by Cassandra Balentine
Priming, coating, and laminating processes all work to prepare, protect, and enhance media or prints. Each method provides a purpose and are increasingly important as media options become limited due to supply chain issues.
Above: The Contiweb Variable Coater allows users to prime low-cost offset paper in house.
Primed media is required for proper ink adhesion, accurate color, and durability.
“Anyone who uses high-speed production process color water-based inkjet systems to produce documents on glossy stocks knows that paper can be an issue, therefore, the paper should be pretreated to prevent mottling of the ink,” offers John Sillies, EVP, Graphic Systems Services (GSS).
As specialty and pretreated substrates become harder to find, Ryan Moskun, sales and marketing specialist, Harris & Bruno International, sees print service providers (PSPs) starting to prime their own media. “This is a huge growth area where our ExcelCoats have impacted the digital print market. Priming in house typically saves 25 to 50 percent annually on media, all while improving the quality and durability of the print,” he claims.
Moskun adds that pretreated carton, specialized synthetics for secure cards, and general commercial media are all especially hard to procure right now.
Rob Bosman, sales director, Contiweb, suggests that producing products with a lot of ink coverage on a web inkjet press requires paper that does not absorb much ink. “Paper mills do offer treated paper for inkjet printing, but this is expensive. There are relatively few variants on the market and their availability fluctuates.”
“To save time on delivery and cost on mill-treated inkjet paper, GSS sees a growing interest by inkjet printers in treating the paper directly inline with their inkjet press by installing a precoater after their splicer,” agrees Sillies.
Chris Harrington, VP of sales, Graphic Whizard Inc., points out that laminating can serve as a way to bulk up a sheet in the event certain stocks are unavailable. “For example, laminating with a 3-mil laminate instead of 1.5 means a lighter paper or cardstock could be used yet still obtains the same effect through laminating with a thicker material.”
Thermal laminates and unsupported films from Nobelus are compatible with most synthetic and all paper-based substrates, allowing brands and PSPs to have complete control in selecting the optimal material for projects, says Dragan Nikolic, business development manager, Nobelus.
Coating and Lamination Benefits
Coating is cost efficient, quick, and can be done in line. Lamination is also affordable, provides long-term protection, and can be used to thicken a substrate. Lamination adheres a plastic film to a sheet of paper, while coatings are a liquid applied to media, often cured with UV lights.
“Both processes can give your piece a glossy or matte/satin finish,” says Sillies.
Depending on the application, Sillies points out that laminated film is more durable—making it suitable for pieces that will see long-term handling and wear. “UV coating is more cost effective, while still providing a moderate amount of protection, so it’s best for mailed pieces like postcards, magazines, or marketing collateral.”
Laminates add rigidity and strength to any substrate while increasing the thickness of a finished piece. “They also do not show the effects of scuffing and burnishing as easily as coatings, even when a haptic finish is applied,” says Nikolic.
“Flood UV is generally considered a less expensive alternative to laminating that still improves print’s aesthetic appeal with a high gloss, matte, or even soft touch finishes,” suggests Oran Gilmore, director of sales, Autobond Inc.
However, Gilmore says laminating generally provides a superior look and finish quality over flood UV. “Laminating also significantly increases product longevity compared to UV coated materials, especially in applications like folding cartons or others that require wear resistance, longer life spans, or environments where print is prone to physical degradation due to rough or repetitive contact.”
Moskun sees several benefits of coating, compared to lamination. “Coatings are cheaper and less materials are needed to achieve results. Coating can be done inline, saving time and the need for additional labor to move the job from machine to machine. The coating process is up to six times faster than lamination,” he offers.
Although liquid coatings can be highly cost effective in terms of materials, Nikolic points out that many printers choose lamination because it supplies additional durability and extends the life of the product while still being highly cost effective.
Printers who use laminates need to ensure each individual laminate is compatible with the post-lamination processes that will be used. “The biggest advantage of modern lamination in the web arena is the average laminate’s ability to accept overprint varnish, foil, and other high-value specialty embellishments,” notes Nikolic.
“Compared to liquid coatings, modern lamination can provide significant cost savings in labor, operations, and safety,” says Nikolic. “Lamination requires no ventilation and produces zero volatile organic compounds, making it a safe addition to the production floor. Laminate coatings also require no cleanup, have quick warm-up times, and enable different finishes, such as gloss, matte, and soft touch, to be swapped out quickly between runs.”
Several features on today’s coaters and laminators help PSPs manage costs.
Automation, of course, is one way. “Automation is a huge help when managing costs,” says Moskun.
“As we know, labor is a major overhead cost. Where non-automated units can require up to three people to run, our ExcelCoat takes just a single person. Some of our customers will even have one person running two at the same time. Having a high-speed coating unit, like the ExcelCoat, also keeps throughput high.”
Autobond uses inkjet UV coating technology, which Gilmore says allows its users to minimize the application of UV varnish down to 360 dpi and 2 microns, all the way up to 729 dpi/24 microns, effectively giving the user maximum control to “determine a balance between the aesthetic look of the finished product and minimizing expense in consumables.”
In Autobond’s roller coat UV equipment for all-over or flood UV, the metering roller is independently driven allowing the operator to reduce application of UV varnish to the bare minimum, saving significantly on the cost of consumables. He says there is also UV recycling returning unused varnish back to the UV reservoir.
Applying the proper coat weight is essential to achieve optimal quality, offers Sillies. Further, using the proper Anilox roller is a critical component to achieve the desired coating appearance and coat weight. “GSS coaters offer sleeve technology to simplify the change over time for Anilox rollers,” he notes.
Single-pass capabilities help save on reprints, which could be caused by failed coating application.
Unlike conventional coating systems that work with anilox rollers to determine coating layer thickness, devices with automated metering technology can precisely and independently determine the coating thickness on the front and back side of media. “As a result, print providers do not have to invest in the purchase and maintenance of several sets of anilox rollers. Moreover, they save on coatings because the exact amount required can be applied,” offers Bosman.
Durability is a primary purpose for both coating and lamination.
Harrington sees UV coating and laminating continue as excellent ways to protect a printed piece from the elements. “UV coating provides short-term UV resistance to the print and laminating provides long-term protection for applications such as menus, maps, or tags.”
“Package printing, marketing and signage, along with direct mail and publications have long used coatings to protect branding and image integrity since pre-2000s,” shares Moskun. He says these production requirements remain today.
“Laminates are renowned for their ability to protect prints from moisture, dirt, and other elements that can have a negative impact on packaging or collateral. A variety of modern laminates have specialty finishes that provide additional protection from scuffing, fingerprinting, and UV light that can cause designs to fade,” adds Nikolic.
Specialty coatings like antimicrobial are available, and have gained popularity in recent years.
Bob Leidlein, VP, sales and marketing, Alliance Technology Corporation, says antibacterial, antimicrobial UV liquids were introduced to the market as a byproduct of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since then, the use of antimicrobial laminates across a range of applications has certainly increased. “The average consumer is more cognizant of multiple use products that may have numerous touchpoints over its lifecycle. For this reason, our customers in this space are utilizing antimicrobial film laminates with greater frequency,” shares Gilmore.
The use of coatings and laminates for print embellishments/enhancements is popular.
These effects are a great way to differentiate a brand and achieve superior results. Custom coatings can be used to create a texture such as leather, sand, rubber, or velvet, like paint, it can be glossy or matte. “A variety of custom coatings catch the eye and inspire product curiosity, to name a few—soft touch UV gives a printed piece a rich texture look and feels similar to velvet or silk; raised or embossed brings to life a printed piece, like a raindrop on a window; and many other effects. Pearlescent coatings help enrich printing products with an elegant and high-value pearly finished surface,” notes Sillies.
Post coating can boost quality by adding a gloss or matt coating to printed items, agrees Bosman. It also protects items like postcard mailers that could otherwise be damaged during mail handling. For self mailers, the addresses are printed on the items themselves, so post coating prevents them from becoming unreadable.
“Coating adds value to a print, for pennies a sheet. The cost of putting down coating is a very small fraction of the entire print, but adds a huge value,” says Moskun.
Coatings like soft touch, pearlescent, and raised gloss create a premium look and feel, which helps the end-product stand out, he adds.
“Before a customer even starts to read the package or mailer, the coating is already at work by promoting a more high-end product. Whether it be a soft touch to invoke a sense of premium feel, or a shifting pearl to visually pop and stand out, coating creates a first impression,” comments Moskun.
UV coating “adds value to the printed products by making them unique and more eye catching and help engage consumers with the product,” agrees Sillies.
He says printers utilize custom coatings to create an opportunity for a higher level of engagement with a consumer that is both visual and tactile. “Custom coating is used on magazine covers, brochures, inserts, direct mail, and advertising help to draw attention and inspire people to take action whether by touching the page or reading more about the product,” comments Sillies.
Many luxury laminates are manufactured with built-in, value-add effects that increase the haptic, visual, or performance elements of a printed piece, comments Nikolic. “Additionally, they are typically highly compatible with spot UV as well as many other embellishment techniques. Specialty films support endless design creativity as their surface is pretreated to enable layering and special effects.”
Customers look to differentiate themselves from the competition with marketing materials. Harrington says this is achievable through techniques like soft touch laminating, foil enhancing with laminators, or soft touch, gloss, and spot UV.
“Inkjet UV and digital embellishment equipment is used in combination with products like soft touch laminating films to improve both the aesthetic look and tactile feel of the print. In addition, packaging printers, folding carton manufacturers, and food packaging printers are able to use film laminates for window packaging, applications that require good grade films to retain freshness or taste, and antimicrobial applications as well. The market is really exploding with a range of new film laminates designed for these varying applications,” says Gilmore.
Package printers, especially those serving high-end markets like cosmetics, technology, or liquor are using spot UV and digital embellishment to deliver a look that catches the eye, and increases the perceived value of the product inside, he adds.
In addition to adding durability and protection, print providers utilize priming, coating, and lamination techniques to add value to digitally printed output.
Nov2022, DPS Magazine