A Signmaker's Guide to Choosing the Right Media for Backlit Displays
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A Signmaker's Guide to Choosing the Right Media for Backlit Displays

Retailers, trade show exhibitors and sign shops alike are constantly searching for the newest, most exciting ways to attract potential buyers and customers. But they often find themselves overlooking the potential of the equipment, supplies and media that are right in front of them. Why not digitally printed backlit graphics.

By Jennifer Chagnon, Senior Marketing Manager at InteliCoat Technologies

Are you leveraging backlit graphics in your shop, or are you letting the business pass you by?

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  • Although there are various options available for the production of signs and digital graphics, one particular area worth taking another look at is backlit products and applications. This is due in large part to the recent advancements that have been made in digital printing and media technologies, which have made it easier to produce high quality, cost-effective backlit graphics. Another major reason to refocus on backlit displays is the large market opportunity that POS graphics brings with it.

    Defined as an electronic display that incorporates a light source in back of a liquid-crystal or other electronic display to increase readability, backlit displays create a compelling visual effect through backlighting white or colored translucent graphics. Unlike many other applications, backlit displays enable the production of bright, vivid colors that highlight the product/service being sold, and grab the attention of potential buyers and customers.

    Typically, the same customer base that buys outdoor banners also has a need for in-store point of sale graphics. The average selling price of POS applications like backlit displays is 75 percent greater than the average selling price per square foot of outdoor vinyl; not to mention they are more environmentally friendly. So it then becomes a matter of capitalizing on this opportunity by educating yourself about the various options and newest developments in the backlit display market.

    Whether you're creating backlit products for aqueous, eco solvent, solvent and UV printing systems, there are a plethora of semi-opaque and clear film options available on the market today.

    ABC's of Backlit Display Production
    To choose the appropriate option for producing graphics for light projection displays, sign shops should first consider four critical parameters: calculation (amount), location (where), application (how) and duration (longevity). This information will determine the best methodology for producing the graphic and determine the appropriate type of backlit film.

    It is recommended that signmakers use matte to textured, lustre finishes for the construction of backlits, which are commonly imaged on polyester or polycarbonate-based films. Polycarbonates are reverse printed and then viewed through the film or from the non-print side. Polyester films are available with a textured finish on the viewing side of the film.

    Semi Opaque Films
    Semi opaque materials present the ideal form of media for POP displays because they ensure that there is enough translucency for the graphic to look great under the reflective lighting on the retail floor. The best choices for in-store backlit displays are white films or polypropylene media that offer 90 percent opacity because the higher opacity will hold the graphics vivid colors in the bright reflective lighting of a retail environment. Films that feature 40 percent to 50 percent opacity are preferred options in lower light environments.

    To meet the wide array of environments, there are a number of semi opaque media solutions ranging in the $1.00 per square foot price range for use with aqueous dye/pigmented printers and inks. Some reverse print films enable print providers to print on the matte side in order to protect the image on the gloss side, making them ideal for high quality, promotional indoor backlit signage, backlit trade show display and backlit retail displays. Such films feature high color gamut on the viewing side, optimized opacity for maximum color with hot spots and enable the image to look great with the lights on or off. When looking for this type of film, choose a polyester film base for uniform, low-grain background.

    If you're looking to produce a durable sign, there are film solutions on the market that have a waterfast coating when used with pigmented ink. In addition to featuring a high color gamut on the viewing side, such films can be used for both frontlit and backlit applications, and enable positive direct-print on matte surface for easy file management. When choosing among such media options, look for a film that features optimized opacity for maximum color without hot spots. Ideal for high quality indoor and outdoor durable backlit signage, backlit/frontlit trade show displays and retail displays and durable reflective signage, these options are available in approximately $1.00 per square foot price range.

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    Many of the semi opaque film solutions for solvent and eco-solvent printers present a more cost-effective option within the $.75 per square foot price range. For the production of backlit tradeshow and retail displays, and lightbox graphics and kiosks, there are universal films that allow front print and feature bright white surface for high image resolution. With solvent printers, the image should be back-illuminated to optimize image appearance. The use of a diffuser layer will increase overall density to the image. Lamination with encapsulation is the best way to ensure complete waterfastness for such applications.

    Other solvent/eco-solvent backlit film options are available in a satin finish to enable maximum transmitted and reflected ink density. Such media solutions allow for front print and feature high image resolution and vivid color. Look for tear-resistant options to ensure maximum durability for the creation of high quality, promotional indoor and outdoor backlit signage. Lamination with encapsulation is the best way to ensure complete waterfastness, and cold pressure laminates are recommended.

    Clear Films
    When choosing among clear films for aqueous and pigment printing systems, print providers should look for a slight level of opacity to eliminate the need for edge strips with optical sensing printers. At approximately $.50 per square foot, there are many options available on the market featuring quick-dry capability and high image resolution. Polyester films provide the smoothest base uniformity and highest image resolution. For producing film positives in screen-printing applications, look for solutions that feature high transmission black density.

    As discussed, for solvent/eco-solvent printing, polyester films provide the smoothest base uniformity and highest image resolution at approximately $.80 per square foot. In addition to looking for films that feature, outstanding, high density black, print providers should also consider the water-resistant properties of the film. Such characteristics result in the ideal solution for making not only film positives for screen printing, but also graphic overlays, clear signage as well as window displays, tradeshow media, point-of-sale and kiosk designs.

    Once the backlit has been produced, it is critical to properly finish it. Regardless of the film chosen, cold pressure laminates are recommended for backlit films. For outdoor backlit applications, lamination with encapsulation is the best way to ensure complete waterfastness. With semi opaque films, the use of a diffuser layer typically provided with lightbox will increase overall density to the image. Additionally, clear films require a diffuser layer to avoid hot spots.

    ICC profiles are another critical element in obtaining quality output with backlit films, which are typically polyester-based materials.

    Today many sign shops are reevaluating their practices. As a result, applications such as backlit displays are being given new life. Recent advances in digital printing and media technologies have eliminated some of the production problems that used to be associated with backlit displays, making it easier to produce high-quality, cost-effective graphics for reverse illumination. Those advances-coupled with a boom in demand for promotional graphics-have resulted in a sharp increase in illuminated signage overall.

    About the Author
    Jennifer Chagnon serves as product manager, digital imaging for InteliCoat Technologies. Chagnon has a strong background in commercialization of manufactured products, as well as experience in marketing and promoting consumer products. Chagnon is also a frequent speaker at industry conferences, trade shows and conventions.

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