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Pairing the best substrate with the best ink

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Pairing the best substrate with the best ink is the pursuit of any savvy awning manufacturer and printer who plays a part in applying graphic applications to awnings. And though there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, there are some new developments worth considering, and some yet-to-be-developed products that are on the horizon.

Not surprisingly, there is a trend toward using UV inks as compared to solvent inks because of the environmental benefits that are realized with UV inks—they have lower VOC emissions as compared to solvent inks. “But there is a difference in the flexibility of the inks,” says Jennifer Greenquist, inks/warranty business manager for 3M Commercial Graphics Division of 3M in St. Paul, Minn. “In general, solvent inks are more flexible than UV inks, but that’s definitely changing. The new UV inks that we’ve been coming out with are approaching the flexibility of solvent inks—and that’s key for an application such as an awning, which is curved.”

“One of the more popular inks that’s coming on the market right now is actually a pigment,” says Dan Dix, national sales manager of graphics distribution for Herculite in Emigsville, Pa. “It is applied in a sublimation printing process and requires a polyester content in the material.” The problem is that substrates with a polyester content that can stand up to long-term exterior applications aren’t yet on the market.

For the most part, right now inks are playing catch-up to awning substrates. “Awnings have much more of a life than most ink companies suggest for their inks,” says Dix. “But I think as you see this market grow you’ll see the ink companies step up to the plate and design inks that will have longer lives to match the awnings.”

Sigrid Tornquist is editor of InTents, a publication of the Industrial Fabrics Association International.

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