The latest trends in clearcoating and lamination.
Whether customers require their prints to last a few weeks, a few months, or even a few years, they all expect the images and colors to stay crisp"?not fade or degrade.
The appropriate combination of printer, media, and inks is certainly a factor here. But another factor is the protection of the image once output, either through clearcoating"?covering a graphic with a liquid coating"?or through lamination"?covering an
image with a thermal or self-adhesive film.
If your shop workflow doesn"?t currently include image protec"?tion, you may want to consider adding it. More and more custom"?ers are
wanting"?and often demanding"?protection and enhance"?ment of their images. In addition, beyond simple protection, laminates and clearcoats
can add textures and make print colors pop, bringing a higher price and greater customer satisfaction.
Trends in protection tech
Clearcoating and lamination have been around a long time. Most of the technology isn"?t new"?but that doesn"?t mean that there aren"?t new
trends and applications. Since protection and finishing don"?t exist in a vacuum, quite a few factors have directly fueled changes in the back
end, including: the type and installation of wide-format inkjets, the introduction of new print consumables (ink and media), the actual graphics
produced, and the desired applications for those images.
The increase in installs of wide-format inkjets in the corpo"?rate environment impacts the finishing market with increased use of overlaminates
and mounting adhesives, says Gideon Schlessinger, vice president of marketing/product technology and development at GBC. In addition, he
says, "Print-for-pay with walk-up traffic is expanding the number of applications offered and dramatically increasing business."?
The growth of UV-curable flatbeds is also having an effect"?but not the one you might expect. Interestingly, UV-curable print"?ing appears to
have spurred on, not decreased, the need for the post-print lamination business. "Although UV-curable inks keep improving, the market is still
looking for a coating solution that will increase color pop and vibrancy, hide banding/train-tracking, and increase durability,"? says Neschen
Americas"? Dave Conrad, equipment product manager.
Roll-to-roll lamination using thermal or pressure-sensitive films also is alive and thriving. "Pressure-sensitive adhesives
(PSA) are on the rise,"? says Jerry Hill, vice president of sales and marketing for Drytac. "Graphics producers like the ease-of-use and universal
compatibility of the PSA laminates.
Thermal laminates, along with need for wider laminates, are on the rise, too. "Basically, lamination film widths are following the print market
going wider and wider,"? says Russ Jameson, marketing coordinator for D&K.
In addition, many print providers see the value in offering customers a choice of textured finishes to laminate onto their printed graphics
often mimicking the textures of more expen"?sive substrates such as canvas.
As shops with inexperienced personnel add laminating and clearcoating equipment, the OEMs are seeing a need for machines that are easy to
run yet produce great results every time. Goof-proof machines and finishing consumables are the key to success in this segment of the
Features and improvements that help make laminators easy to use include:
"? Versatility: Since customers may require either hot or cold/pressure-sensitive lamination protection (depending on the substrate and desired
application), many new machines are capable of handling both hot and cold films to offer users the wid"?est range of applications possible. To
accommodate both hot and cold films, many machines now feature separate heat controls on the top and bottom rollers.
"? Repeatability: Many jobs require lamination of multiple prints from the same print run. So systems that can quickly repeat job processes are
as important to lamination as they are in the print process. Example: "AGL units have process controls in place to make it easier for operators
to get proven, repeatable results,"? says Brian Franks, AGL"?s director of sales and marketing.
"? Safety systems: Safety is a prime concern of all shops, and most new laminators employ extensive safety systems. Exam"?ple: GBC"?s
Advanced Electrical Safety System to avoid trapped fingers, and Drytac"?s photoelectric cut-off switch.
"? Preset controls: On roller laminators, fixed settings for the most common jobs allow entry-level operators and beginners to learn and become
successful at finishing images. Meanwhile, veteran operators tend to appreciate machines with more adjust"?able, independent controls. Many
new machines offer the conve"?nience of both preset controls and adjustable settings.
"? Increased set-up time: Giving users more time to set-up a job properly is important, especially for inexperienced operators. Large-diameter
rollers plus the ability to apply brake tension to supply and take-up rollers allow more time for corrective set-up.
"? Maintenance and repair: Keeping machines in top condi"?tion and making on-site repairs is crucial to uptime. Part of the current "keep-it
simple"? attitude has prompted laminator OEMs to simplify the mechanics of the machines, making it easier for end users to maintain the
equipment and make simple repairs instead of having to rely upon outside help.
Other new features of laminators and clearcoaters include increased speed, control, width, and thickness capacity. "Overall, the speeds of new
laminators are much faster and will, in fact, outpace most printers"? production rates,"? says Neschen Ameri"?cas"? Dave Conrad. "With UV and
liquid laminators, the trend is toward faster speeds, larger rollers, and more control over roller operation for various textures and thickness of
On thermal laminators, increasing the speed means either increasing the temperature or increasing the roller width, says Brian Reeves, director
of marketing for Royal Sovereign. Either solution allows faster throughput, while still melting the thermal film onto the print.
A rebirth of thermal
The hottest technology, according to several laminator OEMs, is the rebirth of thermal laminates and laminators. "Thermal laminating is a way
of reducing costs of materials, but still giving you the results you are after from a finished look and durability aspect,"? says AGL"?s Franks.
Thermal is coming back, says Jameson of D&K, "because it is less expensive, requires no release liner, and has better adhesion."?
Drytac"?s Jerry Hill also sees a new growth in thermal prod"?ucts: "There has been a resurgence of interest in our HeatSet laminates to laminate
inkjet canvas in place of sprays,"? he says. "The thin vinyl, when heated, conforms to the weave of the can"?vas texture. This adds protection
(both physical and UV) and gloss without losing the "?hand"? of the media."?
Other consumables and applications on the upswing include:
Fleet graphics protection: Vehicle wraps are a rising star in the printing business. In fact, the market has recently experienced an explosion of
printable substrates that are highly conformable and designed for fleet graphics. Each of those vehicle prints needs protection so it won"?t fade,
crack, peel, or break down over an extended period of time. Look for more films and clearcoats for all types of vehicles and conditions
including matched sub"?strates/laminates that may qualify for OEM warrantees.
Pressure-sensitive adhesives: "The outdoor sign market is the fastest growing sign market, which means the growth of pressure-sensitive
laminates"?at a faster rate than normal,"? says Reeves of Royal Sovereign.
Specialty laminates: Many new products are a result of cus"?tomers"? requests. New products include window and textured laminates, as well as
composite films for specific applications.
Printable laminates: While printable laminates (printable media that features a built-in laminate for a one-step operation) are already on the
market, more are arriving to help print provid"?ers achieve even faster turnaround.
Print encapsulation: Encapsulation"?sealing a print between two films for complete protection and added strength"?is gener"?ally reserved for
paper prints that are used every day as low-cost P-O-P, such as posters and interior window displays. The increase in this market is driven by
large copy shops and corporate instal"?lations of low-end inkjet equipment and the need to protect the images produced.
What about machines? Since liquid coatings add longevity and durability to a wide range of inkjet inks (aqueous, solvent, UV-curable inkjet,
litho, and toner), their use is growing. Smaller, automated aqueous liquid coaters are becoming more popular in the professional and
commercial photography markets.
But don"?t count out pressure-sensitive adhesives and ther"?mal machines and films. The growth opportunities for these can be found in the sign
and display marketplace for digital outdoor solutions, trade-show graphics, lightweight exhibits, and P-O-P.
Peek at the future
In looking ahead to 2007, it appears that we will see a variety of new laminators, as well as new films, and liquid laminates.
GBC, for instance, is bringing an entry-level single-sided laminator to market; it"?s manually fed, but otherwise automated. The company will
also introduce a wide-format laminator that has all the bells and whistles"?much like a concept car. "We are introducing a wide variety of
features in our new generation of laminators that will all but eliminate wrinkles, silvering, and other traditional problems"?even when new
operators are trying to laminate,"? says Schlessinger. In addition, look for a GBC in-line laminating machine that runs in-line with the print
engine"?"this is a key part of our strategy to make finishing simpler."?
Neschen Americas and Seal Graphics are announcing more liquid finishes for new applications. Seal is also introducing a new Pro-Seal pouch
laminator and developments in its commercial roller laminator line.
Drytac is planning on introducing many new products in 2007, but most notable are its two new printable laminates: TriPrint is a heat-activated
heavy-duty matte inkjet paper/laminate; and, tar"?geting flatbed and solvent users, EmeryJet is a printable white textured vinyl.
Never fail to astonish
An initial equipment investment, when combined with cost-effec"?tive materials, can yield significant long-term profits and can even open new
market/revenue opportunities for producers, says Eric Tischer, director of sales for Neschen Americas. "Finished prints command a higher retail
value and greater level of end-customer satisfaction versus unfinished graphics,"? he adds.
To take advantage of the profits that can be found in finishing, however, print providers need to keep an eye on new finishing options, plus
watch the printer/substrate markets. Retail-giant Macy"?s may have said it best in its former company motto: "Be every"?where, do everything,
and never fail to astonish the customer."?
Peggy Middendorf is managing editor of The Big Picture.