Exploring the potential of dimensional printing

July 9, 2018

Photos courtesy Agfa Graphics[1]

Photos courtesy Agfa Graphics

By Brent Holmes

Practically every surface is an opportunity to get a printed message noticed. And the more unique a graphic appears, the better the chance of engaging the target audience with an effective call to action.

The objective for most wide-format printed graphics is to sell something. To achieve this goal, the best marketing campaigns entertain, inspire, educate and inform the appropriate consumers.

The job of commercial print service providers (PSPs) is to help their clients hit the mark with such campaigns. This means standing out with technological and creative innovations.

As more commercial PSPs and signmakers are making the leap into wide-format graphics, it is important to understand where the best opportunities are for growth and new revenue streams. Among such opportunities, dimensional printing stands out—in more ways than one.

Inkjet market trends
The wide-format printing sector continues to experience strong growth, due particularly to the development of new markets. As graphics production technology advances, it provides faster speeds and higher quality, allowing it to achieve a great deal of its own untapped potential.

According to studies by printing industry research firm InfoTrends, the International Sign Association (ISA) and the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA), production volumes for wide-format printed graphics in North America are expected to enjoy a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.5 per cent, topping 750 million m2 (8 billion sf) in 2019, up from less than 400 million m2 (4.3 billion sf) in 2014.

Further, Infotrends credits this healthy pace of growth to the discovery of new areas of business. While the most popular vertical markets served by sign and graphics companies include corporate branding, retail and construction, significant opportunities have also arisen in interior design, health care and architecture.

The most common applications, meanwhile, include banners, backlit posters and indoor wall graphics. The fastest-growing include exterior building graphics, while those on the decline include fine art and photographic reproduction.

In terms of substrates for digital wide-format printing, flexible media continue to comprise the majority of today’s market, but the growth of ultraviolet-curing (UV-curing) flatbed and hybrid inkjet presses is supporting an increasing demand for rigid substrates, too.

Adding new dimensions

Depositing inks and varnishes in multiple layers can simulate a lenticular effect.[2]

Depositing inks and varnishes in multiple layers can simulate a lenticular effect.

In a 2016 InfoTrends report titled ‘Beyond CMYK: The Digital Print Enhancement Opportunity,’ co-author Jim Hamilton reported, “30 per cent of the total colour pages printed in North America and Western Europe—nearly 1.8 trillion pages—currently receive some form of special effects, enhancements or embellishments.”

Such effects are now possible for wide-format graphics, too, thanks to advances in UV-curing printers, varnishes, primers and white inks. PSPs can produce unique, eye-catching output by printing multiple layers and textures and isolating inks and varnishes at various points throughout an image. These applications can be referred to as ‘dimensional printing.’

The addition of a layer of gloss to certain elements of an image can enhance its visual impact beyond that of a flat matte graphic.

When creating an out-of-home (OOH) ad for soda or beer, for example, the addition of a gloss varnish to the droplets of condensation on the featured bottle can make it look like it is really ‘sweating,’ creating a much more realistic impression for the viewer, who is more likely to look twice and feel an emotional connection with the product.

In another example, varnish applied to an ad for a luxury wristwatch can make the crystal face appear to pop off the page and, for that matter, can allow the manufacturer’s logo to rise from the substrate. In such cases, the main full-colour image is first printed with standard cyan, magenta, yellow and key/black (CMYK) inks; then the gloss layers are printed separately, using a special varnish, to create a predetermined density or thickness.

The capabilities of UV-curing inkjet printers can also stretch the possibilities for wide-format graphics by achieving a textured finish.

For a sophisticated replica of an oil painting, by way of example, the original image file can be manipulated with design software to create artificial layers, as a cost-effective way to reproduce the tactility of brush strokes and crackling paint. Once these parts of the image have been isolated, they are assigned separate spot-colour ink channels. Each of these channels is printed in sequence, using white ink, to build up the right levels of texture. Finally, the full-colour image is printed on top of the white ink, creating the effect of a hand-painted canvas.

Another example of this type of effect can be created with a textural photo print depicting a brick wall. Following the same concept, the ‘height’ of brick is built up with one white ink channel and the texture of the mortar is created with another. Layering the ink in this way can mimic the porous nature of brick and coarse mortar. Finally, the full-colour inks are laid down over the white.

Lenticular animation
Another purpose for depositing UV-curable inks and varnishes onto a substrate in multiple layers is to create a three-dimensional (3D) ‘lens’ effect, without requiring a lenticular material.

Lenticular applications combine a series of images to create an illusion of motion, through simple animation, as the graphics are viewed from different angles. Traditional lenticular printing is a precise multi-step process that requires special substrates.

A textured finish adds to visual impact when replicating an oil painting.[3]

A textured finish adds to visual impact when replicating an oil painting.

Now, however, a similar effect can be achieved with standard transparent media, such as a polycarbonate or acrylic. Depth is added to the substrate by layering varnish to build sufficient height for carefully tuned arrays of tiny lenses.

First, software is used to create the precise pattern. Next, the printer outputs the graphics in multiple layers, starting with a white background on the transparent substrate. After the sheet is flipped and registered, the lens pattern is printed using a clear varnish.

This process can be applied to posters, point-of-purchase (POP) displays, trade show graphics and decor, among other projects.

Unique possibilities
The above are just a few examples of dimensional printing’s creative applications. As such technology continues to be developed, others will also become possible, such as printing 3-D effects on recycled paper. There are certainly many unique possibilities for using inks and varnishes and for combining ‘static’ and ‘moving’ images with depth, so as to make
new graphics stand out in the marketplace.

Brent Holmes is an Agfa Graphics account manager for Western Canada. This article is based on a seminar he presented in April at the BC Sign & Graphics Show in Burnaby, B.C. For more information, visit www.agfagraphics.com[4] and www.bcsignassociation.com[5].

  1. [Image]: https://www.signmedia.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/rce-mortsel-20150429_8991.jpg
  2. [Image]: https://www.signmedia.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/IMG_3366.jpg
  3. [Image]: https://www.signmedia.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Renoir-Pierre-Auguste-Jaartal-1881-Twee-zusjes-op-het-terras-Hoog-1000-mm-Breed-800-mm-Art-Institute-of-Chicago.jpg
  4. www.agfagraphics.com: http://www.agfagraphics.com
  5. www.bcsignassociation.com: http://www.bcsignassociation.com

Source URL: https://www.signmedia.ca/exploring-potential-dimensional-printing/