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Films to Enhance and Protect - Investigating Ongoing Developments in Laminate Films

Suppliers are responding to the present economy with more cost-effective materials — thinner films and liners that offer the right amount of protection for the application.

By Al Boese, Manager, SGIA’s PPMA Alliance

While lamination has been a mainstay of the digital imaging workflow since color digital graphics first entered our industry, laminate films continue to develop, offering new opportunities, image improvements and increased durability.

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  • To get a handle on ongoing laminate film developments, SGIA spoke with representatives of some of the industry’s leading laminate film manufacturers. They provided insight into the product directions for laminate films, mentioned groundbreaking new products and explored the producers’ efforts to reduce their environmental footprints.

    This interview panel is comprised of:

    • Marc Oosterhuis, President, Drytac Corp.
    • Mike Barthel, Product Marketing Manager, GBC
    • Mary Ann L. Kucera, Product Marketing Manager, MACtac
    • Karen Buckleman, Product Manager ­ Consumables, Neschen Americas
    • Gary Prato, National Sales Manager, Transilwrap
    SGIA: What new, value-added or image-enhancing films and finishes have been introduced in the past year? What are the specific attributes or advantages of each new entry? What are the applications for each new material?

    Drytac (Oosterhuis): We continue to see growth in our portable banner stand graphic solutions, in which we have matched specific laminating materials with print media. One of the key criteria for portable-display graphics, especially in retractable systems, is that the image should be vibrant and have no distracting reflections or hardware shadows. The image also must hang perfectly flat and its edges cannot curl or fray, even when retracted into the base during transport.

    Drytac also has introduced several new laminates in combination with magnetic materials and printable magnetic-receptive inkjet media. Our objective is to create graphic environments whereby graphics can be exchanged easily and combined with other elements such as dry-erase surfaces. In addition to the graphics being easily exchanged by non-professional installers, they are less expensive to ship than board-mounted graphics.

    WindowTac is Drytac’s version of a double-sided adhesive that allows for easy installation of oversized graphics on glass and other surfaces by hand, without the need for a soapy concoction. The textured release liner imparts a texture on the adhesive that allows for easy evacuation of air pockets. The benefit is that non-professional installers can install professional-looking window graphics.

    We offer a wide selection of textures and finishes in our laminating line. Customers use these more unique laminate finishes to create loyalty with their customers. Because most inkjet printers create output that looks very similar, our customers use laminates to set them apart from the competition.

    GBC (Barthel): Improving upon an already dynamic product line, GBC launched a variety of new products in the past year. Although most of the products were created to meet industry need, a few represented new solutions for the marketplace.

    Leading the new product charge was the formal introduction of Octiva® Scuff Free™ Matte film for the wide-format marketplace. When laminated over graphics, this film protects the image surface from the abrasions and scratches most commonly associated with heavy handling and frequent usage. In simpler terms, graphics that encounter Velcro, magnets, improper packing and contact with other objects are better protected. This durable solution saves the end-user or trade show house from replacing graphics because of wear and tear.

    Another innovative release is Octiva® Cold Mount White. This mounting adhesive is coated with a thermal, low-melting adhesive on one side and pressure-sensitive adhesive on the other side. It adds a semi-opaque layer to the back of the graphic output to assist in blocking out darker substrates or colorful images. This allows an economical and ‘environmentally friendly’ way to re-use boards.

    We also re-released Arctic® Premium Mount. This new formulation makes it the most aggressive PSA-mounting adhesive that GBC offers. It is a supported adhesive, constructed from a polyester carrier, coated on both sides with an aggressive, permanent adhesive. It forms a superior bond to a variety of smooth finishes and is especially designed for applications requiring high initial bond strength. And, because it is water-based, this product completes the transformation of our Arctic adhesives to a ‘greener,’ solvent-free line of products.

    With the launch of GBC Magnetic Stock, customers have a cost-saving way to create and ship large graphics. Restaurants, car dealerships or retail stores can prep their walls with a special magnetically receptive paint additive and perform smooth, bubble-free installation themselves. As one of the widest, thinnest magnetic products available to the indoor market, it can be shipped and stored in a tube.

    Rounding out the list of new releases is SurePrint® Outdoor Scrim Vinyl. This 15-mil aqueous coated product replaces the 21-mil product at a very competitive price point. With the scrim lines embedded on the back of the product, printers can apply fine graphics to an ultra-smooth surface, eliminating ‘image chatter’ and reducing the possibility of costly head strikes.

    MACtac (Kucera): We have been very active in commercializing new materials for the post-print market. At SGIA ’07 in Orlando, Florida, we introduced our Enhancer films in three finishes: Silver metallic, prism metallic and brilliant crystal metallic. Enhancers are targeted toward the vehicle wrap market, to provide printers with a new way to differentiate themselves and gain improved revenue.

    They are clear, flexible films that encapsulate metallic elements. The films can be used separately, but are particularly eye-catching as laminates over solid color marking film or printed graphics used outdoors. They also are also attractive as accents on partial or full vehicle wraps. Enhancers are unique in the market and are available in short rolls, so they are a cost-effective choice for adding a little extra panache to a job.

    MACtac pioneered the category for ultra-thin film laminate for vehicle wraps and highly contoured applications with our RAYZor™ premium laminate. This year, we introduced a new RAYZor finish, Matte RAYZor. It was originally developed for military applications, which require a dead-matte finish to camouflage vehicles.

    Matte RAYZor works very well in duplicating the carbon fiber look that’s popular in the automotive world today. It is an excellent laminate choice to provide a contrasting finish on a mostly gloss RAYZor laminated wrap, and is especially effective on hoods and trunk lids. At 1.5-mil thick, Matte RAYZor conforms to the most demanding surfaces and is an ideal laminate for our JT5500 B•free and B•free Pro premium digital wrapping media.

    We will soon introduce two new laminating film lines: PrintCover™, an economical laminate designed for short-term promotions; and ColorGard™, an intermediate line for medium-term work. Both product lines use a unique adhesive that ’wets out’ immediately, so our customers know what they’re getting right out of the laminator. The adhesive also greatly improves the appearance of UV prints. Both PrintCover and ColorGard wet-out quickly on UV prints and dramatically improve the depth and “pop” of the ink.

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    Neschen Americas (Buckleman): We have seen a trend toward lower­priced, pressure- sensitive films and have addressed this by introducing a cast polypropylene laminate, which is available in two finishes: Filmolux PP gloss and Filmolux PP satin matte.

    We chose a cast polypropylene to bring down the cost of these lamination films and provide the market with a flexible film that is comparable to PVC. In addition to filling our need for a lower cost solution, we also were able to address the trend toward ‘environmentally-friendly’ products by using a water-based acrylic adhesive technology along with the polypropylene, which is a more [eco-conscious] alternative to vinyl and polyester.

    Filmolux is a new textured polyester laminate that serves as a rigid, scratch-resistant surface to use in combination with our new printable panel media for a premium display system solution. Its crystal-like texture hides fingerprints and protects display graphics from heavy wear and tear.

    Both products are about 25 percent less expensive than the premium-grade laminates. End-users can utilize this lower-cost solution for indoor applications while charging the customer their normal price for finishing — yielding a better margin.

    Transilwrap (Prato): As the digital markets are demanding more reliable laminates, Transilwrap has marketed two products to meet these demands. Our products, DigiKote® and Extreme Bond®, offer advantages to the digital markets because these resins and blended-resin technologies offer the solution end-users need.

    By creating consistent quality products, we take some of the guesswork out of the finishing end of their business. This saves end-users from dealing with re-runs, which, in turn, saves them money. On the product side, we are constantly working with our base film sources in an effort to address the concerns our customers have.

    SGIA: What will be the ‘next big thing’ in laminate films for the specialty imaging market?

    Drytac (Oosterhuis): Some of the keywords we are looking to for the future include laminate/media combinations, ‘greener’ products, easier installation and exchange of graphics, and unique laminate finishes that will create and maintain customer loyalty.

    GBC: For the next big thing, imaging companies should continue to look for innovations in ‘environmentally friendly’ lamination.

    MACtac (Kucera): As we look toward 2009, I think suppliers are going to continue to respond to this difficult economy with more cost-effective materials — thinner films and liners that offer the right amount of protection for the application.

    The products we use must be durable enough to withstand damaging environmental conditions. Products that recycle easily, such as polypropylene, do not have the durability required for outdoor exposures. Water-based adhesives are (and 100-percent-solid adhesives will become) important to our efforts in reducing volatile organic compounds and energy usage. Emulsion adhesive technology has made amazing progress in areas critical to our applications — areas such as UV and water and humidity resistance, clarity and tack.

    Neschen Americas (Buckleman): The next big thing in laminating is ‘earth friendly’ products. We are in the process of developing additional ‘earth friendly’ solutions for the market.

    Transilwrap (Prato): The digital market is constantly changing. The newest technology is UV inkjet, and while it could have an impact in the continued growth in thermal films, Transilwrap is poised to service this market with a line of UV-designed printable plastic substrates.

    This product line shows, to the digital market, our commitment to grow with these changes. We not only offer a line of specifically engineered thermal laminates, but we also have a line of UV-printable plastic substrates to service these needs.

    SGIA: Which of your new products address the environmental concerns associated with print finishing?

    Drytac (Oosterhuis): We continue to expand our offering of more ‘environmentally friendly’ materials in film and liquid over-laminates. Many Fortune 500 companies are requesting, or demanding, imaging and finishing solutions that are produced using ‘greener’ materials. Many liquid over-laminates are more [sustainable] simply because of their lower total volume (in some cases as few as 3 microns total coating/film thickness).

    In addition, most are free of, or have a very low, VOC content and emit little, to no, solvents into the air. Liquid laminates are also popular because of their lower cost and compatibility with fast-growing business segments such as UV flatbed printers, fleet graphics and on-demand printing markets (postcards, photo albums, etc.).

    In the film arena, Drytac has expanded its offering of PVC-free over-laminates, some of which are made of cornstarch (biodegradable) and all ‘greener’ products made with aqueous (water-based) adhesive technology.

    MACtac (Kucera): We have a strong commitment to conservation. We have had initiatives to conserve energy and reduce waste for many years. We have replaced 60 percent of our solvent-based adhesives with more ‘environmentally friendly’ adhesive technologies that meet or exceed performance demands. We also recover more than 90 percent of the emissions from solvent adhesives and our liquid hazardous waste is collected for reprocessing as an alternative fuel source.

    MACtac’s newest coater uses 100-percent-solids adhesive technology, which eliminates volatile organic compounds (VOCs), saves natural gas, eliminates white-water waste and reduces material waste. Additionally, our supply chain has implemented a number of programs to reduce shipping miles, which yielded a reduction in diesel fuel use estimated at 103,000 gallons annually.

    Individually, we ‘think globally and act locally’ by carpooling between MACtac facilities, minimizing office paper use and recycling office paper, ink cartridges, webstock cores, cans, corrugated, scrap metal and pallets.

    Neschen Americas (Buckleman): We are addressing the environmental concerns associated with print finishing by developing products that are made in a more ‘earth-friendly’ manner. We are choosing materials that are made with a renewable resource or that are able to be re-pulped and recycled instead of ending up in a landfill after just one use.

    Transilwrap (Prato): Transilwrap is a good ‘eco-friendly’ neighbor. We have instituted recycling programs, control our waste and make sure we are not making products that will end up in landfills.

    Al Boese is the Manager of SGIA’s Post Print Manufacturers Alliance (PPMA). He has more than 40 years of management, sales, marketing, manufacturing and product development experience within the graphic arts and print finishing industries.

    This article appeared in the SGIA Journal, 4th Quarter 2008 Issue and is reprinted with permission. Copyright 2008 Specialty Graphic Imaging Association ( All Rights Reserved.

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