By Melissa Donovan
Plastic, rigid vinyl film is commonly used in point of purchase (POP) applications from countertop advertising, shelf danglers, and traditional signage to promotional materials. Found in a myriad of retail-type environments, they are available in a range of finishes. With this variety, an opportunity is presented to any print service provider (PSP) looking to offer customers an inexpensive, yet professional appearance for their graphics.
Above: Curbell Plastics’ rigid plastic films come in sheets and are used for applications like overlays.
Where To See It
Rigid plastic films are commonly used in POP applications, in addition to traditional signage and promotional materials. This is mainly because of cost. “Most rigid plastic films are relatively inexpensive and can be used for short- to medium-term advertising campaigns,” explains David Buchholtz, senior product specialist films and tapes, Curbell Plastics, Inc.
“Rigid polyvinyl chloride (RPVC) is a go-to choice for POP applications. It is an easy product to work with as it can be printed in a range of methods, is rigid enough to handle the traffic, and die cuts easily,” agrees Rebecca Fuhrman, market development manager – digital print and coated films, Tekra, LLC.
In addition, Buchholtz says rigid plastic films are regularly utilized for graphic overlays, automotive projects, printed electronics, and other industrial applications.
“There seems to be a trend toward higher performing films that are more durable when it comes to applications like automotive interiors and medical and electronics applications. We have particularly seen an increase in long-term performance in polycarbonate and polyester lines of films with laminated and coated substrates,” he continues.
Jay Kroll, product manager for cut, transit, and wall solutions, General Formulations, favors plastic, rigid vinyl film in POP applications over paperboard stock because it’s more durable and resistant to damage from spills and generally provides a higher quality look. For two-sided window graphics, he says rigid films allow for a weather-resistant solution that can be installed inside or out with the addition of a removable mounting film.
Print and Finish
Print engine hardware advancements allow for numerous ink sets to print to plastic, rigid vinyl films.
Historically, Kroll notes this was a space thriving with screenprinting inks but the last five to ten years brought “speed and versatility of UV inks” and while there are some rigid materials compatible with solvent and latex, the majority are UV.
The natural dyne level of these substrates means they can be easily printed to with UV, solvent, or latex ink. “These inks naturally create a mechanical bond to RPVC, allowing for adequate ink anchorage and vibrancy for most POP applications. However, if an application requires a little more durability, companies like Tekra have the ability to coat this product for UV printers, offering superior ink adhesion for demanding applications or post processing,” shares Fuhrman.
Plastic, rigid vinyl films are available in a variety of finishes like clear matte, white opaque matte, clear gloss, white opaque gloss, white opaque polished, embossed, and even black opaque matte. Fuhrman takes us through white, gloss, and clear products and when they may be used.
White matte films are often seen in POP applications because they allow for the colors to really explode. This allows the graphic to be the focus instead of the material and fulfills the need for POP applications that need to be eye catching.
Gloss finishes are often used for applications where having an affordable product is necessary, but a higher end look is required.
Clear RPVC is used to reverse print the image, allowing the ink to be protected behind the film, which can reduce some post-processing steps and make sure the message is always clearly displayed.
Scruff-resistant finishes are an option when a tactile feel is required and matte finish is desired. “A mouse pad or signage in a high-traffic area—such as door sign—is an example of a scuff-resistant PVC application, it allows for a little more durability as well as keeps the item from showing as many abrasions when in use,” continues Fuhrman.
Factoring It In
To determine the best rigid plastic film for the job, factors like scuff resistance, ease of cutting, and media thickness should be considered. These factors are often determined based on the application or the material in question.
“Polycarbonate film is chosen for its ability to handle high temperatures; ease of printability; ease of processing—thermoforming, die cutting, or embossing; and light transmission. Polyester film is often preferred for its good optical clarity, thermal and chemical stability, and good mechanical stability. Other rigid films are chosen for their printability, color variety, and ease of processing,” says Buchholtz.
Comparing between a thick or thin material, Fuhrman says if rigidity is important, a thick gauge is needed to give it a more substantial feel and hold up in use. A thicker RPVC also slides into frames easier and hangs more evenly, she adds.
For thinner substrates, these may be used when building multi-layer products like cards, two-way signage that requires 100 percent opacity, or when you need the material to have some give when it is placed into framework in the field—like shelf strips, adds Fuhrman.
“The material’s surface texture should be considered with the application as well. If it will be in a high-traffic area where people have the chance to touch the signage, a matte or scuff-resistant material may be better to hide or minimize the scratching. You also want to consider the glare from retail lighting on gloss finishes, and if that will impact the ability for the sign to be properly read or noticed,” continues Fuhrman.
Kroll says application is the number one driver. “Whether translucence or opacity, flexibility or firmness, or its ability to be cut or formed into a unique shape, it’s best to know the options and ask good questions to make sure you’re picking the right materials and thickness for the job.”
There are also rigid acrylic materials, which similar to plastic film, are used in POP, promotional materials, and signage.
Determining where and when to use acrylic versus plastic is application based, according to Chris Airoldi, product and applications development engineer, Roehm America LLC.
“Plastic films are an option until a more rigid substrate is required. To increase the rigidity of a film, you could laminate the film to a substrate—like acrylic. However, you can choose to eliminate the extra steps and costs by omitting the film and only using the acrylic to create your wayfinding sign or POP display. Making the sign with a rigid acrylic sheet also ensures that the sign possesses all the characteristics of acrylic like clarity, high-gloss surface, shatter resistance, and superior optical quality.”
PSPs may not realize the advantages of using plastic, rigid vinyl films—or even acrylic—but there are many ways to leverage the substrate.
Nov2022, Digital Output