From P.O.P. displays to grand-format applications, the uses for UV-curable prints onto rigid plastics are nearly endless. Rigid plastics are conformable yet strong enough to hold their own weight while UV-curable printing allows sign and print shops to print directly onto the substrate in large or short runs. Given this flexibility, many shops are finding success in the market.
THE GROCER MARKET
This image is of a PVC end cap header with changeable graphic panel hardware and custom heat bending. When printing onto rigid plastics, be sure to control the room humidity for an optimal print. Photo courtesy of KDM POP Solutions.
For the past 40 years, KDM POP Solutions Group
, a custom P.O.P. provider in Cincinnati, Ohio, has been operating as a family-owned business, now in its second generation, says Dan Kimmerly, production manager of KDM. KDM first started as a screen printing company but has grown to incorporate the latest digital printing technologies, including UV-curable applications. About 10 years ago, KDM moved its main branch to a new 100,000 square-foot facility and has now grown to a 155,000 square-foot building while also acquiring several other related companies around the country.
Recently, KDM printed multiple P.O.P. displays for a national grocery chain on 2,154 sheets of 3-mil PVC. Though the turnaround time was only 10 days, KDM was able to complete the project on time using its two HP Scitex
FB7500 UV-curable printers. Kimmerly says having two identical machines was beneficial to this project because of the level of redundancy they added.
“It’s nice because if we move it to the other HP, the product will look exactly the same, but if I try to move it to another machines, it’s not going to match, though it might be close,” Kimmerly says. “It’s just nice to have the redundancy of two identical printers next to each other that are going to print, look and respond to the ink and adhesives the same.”
Controlling the room humidity when working with rigid plastics is one of the most important steps for producing an optimal print, Kimmerly says. When a rigid plastic is statically charged, every particle of debris is attracted to the substrate like a magnet. Even if you wipe away the debris, the particles still come right back. KDM has invested in static eliminators and humidifiers to combat this issue. Generally, KDM tries to keep the room humidity at 50 percent, give or take five percentage points.
Too much static also affects the way the ink hits the plastic, Kimmerly says, which reduces the print quality.
P.O.P. display jobs typically have lower margins; however, they are usually higher-volume jobs. When storing rigid plastic, keep the substrate horizontal. If stored vertically, it will be difficult to print a clean image. Photo courtesy of FASTSIGNS.
“If you have a statically charged piece of plastic and the ink is fired out of the heads and hits that plastic, it pretty much explodes almost on a micro level,” Kimmerly says. “Instead of having beautiful tiny dots on your plastic, you have these little explosions all over the place, and it tends to make the print look very bad; it can throw off the color and image quality.”
RIGID PLASTICS AS A GRAND-FORMAT APPLICATION
Scott Cohen, president and CEO of Sign Language
in Denver, first entered the sign business with his father in Cleveland, when they took on screen printing in the early 1980s and have since stayed in the industry. In 1998, Cohen relocated to Denver to begin working in the offset printing business and took over as the vice president and general manager of one of the largest P.O.P. screen printing companies in the region. After Sept. 11, 2001, Cohen purchased King Kolor and eventually incorporated UV-curable technology into its capabilities.
“UV-curable printing was a technology that was new and necessary,” Cohen reflects. “A lot of people were looking for an alternative to screen printing. They didn’t want to keep buying large runs. They wanted the flexibility but also wanted to print direct to substrate.”
In January 2010, Sign Language acquired King Kolor, and the two entities consolidated operations into one 50,000-square-foot facility. Equipped with a VUTEk
GS5000R and two VUTEk GS3200 UV-curable printers, Sign Language is one of the largest shops in the region, Cohen says.
At the time of press, Sign Language was in the middle of a large Illinois-based casino project, where Cohen and his team are tasked with second-surface printing a wood-grain image, which is covered by a layer of white ink, directly onto 200 sheets of 48" x 96" acrylic. Once the job is printed, the acrylic will be shipped to a fabricator in Illinois, where all of the sheets will be cut into pie-shaped pieces and incorporated into a 75-foot frame system to create a huge lotus image suspended from the ceiling. The entire feature will be back lit, which will really bring the wood grain to life, Cohen says.
In this project, working with the white ink was especially challenging, Cohen notes. White ink can print multiple image combinations, so Cohen and his team had to first go through a series of prototypes until they found the correct color and diffuser percentages.
“EFI/Vutek’s GS3200s have the ability to produce a three-layered file that could be any combination of three images,” Cohen says. “For example, we can print image, image, white to produce a double-struck image with a diffusing layer of white for back lighting. Or, image, white, image for a day-night backlit effect. In this case, we produced the double strike of color with a white diffuser layer.”
Using a UV-curable printer allows you to create multiple print versions of the same job. Photos courtesy Sign Language.
When working with second-surface image projects such as this, keep the masking on the unprinted side until it’s time to print, Cohen recommends. If both films are stripped, the unprinted side runs a risk of being scratched.
“With second-surface printing, you’re viewing the image through (the substrate), which gives it the depth and richness.” Cohen says. “The scratch is closer to your eye than the image on back, so when you’re looking at the material, your eye is drawn to the scratch, and it’s distracting.”
TAKING ON A NATIONWIDE FRANCHISE
Patrick Yates, owner of a FASTSIGNS
shop in Menomonee Falls, Wis., first opened his business in March 2005 after consulting with a franchise-placement website and saw the sign industry as a promising venture. Previously, Yates had worked in the electronic prepress industry for 13 years, where he had experience with printing software, large-format output devices, color theory and similar applications. But rather than staying in the printing industry, Yates felt focusing on signage was a smart business decision.
“I saw printing as getting more and more competitive and cutthroat,” Yates says. “The quick-print industry is really, in my opinion, even more commoditized than the sign industry. I just saw it as a better opportunity than traditional printing.”
Two years ago, Yates purchased an Océ
Arizona 350 GT UV-curable printer, which has spurred his P.O.P. business, a large and profitable segment for FASTSIGNS. P.O.P. display jobs typically have lower margins, Yates says; however, they are usually higher-volume jobs, making for a profitable endeavor.
In fact, once Yates acquired the UV-curable printer, he secured a contract for Batteries Plus and now prints all of its P.O.P. displays for more than 400 stores nationwide, which has been a big boost for Yates’ business.
“The nice thing for Batteries Plus is, because it’s digital, we’re able to do testing and prototyping and short-run jobs just as effectively as we can large volume projects,” Yates says. “They can come to us for five signs or 5,000 signs.”
Yates constructs these P.O.P. displays from rigid plastic substrates, he says, because they are lightweight yet rigid enough to provide stability. Rigid plastic substrates also come in a variety of thicknesses and are readily available from suppliers. You don’t need a large inventory; instead, you just need an amount to suit your store level, he says.
For the best-quality prints, store rigid plastic substrates flat, rather than vertical, Yates advises. Even with a vacuum on the table, the bend is still present and affects the print quality.
“If it’s been sitting there vertically for three weeks, well, it’s plastic,” Yates says. “It’s going to memorize that bend and be very difficult to get that out of it, and it will be difficult to print on it reliably if you can’t get it to lie down nice and flat on the bed.”
As Yates’ FASTSIGNS franchise moves into the future, he expects this application to continue growing.
“We are looking to aggressively expand on it,” Yates says. “We think there are a lot of opportunities out there for a company like ours to expand into that market, given our experience over the last two years with it, so we want to keep pushing it and do more of it.”