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Liquid laminates are often a great alternative to film laminates and can be an effective way to protect billboards, prints, fine art, signs, banners, awnings and other products from the elements.
Liquid laminates come in many formulas and offer a number of advantages over rolled film coatings. They are extremely economical and don’t produce much waste when machine applied. Vinyl that has been treated with a liquid laminate is weldable (hot air and radio frequency) and the coating offers as much or more UV and abrasion protection as film laminates. They will also stretch and conform to uneven surfaces better than a hard coat film product.
“The liquid lamination process is a great choice for finishing and enhancing graphics,” says Nate Goodman, product manager at Drytac Corporation in Richmond, Virginia. “There are several distinct types of liquid lamination options, including aqueous-based coatings, solvent-based varnishes and UV-curable clear coats.
“Aqueous-based coatings are ideal for flexible media and outdoor graphics. Solvent-based varnishes are not used much today in the graphics industry because of advances in ink and more restrictive health regulations. UV-curable clear coats are great for rigid substrates,” he says.
Goodman says that no matter which type of liquid laminate is being used, each is more cost effective than laminating films.
“There are additional liquid laminate benefits as well—they ensure image colors are more vibrant, they provide scratch resistance, they offer greater flexibility, and aqueous-based coatings add protection from the elements,” Goodman says. “Furthermore, the liquid laminating process reduces waste and trimming because you only apply what you need to the image itself.”
Ike Harris, president, Daige Inc., Albertson, New York, also believes in the many advantages of liquid lamination.
“Liquid laminates provide UV and abrasion protection, in some cases costing around 60 percent less per square foot than film laminates,” he says. “The largest markets for these products are outdoor signage, vehicle wraps, fine art canvas prints and digital wall coverings.”
Chuck McGettrick, sales manager, Marabu North America of Charleston, South Carolina, says that the beauty of this process is that it can be applied without the use of machinery, which makes this product convenient for both large and small jobs. “For example, our ClearShield line can be applied one of four ways: by hand using a brush or roller; via an HVLP spray gun applicator; or it can be used with a roll-to-roll liquid laminator such as our StarLam 1600R.”
He says that liquid lamination can save sign shops between 30-50 percent over film, depending on the type of film laminate being used.
McGettrick says in the company’s ongoing effort to provide the safest and highest quality products, it is constantly looking for ways to improve its current product offerings.
“We continually monitor our products’ performance, quality and impact on the environment,” McGettrick says. “We are in the process of launching a new line of ClearShield liquid coating products into the marketplace. These new coatings are more friendly to the environment while providing the same great performance that our customers have been accustomed to.”
He adds they also offer a coating called ClearShield Wall Armor, which is specific to the rapidly growing wall covering market segment.
“This coating allows users to sell and install their digitally printed wall coverings into commercial spaces such as hotels and health care facilities that require strict Type II Certification,” he says.
Growing Market Segments
McGettrick says he is seeing growth trends in two market segments: digital wall coverings and vehicle wraps.
“Digitally printable wall coverings have become very popular in the last 12-24 months,” he says. “The vehicle wrap market segment is extremely competitive and liquid lamination can give printers a competitive advantage when it comes to cost. Because liquid lamination is typically less expensive than film lamination, the providers of the car wraps can be a little more competitive when quoting jobs without necessarily sacrificing margin.”
The company also provides products that are tailored to the fine art giclée/art decor market.
“Our ClearShield Canvas Guard and ClearJet Fine Art products provide UV protection, mar resistance, and stretchablity, for canvas and other fine art applications,” he says.
Goodman points out aqueous-based liquids are great for fine art prints because they add significant value without diminishing the quality of the print.
“Wallpaper applications can also be profitable because liquid coating adds protection without changing the look of the material,” he says. “Aqueous-based coatings are being used on vehicle wraps, truck curtains, inflatables, wallpaper, bus advertising and fine art prints. UV cured clear coats can be found on mailers, posters and rigid signs. A few places still use solvent-based varnishes on canvas and films like Duratrans, but most have moved to other liquid coating systems,” he explains.
Drytac offers a wide range of liquid coatings suitable for aqueous liquid coating systems. The line of EnduraCoat aqueous liquid coatings are good for applications such as fleet graphics, canvas prints, signs and banners, and digitally printed wall coverings.
Goodman says that liquid lamination also helps stabilize inks and prevents the final output from looking like plastic. The film formed by liquid laminates is flexible and can conform to complex curves rather than causing the material to tent or delaminate. There is also less waste and time needed for finishing labor because it is not necessary to trim film after lamination.
He says that you can also achieve different finishes with liquid laminate, such as gloss, matte or satin.
“The finish is determined by the resin of the coating applied and the absorption of the coating into the media,” Goodman says. “A matting agent can be used when the coating is made to help lower the sheen. Most coatings come in gloss and matte finishes. Typically, outdoor applications utilize gloss coatings while indoor applications utilize matte or satin coatings to eliminate glare.”
Goodman adds you can also control the thickness of the liquid lam layer as well. “Aqueous-based liquid laminators use a wire-wrapped bar, known as a Mayer bar, to meter the thickness of the coating applied to a roll of media. The gaps between the wire let a certain amount of coating pass. The bigger the wire, the more coating that passes through the gap and the thicker the liquid film that is applied. After passing the Mayer bar, the coating flows back together and creates a smooth film. UV-curable clear coats are applied with a roller and leave a slight orange peel texture finish,” he concludes.
Manual or Automatic Options
Daige offers two economical products for the liquid laminating market: the EZ Glide applicator and Rollaguard liquid laminate. “The EZ Glide applicator is a low cost, manually operated applicator for applying liquid laminates smoothly and evenly every time. It is much faster than using a brush and it eliminates spray mess,” says Harris. “The Rollaguard liquid laminate is a water-based coating that provides maximum UV and abrasion protection to vinyls, canvas and digital wall paper,” he adds.
Liquid Lamination in the Buckeye State
SignMaster, a shop in Lewis Center near Columbus, Ohio, has successfully incorporated liquid laminating products into its mix.
“We have used Rollaguard liquid laminate and the EZ-Glide liquid laminator as a regular offering with our products,” says Michael Mockler, owner of SignMaster. “When working with businesses, schools and municipalities we have found that offering the additional abrasion protection on re-occurring event signs and timeless products has given us an edge over the competition.”
He says allowing customers to have long-term use on their products, such as yard banners and pole banners, provides them the opportunity to maximize their budgets.
“With this enhancement, they are able to purchase additional products that further their help their branding/advertising, instead of burning the budget for replacement of existing products. This has made it possible for our shop to partner more closely with our customers and provide signage that best fits their needs,” he says.