ARE PRINTED GRAPHICS a de facto standard in the sign industry? Well, you can argue that many shops make a good living with just cut vinyl, sandblasting or hand carving. However, most shops find it necessary to offer printed graphics that incorporate colors not found in vinyls for photorealistic images supplied by the client. So the need for digital printing in today’s signshop is widespread.
Beyond the realm of UV printers (which are too expensive for many shops) and latex printers that present challenges of media compliance and manufacturer availability, you have the solvent and eco-solvent printers. These printers excel in imaging directly to adhesive vinyl and banner media, which are the bread and butter of most medium to small signshops. These printers are generally affordable, starting at $6.5K, but can go up to around $100K depending on speed and width.
So what are some of the advantages of solvent and eco-solvent printers other than price? The inks provide significant UV and outdoor weather resistance. In addition, the inks penetrate the media and do not sit on the surface like many UV inks. This allows for significant stretching and bending of the printed media during installation without worrying about cracking or creasing the image. Solvent and eco-solvent prints also conform well when applied using a heat gun. Temporary signs can be mounted outdoors for a year without major image degradation. For longer applications, an over-laminate can be applied that will greatly extend the outdoor life and durability of the image. This is ideal for applications such as vehicle wraps.
For common applications such as vehicle wraps, it’s hard to beat solvent or eco-solvent printers.
Eco-solvent and solvent inks tend to have richer colors and depending on the color selection, a wider color gamut than other printing technologies. Modern solvent/eco-solvent printers can print at resolutions of around 900 to 1,440 dpi. Printing speeds range depending on model but some printers can attain up to 1,000 sq. ft./hr. in draft mode. You can also find a number of different color combinations supported, from CMYK to CMYK plus primaries such as orange and green. In other words, you can choose if you want higher quality or faster speed.
Some of you may have been wondering, what are the differences between eco-solvent and solvent printers? Solvent printers traditionally have better durability characteristics and even more vibrant colors than eco-solvents. In some cases the printed images can dry faster than eco-solvent inks, allowing you to laminate quicker. In the past, fumes, and their necessity for venting, have been the downside to solvent inks. Luckily, the few solvent printers on the market offer office-friendly inks that do not require the expense of adding a ventilation system.
Some other advantages can be found in going the solvent/eco-solvent path. Machines that combine printing and cutting are readily available, and if you are starting a new shop you can “kill two birds” with one printer. There are also grand format printers with widths over 100 in. that will not break the bank at prices around $50K. You can even find machines designed to produce road signage with colors specifically tuned to comply with most US regulations.
While it may seem that most printer companies are putting their weight behind UV printing, solvent/eco-solvent printing is still thriving. If you are budget conscious or primarily work with adhesive vinyls, solvent or eco-solvent printers are the way to go for digital printing.
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