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Beyond Rigids: Advice for the New World of UV-Curable Printing

The increasing flexibility afforded by UV-curable printing combined with its environmental advantages have led to the creation of sign applications, which have traditionally only been realistic solutions for water-based and solvent/eco solvent devices.

By Jennifer Chagnon, Senior Marketing Manager, InteliCoat Technologies

The wide format UV-curable inkjet market has experienced some major innovations over recent years, which have led to dramatic improvements in productivity, cost and environmental considerations.

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  • As a result, UV-curable printing options have become far more flexible, opening the door to a plethora of new possibilities. These new options, which have traditionally only been realistic solutions for water-based and solvent/eco solvent devices, have many sign professionals raising their eyebrows.

    This interest in the UV-curable market is evidenced by a recent InfoTrends report by Tim Greene about the status of the Wide Format Graphics Markets. According to the report's findings, UV-curable inkjet printers rank among the most desirable purchase for respondents with 23.3% of printers indicating their intent to buy a UV-curable inkjet printer.

    Why UV-Curable Printing, Why Now?
    So you may now be asking where this overwhelming interest in the UV-curable market is coming from. According to Tim Greene's report, the burgeoning economic recovery is stimulating a return to growth for wide format applications. Print service providers are expanding into new markets and seeking new applications to aid them in financial growth, while meeting print buyer demands. In addition to requiring higher service levels, the overwhelming majority of print buyers are now seeking "greener" printing, which is driving investment in UV-curable, as well as latex and eco-solvent printing. This "green" push combined with the expected economic upturn has created the perfect storm for expansion into the UV-curable market.

    The instant dry capability of UV inks remains one of its most appealing advantages. By leaving applications entirely cured, solvents cannot penetrate the substrate. Additionally, the ability of UV cure reactors to run at high production rates translates into high operating speeds, which can be run on high-speed production equipment

    Printer maintenance is another plus of UV cure printing. Unlike other inks, UV inks do not dry on print heads, dramatically limiting annoyances such as purging or cleaning heads.

    Lastly and most importantly in today's eco-conscious world is the environmental advantages associated with UV-curable printing over solvent printing. Since UV-curable printing does not require solvent that must evaporate during curing, there is a lack of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and limited inhalation hazards.

    So What Has Changed?
    If you haven't paid much attention to the UV-curable market over the past couple years, you would be surprised to learn that today's UV-curable options have come a long way. Major innovations over recent years have led to dramatic improvements in not only environmental considerations, but in terms of productivity and cost, as well as viscosity requirements and pigment stability.

    Additionally, while in the past, printing on flexible substrates was limited due to "ink cracking" issues; today's UV-curable inks are far more flexible. This has not only enabled more roll to roll printing options, but it has led to the expansion of the UV-curable printing market beyond the production of just rigids. Sign industry professionals looking to diversify and broaden their services are turning to UV-curable printing to deliver premium options for the retail environment, which according to SGIA's 2010 Market Trends Survey Report remains the leading market for graphic imagers.

    What Next?
    To take advantage of this 75.7%market share, sign industry professionals are continually looking for innovative ways to differentiate themselves, and the flexible substrate options afforded by UV-curable printing do just that. Whether you're creating POP displays for retail or signage for concerts, there are a wide variety of flexible substrates that until recent times; have only been realistic solutions for water-based and solvent/eco solvent devices. Below is a sampling of the media options available to sign industry professionals considering a leap into UV-curable printing for flexible applications.

    Polyolefin Banners
    For the production of long- term indoor or outdoor banner applications, polyolefin options present a great surface for tradeshow graphics, sporting event and promotional signage. Although there are a number of polyolefin banner grade media options available for UV-curable printing, it is ideal to choose options that resist water and UV damage. More environmentally-friendly than vinyl, polyolefin media choices deliver a soft look and feel, and are lightweight with the strength of a heavyweight. Sign industry professionals should also consider tear-resistant choices that feature textured, non-glare surfaces.

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    Polyethylene Banner Films
    For an economical option to producing double-sided promotional displays, there are polyethylene banner film options, which allow both sides to be imaged and viewed from either side. These two-sided banner choices offer a lower cost than printing on a one-sided banner and stitching it back-to-back. When considering among the available options, choose films that feature a non-glare smooth surface, quick dry times and superior imaging performance. Ideal for free-hanging banners such as retail aisle banners and tradeshow graphics, such films hang straight and flat.

    Polypropylene Durable Banners
    Designed for both indoor and outdoor applications, polypropylene durable banner materials resist water and UV damage for the production of high quality images where durability is required. Choose matte surface materials to minimize glare from indoor lighting. A versatile and cost-effective choice for sign industry professionals, polypropylene media choices are ideal for everything from roll-up displays to short-term retail POP promotions to kiosk displays.

    Polycarbonate Matte Film
    For the production of high quality, rugged, indoor backlit signage, retail displays and reflective signage, polycarbonate matte films provide vivid color for backlit and frontlit viewing that does not require over lamination ideal for trade show and other indoor exhibits. The stiffness of the polycarbonate base also makes it easy to slide into display boxes or to make panels for rigid displays.

    Block-Out Film
    A cost-effective solution for indoor applications such as promotional roll-up applications, trade show graphics, and point-of-sale applications, there are many block-out films available featuring high image quality and durability at an affordable price. Several of these options can be front-imaged and front-viewed, and are anti-curl for optimal display. It's best to look for films that are specifically designed for UV-curable printers.

    As economic conditions begin to improve, sign industry professionals are welcoming a return to growth for many wide format applications. As these professionals continue to diversify their offerings and strive to meet print buyer demands, UV-curable printing has become an attractive option. The increasing flexibility afforded by UV-curable printing combined with its environmental advantages have led to the creation of sign applications, which have traditionally only been realistic solutions for water-based and solvent/eco solvent devices. These new options have many sign industry professionals taking a second look at the world of UV-curable printing, making the future of the market very promising.

    About the Author
    Jennifer Chagnon serves as senior marketing manager 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. For additional information, visit

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