Magnetic Attraction

When it comes to advertising, sign makers have plenty of options. However, one choice seems to be “attracting” more attention. The cost effectiveness to easily change and update ads with magnetic media has lead to a surge in the market.

“With regard to the printing industry, there are really two main categories of magnetic media—magnet and magnet-receptive,” explained Jodi Haugen, Xcel Products Inc. “The difference is that the first is magnetized and the second bonds to a magnet.”

There are several variables that can determine if magnet or magnetic-receptive should be used. The environment in which the graphics will be installed, the intended surface of application, and frequency of changeability are crucial for a successful install.

First, the customer needs to have a good understanding of how the magnet will be used. “Knowing how it will be used, the size and shape desired, how it will be printed, and what environment it will be exposed will help ensure that the proper magnet is selected for the application,” said Joe Stout, director of marketing and product development, Magnum Magnetics Corp.

Another option is magnetic sheets. “Images are printed on adhesive-backed vinyl and mounted to a very thin magnetic backer,” said Leah Bruhn, manager, brand strategy and communication, ACCO Brands. “The images can be rolled and shipped to be installed by store associates.”

It is important to know exactly where the images will be placed. “A metal surface has to be in place or one will have to be installed,” she said. “Magnetic-backed material is great choice for images that will be changed or updated often because the store personnel can do it themselves.”

Knowing the correct application also helps determine what precautionary means need to be taken.

One of the most popular applications is a car sign, however, certain restrictions do apply. “Magnetic media is suitable for road vehicles, but for safety reasons, must only be used on clean, flat surfaces without trapping any dirt or dust particles between the vehicle panels and the magnetic,” warned Martin Kugler, communications director, Hexis USA. Hexis produces a data sheet with a laundry list of precautions, including: do not use on the engine hood; remove at least once a week, clean, and re-apply to a slight off-set area; remove the magnet from the vehicle if the temperature exceeds 86°F in the shade.

Though direct digital printing (DDP) has made life easier, pre-testing is another highly recommended precaution. “Our products are all DDP capable,” said John C. Kanis, vice president and general manager, MagX America, Inc. “There is no need to print on vinyl and then laminate, which is expensive as well as time consuming.” Kanis recommends pre-testing all inks before doing a production run when using digital imaging and says MagX has a link on its website with tips for users.

“Making a small sample for the customer can avoid a lot of problems and confusion,” added Emily Conklin, marketing communications specialist, Drytac Corp.. “Users need to understand the application and use the correct self-adhesive magnetic material as a receptor surface.”


Up to the Challenge

Sometimes just the mention of magnetic media is enough to scare away some clients. It sounds complicated and there are concerns about how to print on magnets. The manufacturers have addressed these issues and, while admitting there are some challenges, say there is nothing to fear.

“For magnetic media the challenges are balancing magnetic strength and weight,” said Bruhn. “The stronger the magnetic force, the heavier the magnet.”

“Printing on magnet can be tricky depending on the type of printer. Be sure to check the print head adjustment to accommodate the different thicknesses. Also, it’s important to be aware that magnetic material will usually be heavier than most printing substrates and you should make any necessary adjustments to ensure the consistent tension and flow of the magnetic sheeting through the printer,” said Melissa Thompson, sales manager, flexible magnetic products, Master Magnetics Inc.

The fact that the product is magnetized presents the most challenges when printing, according to Kanis. “But really, with a little finesse any perceived obstacles can easily be overcome.”

One way to overcome it is by using magnetic-receptive media. “While magnet itself can be heavy and, well, ‘magnetic,’ which can cause issues with roll-fed printer platens, magnetic-receptive media is lightweight and does not stick to the roll-fed platens,” said Haugen.

Drytac took a similar approach by making the interchangeable portion of the print non-magnetic.

“Our biggest challenge is explaining to customers that the self-adhesive magnetic sheeting material is applied to the wall surface only once during initial installation,” said Conklin. “Because FerroJet itself is very thin and not magnetic, it prints just like any other print media and does not have any of the issues commonly associated with printing directly onto heavy magnetic sheeting, such as tracking issues through the printer, shipping, packaging and disposal,” explained Conklin.

“Flatbeds don’t seem to have an issue because the magnetic material is not feeding through the machine. In fact, with some flatbeds, the magnetism will hold the print in place during the job, making it easier,” said Thompson. “Wide-format printers sometimes have metal parts, like the platen, that magnets will stick to. Many times the solution is to coat these surfaces with something that creates what we call an ‘air gap’, reducing the attraction of the magnet. We have heard transfer tape, release paper, duct tape, or thin chip board, will work for this. We also have suggested sticking a piece of white magnetic sheeting to the platen, which allows the printed magnet to slide over the other magnet. There are some printers that have too many metal parts on the inner workings to allow printing on a magnet. For those types of printers, we recommend either printing on non-magnetized magnets, which will be magnetized after the printing process or printing on a substrate and adhering that to a magnet.”

Another challenge is making sure you have the correct printable magnet for your particular printing process. “The sign maker will need to work closely with us to ensure they have the proper printable magnet for their application,” said Stout.

The next biggest challenge is educating the end user to make sure they properly clean and care for the magnet. “Proper care and cleaning of a car sign magnet extends the product’s life and ensures that it will adhere to the mating surface,” Stout said.


What’s Next?

Magnetic Media will continue to grow and evolve, according to Kanis. “With digital imaging increasingly influencing the marketplace, we are constantly working on new items for DDP applications,” he stated. “We hope to soon be announcing some new products for this market.”

Stout believes magnetic media will become more prevalent in in-store retail advertising and indoor and outdoor signage for conventions and tradeshows where graphics need to be frequently changed and updated.

A 42-inch FlexIron, a magnetically receptive material, is next for Master Magnetics, according to Thompson. “We have been getting many requests for extra-wide (wider than 24 inches) magnetically receptive material for use in various projects such as POP displays and menu boards,” she said.

Sustainability will continue to play a role in the growth of this market as Haugen said the trend is moving quickly towards magnetic-receptive graphics, noting that most magnet and magnetic-receptive products are either recyclable or can be processed as a renewed resource. “The magnetic-receptive graphic system allows for permanent backerboards, which eliminates throwing foamboard and other rigid graphics into the landfills,” she said.

Drytac recently introduced a more economical 10-mil Synthetic paper version of FerroJet especially for users of UV flatbed printers. “Customers are just starting to become aware of the many applications for FerroJet,” noted Conklin. “Adding a dry erase UV-curable coating to FerroJet is just one of many innovations to expand the creative possibilities.”

Bruhn would like to see manufacturers expand their product lines to become more universal for all print platforms.


Steven Shaw is a freelance writer/editor and the former editor of The Commercial Image and Studio Photography. His work has appeared in magazines such as Industrial Photography, PTN, Printing News and Kitchen & Bath Design News.