Our large-format graphics provider uses terms that leave me scratching my head, and I'm too embarrassed to ask for a definition. Can you give me a primer on the most common graphic-technology terms?
Exhibitors don't need a full course in printing technology to create effective large-format graphics. But a basic understanding of the technology available and the projects typically handled by each can further your understanding of the graphics-creation process and ensure you find a provider with the equipment that best fits your needs. So here are five of the most common types of large-format printing technologies.
– Aqueous printers are the most widespread technology used for large-format printing. Compared to the other options listed here, aqueous equipment is the least expensive, but the graphic-production fees are the highest. Instead of solvents, aqueous printers use water-based ink; therefore, the resulting graphics are best suited for indoor applications and should be laminated.
Aqueous technology is commonly used on rolled graphics, such as coated papers and films, to create graphics up to 60 inches wide. But all such substrates must be properly coated to accept and hold the ink.
– Often used to create outdoor and vehicle-mounted graphics, solvent technology employs inks that "bite" into the substrate. This print process creates highly durable graphics, which can also be laminated to further increase durability.
In the United States, the most commonly used substrate for vehicle wraps is 3M IJ180 series cast vinyl. Other cast, calendar vinyls, and banner vinyls are commonly used solvent substrates though there are a wide variety that will accept solvent inks.
Depending on the printer size, solvent graphics can be printed up to 16 feet wide by any length, and vinyl graphics are commonly welded together to create larger final sizes.
– In many printing firms, latex printing has taken the place of solvent printing as it's a bit more environmentally friendly and the process takes less time to dry. As a result, postproduction tasks such as lamination can be started sooner in the process.
That said, latex requires high heat for setting and drying the inks, so only those substrates that can withstand significant heat can be used. Latex technology is suited for indoor and outdoor applications of all types, and it's widely used in interior design, exhibits, signs and graphics, and even vehicle wraps.
– UV inks cure onto the substrate through a photomechanical process caused by UV light. Because UV inks are cured onto the top of a substrate surface rather than needing to absorb into the substrate, the material range for UV is the widest of all technologies, and UV printers can print on virtually anything including wood, glass, and tile, along with all of the traditional materials made for exhibits, signs, and outdoor advertising.
There is no need for coating or special manufacturing with UV, and these printers (the most common of which are 10 feet wide) can work at high speeds and print on roll materials, creating graphics that are extremely durable right off the printer.
► Dye sublimation
– A rapidly growing segment of large-format graphic printing is dye sublimation, which is used exclusively with fabric – a material that's lightweight, easy to handle, and relatively inexpensive. With the dye-sub process, an image is printed first onto either a carrier material or directly onto fabric and then sublimated. The sublimation process uses heat and pressure to infuse colorant permanently into a polyester substrate. Following the sublimation process, the graphics are completely water fast.
Dye-sub fabric graphics offer exhibitors increased flexibility in terms of graphic forms, and the fabric substrate often decreases weight-related costs such as drayage and shipping. Keep in mind, however, that dye-sub fabrics are prone to fading over time, and should be used in indoor environments or outdoors for short-term graphics.
— Tara Lamb, president, Global Imaging Inc., Louisville, CO