Unbending Devotion

As UV flatbed printer placements climb, the market for rigid substrates grows bigger and bigger. That’s helped foster an unswerving loyalty to rigid substrates, and to flatbed printing, on the part of many print service providers.

Several factors underpin that allegiance. The obvious chief benefit of printing on rigid substrates is reduction of labor, material, and production costs. No longer do PSPs need to undertake a first step of printing on vinyl, then adhering the vinyl to rigid boards required in many applications.

While there’s no doubt these cost and labor saving advantages are winning converts to the technology among print service providers everywhere, there are other factors behind the growth of rigid media. Those include lowered cost of flatbed equipment, a desire to stand out from competitors, and one other consideration that seems top of mind with just about everyone these days.

With Green

That‘s right, rigid substrates have a green story to relate. And it’s that message that’s resonating with an increasing number of PSPs these days. One of the rigid substrate providers that prides itself on its sustainable attributes is conVerd, an Elk Grove Village, IL, company whose name derives from Spanish words for “with” and “green.” It has been in existence four years, and focuses on green alternatives to petroleum-based products, says CEO Don Tomes.

“The main product we offer for a flatbed press is called conVerd Board,” Tomes says. “We have what we call the ‘trifecta.’ First, the board is 90 percent virgin fiber, with 10 percent post-consumer waste. What you’re getting there is a high quality of paper, but also a recycled piece to go back into the product.”

The second benefit in the trifecta is that the product is Forest Stewardship Council-certified, Tomes says. His company can trace the material all the way back to the forest, and confirm it didn’t come from an old-growth forest, a rain forest, or a clear cut, but from a sustainable forest, he says.

The third part of the trifecta is that conVerd Board is recyclable. “And on top of that three-legged stool is the fact that being green no longer means you’re going to pay more,” Tomes says. “What it does mean is you’re going to get a better performing product at the same price. You get a higher quality print image because it’s a 97 bright sheet, on the GE brightness scale. It’s a blue-white sheet, so you get really good color pop. But flesh tones look very natural.”

Those choosing conVerd Board are using it for point-of-purchase materials and temporary displays, as well as indoor signage, Tomes reports.

“The flatbed signage aspect is taking off because of the ‘wow’ factor,” he says. “Retailers can grab the consumer’s attention, draw them to investigating products, get them excited about the products and then get them to purchase.”

Today’s rigid substrates are allowing retailers and PSPs to do more, he adds. Point-of-purchase suppliers are building innovative in-store displays that get creative with dimensionality and are seen as a departure from typical square signs. For his or her part, the PSP is able to produce faster runs and quicker turnarounds, and make output unique and specific to different customers.

“What we’ve found is retailers are really embracing the environmental concept,” Tomes says. “That’s because consumers want that. When I get questions from retailers, they want to really investigate the product. They want to know why it’s green. What does that mean? We had our product third-party validated as recyclable, by a leading school of wood and paper science.”

Tomes has been in stores where messages trumpeting retailers’ environmental efforts are announced over the loud-speaker for customers’ edification. Printers too can get out word they are embracing green by printing the triangle recycle symbol on the board, to reinforce that it can be recycled.

“You see the FSC logo on lots of printed product across a range of printed paper today,” Tomes says. “You can even put a QR code on it, taking customers to the retailer’s environmental page. Sixty-three percent of all paper today is recycled. We’re selling a product that already has infrastructure of recyclables in place. They don’t have to sort out and create a whole new waste stream. The products we compete against are all the polystyrenes, likely with benzene.”


Cost Advantage

As flatbed printing has grown ever faster, PSPs have been able to turn out larger print runs in less time. That has meant greater numbers of customers for Lamitech, Inc., an 18-year-old Cranbury, NJ, company that is essentially a paperboard converter and supplier for offset, screen, and digital printing.

“Paperboard has been around forever. But with the advent of the digital flatbed presses, the marketplace that had been centered around traditional screen printing process transitioned to digital flatbed,” says Lamitech vice president and general manager Adam Reiser.

“When those presses first arrived, they had a lot of unique capabilities. Printers focused on the high-cost substrates, because it allowed them a greater margin, and because print speeds were slow. But print speeds have climbed dramatically, meaning they are moving to commercial, volume-type printing jobs.”

Instead of printing one, two, or 20 of something, PSPs are printing 3,000, Reiser says. In runs that size, the cost of the media becomes a significant issue. And paperboard is among the most affordable rigid substrates, he notes.

Lamitech makes rigid posterboard products in dimensions from 28x44 to 48x96, and in calibers from .030 to .10, he says. A thickness of .10 yields a piece of cardboard thick enough for bank stanchion signs, and hanging and window signs in retail settings. “In a liquor store, there are stacks of cases of beer,” Reiser says. “The sign at the top, a case card, will be fairly thick boards.”

One of the advantages reaped by any retailer choosing signs made from Lamitech boards is that the product is 100 percent recyclable. “In many cases, the material we’re selling them has been recycled before,” Reiser says.

“It’s a great green message to their customers. Any of the signs printed on the paperboard we sell can go right into their normal corrugated waste streams, and be remanufactured into normal paperboard products.”


Different Right Down to its Core

There’s a crucial difference to the products of Laminators, Inc., a 50-year-old Hatfield, PA-based company that manufactures a complete line of rigid substrates. “What differentiates our products from other rigid substrate manufacturers are the various cores and thicknesses of our products,” says Jessica A. Olff, the company’s marketing communications manager. “We offer products in a multitude of thicknesses with corrugated polyallomer (CPA) cores, hardwood cores, and solid core.”

The CPA products are marketed in various sizes and thicknesses, and are able to withstand inclement weather in outdoor applications. “Our corrugated polyallomer (CPA) core products, such as Alumalite or Econoilte, feature aluminum on both sides of a corrugated polyallomer (CPA) core,” Olff says.  “The benefit to using these products is a lightweight, smooth surface that is ideal for digital printing.”

Laminators, Inc.’s products can be used on signs as large as billboards, Olff adds. Multiple panels can be used to create a billboard, or for a standard, 4x8 post-and-panel building sign. “What’s nice about our CPA core products is that they can be fastened using dowel pins,” she says. “That allows for ease of installation and the ability to create larger signs by putting panels together.”

Apart from the CPA core products is Omega-Bond, another product from Laminators. This features double or single-sided painted aluminum, bonded to a solid polyethylene core, for a rigid yet lightweight substrate. Omega-Bond is recommended for the same exterior applications, and can be used effectively for scoreboards, billboards, real estate panels, and highway signage, Olff says.

She believes the quest for sustainability and elimination of waste will do nothing but enhance sales of rigid substrates in the years ahead.


Accessible for More PSPs

Stan Schultz, director of marketing for Kutztown, PA-based PALRAM Americas, sees great opportunity ahead for PSPs and substrate manufacturers. “There are many people who have been using large-format digital printers, but they’re not going direct to rigid substrates,” he notes. “They’re laminating vinyl in a two-step process. That presents a big opportunity for cost and labor savings.”

PALRAM Americas manufactures polycarbonate, foam and rigid PVC, and some acrylic substrates. They’re used for everything from signage and POP displays to backlit sign faces, displays and channel letters, Schultz says.

He believes decreasing prices for flatbed and hybrid printers are making flatbed printing accessible for even small print shops. “With the addition of CNC cutting and routing tables, their productivity is increased in that they can print or cut any shape they want, whether artwork, lettering or whatever,” he points out.

Yet another maker of rigid substrates is Xcel products, of the Minneapolis suburb of Champlin, MN. Company director of sales and marketing Jodi Haugen, like others, believes sustainability is the greatest trend impacting rigid substrates. “Because of more demand for sustainable products, there’s more focus on it, and that demand in turn generates more products,” she says.

Another trend impacting this niche is that some flatbed printers are so fast they can now be used not just for rigid but for flexible substrates too, she says.

The prime beneficiaries of the move toward printing rigid substrates on flatbed printers will be the PSPs who seek products and processes that can set them apart from their competitors, Haugen believes. “And some of the rigid substrates can provide that differentiation,” she says.