Wide Format

What is Wide Format?

Wide format printing refers to printing with inkjet devices with machine widths from 432mm (17 inches) up to 1600mm (62 inches). Inkjet printing is a non-impact process and the image is created by 'spraying' ink droplets onto the substrate. Various print head technologies are used to achieve this precise ink placement:

  • Thermal - The force driving the ink is made by bubbles formed by water vapour from a heater evaporating the ink carrier. The current to the heater pulses on and off rapidly. The head itself might be glass, silicon, ceramic, or even largely plastic with heaters in the form of resistors embedded in the walls of capillary tubes. (Click here for video)
  • Piezo - The print head fires ink droplets onto a surface by applying an electric charge to piezo-electric elements. This deforms the piezo-electric elements which propels the ink droplets instead of heating the ink like other printer manufacturers. This technology can also be used to eject heat-sensitive liquid materials. (Click here for video)
  • MEMS based page wide arrays - Generally used for high speed/industrial scale inkjet printing. The print heads are more compact, robust and arranged across the width of the print surface. The fixed heads allow for high speed printing. The system typically used piezo technology.
 

Wide Format Applications

Growth trends for wide format products are principally driven by the sign and display market. The market is divided into four application areas:
  • Indoor & Point of Sale - Indoor displays, portable displays, banners, fine arts etc.
  • Event Graphics - Exhibitions, trade shows etc.
  • Signage - Road signs, directional signs, city displays etc.
  • Mass Marketing - Advertising hoardings, vehicle wraps, building wraps etc.
Indoor/point of sales represents over 60% of the market and Premier's product range is designed to mainly appeal to this application area. However many of our products can also be used for event graphics.
 

Wide Format Markets

Technical (mono) - Architecture, engineering, construction, government, manufacturing, technology. Applications include:
  • Blueprints buildings
  • Urban planning
  • Utilities
  • Design plans
  • Schematics
  • Circuitry
  • Production lines

Graphic Communication (colour) - Retail, sales & marketing, education, legal. Applications include:
  • Proofing
  • Point of sale
  • Merchandising
  • Presentations
  • Trade shows
  • Event posters
  • Banners
  • Graphical displays
  • Posters
  • Wall decoration
  • Photo
  • Fine art


Introduction to Inks and Coatings

Different inks are used depending on machine type and end application. The main ink types are:

1. Aqueous

(a) Dye
(b) Pigment
(c) Coatings

2. Solvent
3. Eco-Solvent
4. Latex
5. UV Curable


Aqueous Inks

  • Water being non-hazardous, is seen as a safer and more environmentally friendly option in aqueous inks versus Eco Solvent inks.
  • Aqueous can be either dye or pigment based and includes liquids other than water, such as glycol to improve performance and adhesion.
  • Aqueous inks often require special coated substrates for adhesion and optimal performance


Dye Based Inks

  • Fully Soluble in water
  • Vibrant colours
  • Fade in ultra-violet light
  • Short term indoor use


Pigment Based Inks

  • Otherwise known as `UV`stable inks.
  • Compound is not soluble in water.
  • UV light resistant does not fade when exposed top ultra violet light.
  • Medium to long term indoor use.
  • Short term outdoor possible use if laminated.


Aqueous Coatings - 2 main types

  • A. SWELLABLE
  • B. POROUS (micro/nano/universal)

SWELLABLE
  • These coatings ONLY work with dye inks as these are water based, fully dissolved into the water droplets and are absorbed into the surface coating structure to dry over time.
  • Pigment inks do NOT work with swellable coatings because the microscopic particles of pigment float around in the water droplets, are not fully dissolved and when they are sprayed onto swellable coated surfaces, they sit on the surface, remain wet and are prone to smearing and smudging. This is because the particles of pigment cannot be absorbed by the swellable structure of the coating.
 
POROUS

  • These coatings are often referred to as micro or nano porous and sometimes also known as `universal` and `instant dry`.
  • There are some structure differences between porous, micro porous and nano porous, but these are not critical to selling correctly.
  • Universal is a term used to describe a coating that allows BOTH dye and pigment inks to be used on it.
  • These coatings do just that allow both dye and pigment inks to be absorbed. This is because there are microscopic chambers that the inks sink into when they are sprayed from the machines.
  • The surface structure gives the user the appearance of virtually instant dry because the inks are BELOW the surface.


Solvent, Eco-Solvent & Latex Based Inks

Solvent based inks
  • Aggressive ink that etches into a material surface.
  • Permanent outdoor use.
  •  Strong fumes given off extractors required.

Eco-Solvent based inks
  • Less aggressive and less smelly version of solvent.
  • Ideal for permanent outdoor use.

Latex based inks
‘Latex’ is a generic chemical term that refers to a stable dispersion (emulsion) of polymer micro-particles in an aqueous medium, not to the natural latex exuded by plants or the synthetic latex that is used to rubber articles. Latex inks are water based, making them more environmentally friendly than solvent inks. The recent drive towards new latex printers is their ability to print on a wide variety of substrates for both indoor & outdoor application. They also dry quickly which speeds workflow and finishing operations which can be applied immediately after printing.


Introduction to Essential Wide Format Product Offering

The Essential Wide Format inkjet media offering includes:
  1. Plain Paper Products (PPC)
  2. Inkjet CAD
  3. Wide Format range for aqueous based inks
  4. Wide Format range for solvent, eco-solvent, latex & UV inkjet
  5. Laminates
  6. Hardware
Discover the Essential Wide Format Aqueous, Solvent, Eco-Solvent, Latex & UV Media, Laminates and Hardware product ranges here.


ICC Profiles

Colour profiles are pre-settings that allow specific machines to achieve optimal performace from specific substrates. Colour profiles are available from our suppliers websites and can be downloaded free of charge. Generic profiles on most machines is sufficient.


Aqueous Graphical Media

Many Ink Jet papers are referred to as ‘treated or coated’. These surface treatments and coatings are very different to what we know and understand as offset coated papers. The purpose of Ink Jet coatings or Ink receiving layers is to trap the ink and to prevent the water element (Aqueous) from spreading or penetrating into the base paper. Image quality and ink drying is controlled by using certain types of surface treatments or coatings.

Ink Jet papers can be produced in the most basic and cost effective way by simple surface chemical treatments, this gives basic uncoated papers a degree of Ink Jet functionality (as in ColorLok) Improved performance is achieved by matt coating using silica’s instead of calcium carbonate in the coating mix to absorb moisture. These matt papers can be further improved by using chemical barrier coatings or a PE layer on the base paper prior to coating.

The most sophisticated photo quality ink jet papers use micro or nano porous Ink Jet receiving layers to give true photographic qualities together with instant drying.

In the early days of wide format ink jet printing almost all inks used were water based DYE inks, essentially coloured water, although these systems could achieve the highest quality images with a wide colour gamut, they suffered from poor lightfastness. These systems also required a specific ink receiving layer described as swellable. This receiving layer does not work with newer pigment based ink systems.

More recently pigment inks have become the norm, although more expensive pigment inks give much greater resistance to fading. However pigment ink systems require completely different coatings or ink receiving layers described as ‘ micro or nano porous’ these surfaces have a structure that traps the pigment within the layer. Nano or Micro porous receiving layers will also work with Dye based inks.

Basic Treated Ink Jet Paper with chemical surface treatment.

This type of product could be supplied in cut size for office and home ink jet use or in plotter reels for the CAD market. More recently this type of product is being offered in larger reels for the high speed web fed ink jet systems. These papers allow light ink coverage but are subject to cockling, distortions and strike through if too much ink is applied.
 
 Matt Coated Ink Jet Papers

These papers offer much improved image quality and are capable of accepting higher levels of ink coverage. The matt coating contains silica which absorbs the water element of Aqueous inks. Matt coated ink jet papers can be supplied as light coated (3gsm of coating) or fully coated (5-8gsm of coating) The heavier the coating will accept higher ink coverage and deliver better quality images.
 
Improved Matt Coated Ink Jet Papers

Matt coated ink jet papers can be further improved by incorporating an additional layer of pre-coating to allow heavier weights of Ink coverage.
 
Photo- Matt Coated Ink Jet Papers
 
The highest quality level of matt coated ink jet papers allow for photographic quality images with an additional layer of chemical or PE barrier coating to allow the heaviest of ink coverage without cockling or strike through.
 
Economy Gloss or Silk Coated Photo Papers

The basic level of Gloss or Satin Photo Papers is usually cast coated papers with a microporous ink jet receiving layer but without a PE or resin coating. These paper offer good photo quality images but are not able to accept the heaviest ink coverage without cockling and possible head strike. These papers need to be considered with regard to end use applications. These papers are compatible with both Dye and Pigment based inks systems. Dye ink absorbs into surface, Pigment ink trapped in surface
 
True Photo Papers – with Swellable Ink Jet Receiving Layer for Dye Ink Only

These papers are still produced for the very highest level of image quality with multi layer construction and either Gloss or Silk/Satin surfaces.

Photographic studios and fine art reproductions require the increased colour gamut that dye based inks offer. These papers are NOT suitable for pigment based ink systems now common place in most wide format installations. Some other non paper substrates will still have coatings that are only suitable for Dye based Inks, always check for compatibility.
 
True Photo Papers –with Microporous or Nanoporous Ink Jet Receiving Layer for both Dye and Pigment Inks

The vast majority of Ink Jet photo papers now produced use either a multilayer construction with a microporous or nanoporous ink jet receiving layer. These papers are produced with Gloss- Silk- Satin or Lustre finishes and are suitable for almost all Aqueous Dye and Pigment ink systems. These papers are capable of accepting the heaviest ink coverage and offer instant drying.
 
Solvent Ink Jet Media

Wide format Solvent printers were introduced some time ago with claims that there were significant advantages to Solvent over Aqueous systems, these being:

1) Aqueous systems although having improved light fastness properties with the use of pigment inks were still not very durable for outdoor usage. The use of solvent ink systems changed this.

2) Solvent Ink containing hard solvents did not need to have sophisticated ink jet receiving layers or coatings and therefore Solvent printers could use almost any uncoated media significantly reducing costs.

The reality was that printers with hard solvents quickly became regarded as very environmentally unfriendly. In order to dry or cure the printed image heat was used to drive off the solvent resulting in high levels of VOC’s ( Volotile Organic Compounds) These early printers required ducting to take away fumes from the working area.

Very soon these early printers were replaced by solvent printers using ‘ Mild’ or ‘Eco’ solvent and today most solvent based wide format ink jet printers fall into these categories and this changed the requirement for substrates. Newer solvent systems are also emerging such as the HP Latex inks which are hybred co-solvent systems these may require a different substrate again.

Solvent printers can offer benefits when printing onto a wide range of Plastics, PVS’s Banner material where the solvent can etch into the surface before evaporating therefore leaving the ink pigment firmly attached to the surface.

It is possible that some Solvent grades particularly non paper substrates will not have an ink jet receiving layer and it is also possible that many Solvent grades will work on Mild, Eco or Latex printers but always check first.

Solvent paper grades are usually supplied with a similar construction to Aqueous substrates with the higher quality products having a PE or RC (resin coated) layer.