, such as metallic media. Sometimes we run into trouble with a certain color that just doesn’t reproduce well based on the color gamut of the metallic. But when you put white under that color, then it comes back into normal range,” he explains.
On the Market
The global demand for commercial adhesive applications is on the rise. 3M Commercial Graphics announced in November 2013 that it scaled up its manufacturing facilities in China, expressly to meet the growing demands—in the region and worldwide—for window media. In the U.S., 3M reports investments in its clean coating and converting factories.
“In addition to the plant investments, we continue to make substantial investments in R&D. The quality and quantity of exciting new products and technologies being developed in our labs is at an all-time high and reinforces 3M’s strong commitment to innovation,” remarks Tim Thornton, global business director, window film, renewable energy division, 3M.
In Q3 2013, Arlon Graphics, LLC premiered its Series 2300X specialty textured wrap film, which Chad Russell, director of business development, Arlon, reports continues to be “well received” by print service providers (PSPs). “Printing onto a texture, such as brushed metal, opens up a whole new world of possibilities for branding and graphics,” notes Russell.
Arlon’s Series 2300X is compatible with solvent, eco-solvent, latex, and UV print systems, according to Russell, who says that white ink capability is helpful for nailing spot colors. “All of Arlon’s textured products are cast PVC and designed to conform,” he notes. “Because this product is thicker than traditional cast films, we recommend using additional pre-heat in complex curve applications.”
Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions showcased its Avery Dennison SW 900 Supreme Wrapping Film at the SEMA Show 2013. There are more than 50 colors in the brand portfolio—with matte and gloss finishes, as well as specialty pearlescent and metallic.
FLEXcon introduced a chalkboard-based media in December 2013, WALLdeco Chalkboard 6787BK. Part of the WALLdeco product line, it is a 4-mil print- and chalk-receptive black vinyl.
KAPCO Graphic Products introduced two new PSA films in September 2013, a 10-mil PSA-backed Textured Vinyl Laminate and a 3-mil Embossed Vinyl Laminate. The Textured Vinyl—offered in 30-, 38-, 51-, 54-, and 61-inch wide rolls—may be paired with KAPCO’s 12-mil Matte Blockout Polyester Display Film for added durability. The new Embossed Vinyl features a clear, permanent acrylic adhesive, and comes in 38-, 51-, and 54-inch wide rolls.
This past Fall, MACtac Distributor Products debuted its wallCHALKER CB1088R media, which Cathy Kimpton, marketing manager, MACtac, says, “elevates chalkboards into an exciting new media for the commercial market.” R&D for wallCHALKER sprang from the popularity of MACtac’s MACmark 8900 series, which has always been compatible with chalk, according to Kimpton.
Like its MACmark 8900 series predecessor, wallCHALKER is available in 24- and 48-inch widths, and is recommended for printing with UV technologies that support white ink and deploy OEM UV ink systems, notes Kimpton.
She describes the new substrate as eye catching with a “retro feel that is at the same time fresh.” Messaging can be easily personalized or customized. A winery could offer its guests personalized wine bottle-shaped chalkboards made with wallCHALKER as a memorable keepsake to take home with them.
A Little Bling
“We do a lot of strange projects,” admits Jeff Behlmann, owner, Behlmann Digital, located in Florissant, MO. He means that in the best possible way. Behlmann may be known as a bit of a print rebel, for he says clients—including other PSPs looking for particular expertise—come to him because he’ll try anything.
Behlmann Digital has a stable of digital print equipment, including a couple of engines from Roland DGA Corporation, a new Epson SureColor T7000, which Behlmann calls “a really cool little printer,” and a DuPont Chromaprint 22UV flatbed.
The engine diversity allows the print supplier a lot of flexibility when it comes to media. But substrate choice isn’t often made purely on creativity or compatibility with certain ink sets. Costs vary and that means Behlmann often counsels print buyers on a range of options that suit their aesthetic goals and budget.
Behlmann applauds substrate suppliers for making notable improvements in adhesion and removal. Installing large format graphics is so much easier than it was even a few years ago, in his assessment.
He says his team is a fan of 3M Controltac Graphic Films, LexJet’s Simple Flo Wrap Vinyl, and Photo Tex Group, Inc.’s Photo Tex (EX) for decals and wall graphics. A local photographer relies on Behlmann Digital to create life-sized wall graphics of local sports teams and individual players. Behlmann says he has had some great results with visually special substrates too.
The company uses DreamScape Bling! through LexJet for wall murals in small spaces like artists’ studios, and big places like casinos. And though one client was rather secretive about the project she was producing, she came to Behlmann Digital to print on DreamScape Bling! with the intention of wrapping furniture.
More recently, the studio used DreamScape GlassTex Ice through LexJet to produce a stained-glass replica for a museum.
“We do a lot of sampling and proofing for that type of job,” explains Behlmann. “For the stained-glass project, we produced sample prints that were applied to clear acrylic, allowing the customer to really see the effect. They took that sample to the site, temporarily installed it, and saw how it would be viewed with the actual lighting.”
“When you get into those specialty things, it’s not just grab-and-go, print out hundreds, and you’re done. There’s a lot more development time involved in these types of projects,” he cautions.
Media plays an important part in taking a creative vision and having it manifest in a visually special graphic. Substrate manufacturers demonstrate their understanding.
“As we develop and bring specialty products to the market, we continue to lean on relationships with end users and designers to understand the impact products have, and how to improve them,” asserts Russell.
Feb2014, Digital Output