The Perfect Acrylic Substrate for UV Digital Printing
In a commodity market, it is sometimes difficult to be truly innovative, particularly when most of the products we consume are manufactured overseas. The needs of our market in the US are not always reflected by producers overseas, and the implementation of new technologies here does not necessarily warrant the large purchase requirements of ordering materials in bulk from overseas.
One of today’s top trends in the point-of-purchase display and sign & print graphics industries is printing directly onto a variety of substrates without having to laminate. Digital UV flatbed printers have been growing in popularity and the cost of this equipment is now within reach of many of the producers in the US who previously couldn’t have afforded the technology.
However, one of the challenges with UV digital printing has been the media onto which you could print. The needs of the print industry are quite varied, and where paper and plastic films have always been the primary print media for roll fed print equipment, the desire to eliminate the additional stage of lamination, dye sublimation, or other transfer processor coupled with the ability to print on other materials directly has encouraged both print equipment manufacturers and substrate producers to work on solutions that are optimal for this task.
When Plasklolite Inc, EFI – Vutek, and a few ink suppliers put on their thinking-caps and worked collaboratively to address the specific issue of UV printing directly onto Acrylic sheet substrates, the end result was a new product called Optix DA. The “DA” in the name stands for “Digital Acrylic”, and the unique capability of the product is the ability to be printed on directly with UV digital flatbed printers, without the need of specially formulated inks, adhesion promoters, or additional coatings.
It is refreshing to see two US companies in seemingly unrelated areas of manufacturing to recognize, collaborate and address a end user requirement in a day and age where partnering seems to have lost it’s meaning. But through the sharing of perspectives and technical knowledge, these companies identified and solved a problem that was in both company’s best interests.
For those of you who have ever printed directly onto acrylic sheets, you will have undoubtedly seen what happens when printed products are handled or are put in use. Flaking, due to poor adhesion of printed images, or dropout on uneven surfaces due to thickness variation have made it necessary to print to other media first and then transfer to the acrylic, by lamination, dye sublimation, or transfer process, or has required the acrylic sheet be pre-treated to promote adhesion of the inks & pigments. Alternatively, some printing companies will coat a material after it has been printed to protect the printed images from damage, particularly if the products are being “re-masked” prior to use.
Re-masking is also a problem for printing on acrylic substrates, because an image that does not adhere sufficiently to the substrate will be lifted or removed by the adhesive on the masking material. This is typically tested using an industry standard “3M tape test” for gauging the acceptability of print quality on substrates.
Because of the technical expertise and testing that EFI-Vutek was able to offer, and the ability of Plaskolite, Inc’s technical staff to interpret the information and create a new product that met the standards of the industry, Optix DA, is the first-to-market acrylic sheet product that comes with an integral surface which accepts virtually all UV inkjet dyes & pigments without the need of pre or post printing processes.
Additionally, Plaskolite, Inc’s exceptional quality control and continuous manufacturing process can produce Optix DA without any perceptible visual difference between that product and traditional acrylic sheet as well as a sheet thickness that is more uniform than cast acrylic sheet. There is no impact to clarity and no visual distortion that may occur with a “post-production” process for pre-treating or post-treating a product that is printed. Furthermore, Plaskolite, Inc produces Optix DA digital acrylic in clear and several shades of white for vibrant print color and varying degrees of light transmission.
Of course, it stands to reason that a product that is developed to specifically meet a challenge facing an industry may cost more than the products it is replacing. However the smart approach of eliminating secondary processes and incorporating the most end user friendly attributes in the acrylic substrate demonstrates significant thoughtfulness in regard to the final manufactured cost of the end product. By saving money on processes, eliminating additional coatings, removing the need for adhesion promoters, and taking the “chemist” out of the formulation of the inks, any company with a UV digital flatbed printer can achieve the most professional quality result when utilizing Optix DA – digital acrylic.
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