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A Very Rigid Picture

The march of technology is relentless and Brendan Perring finds that, when it comes to sign-making materials, the march has become a full-on sprint

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Inktec produced the Levon Bliss Microsculpture exhibition using Marcryl FS from Brett Martin, as it offers a higher energy surface for ink adhesion, while remaining scratch resistant with a high gloss finish

An intense portrait

When you wander the halls of signs and wide-format print exhibitions across Europe it is often more like wandering through an art gallery, such is the beauty, variety, and intense vividness of the imagery printed onto the latest rigid sign-making materials.
 
In fact, walking past the Inktec stand at Sign and Digital UK 2017, I was walking through an art gallery. The printer manufacturer had teamed up with renowned photographer Levon Bliss for his Microsculpture exhibition, with a selection of his prints brought to the show and displayed within Inktec’s exterior exhibition stand framework.
 
I and thousands of others stopped and admired the pin-point detail of these beautiful works of art, and what made them possible was the other partnership Inktec had formed around this project. The images needed to be printed directly onto acrylic, so they could be backlit to really make them pop. But not any old acrylic. It had to be of a very high-grade and have higher than normal surface energy so that it could take a more saturated ink laydown than standard acrylic sheet. So Inktec partnered up with Brett Martin, and after much testing they finally went for Marcryl FS, which offers a high gloss finish, good optical clarity, and a high-degree of weatherability. The scratch resistance of Marcryl FS was also a must, as the prints were unprotected from human touch.

The point of this little tale is that the humble rigid sheet of sign-making material is, just like the most complex wide-format printer, the product of thousands of man hours of painstaking research, testing, and attention to detail.  So, with all that being put into the development of such materials, is it not time you spent a little more time yourself researching the amazing variety of products out there? Well, as you are reading this article, you are off to a good start.

O Factoid: 3A Composites (formerly Alcan Composites and Alusuisse) invented aluminium composites in 1964 and commercial production of Alucobond commenced in 1969, followed by Dibond 20 years later. O


Starting with the aforementioned Brett Martin, the supplier offers an immense range of material ranges. Within each range are variations that provide for the specific requirements of the job in hand, as was the case with Levon Bliss in the instance above finally choosing Marcryl FS for its qualities of ink adhesion, scratch resistance, and gloss finish.
 
The most recent upgrades to Brett Martin’s range centre on Foamalux Foam PVC, Marlon FS Polycarbonate, Marpet-g FS PETg, and the aforementioned Marcryl Acrylic Transparent Sheet ranges. Each is designed to cope with specific challenges for the sign-maker or graphic arts professional.
 
Hearing from the firm’s sales director, Duncan Smith, he explains what lays behind this constant development drive: “Our flexible, collaborative approach to business means our distributors, partners and end-users benefit for working with a truly versatile company that is focused on delivering results that exceed customer expectations.
Our wide range of plastic printing substrates are developed and tested in consultation with industry specialists and continually advanced to exceed emerging market requirements.”

The new upgrades to Foamalux White are a good case in point, as it has been pushed to provide for an even more perfect clean, crisp printing surface with the aim of the finished print being noticeably brighter and achieving optimum print clarity of the highest quality on the market. The message here from Smith is, ‘why spend tens of thousands of pounds, or hundreds of thousands, on a new flatbed printer and then run low-quality materials on it?’. Indeed, no matter how good quality your hardware is, you will never get the most out of it unless you use correspondingly good materials technology.
 
A new super power
 

This is most certainly the message from Chris Green, head of visual communications at Antalis, which has been expanding very rapidly in recent years into the sign and graphics market with some highly innovative rigid material technology options.
 
“As technology continues to advance, we are seeing more and more new rigid signage and graphic materials come to market which offer new opportunities for the sign-maker,” says Green.

As technology continues to advance, we are seeing more and more new rigid signage and graphic materials come to market which offer new opportunities for the sign-maker

 
He continues: “One exciting product of the moment, for example, is Stadur SF. Made from rigid PVC skins over a polystyrene centre, it is a lightweight and rigid foam composite which offers wide creative scope. Among other advantages, it is easily printable with screen printing and UV curable inkjet printers, offers vivid print results, and is weather and moisture resistant for up to two years on outdoor use. It is also so robust that it will not crack, shatter or break, and stands perfectly rigid without any flex or bend.


“Stadur SF offers vivid print results, and is weather and moisture resistant for up to two years on outdoor use,” explains Chris Green of Antalis



“The result is the perfect blank canvas for all types of visual communications; from high-impact event collateral and standees, through to advertising and promotional displays, Stadur is fast becoming the go-to choice for the creatively liberal.”

Green also points to some even newer developments that will expand the sign-maker’s material pallet even further: “As a result of the success of Stadur SF we are looking to introduce Stadur Easyprint White and Black to the Antalis portfolio in the coming months. Set to be another hit with the creative customer, Stadur Easyprint Black consists of a black extruded polystyrene core and of Stadurlon polypropylene sheets in black on both sides. In addition the facings can also be combined in black/white or white on both sides, enabling added visual appeal.”

Polycasa Lenticular from Antalis is another very interesting material development for sign-makers and wide-format print specialists looking to set their visual communications apart. It is manufactured from a specialist material to enable lenticular printing, in order to produce printed images with an illusion of depth or motion.


Antalis built its entire stand at Sign and Digital UK out of its range of sign-making materials, showcasing the impressive creative applications possible with the latest technology



Green concludes: “Guaranteed to ‘wow’, this incredibly innovative product can produce stunning effects such as real 3D, animation, zoom, flip and morphing functions—it can even provide the ability to change images as viewed from different angles. It is also very versatile, being suitable for everything from advertisements, displays and posters, through to packaging, business cards and promo gifts. With a unique direct digital grade available later in the year designed to allow more people to adopt this application, we see this as being ‘the next big thing’ when it comes to rigid innovation.”

Colours of the rainbow

Now, another major player in the development of rigid materials is 3M, which has done so in a very specific field of architectural finishes with its Di-Noc series. It recently launched no less than 153 new patterns for this range, adding to its current offering of 800 architectural finishes.


3M now offers 953 different finishes in its Di-Noc range of architectural finishes

Major innovations include what it describes as ‘Effect’ patterns, where the finish changes colour depending on the viewing angle and light levels, and ‘Advanced Metallic’ patterns where the finish has a look of a wallpaper and incorporates small metallic pieces to create a shimmering, reflective effect that varies with the angle of the light source.

The new patterns were created by 3M following trend research undertaken at international and local design trade fairs around the globe. “With excellent feedback from customers, we developed a series of mood boards with names such as Industrial White and Mellow Rich,” explains Christian Stoehr, portfolio manager West Europe, 3M’s commercial solutions division. He adds: “We then used the mood boards as our inspiration to create a set of unique and exciting patterns to enhance our range of Di-Noc Architectural Finishes.”

Looking specifically at some of the new product families in this range, there is certainly some very interesting new options to investigate. In addition to the previously mentioned Effect and Advanced Metallic patterns, there is Metallic Wood. This replicates the effect of a metallic coating being applied to the wood grain, as is often used in European luxury stores.

Sucupira, also known as Brazilian Wild Walnut, is another example of 3M’s mad inventive streak. A native wood of South America, this Di-Noc finish has a matt, rough grain finish and is designed to appeal to design briefs that need an industrial feel or unfinished raw feel to them. Another quirky pick from the new range is Yaki-Sugi, a material that is traditionally used in Japan for external walls of buildings, where typically the surface of the wood is scorched in advance to give it fire-resistant properties.

Stoehr concludes: “Our Di-Noc Architectural Finishes are known throughout the design and architectural world for their ability to recreate natural materials realistically and at a fraction of the cost of traditional materials. The range offers designers and architects unrivalled creative flexibility and design freedom when working on new builds or refurbishments. This helps reduce both labour and material costs as well as dramatically reducing the amount of time a business is closed for refurbishment.”

A strong bond

So dear reader, your brain may already be buzzing with new ideas to be offered to your customers or perhaps you are now reconsidering that next shipment of ACM panels from Guangdong province. But before you head off back to the grindstone, you would also do very well to include two names in your research list, and this is Multipanel UK and Perspex Distribution.

The former really was a hive of activity at the last Sign and Digital UK, as it launched Multishield, a magnetic steel composite sheet, Alupanel A-Lite White Core, and Alupanel Traffic. Like its contemporaries, each has a very specific new upgrade or attribute that makes them very high-performing in one specific area, while still being an all-rounder for standard printing and sign production.

Exhibiting with its sister company Perspex Distribution, the new products caused a stir as visitors this reporter talked to were specifically intrigued by their potential applications and time saving uses. For Multishield this is because it uses a 0.25mm steel skin to produce a magnetically receptive rigid sheet with a digital print surface on one side, and a whiteboard paint on the other. Potential uses include magnetic displays and exhibition graphics to whiteboard production without the need for vinyl lamination.


(Above & below) Perspex has a long and prestigious history of rigid material innovation, with its products often being put to fantastically creative use



Those with wide-format print in mind were also drawn to the new attributes of Alupanel A-Lite White Core, as it is ideal for printed graphics requiring a neat exposed edge such as retail displays or printed photos.





“Even while the show was taking place, our branches were taking orders for the new Alupanel sheets,” comments Luke Martyn, marketing manager at Perspex Distribution, who adds: “With production as well as research and development taking place in the UK, it was great to showcase the product innovation now possible from our manufacturing partners Multipanel.”


Iconic: The Fort Dunlop sign has now become synonymous with Birmingham’s sky line. Its eerie glow is made possible using materials from Perspex that were ultra-durable



So, there you have it. There really is an amazing wealth of material technology out there for the sign-maker to choose from today. I am certain that if you review your standard materials list you use there will be a specific grade, finish, or effect that can do a better job and consequently improve the quality and impact of your products.
 
Yes, sometimes they may be a little more expensive, but if you can pro-actively offer a customer a better range of finishes for their project and put the decision-making in their hands, you may just find they are willing to pay a little bit more, to get that extra special finish.


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