As large-format printers have gotten wider and ink chemistries have been altered, media suppliers have adapted to these changes. “The solvent and latex markets are growing,” acknowledges Ronit McGuthrie, senior product manager for Neschen America. With the growing popularity of ultraviolet (UV) inks, “people think they don’t need to laminate [any longer], but UV inks [can] chip and can leave ‘lawn-mower’ affect lines.” It is a chemistry issue, and suppliers have worked diligently to manufacture a product that will stick to UV ink.
Jerry Hill, VP of new market business development at Drytac Corp., concurred. “UV inks have adhesive challenges on certain substrates,” Hill says. “Low-surface-energy inks are stickier, so there is a lot of lifting.” Minute height differences in ink laydown also can lead to ghosting or air gaps where the laminate ‘tents’.”
Indeed, there is less vinyl with lamination and more direct-to-board work printed with UV inks these days, especially in the intermediate and economy-grade marketplace, according to Jason Yard, wide-format marketing manager at MACtac. “Low prices are wanted, and these laminates have gotten very competitive,” said Yard, adding that most economy and intermediate grades now last six to 12 months.
While the POP market does not require as much durability, some short-term applications may not need UV protection at all, especially if customers only are using them for a weekend, say, or for an event lasting only two weeks. “There are more film and laminate choices than ever,” points out Dione Metnick, LexJet product line manager. Choosing a lower cost option without UV protection can save up to 20 percent on costs, she adds.
Not all print purveyors agree, of course. Claude Crumley, production manager at digital print and signage shop Studio Imaging, doesn’t like taking chances. “Everything [used] outdoor should be laminated,” he argues. For extra protection against ultraviolet sunlight, Crumley insists on laminating his window graphics even when five-year materials and three-year inks are used for output on the company’s Roland VersaArt RS-640 printer.
The sun’s UV rays are not the only element for which wide-format print needs protection, of course. “The protection of ink is only one aspect,” explains Chad Russell, director of business development at Arlon Graphics, which specializes in cold, pressure-sensitive films. “There are solvent-resistant products, too, as well as abrasion resistance.” In cases of wrapping applications, such as walls and vehicles, laminates have been known to aid in installation and enhance performance, Russell adds.
Lamination also can add a revenue stream for wide-format shops, Neschen’s McGuthrie says, playing into the print medium’s often touted tactile nature. “It is not necessarily an added cost. Face mounting to plexi or glass needs lamination and optically clear adhesive,” she points out. More importantly, however, “printers can add dimensionality with finishing, which helps to differentiate them from their competition,” McGuthrie says. “Lamination adds texture to floor graphics, and window graphics tend to have more visual ‘pop.’”
Drytac’s Hill calls these textured finishes “funky” on its polycarbonate and high-performance vinyl laminates. For instance, there is a “3D” version that mimics depth-perception graphics; another resembles the surface of ice, complete with cracks. Printers and their customers “use these techniques just to be different,” he says.
Specialty lamination also has emerged for high-performance and decorative applications, such as high-end tradeshow exhibits and floor graphics that require more durability. “Floor graphics are more prevalent than ever,” reports MACtac’s Yard, “requiring slip-resistance and walk-on durability.”