By Peter Saunders
Magnetic and magnetic-receptive materials are becoming popular in the wide-format printing of point-of-purchase (POP) graphics because of their adaptability to a broad range of retail environments and, perhaps most important to store staff, their ease of installation for ongoing promotional updates. No special hardware, drill holes or brackets are required, as each graphic is essentially a giant refrigerator magnet.
From fridges to signs
As it happens, today’s magnetic graphics actually have their roots in the refrigerator industry—though not in the magnets stuck to their doors.
“After the Second World War, the U.S. government asked refrigerator manufacturers to find alternatives to the latches that sealed fridge doors too tightly, making it easy for children to get stuck inside,” explains John Kanis, president of MagX America, a flexible magnetic sheet manufacturer celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. “This led to the development of co-extruded magnets—which continue to keep fridge doors closed today—and those in turn gave rise to flexible magnets.”
MagX’s own labs reportedly produced the first flexible magnetic sheeting in 1965, when the company was founded. The signmaking market was significant from the start.
“Signmakers used to emboss plastic letters with a magnetic strip around the edges,” says Kanis.
One of the keys for printed graphic applications was to make the material sufficiently wide (in printing area) and thin (in thickness). Soon, it was being screenprinted, hand-lettered and plotted. Today, it is frequently digitally printed—and with the rise of wide-format presses has come the demand for wider substrates, so larger seamless graphics can be attached to metal walls and other surfaces.
“For a while, the standard width in North America was 0.6 m (24 in.),” Kanis says, “but our parent company at the time was based in Japan, where printable magnets were already 1 m (40 in.) wide. So, we were the first to bring that size to the U.S. Today, we’re up to 1.2 m (48 in.).”
Compatibility and durability
Flexible magnetic sheeting has also come a long way in terms of compatibility with various print technologies. Different formulations of printable surfaces have optimized the material for solvent-based, eco-solvent, ultraviolet-curing (UV-curing) and durable aqueous ‘latex’ inkjet printers, along with flexography, screenprinting and offset printing.
“There’s now a diverse range of sheets that can be direct-printed, rather than needing a laminate,” says Jim Cirigliano, marketing manager for Magnum Magnetics, “so it’s important to ask suppliers about which material will work best with your printer.”
Another advantage of magnetic signage has been durability. A printed magnetic sheet fused to a multi-purpose laminate offers strong ultraviolet (UV) resistance outdoors in sunlight.
“There are outdoor-rated magnetic materials that can be used where paperstock would never hold up,” says Cirigliano. “Magnetic sheeting is a perfect way to attach large-format outdoor signage to the side of a building, such as quick-service restaurant (QSR) menu boards at a drive-thru.”
“Indoors, the material is even more durable,” says Kanis. “How can you damage it?”