By Lisa Guerriero
As rigid substrates grow in popularity, there are more options on the market, allowing printers to find just what they’re looking for: something weather resistant, easy to bend, or compatible with adhesives.
The first step in evaluating these products is distinguishing the composition. Some popular classifications of rigid substrates are foamboard, plastic, paper based, and aluminum composite material. Here, we look at some of the newest and most popular options in each category, and what each product offers.
Foamboard, sometimes called foamcore, is a common choice for jobs that require lightweight, cost-effective, easily cut material. The light weight is a result of the material’s makeup—an inner layer of polystyrene foam with a coated paper exterior. Some manufacturers use extruded PVC foam for the inner core. Traditionally associated with indoor use and short-term applications, foamboard options are increasing.
3A Composites USA debuted its Smart-X in the Americas in early 2014, after about two years of success in Europe. The heavy-duty foamboard is 100 percent recyclable. “We introduced Smart-X to graphic designers in our markets in North America, South America, and Central America as an ecologically smart option for creating signs and displays,” explains Brandon Wyatt, marketing manager, 3A. The board consists of a moisture-resistant expanded polystyrene core with two layers of UV-resistant solid polystyrene. The product yields vibrant color in direct digital printing applications, says Wyatt. It can be used in mounting, and is easily routed and milled for signs, displays, and lettering.
The product is designed for long-term use, indoors and outdoors. It can be outside without sustaining significant color change for up to two years, notes Wyatt. “And, as a mono-material composite that is manufactured without adhesives applied between its core and facers, Smart-X cannot delaminate during exterior applications,” he continues.
Another offering comes from Eastsign International Ltd., which introduced a new foamboard in August. Extrusion PVC offers a smooth surface paired with a competitive price, says Marcus Tam, marketing manager, Eastsign. “The interior is composed of a closed cell structure that will not absorb water. It is extruded to meet stringent aesthetic requirements, utilizing virgin or reprocessed materials,” he explains.
Extrusion PVC can be shaped using heat or processed through wood molders to achieve hard-to-make shapes, according to the company. Suitable applications can be exterior or interior and include point of purchase (POP) displays, exhibits and kiosks, framing, and signage. However, the product was designed with outdoor projects in mind. “It is intended for long-term use,” explains Tam. “It does not rot. Also, it is UV resistant. The color, when printed with solvent ink, does not fade out for a long while.”
MightyCore Rigid Foam Board is a top-selling foamboard from EnCore Products, a division of Elmer’s Products, Inc. There’s a new option—a 60-inch wide version unveiled at the SGIA trade show in October 2014. “MightyCore has traditionally been offered in a maximum width of 48 inches. With the size capabilities of flatbed printers ever increasing, EnCore increased the maximum width of MightyCore to 60 inches,” explains Candace Martin, junior product manager, EnCore.
The board is meant for indoor use including POP displays, exhibits, signs, 3D models, painting, air brushing, and vinyl lettering. “MightyCore’s ultra-smooth surfaces readily accept most inks and paints while its rigid core makes it suitable for large fabricated pieces,” notes Martin.
One of the newest offerings in foamboard comes from the Gilman Brothers Company. On October 1, 2014, it launched Infinity, which can be printed, scored, and shipped flat. It’s then hand-bent into 3D displays for indoor sales and marketing promotional signage. The product is two-and-a-half times denser than competing foamboard brands, says Bill VanHorn, director of sales, Gilman. He adds that the all-styrene sheets maintain their color under any light source, noting that Infinity is part of the company’s ColorOne system, which matches the surfaces of boards by their degree of whiteness to ensure true color.
Infinity is 100 percent recyclable. The material contains modifiers to promote ink adhesion and the surface needs no advance cleaning or preparation work. “It took us three years to re-engineer this product on all levels to improve ink adhesion, surface cleanliness, and smoothness, while allowing for recyclability and 3D forming characteristics. We listened to what the market wanted and we executed,” says Evan Gilman, president, Gilman.
Plastic is a broad category that includes, but is not limited to, PVC, acrylic, and polystyrene. Because of the range, there are many specialized options. Corrugated plastic tends to be used outdoors because it’s durable, while acrylic’s glossy and transparent options make it more common for interior use. Polystyrene is popular for POP, while PVC can be made to suit many jobs.
American Permalight, Inc. specializes in photoluminescent safety signage and its UL1994-listed rigid PVC sheets are a top seller. The material is used for floor and stairway identification. During an emergency, signs guide occupants from a high-rise building and help first responders orient themselves. By day, the signs are a neutral yellowish color with black text. By night, they glow in the dark. “The photoluminescent rigid gets activated by ambient lighting,” explains Marina Batzke, GM, American Permalight. “When all lights are out, the rigid PVC emits its yellowish glow without electricity.”
Palram Americas offers several foamed PVC products under the Palight umbrella—Premium, Economical Print Substrate (EPS), and Outdoor. The company touts the smooth, bright white surface of Palight Premium and notes that it was tested with numerous flatbed printers. Palight EPS is intended for cost-sensitive or shorter term applications, and is slightly lighter than the Premium. Palight Outdoor is made in thicker sizes and engineered for durability, with resistance to water and flame. The option of a simulated wood finish is now available for the Premium and Outdoor products.
At Plaskolite, Inc., one of the most popular products is Optix DA or digital acrylic. Although it’s best for indoor use, it can be used outside if proper printing procedures are followed, says Jonda Baldwin, marketing support administrator, Plaskolite. The product is suited for applications like POP displays and interior signs. “Acrylic is inherently UV stable, weatherable, and features high clarity, making it suitable for long-term use,” notes Baldwin. She adds, “Optix DA is produced with a proprietary-formulated polymer formulation that allows for optimal adhesion of UV-curable inks without the prepress application of adhesion promoters.”
Celtec Expanded PVC is a top seller at Vycom. “Celtec products are popular due to the performance and overall versatility of the materials,” explains Chris Paas, director of sales and marketing, Vycom. The material’s durability makes it popular for permanent signs and displays, including POP, store fixtures, exhibits and kiosks, and display boards. Celtec Expanded PVC is most commonly tapped for long-term indoor applications, though it can also be used outside. “We do offer a Celtec Ultra White product that is a solid PVC, providing extreme durability and UV resistance in harsh outdoor environments,” suggests Paas.
Paper and Beyond
This category—consisting of paper, wood, or fiber products—remains a popular choice for cost-effective printing of indoor, temporary signage and displays. It’s also an ideal substrate for those seeking recyclability. Variety exists within this grouping as well. The precise makeup of the material can make a board more flexible or more durable, for example. In addition, coating can improve printability or change the aesthetics of the product—an appearance of gloss or matte or wood grain, or a black surface to suit white ink.
Hexacomb offers multiple options for its Falconboard. The company presented Falconboard All Black at SGIA 2014, about two years after All White came to the U.S. The product’s high rigidity and dimensional stability make it a good fit for a variety of display applications, like POP displays and 3D structures, states Tim Bolton, director of business development, Hexacomb.
Falconboard accommodates frequent display changeovers, and is best suited for short-term, indoor use. Part of the appeal of Falconboard, Bolton explains, is that it’s cost efficient, lighter than many alternative substrates, and recyclable in most corrugated waste streams. “It offers design versatility and ease of fabrication to produce visual creations that are lightweight and easy to assemble in the retail environment,” he notes.
Katz Display Board is from Katz Americas. After a successful European launch, the company introduced the all-natural, wood pulp board-based paper to the U.S. in late 2013. The product is commonly used for hanging retail signage, though it’s also employed for POP, free-standing displays, exhibitions, and stand-alone advertising pieces. “A unique core allows the board to stay flat while printing and hang straight for long periods of time without warping or curling like composite materials can,” says Thomas Muraca, director of marketing, Katz.
Display Board is intended for long- and short-term use indoors, but can also be used in protected outdoor areas. The wood comes from managed forestry, combined with at least 48 percent pre-consumer recycled material. The board is then laminated with a recycled paper liner using natural starch adhesive. The product features a “high-white liner on both sides with low static to ensure the highest print quality,” adds Muraca.
At Lamitech, Inc., top sellers include two solid white paperboards—Thru White and Ultra Bright. Both are intended for indoor, short-term use, such as window displays, stanchion signs, and POP signage. “It is easy to print in any format, die cut, and 100 percent recyclable,” says Adam Reiser, VP/GM, Lamitech.
One of the most popular items from Tricel Honeycomb Corporation is its Tripanel Display and Graphics Board/50WDF. The paper honeycomb cored panel is faced with 50-point clay-coated white skins. It celebrates over 30 years on the market, notes Steve Loudin, president, Tricel Honeycomb. The product is 100 percent recyclable and is also made from 85 percent post-consumer recycled material. Tripanel/50WDF is intended for long-term indoor use, including POP structural applications.
A top seller at Xanita is X-Board. Billed as an alternative to “traditional” substrate boards, X-Board is made from post-consumer, re-pulped cellulose fibers such as kraft cardboard boxes and sugarcane bagasse. The product is best suited to temporary or semi-permanent indoor applications, though it can be used for temporary outdoor ones as well. It’s especially popular for free-standing retail units and exhibition stands. “It is flat packable, lightweight, eco-friendly, and cost effective,” notes Linda de Villiers, international sales manager, Xanita.
Aluminum Composite Material
Aluminum composite material (ACM) consists of two aluminum sheets that are usually coated with a product like polyester or acrylic to increase printability. The two sheets enclose a low-density core that is either a non-aluminum material like polyethylene or a honeycombed aluminum. The exterior sheets provide a strong, durable surface for printing, while the core keeps the panel from being too heavy, which makes the material well suited for long-term and outdoor applications. However, some of the newest products are more versatile, developed to be practical for a wider range of signage.
Calsak Plastics released its new Aluplast ACM line at SGIA 2014. While primarily intended for long-term use, the company developed some of the grades to compete—in price as well as performance—with the substrates traditionally used for shorter term, indoor applications. The line’s rigidity and durability make it a fit for architectural signage, exhibit panels, and POP displays, says Jeff Tunstall, VP, Calsak.“It can easily be post-print trimmed with standard cutting saws and routers,” he notes.
Aluplast ACM is fabricated for the outdoors, even though the line includes indoor-friendly options. It’s designed to withstand rain, high humidity, and most forms of air pollution, states Tunstall. “With an outer surface of polyester painted aluminum and an inner core of recycled polyethylene, it resists degradation in conditions ranging from intense desert heat and UV exposure to sub-zero temperatures,” he offers.
Laminators Incorporated launched a new ACM panel in September 2014—Omega-Bond Premium. It’s aimed at long-term projects, both indoors and outdoors, including architectural and corporate ID signage; printed exhibition stands, fascias, and canopies; and directional and information signage. The product features a .012-inch skin, an overall panel thickness of three millimeters, and a solid polyethylene core.
“Like our standard Omega-Bond product line, Omega-Bond Premium is ideal for direct digital print applications. The difference with Omega-Bond Premium is its thicker gauge aluminum skin and a higher quality core, which provides optimal results for fabrication projects. Routing and bending panels is now easily accomplished, and 3D shapes can be achieved without an inner support or frame,” explains Melissa Grimes, marketing manager, Laminators.
Piedmont Plastics unveiled its latest offering in March 2014, adding AluPOLY to the Piedmont Sign Grade line. Versatile, the product is ideal for exterior use since it is durable and long lasting, says Bill Crane, sign market specialist, Piedmont. “This product comes with a typical five year warranty for outdoor applications and it is guaranteed not to delaminate,” he explains.
AluPOLY is well suited to sign cabinets, backer plates, and gas station canopies because of its flatness and rigidity. “It can be digitally printed direct to substrate using UV-curing print technologies. Its anodized surface allows it to easily accept adhesives and adhesive-backed media,” notes Crane, adding the product is sold in a range of sizes, gauges, and colors.
Getting on Board
Options are increasing for rigid media. There are diverse choices for indoor and outdoor applications, short- and long-term. Whatever the needs of the job, there’s a substrate that corresponds.
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Dec2014, Digital Output DORB1412