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Is the Need for Print Finishing Diminishing? Hardly.

Proliferation of affordable digital color printers is generating dozens of new options

Big Picture

Makers of all types of solvent-inkjet printers proudly promote the ability to create graphics that are outdoor-durable without lamination. And, digital flatbed presses eliminate both the laminating and mounting steps typically required to fabricate rigid displays. But do these advances in inkjet printing mean that the demand for print finishing is going to vanish? Absolutely not. The market is just changing, that's all.

Trend 1: More Affordable Equipment: As USI's new equipment and supplies catalog points out, organizations of all types and sizes are using laminators to protect, enhance, and display all types and sizes of graphics.

Municipalities, government groups, and law-enforcement agencies laminate permits, signs, ID tags, legal documents, maps, and blueprints. Restaurants and pubs laminate menus, placemats, counter cards, coasters, promotions, and tent cards. Corporations laminate signs and banners, sales presentations, layouts, and trade-show graphics. Hotels, state parks and resorts laminate signs, trail markers, tournament badges, and menus. Churches laminate bookmarks, memorial cards, song sheets, and ID tags. And medical facilities, hospitals, law offices and schools laminate learning aids, charts and documents, and signs and posters.

Because many of these organizations can now print many of these items themselves, it's not surprising that we're now seeing so many equally affordable devices for print finishing.

Drytac, Daige, AGL, and Seal have all introduced new options for light-duty and mid-volume print finishing.

Plus, GBC is promoting its Catena 25AA laminator as a 3-in-1 Finisher for signmakers. Priced at $2500, the tabletop laminator can finish and mount prints up to 25 in. wide. It can apply GBC's ultra-thin AccuShield liquid-coating alternative to banners or mount images printed on GBC's SecurFilm? printable laminating film to rigid substrates. It can also be used with GBC's Pouch Boards, which have a laminating film attached to a mounting board. (www.gbcconnect.com)

Seal's 62 Ultra is a compact laminator that lists at just under $9000. With a heated top roller and controls the device can be used to mount, laminate and encapsulate prints up to 61 in. wide. Partly because of its three preset temperature controls, minimal operator training is required. (www.sealgraphics.com)

Trend 2: More Part-Time or Occasional Users. Brian Franks of Advanced Grieg Laminators (AGL) notes that even though the installed base of laminators has risen substantially, the number of firms that employ full-time laminator operators remains relatively small. Some sites probably run their laminators one to four hours a day, and others only need a laminator once a week or a few times a month.

AGL, which is respected for its industrial-strength production-laminating equipment, is targeting the middle group of part-time users with its new Encore series laminator described in the caption on p. 9.

But now that only a fraction of the companies that own laminators employ full-time operators, it's become more important than ever for materials suppliers to provide good technical support. For example, AGL's new Materials Division is prepared to help users of the Encore and other laminators feel confident that they are choosing the best combination of materials for a given job. "If you have a source that you can talk to about the equipment, the supplies, and about the media and the application, it's going to make everybody more profitable," says Franks.

At Graph Expo, AGL rolled out their ProFinish line of pressure-sensitive overlaminates, heat-activated films, and mounting adhesives designed to match almost every popular type of application and work on virtually every laminating machine in the market. (www.aglinc.com)

Another organization seeking to help new and veteran laminator operators is the new Post Print Manufacturers Association (PPMA). The consortium of finishing-industry leaders is establishing guidelines and simplified testing methods that the average shop can use to evaluate print finishing products in general and the suitability of specific films for given applications. Graphics providers and other uses of print-finishing technology can join the PPMA as associate members and take advantage of the PPMA's technical support and educational resources. (www.printfinish.org)

Trend 3: Lower-Cost Materials for Shorter-Term Promotions and Lightweight Displays. The number of companies finishing graphics for heavy-duty long-term requirements is also relatively small compared to the vast number of companies laminating projects for shorter-term requirements. These days the majority of large-format graphics only need last as long as a specific trade show, meeting, presentation, or seasonal promotion.

Plus, display-system manufacturers are making it increasingly easy for anyone with a sales message to transport lightweight, graphic display stands to all types of company functions, local festivals, and community events. The graphics for these new types of portable displays don't require the same rugged level of protection that pop-up booth graphics demand, but they do need to be rigid and remain flat and opaque when displayed. Using the wrong combination of materials for retractable and portable banner stands can result in graphics that curl at the edges or are unreadable because lights from various sources behind the graphics shine though.

Trend 4: Greater Efficiency at Higher Runs.The growth of in-house laminating has left print-for-pay graphics-production shops focusing on higher-volume and niche jobs. In order to be profitable, these jobs must be done as efficiently and as cost-effectively as possible. According to Frank Corey of Quality Mounting & Laminating Systems, some graphics shops have cut back on personnel while gravitating back toward thermal laminates as a faster-to-apply, less costly alternative to pressure-sensitive laminates. Print shops that do use pressure-sensitive materials are now using films with lower-cost water-based or rubber-based adhesives rather than the solvent acrylic adhesives used on the films used for long-lasting protection.

Trend 5: Clearcoaters Co-Existing with Laminators. Clearcoats and automatic clearcoaters have surged in popularity because they fit both the need for easy-to-use equipment and lower-cost materials. As Seal's Jim Tatum notes, clearcoating "meets the cost targets that today's print producers require." Clearcoating is also more goof-proof than applying laminating films. Sign shops like clearcoaters because they're good for extra-wide and flexible banners that can be particularly tricky to laminate. Digital printmakers like clearcoats because they can be sprayed on or applied with a brush. Seal has introduced five new application-specific clearcoats to the AquaSeal lines, as well as a new Giclee Varnish that can be used to add bushstroke-like textures and protection to fine-art prints. (Seal Graphics: www.sealgraphics.com)

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