Digital Substrates Enter a New Dimension

Back in the offset days, it used to be pretty simple to decide what to print on—coated or uncoated, recycled or virgin fiber, cover or text, etc. Then along came digital presses and things got a little more complicated since the same paper that works great on an offset press can give different results when run through a digital press. It got even more worrisome with the expansion of digital from strictly toner-based to HP Indigo liquid toner and then to today’s inkjet digital presses. And now, just to add to the complexity, is the ever increasing array of specialty digital substrates that can range from synthetic to pressure-sensitive to magnetic.

Printers have been running oddball stuff through their presses for years with varying results and limited success. I recall one story about a California printer who ran a promotional campaign for a Mexican restaurant by printing tortillas on his Risograph. However, the first really successful non-paper substrate to come to market was Kimdura. It was a synthetic paper—now known as Yupo—which was initially distributed by Kimberly-Clark. Dupont’s Tyvek was another early entry.

Both had some limitations when it came to what devices they were suited for. Even today, Yupo is promoted as suitable for digital printing on inkjet or HP Indigo, but not so much for toner-based devices. Tyvek is touted as being able to “be easily printed with screen, offset, UV inkjet, thermal transfer, digital (some), inkjet (coated styles), flexo, HP Indigo, and letterpress printing processes.”

Fortunately, these are no longer the only choices for specialty digital substrates. Companies such as Mohawk, Nekoosa, GPA, and many others (see sidebar) are now available and suitable for today’s wide range of digital output devices. As the variety and versatility of today’s specialty digital substrates grow, more and more printers are taking advantage of their unique capabilities.


Useful Applications

The various synthetic substrates generally can eliminate the need for laminating, are moisture and grease proof and chemical resistant, and can be perforated or punched. They can be used for book covers, menus, luggage tags, wall charts, ID cards, membership cards, signage, door hangers, POP displays, and a host of other applications.

Pressure-sensitive substrates are available in two versions—permanent and removable. The removable category can be further divided into those that can be cleanly removed for up to several months, those which are low-tack and can be repositioned, and those with very low tack that don’t leave any residue and work much like static-cling. Permanent pressure-sensitive materials are suitable for a variety of signs, labels, stickers, etc., which need to stay firmly in place. The removable varieties can be used for many of the same purposes, but can be removed when the time comes. Low-tack and ultra-low-tack are suited for such things as bumper stickers, window decals, repositionable signage, name badges, etc.

Magnetic substrates can be run through toner digital presses and HP Indigo presses using Electroink and are suited for magnetic signs, menus, business cards, and a host of other applications. Specialty substrates also include folders, photo paper, pre-scored, and a wide selection of other products suited for various niche applications.


Printers Speak

A few years ago, I spoke at a Xerox “Thought Leadership” event at their headquarters in Rochester, where the topic of specialty substrates came up. Few of the printers in attendance were aware of the expansive variety of specialty digital substrates and products available from just this one company. It made me aware of the fact that printers need to be more proactive in searching out what is available, and vendors need to tout these products more.

According to Paul Gardner of TimeStarvd in Salt Lake City, UT, “Coming from an HP Indigo user and fan, my two favorite vendors for synthetic and specialty substrates are GPA and Mohawk. Both have been extremely innovative and highly supportive.”

“We first had GPA in trying to run window clings for a big beer company,” he continues. “Two words an Indigo operator doesn’t want to hear are ‘static’ and ‘cling’, but the folks at GPA made believers out of both of our operators and the brewer.”

Gardner also complimented Mohawk for being proactive in explaining how specialty substrates work with Indigo. Since then, “The folks at Mohawk have come up with more cool digital substrates than I ever could have imagined.”

Richard Peck of CyberChrome in Branford, CT, runs two Xerox iGen 3 presses and uses “Xerox vinyls, polyesters, plastics, paper and synthetic pressure-sensitive sheets, and magnetic sheets.” He also uses specialty substrates from GPA (vinyls, polyesters, pressure-sensitive sheets, and cling materials) and Mohawk (Bravo polyester, PVC, and Velvet) as well as substrates from other manufacturers and distributors.

At Xerographic Digital Printing in Orlando, FL, which is an entirely Xerox shop, they use a full range of Xerox specialty substrates for a vast array of applications. Xerox six-up CD Label Gloss Coated is used for CD labels, while Xerox High-Gloss Sheet is used for refrigerator and car magnets, and Xerox Clear Lo-tack Window Cling is used for Orlando Magic door signs and window clings as well as in-house promotions. They also use Xerox Premium NeverTear for recipe cards, coasters, badges, and name tags.

Another GPA customer is an AlphaGraphics operation that has four locations in the Seattle area. Reid Baker, VP of sales, says typical jobs involving specialty digital substrates include four-color menus printed on 12mil polyester then scored and folded, and four-color cookbooks, also printed on 12mil polyester with 14mil rigid vinyl tabs and covers. Both types of jobs are printed on an HP Indigo.


Too Cool?

Using specialty substrates, printers often come across interesting projects they would not have thought about otherwise. One job that stands out for Baker involved ID labels with variable numbering and QR codes printed on Teslin face-stock, permanent adhesive, printable liner, which was also printed on an HP Indigo. The customer was Foundit, which offers complete sets of ID labels for customers to affix to any of their belongings that could possibly be lost or misplaced. The labels contain customer-specific contact information, but no personal information such as the client’s phone or address, which is used to alert Foundit when a lost item is located.

In my research on LinkedIn, I got an inquiry from a printer who wondered what specialty substrate would be suitable for beer coasters. Allen Havens of Clampitt Paper in Dallas/Ft. Worth chipped in one answer: “Crane’s Lettra makes an 18x12-inch, 90-pound cover, which is certified for the HP Indigo as well as toner-based digital machines. This is an unsized, uncallendered sheet that works well as coaster stock. It is 100 percent cotton so the price point is up there, but for short-run digital that may not be a factor.”

Just goes to show the usefulness of the Internet and social media and the variety of jobs that can lend themselves to specialty digital substrates.