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Q&A: Finishing Rigid Materials

Be sure these unique pieces will stand up to wear and tear.

Digital printing and industry experts tackle your top questions, challenges, concerns, and frustrations as 2015 comes to a close.

Q: We are being asked a lot for printing on various rigid materials (wood, metal, etc.) as an interior (either vertical or horizontal application). What would be the best way to finish it to withstand traffic/touch?

-Robert Lee, VP, Unicorn Graphics, Garden City, New Jersey

A: The least expensive way is to simply roll or brush on a clear coat. We have done this a lot with doors we’ve printed. We did some metal fire doors that have been on a concert venue for over five years and they look like new. We also have a UV clear coater that is blazingly fast for big jobs. For small runs, doing it by hand is the way to go. Go to a paint store and tell them the substrate and the environment it’s going into, and they will recommend the clear coat and the right brush or roller. There are always rattle cans, as well. Using a simple spray can for small jobs is OK; I don’t like the overspray. We have subbed out larger jobs to people with a paint booth and professional spray equipment. We have also used powder coaters to give our metal prints a very tough finish. We have even used the application of exotic air dry products by a powder coater for extremely long outdoor durability. There are a lot of options.

-Craig Miller, president/CEO, Pictographics

A: For the most part, hard materials such as metal or wood printed with UV inkjet are not intended for horizontal applications where foot traffic will be present. They are better suited for any vertical applications or horizontal applications off the floor. Any type of flat wood can be printed with fantastic image quality and long-term adhesion properties without requiring any special pre-printing steps. You can also perform special post-printing finishing (for example, tung oil added to the top of a printed tabletop can hold up really well with no special preparations needed prior to printing directly to the raw wood), adding visual appeal and durability. When printing on metal sheets, we suggest using an adhesion promoter prior to printing. This will dramatically increase the ink’s adhesion properties to the metal.

-Bill Brouhle, senior application specialist, Agfa

[Questions and responses have been edited for brevity and clarity. Views shared represent those of independent experts and readers.]

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