By Cassandra Balentine
Print service providers (PSPs) are accustomed to bringing to life a variety of creative and out-of-the-box ideas. This often entails a full arsenal of capabilities.
Pressure-sensitive adhesive vinyl is a go-to solution for decorating everything from walls to vehicles and even odd items like refrigerators and helmets. No item is too small or too complex for a determined print provider with a qualified installer. However, the print-to-anything mentality is expands as the latest in digital printing technologies, such as UV LED, enable direct printing to surfaces like glass, metal, and wood.
PSPs must determine which printing method is the best means to an end, and factor in the advantages and disadvantages of each process when making a decision to invest in new solutions or equipment.
Above: Arlon SLX Cast Wrap provides a long-term bond in deep channels, complex curves, and rivets. This wrap was completed by Digital Precision of Alpharetta, GA.
Print Advancements and Wraps
UV LED printing equipment, software, and ink sets continue to advance the capabilities of the technology to print to more materials. This may have some wondering if and how it affects other areas of the market; including adhesive vinyl wraps.
Shaun Jaycox, product specialist, S-One Holdings Corporation, believes that for basic mounted sign graphics, this technology has somewhat impacted the adhesive vinyl market. “These printers print directly to sign boards, alleviating the need for adhesive products,” he offers. However, there are still a variety of other applications that require adhesive vinyl.
Paul Roba, OEM relationship manager, Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions, sees little impact of LED UV printing on wraps, as they are typically used for three dimensional applications or architectural surfaces like wraps, floors, and walls, which might not be suitable for the use of rigid boards unless transfer adhesives or other fasteners are used.
Mike Mentone, application engineer, 3M Commercial Solutions, adds that most UV LED printers do not use a flexible ink, which makes it difficult to do applications like vehicle wraps. “If you’re printing onto a self-adhesive vinyl substrate, you want it to be flexible to conform over curves in a vehicle or deep channels. UV inks generally won’t allow you to do that. In most cases, UV printing without flexible inks isn’t ideal for vehicles,” he recommends.
On the other hand, Chi Chan, technical services engineer, Arlon Graphics LLC, comments that advanced UV LED technology is capable of printing on cast and calendared vinyl, as UV LED manufacturers have made recent developments in flexible ink for certain applications.
One Way or Another
For instances where direct printing could be an option, vinyl-based output provides some advantages.
Jaycox sees benefits to vinyl over direct printing. “You can change the finish of the mounted surface with gloss or matte vinyl. The base application can also be reused with removable adhesive vinyl. Graphics printed on vinyl are easily rolled and shipped as opposed to heavy boards and it is easy to install on site,” he shares.
Logistically, pressure-sensitive vinyl for printing and lamination to rigid substrates is still useful to PSPs without a flatbed or hybrid printer that allows them to print directly to rigid substrates, offers Roba. “Additionally, the pressure-sensitive vinyl material can provide a more vivid image, and showcase colors that may not be available with rigid substrates,” he adds.
Pressure-sensitive vinyl also enables the ability to apply multiple layers of vinyl over the original rigid substrate, thus eliminating the need to remove and replace the board, notes Roba.
“Removability is a big advantage,” comments Adrian Cook, marketing manager – digital print films, 3M. “If you’re printing direct to a substrate, you’re not going to be able to remove the image like you can with a vinyl wrap, which you can take off and the substrate still looks like new. You can remove and change out the graphic as frequently as you want and as needed or requested by the client.”
Installation convenience and efficiency is a plus with pressure-sensitive vinyl. “If you have a sign already installed, you can print on the vinyl and install the graphic over it. However, if you’re printing direct to substrate, you would have to take the sign down, print on it, and then put it back up. In addition to that, putting a substrate through a printer is not always practical depending on the application. Take a glass window, for instance. You’re not going to uninstall it, put that through your UV printer, and then reinstall the window,” offers Cook.
Evolution in Vinyl
As printing technology advances, so too does media. Jaycox says adhesives have advanced significantly and adhere to a range of substrates including low-surface energy plastics and brick or textured walls.
“There are gaps in the print-to/on-anything world in which pressure-sensitive vinyl can fill. As previously mentioned, this would be applicable for PSPs without the technology or in instances where the installation does not allow direct to printing capabilities,” adds Roba.
Mentone shares that vinyl films still offer value in relation to preparation and print testing. Instead of carrying a variety of profiles for various direct-to-substrate options and having to test whether the ink will adhere to the substrate, the vinyl surface is consistent, adheres well with the inks, and can be applied to many different types of substrates in the field. This saves on testing time and prevents potential failures with inks on different substrates.
“We focus on making our films more installer friendly. That means making our films quicker to install, easier to remove, and more suitable for a wider variety of substrates,” says Cook.
Arlon adapts its vinyl options by ensuring films are printable on the latest printer models. It also provides support by making ICC profiles available for its vinyl media.
Avery Dennison works to add new substrates that are more environmentally friendly and helpful to PSPs and end users looking to reduce their environmental footprints. “Our team is working closely with printer OEMs to help develop and qualify inks for use on complex vehicle graphics,” explains Roba.
Josh Culverhouse, graphic innovations market manager, ORAFOL Americas, says that over the years it became apparent that wide and grand format flatbed printers would become more attainable to a broader range of signage and graphics companies in the market.
Therefore, ORAFOL identified ways to integrate and offer products that would complement these evolving technologies with additions of 80-inch wide promotional or economical grade pressure-sensitive vinyl materials in its ORAJET line. “The 80-inch printable materials are great for users with grand format flatbed equipment that can print roll to roll.”
Jaycox points out that HP Large Format Media, which S-One is the parent company of, recently launched a line of adhesive vinyl products for latex, UV, and solvent printers. The HP Universal Adhesive Vinyl portfolio is designed with a premium, double-sided, PE-coated release liner that performs well with a range of printers, including those that run at high heat levels and fast speeds.
Wrap Vinyl Trends
Vinyl media opens the door to many trends, such as the ability to transform any environment quickly and easily with graphics and messaging.
“Many graphics shops are trying to push the boundaries to create something unique and different. They’re taking risks and mixing products to create looks that no one else has made before. I’ve seen chrome, reflective, and neon films mixed together on vehicles, for example. They’re pushing the boundaries of design to create a wow factor,” shares Cook.
“The only limit now is your imagination. You can wrap almost anything—windows, walls, floors, vehicles, rough surfaces. You name it. Many surfaces have the potential for graphics, and we’re seeing graphics manufacturers and installers get more creative every day,” offers Mentone.
Chan says interest in interior and exterior vinyl wraps is growing rapidly. “We are getting a lot of wall wrap questions and inquiries,” he admits, adding that the company is working on training customers and distributors on how to best execute these applications.
Roba notes the merge of color change and digital wrapping, from small commercial fleets containing supreme wrapping film to digital wraps becoming more popular for full vehicle wraps. Many consumers want their own unique color and are having that color custom printed to be applied to their vehicle.
Jaycox points to the use increased use of slideable adhesives. Slideable adhesives offer a low-tack adhesive until the graphic is pressed into place. This is beneficial for less experienced installers as they can easily slide/move the product around in order to position it properly during a wrap application.
In addition to the advantages vinyl offers, there are issues that PSPs must contend with in order to be successful.
Justifying the return on investment can be a challenge. “Brand owners have so many options when it comes to spending money on branding and advertising. Digital advertising is a growing trend. However, we believe branding graphics and wraps for brick and mortar establishments, as well as fleets, is a wise investment that brand owners should not overlook,” says Cook.
Roba points to continuing downward pressures on price points for media. “Some PSPs will not use ‘name brand’ materials in an effort to save on the overall costs of graphics. This can lead to reworks and inadequate technical support, so I recommend going with an industry leader with a track record of performance,” he shares.
Chan finds it a challenge for entry-level PSPs to understand that UV LED ink behaves differently from eco-solvent and latex ink. “For instance, the surface energy of UV LED inks is lower than eco-solvent in general. On wall wraps that include multiple panels with one-inch overlaps, the overlapping area may lift over time when installed with only a squeegee. We suggest installing it with a heat gun and foam roller on overlapping graphics to ensure proper adhesive wet out,” he explains.
A Case for Vinyl
With continued advancements in UV LED print technology, there is a case to be made for direct printing where vinyl was once the go-to print method. However, vinyl media still presents many advantages and is an attractive service offering for modern PSPs.
Its flexibility is one of its primary selling points. “You can wrap almost anything with vinyl. You can’t say that about anything else,” admits Cook.
Mentone adds that there is a balance of printing, performance, durability, and removability compared to cost of doing business. “Vinyl films provide the best balance of all the attributes at a reasonable cost.”
Jaycox points to a report by AWA Alexander Watson Associates B.V., which indicates that over 700 million square meters of adhesive vinyl is printed yearly in North America and continues to grow. “Adhesive vinyl is an easy, low-cost way for brand awareness, indoor/outdoor advertising, vehicle graphics and protection films, décor, road traffic and safety marking, labels and decals, and wayfinding,” he exclaims.
Although the ability to directly print onto many rigid substrates is now possible, there are still a range of applications where it is necessary to print on pressure-sensitive vinyl and then apply those to a substrate. “For instance, printing directly on installed fixtures is not practical, therefore pressure-sensitive vinyl is still in high demand,” offers Roba.
“Vinyl-based media offers advantages that has yet to be matched by other media at a similar price point or in a rolled format,” says Chan. He predicts vinyl-based media will continue to have a place in the sign and graphics industry for many years to come.
Print technology advancements, specifically in UV LED, enable increased media compatibility for direct to printing. While this may phase out some vinyl graphics, pressure-sensitive adhesive vinyl is still necessary or preferred for many wrap applications.
Sep2019, Digital Output