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Question and Answer

Digital Printing and Lamination

by Imants Ejup, Director R&D, Business Development, Transilwrap Company, Inc.

May-June, 2010
1. Why is digital printing important to the graphics market?
Digital printing has become extremely popular due to the extended service offerings it provides over traditional print platforms. Digital printing enhances the product value by allowing for greater customization through variable data printing, shorter runs and turnaround times, and eliminates conventional printing elements including prepress films, proofs, and print plates. Digital custom graphics can be generated real-time using many technologies including digital offset, ink jet, laser, hybrid toner-ink, thermal transfer, and dye sublimation. These print technologies rival and, in some cases, surpass photo-quality imaging.

2. What are the benefits of laminating digitally printed graphics?
The use of a thermal laminate adds value and quality to graphics in both aesthetics and function. For added aesthetic appeal, laminates are available in various finishes including gloss, matte, satin, scratch-resistant, and decorative holograms and foils. Many thermal lamination films also feature surface coatings that are receptive to spot coatings, foils, and glues. Opacity of the graphic also can be increased using color and “block out” laminating films. The use of a laminate will protect and provide a longer life to the graphic. If the application requires rigidity, thermal laminates can provide added body for strength and portability. Lamination can provide very effective light fastness to prevent or reduce image fade, and increase moisture resistance.

3. What laminate technology should be used for digital print finishing?
Determining the right laminate technology requires a clear understanding of the customer’s expectations. Typical points to consider include image quality, variable data needs, aesthetics, order volume, preferred media, and application. From here, the decision to use digital offset, laser, ink jet, hybrid-toner, thermal transfer, or dye sublimation will help determine the appropriate laminate technology.

Laminates are engineered and optimized to meet the demands of bond and durability to all of these print technologies. It is important to understand the print technology to ensure the proper thermal adhesive system. In the case of laser toners, the most common is heated fuser oil toner and dry toner. The heated fuser oil toner demands an adhesive that secures the laminate where oil residue exists. With dry toner, it is somewhat less complicated but in both cases, laminate bond will only be as good as the toner is bonded to the media.

When using ink jet, there are solvent, aqueous, UV cure, and now latex-based inks. The solvent and aqueous inks are absorbed into the media (in many cases, an absorptive coating is applied to either paper or plastic). The solvent or aqueous solution is absorbed into the media leaving the solid ink component on the surface. The adhesive on the laminate must bond to a wet media and anchor the solid ink components to the media. Again, the bond is only as good as the ink to the substrate. UV ink jet is a technology where the ink is cured by UV light within the print process. This limits the concern about any residue on the graphic and the laminate choice is less complicated. The newest latex ink jet inks are still under evaluation with some existing laminates demonstrating very good performance.

These examples demonstrate that each print technology has specific characteristics that must be understood to ensure the correct laminate is being used. Always consult your laminate provider and discuss the entire package to identify the proper laminate for use.

4. Does print media affect the laminate choice by the finisher?
Media does ultimately affect the finisher’s decision of what laminate to use. Simply the decision to use paper or synthetic stocks immediately influences laminate consideration. Often paper is categorized as a media for finite time applications and may have different demands for laminate requirement. Paper is a versatile material relative to digital print technology, meaning that it may be more forgiving and accept a wider range of technologies. The concern is longevity and in some cases physical properties such as rigidity. When synthetics are required for the application, the decision of which synthetic to use becomes more of a matter of matching a particular family of synthetics to a specific digital print technology. From here, the laminate decision is made by understanding the combination of print technology, media, and application to ensure that the proper laminate is chosen.

5. What are some resource recommendations for graphic finishers to assist in choosing the best laminating solutions?
Experienced graphic finishers understand the combination of print technology, media, and applications very well. In the world of digital print technology, the target is perpetually moving as the technology routinely evolves. Sound resources include print engine manufacturers, media manufacturers, and laminate manufacturers. Typically, these organizations work cooperatively to optimize these components for the best success in the market.

It is vitally important to discuss the project with the customer prior to its start. This is the opportunity to clearly understand the expectations of the customer and the graphic finisher. Conducting testing is worthwhile to ensure the combination of print technology, media, and laminate is suitable for the finisher’s process and meets the price strategy.

In addition, the internet and industry organizations are excellent resources to assist in investigating and identifying effective solutions.

Transilwrap Company, Inc. is a manufacturer, coater, and converter of plastics in the thermal laminating, printing, industrial, specialty packaging, and graphic arts markets. Transilwrap is headquartered in Franklin Park, Ill., with multiple distribution locations throughout the United States and Canada with four key business units: Thermal Laminating Films, Print On Plastics, Industrial Packaging, and Specialty Films Groups. For information, visit www.transilwrap.com.