By Kim Crowley
Protected prints often burst with color, are guarded from UV exposure, and last longer. Coating and lamination can be a profit center for print providers. Business cards, brochures, menus, table tent cards, and direct mail pieces may require defenses against handling and other environmental hazards. Finishing applications with a liquid coating or film laminate adds scratch, crack, scuff, and water resistance.
Specialty coatings and films are also available to enhance prints, adding unique finishes to marketing sell sheets, packaging, printed canvas, wallpaper, and signs. Some are designed to create an effect, such as gloss, matte, glitter, or even scent. Spot coating techniques allow selected areas of a print to be highlighted. Additional functionality, including dry erase or anti-microbial surfaces, are specialty options. Improved color density and increased sharpness are also achievable with the right finish.
Line of Defense
Two popular methods protect or add impact to a print—coating and lamination. Liquid coaters are compatible with UV and/or aqueous processes. Aqueous coatings are water-based liquids that are heated or air dried. UV coatings are cured using UV lights and a free radical polymerization process.
A coated print often brings a higher ROI. "Some of our customers feel they get a better response from UV coated postcards," says Thomas Loudon, VP, print production, EU Services. "It protects the piece going through the mailstream too. The post office is hard on printed materials due to rubber bands and sorting machines," he adds.
EU Services, based in Rockville, MD, specializes in direct mail communications, commercial print, and cross-media projects. The company uses Xerox Corporation’s iGen 3 production digital presses, an Olec Corporation UV flood coater, and coatings from Printers’ Service (PRISCO).
The equipment either flood coats an entire sheet or selected areas of a document. According to Peng Chou, product manager, Duplo USA Corporation, spot coating machines are approximately five to six times more expensive than flood coaters.
Film lamination is another option. This method uses heat or pressure to adhere a solid film laminate to a digital print.
Mike Xerri, UV technician, Graphic Whizard, sees an increase in UV coating over lamination, "UV coating provides an effective, protective finish at a fraction of the cost," he says.
Chris Harrington, director of sales, Graphic Whizard, estimates that a UV coating return for a typical digital print job is approximately $.005 cents per square foot. Graphic Whizard offers a line of UV coaters that span from entry-level, hand-fed devices to automatic production and inline models.
Some print buyers turn to UV coating over film or plastic lamination to reduce costs. "I see a lot of UV coating in lieu of plastic laminate. We ended up getting quite a few jobs over the past couple of years because we offer UV coating as opposed to more expensive plastic lamination," shares Loudon.
Technology is evolving to address challenges specific to coating digitally printed output. For example, wax inks are known to cause fusion problems during coating. Solutions such as Drytac Corporation’s UV-curable VersaCoater DocuMate Plus liquid coater are designed to handle wax-infused inks.
Output from printers that use a high level of silicon fuser oil can cause adhesion difficulty between a print and a UV coating. Duplo USA’s Ultra UV Coaters feature an infrared (IR) heating system to aid adhesion. MGI USA’s UVarnish flood UV coater is also designed to work with most digital devices despite the fusing oil.
Paper thickness, or caliper, should be considered when coating digital stocks. "Inline coating can handle all calipers. With offline coating, it’s more challenging to coat 50, 60 and 70 lb. text," explains Patrick Keaton, graphics sales professional, and Dennis Killion, VP of marketing for graphics, xpedx.
xpedx is a U.S. supplier of the full line of Kompac Technologies, LLC’s offline flood and spot coating equipment and Colorlok aqueous and UV coatings, which are made exclusively for xpedx by Nicoat.
Porous paper can also cause coating issues. Uncoated stocks absorb UV coatings. "The right media is required for UV coating. The substrate must be a coated product, and the glossier the finish, the glossier the coating. Coating types should match the paper," explains Harrington.
Gosselin Graphics, a commercial trade printer based in Fort Lauderdale, FL, finds coating on dull stocks using a dull UV challenging. "There are times where it does not provide us with the finish we are looking for due to ink coverage," says John Gosselin, owner, Gosselin Graphics.
Blocking is a term used to describe a coated print’s tendency to stick to the back of another print if they are stacked before being fully cured. "This is preventable by ensuring that a coater’s drying fans or UV curing station is working properly and by spot checking coated prints while you are running a job," suggests Jim Tatum, VP, liquid finishing division, Drytac Corporation.
The demand for coated output is strong. "High-value items are usually coated while transactional items are not. The added cost of the coated piece far outweighs the cost of spoilage or re-runs because of scuffing and damage to uncoated prints," states Eric A. Gutwillig, VP of marketing, PRISCO (Printers’ Service).
PRISCO offers aqueous pre-treatment coatings; UV gloss, satin, and matte coatings; and specialty coatings.
Equipment and consumable manufacturers are raising the bar. "Although the sluggish economy has caused a major shift in the industry, it’s done so more in the form of forcing manufacturers to become more creative in machine design to lower the cost of entry," says Tatum.
Print buyers may have less money to spend, but coating is not an area where they cut back. "It doesn’t seem like print buyers are skimping on coating, they still seem to want it and will cut corners in other areas in order to continue using it," agrees Gosselin.
Some print providers charge extra for coated prints, while others factor it into the print cost. For example, coating adds anywhere from $45 to $65 to a typical print job of a few thousand postcards.
Labor and materials factor into price. Ultimately, a shop with the equipment in house has more control over the job. "Figure about 1.5 cents extra for each half-size sheet printed with flood coat. Spot UV uses less coating, particularly on a longer run job," say Keaton and Killion.
Duplo’s Chou helps breakdown the actual price of coating. For example, a typical postcard job using a UV coater will cost an average of five cents for 14x20-inch sheets or 0.5 cents per postcard.
CDs Direct Inc. of Escondido, CA molds CD and DVD disks out of raw plastic, prints on them, assembles the product, cello wraps, barcodes, security tags, boxes, and ships the product to stores. The company also offers bulk mailing, video production, and offset and digital printing.
Disk manufacturing led the company into the printing industry. They originally relied on other vendors to print the paper part of the disks. Rick Ford, owner, CDs Direct Inc., wanted to bring the work in house. The company added an offset press, two digital presses, and additional finishing equipment—including a CountCoat UV coating machine from Count Machinery Company.
Ford says the UV coater allowed the company to offer a variety of new applications, including postcards, tickets for club promoters, and short-run books. "Bringing everything in house absolutely improved the business," he says.
The company is currently adding a second coater from Count Machinery.
Adding a Layer
Based in Upland, CA, Printing Resources of Southern California provides offset printing, digital toner-based printing, mailing services, and Web services. The company added an Ultra 200 UV Coater from Duplo USA Corporation in January 2011. The offline machine coats sheet sizes of up to 14x20 inches.
Nancy L. DeDiemar, president, Printing Resources of Southern California, says there were two reasons for adding the coater, demand and durability.
Three years ago Printing Resources added a dryer to its inkjet addressing system to handle customer postcards and mailers that were printed elsewhere.
DeDiemar predicts that the coating device will prove a profitable addition to the shop. For now, they are working out the operational costs. "We know how much the coating material costs, and what the manufacturer says the yield is in linear feet, but we haven’t yet verified the information. It’s like trying to figure the cost of toner on a printed piece. The cost of the coating material depends on the area as well as the thickness of the coating," she explains.
Enhance and Protect
Coatings accentuate and protect digitally printed documents. Specialty finishes add personality and enhanced clarity and color. Print providers that bring coating or lamination in house can expect to produce a better product, open new application areas, and gain customer retention