The printing press has become a sophisticated piece of equipment. Depending upon its configuration, it is capable of printing on many different materials. A print job might require metal or paper or some sort of plastic based substrate. Unlike earlier generations of printing presses that were one trick ponies, today’s presses are able to take advantage of special ink formulations, UV printing technologies, and other advancements to apply inks to a wide range of plastics and synthetics.
The material for any job will depend upon its purpose. For example, suppose the job is a banner. Will it be used outside where it will potentially face wind and rain, or will be used inside a building? How long does the banner need to last? How does it need to be finished? Does it need to be rigid or flexible? Once the purpose of the job is identified, it becomes relatively straight forward on picking the material that should be used to make the finished product.
In better defining the purpose of the job, implicit in this process is an attempt to determine how long the banner should last. If a banner is to be used inside a building, we don’t have to worry about the outside elements and we can pick a cheaper material. If the banner needs to be used multiple times or needs to last the test of time, a more flexible material like a synthetic might be the best choice. If using a synthetic material will it be exposed to the Sun? If yes, UV considerations should be taken into account. Temperatures will also affect the material decisions. Some materials can crack when exposed to extreme temperatures. Understanding how durable you need your project to be goes a long way to selecting the best material.
Paper continues to be the primary material used in the printing industry. The easiest way to think about paper is whether it is coated or uncoated. Coatings tend to improve the surface of the paper making it smoother. Coatings also affect the reflectivity of the paper— the brightness. Brightness ranges on a scale from 5 (least bright) to 100 (most bright).
Synthetics are also a material commonly used in printing. There are a variety of synthetics with a range of characteristics that make them excellent choices for many projects. The downside— they tend to be more expensive, but they allow for specialized inks and chemicals to be used with UV drying and they can tolerate more extreme environments and handling.
Synthetics also have different aesthetic qualities. For example, plastics can provide a high-quality appearance, whereas something like polyethylene is a soft, flexible thermoplastic commonly used in packaging. Another synthetic, polypropylene is a versatile material available in a full spectrum of colors, including translucent. Given the finished appearance, it works well in promotional products.
Some synthetics are fiber based, like polyester. It often comes in durable and tear resistant sheets. The drawback to polyester is inks and dyes don’t readily adhere to its surface. To compensate, a special coating is applied that enables the ink and dyes to adhere to the project. A sister material, polystyrene is slightly different in that it readily accepts inks. Given its more rigid nature, it also works well with die-cutting tools. With that said, it can some times become temperamental and splinter during cutting.
All of these materials come with different finishes. Just like paint, they come in matte, gloss, and satin finishes. The finish will have a definite impact on how your banner looks. It can affect the viewing angle and its aesthetic appeal. It is recommended that a gloss finish is used for outdoor projects as it will look good in the light and it will maintain a cleaner appearance. In contrast, a matte finish works well in more harsh indoor lighting situations. In projects that require “true-to-life” color matching super glossy materials improve the overall appearance of the project.
Aside form picking out the colors and materials of your banner, you also need to think about how your banner is going to be used, what elements it will be exposed to, and how you plan display the banner. Answering these questions are crucial to determining which type of finish your banner will need. The most common types of finishes found on banners are grommets, welded helms, flush cuts, pole pockets, and wind slits. These finishing options all add durability, ease of display, and functionality to help maximize your banner’s potential! It is also important that you choose what type of finish you will need during the design process to ensure your shop can support the proper finish your banner requires. Otherwise you may need to outsource this step which can tack on additional costs.
In the end, you want to pick a material that makes your project look good, while also meeting the performance needs for the environment your project will be placed. Customers are often tempted to cut corners on material selection because of budget considerations. This can often lead to “being penny wise and a pound foolish.” Cutting corners can often lead to reprinting the job because of the material’s lackluster appearance. Picking the wrong material can also result in installation issues, such as tearing or unwanted movement. Picking the proper material is an investment in the longevity and appearance of your project. It might help to think about your customers when picking the material. Is your image important, if yes, pick a high-quality material. If the goal is to create brand awareness on a mass scale you might pick a less expensive material. The good news, whatever your goal is you will have several good options to meet your needs.