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Question and Answer

Is UV-Coating the Right Choice for You?

by Jeff Peterson

May-June, 2000
Graphic finishers continue to try to find additional ways to diversify their business and help alleviate the highs and lows during the year. UV coating is one area that many have considered adding to increase the services they offer. Most finishing processes (foil stamping, die cutting, folding, etc.) are dry processes. UV is an entirely different scenario, and creates a whole new list of potential challenges for a graphic finishing operation. We have asked experts in the field of UV to help sort out a few of the questions you need to ask before considering adding UV coating to your list of services.

What handling/environmental concerns must I consider with UV coatings and equipment?

The handling of UV coatings is, in many ways, less of a problem than handling solvent or water-based materials. UV does not have any VOCs, so the concern about the inhalation of vapors does not exist. In addition, there are no environmental concerns about hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) as found with some solvent inks or coatings. HAPs, also called toxic air pollutants or air toxics, are pollutants that are known or suspected to cause serious health effects, including cancer. HAPs can also be damaging to the environment. Some lower molecular weight UVís are defined as HAPs, but are generally not used in graphic arts applications. And, because UV coatings will not dry-up on the equipment without the exposure to UV light, worries about cleaning the equipment during shut down cycles is eliminated. However, UV materials are skin irritants, just as are most solvent systems and some water systems, so proper industrial hygiene must be used.

Probably the most important precautions you should take when adding UV capabilities are not with the coating itself, but more with the UV lamps. The UV coating unit should be built and installed so that UV light is not escaping into the work area. UV lamps do produce ozone due to the interaction of the UV light with oxygen. This is easily dealt with through a properly designed exhaust system. The amount of ozone produced is small enough that permitting and scrubbing of the ozone is not an issue.

What type of equipment should I consider if I am adding UV capabilities?

As with most all equipment purchases, the type of machine you need hinges on the type of work your customers will require. So, knowing your market and what the needs of the market will be is the most critical analysis you must make. A few of the questions you should ask include: What is the volume of work to be coated? What type of coating will you be doing (flood, spot, or both)? What is the mix of lightweight paper verses heavier board? What is your capital equipment budget for UV coating equipment?

UV coating equipment, in many cases is very specialized for certain applications, such as special coating types, paper types, production speeds, etc. The more versatile a UV coater is in regard to these questions, the more expensive the equipment will be. However, a trade finisher must look very closely at the versatility issue, since there is no real way of knowing all the potential work that may come your way. For instance, it is very common for a finisher to overlook the ability of the UV coater to coat lightweight stocks. If you plan on doing this type of work, it is important to verify the machine you are considering has this capability.

Another issue to be aware of is the consumption of the UV coating. On a per-pound basis, UV coatings are high in cost, so the ability to control the amount of coating going down on the sheet is important. Top quality UV coating machines will offer you more control as to "how heavy" you can lay down the coating during a production run.

Currently, what markets are "hot" for UV coatings in the graphic arts field?

The market for UV coatings is generally in the same areas it has been in the past, which includes book covers, presentation folders, and folding cartons. However, what has changed is how UV is being applied. Everyone is looking for something different to make their product standout. Various combination jobs where spot UV is being used over matte laminates or coatings, as well as with foil stamping, have become a popular choice (see "Success Stories" on page 35 of this issue of InsideFinishing). Graphic finishers should keep this in mind when considering the different types of UV equipment.

Spot UV capability is also an important area to consider because of the increased use of flood UV coating inline with printing. If printers are doing more UV coating inline, you might consider it unprofitable to get involved with UV at all. However, as more UV is being used in the marketplace as a whole, the more it will become a popular choice for a variety of applications. The result will be more UV opportunities for everyone.

InsideFinishing would like to thank Tony Bean of Sun Chemical (201-933-4500, beana@sunchem.com) and Claude Schmid of Schmid Corporation (864-595-0087) for their assistance with this article. For more information on the UV/EB curing process, you can contact Radtech at 301-664-8408, or visit their Web site at www.radtech.org.