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.”
The firm also features the robust PermaFlex line, which is a rigid, pressure-sensitive overlaminate film ideally suited for counter tops and wall graphics. “Our PermaFlex films last 30 to 90 days outdoor and up to three years indoor,” Yard notes.
LexJet has added an 11-mil Blockout PolyGloss media that is resistant to water. The lay-flat polypropylene material includes a gray back coat for added opacity so that less light shines through the back of the graphics. It can be used as an alternative to typical polyester inkjet material for trade show and retail displays as well as for long-term indoor and short-term outdoor banners, the firm says. It also offers a 5.5 mil gloss polyester film with block-out layer for 100 percent opacity. The water-based specialty film is intended for non-water-sensitive ink and media and “can be used with thermal laminates,” Metnick explains.
Next month at the Specialty Graphics Imaging Association SGIA annual show in Orlando (October 23-25), MACtac will relaunch its PermaGuard intermediate laminate with enhanced matte, luster, and gloss finishes, Yard reports. The firm also will showcase face-stock improvements in durability and appearance.
In the spring of 2014, the ISA international sign expo also will be in Orlando (April 23-26). For Arlon, “finish and durability are the keys” at both these wide-format trade shows, Russell concludes. “We will show thicker laminates and adhesives with laminates,” he shares, including its heavy-gauge Series 3590 overlaminate, introduced in late 2012. The 12-mil (305 micron) film features a clear, permanent, pressure-sensitive adhesive that is popular in racing and dirt bike/motocross circuits. “It is solvent- and chemical-resistant, so it works on industrial and high-traffic applications too,” he notes.
Avery Dennison Graphics will show ISA and SGIA show-goers its chrome line of products, which are available in multiple colors. “Silver, blue, and charcoal black are coming,” reports Paul Roba, North American technical manager. Color replacement films for cars and refrigerators, used in lieu of paint, also will be featured. “They [represent] a low front-end investment,” Roba says, “for which we see a market.”
Russell concludes, “Many shops overlook lamination because it is a relatively simple process, but it is a very important step. Mess-ups are expensive because it means starting over,” incurring extra media, ink, and film costs, not to mention associated time and labor. “The challenge with laminating is doing it right—without hurting the graphic,” he said.