By Olivia Cahoon
Rigid substrate manufacturers expand choices for print service providers (PSPs) by offering specialty materials. Materials that can be directly printed include cork, canvas, chalk, glass, wood, and metallic surfaces. In this article, we explore why specialty rigid substrates capable of being directly printed are trending and where they are being used.
Some vendors take traditional materials and give them a twist to make them a rigid specialty substrate. Rigid paperboard is a paper-based specialty substrate used as structural signage in the wide format space. More importantly for some, it is an environmentally friendly product.
“When a paper sign is no longer needed, it can go right into the blue box with no special sorting, also eliminating the need to commission specialty waste removal. Paper is recyclable and a viable alternative for plastic-based structural signage in wide format,” says Greg Maze, marketing manager, Neenah Paper.
Rigid paperboard is primarily used indoors and has limited outdoor usage. It’s most commonly found in retail environments such as hanging signage, indoor point of purchase (POP), menu boards, window signs, and displays. Other notable rigid substrates include polypropylene, synthetic paper, rigid vinyl PVC, and polyester.
Wood pulp board, similar to coaster material, is an environmentally friendly rigid substrate that is also moisture resistant. Tony Lampariello, national rigid media manager, Agfa Graphics, says that wood pulp board is used to replace polystyrene PVC material because PSPs are finding it hard to meet the minimums required to get PVC recycled. “Unfortunately, 80 percent of PVC goes to landfills because people don’t want to deal with it if they can’t meet the minimum recycling requirements,” he adds.
Wood pulp board is used in retail settings for POP displays and graphic applications. Lampariello says that the applications tend to last two to three weeks before they are recycled for replacement and are given a fresh graphic.
Marina Batzke, GM, American PERMALIGHT Inc., says other specialty rigid substrate products include photoluminescent identification signs and emergency exit symbol signs. Identification signs are required under nationwide building codes and are enforced for new offices, administrative centers, hotels and motels, and hospital high rise buildings. Identification signs follow under the jurisdiction of UL 1994 listed signs, which are required to obtain an occupancy permit. Specialty rigid substrates are in high demand in this environment because building owners and landlords must abide by the building codes.
For customers that don’t want paper-, wood-, or plastic-based rigid substrates, there are still other options. Solid core aluminum composite material (ACM) is a ready-to-use substrate that features double- or single-sided painted aluminum, bonded to a solid polyethylene core for rigidity and a lightweight feel. “Many ACM panels feature a smooth surface that can be coated or painted to any color or pattern, including metallic or nonmetallic finishes,” says Garrett Thompson, national sales manager, Laminators Inc.
Thompson explains that ACM is a preferred choice in metal panels for the sign and architectural industries and are used for interior and exterior applications for architectural signage, billboards, canopies, cut outs, electrical products, government speculation work, highway signage, real estate signs, scoreboards, and wall and fenced mounted signs.
Overcoming Challenges and Understanding Benefits
While specialty rigid substrates are an innovative and fun approach to digital flatbed printing, print shops sometimes run into complications. Mellissa Campbell, marketing manager, Masterpiece Graphix, explains that post-print static on plastic may create challenges for finishing processes.
Batzke says that challenges appear in the production of staircase identification signs because each sign carries a different legend. “Some signs are even a combination with ADA requirements, where the floor level, like B for basement and PH for penthouse, are raised and in braille underneath,” she says. Therefore, the signs are made in different production processes.
One of the most beneficial aspects of rigid paperboard is that it is a fully recyclable alternative for structural signage and doesn’t sacrifice print quality. Maze explains that low-quality boards made of old bleached corrugated cardboard warp and compromise signage appearance. Rigid paperboard is moisture resistant and maintains stability during temperature and humidity shifts.
Lampariello says that wood pulp board offers superior ink adhesion, superior finishing results, and clean and crisp edges. “The media gives PSPs the ability to run full speed. No need to slow down a finishing table because you’re not cutting through a thick, dense material,” he adds. It also doesn’t require tuning for ink density or profiles.
“You run fewer passes on paper board than on a plastic substrate. That saves PSPs time and money on ink, and makes them much more efficient,” he continues.
While ACM has a flat and smooth surface ready for inks, vinyl letters, and paints, it also presents challenges for direct printing. Thompson says that brushed ACM is not completed with a paint finish, but instead a chemically altered and etched process, which is a difficult finish to print on. Despite this challenge, the substrate features a solid core that prevents bowing, warping, swelling, and delamination.
Specialty rigid substrates continue to evolve. “We see color and texture trending in rigid substrates as a way for marketers to allow their message to stand out without having to use too much ink in the process,” says Maze. He adds that black is an especially popular color because PSPs use white ink to create dramatic effects on shelves in retail settings.
Other trending colors are silver, gold, and bronze metallic. Natural finishes like marble, wood, and stone will also begin trending, admits Thompson. These colors aren’t as common as other finishes— which is a key selling point for any client hoping to draw attention.
Lampariello believes corrugated cardboard is the next big thing to hit rigid substrates. “Now we are seeing a lot of printing on corrugated cardboard with a craft fluted core primarily because it is low cost and recyclable in the standard recycling stream,” he explains.
What’s Hot in the Market
Here we review different types of available specialty rigid substrates.
3A Composites USA offers Dibond, an ACM that is comprised of two prepainted sheets of aluminum with a solid polyethylene core. The company says it’s the flattest panel on the market and its superior surface protects digital graphics while providing durability. It is approximately one half the weight of aluminum and will not bow. It’s recommended for POP displays, exhibits, kiosks, framing, and interior, exterior, and structural signage. 3A Composites also markets Sintra, a PVC board with a low-gloss matte finish. It is a rigid, lightweight, and durable sheet that is easily formed.
Agfa features the Duratex EcoDisplay Board and Duratex Alumaboard. EcoDisplay Board is a “green” substitute for plastic materials with equal thickness. Alumaboard is an outdoor aluminum substrate with a rigid polyethylene core. It is half the weight of traditional aluminum, two-sided, permanent, and can be drilled, cut, sheared, routed, or bent. Its maximum size is 60×120 inches and it is available in three different versions—Standard for economic signage, Fast Digital for high-speed applications, and Plus for an easy-off release liner.
American PERMALIGHT offers photoluminescent rigid PVC sheets at 39×47 inches and 12.5 times brighter than a standard glow. The substrate is ideal for emergency staircase signs for high-rise buildings, offices, hospitals, hotels, and motels. The photoluminescent rigid PVC sheets abide by building code policies and are available for $99.50 per sheet. The sheets are also UL 1994 certifiede.
EnCore Products’ mixed metal portfolio is found in its Design Boards product line. It offers Brushed Aluminum and Brushed Gold foamboards with fully printable metallic paper surfaces. The material is available in sheet sizes of 40×60 and 48×96 inches and 3/16-inch thicknesses.
Katz Americas’ Katz Display Board has a print surface liner made from all natural paper with no bleach, harmful whitening agents, or chemicals. The base material consists of 48 to 59 percent recycled content and is 40 percent lighter than greyboard. It is recyclable and biodegradable. Its solid core resists warping and curling and handles changes in humidity and temperature.
Laminators offers Omega-Bond, a solid core aluminum composite panel, in metallic silver, gold, and bronze. It’s available in 4×8-foot sheets with a three-millimeter thickness. Omega-Bond features double- or single-sided painted aluminum bonded to a polyethylene core for a rigid but lightweight effect. The substrate is moisture resistant and its solid core prevents it from bowing, warping, swelling, or delaminating. Omega-Bond comes in 12 color options and has a five year warranty on lamination.
Masterpiece Graphix’s synthetic papers are recyclable and flexible. Rigid vinyl PVS features low flammability and is resistant to UV degradation. It is commonly used for business cards, door hangers, identification cards, luggage tags, menus, outdoor displays, and store signage. The company also offers the Masterpiece Graphix Solid Core Polyester that is stain, tear, and weather resistant. The polyester features a bright white matte finish, anti-static properties, and high heat resistance.
Neenah Paper features conVerd Board, a rigid paper-based material that is ecofriendly, recyclable, and fiber-based. This substrate is a green alternative to PVC, styrene, and foam-based boards. It features a smooth finish in bright white and is printable on both sides with a moisture and crush resistant surface. conVerd Board is commonly used for wide format print media, displays, indoor POP, and structural signage.
Palram Americas, Inc.’s PALIGHT flat foamed PVC sheets are lightweight, versatile, flexible, and durable. They are used for signs, displays, and construction applications. PALIGHT is available in standard and special designer colors with a standard matte or gloss finish. The sheets have low water absorption and high chemical resistance. They can be printed, painted, or laminated.
Directly Printed Substrates
Digital flatbed printing allows rigid substrates to be directly printed. As the market grows, an increasing amount of new specialty rigid substrates emerge. Specialty rigid substrates include ACM, chalk, glass, plastics, and wood. These substrates are used in various environments.
Feb2017, Digital Output