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Matching printers and inks with substrates and coatings

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Photos © Sihl Digital Imaging

By Bruce Walker
Given the diversity of products available to the sign and graphics industry, matching the right printable substrate with the right coating with the right printer with the right ink may seem like a very daunting task. Fortunately, this process can be broken down and simplified with sectional guidelines to make some sense out of the confusion.

Confidence in a recipe for success
It is important from the beginning to consider the quality of these products and their manufacturers’ level of experience and track record. The way raw materials are made into products and then brought to market should be taken very seriously before using them to produce wide-format graphics.

The graphics industry has unfortunately seen many “just like theirs, only cheaper” deceptions, which can really hurt it, as sometimes there is not enough factual information available for signmakers to make informed decisions. It is not just a question of the formula behind how a product is made or how well it performs in the field, but also a matter of the logistics and market development efforts that ensure reliable access to that product.

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Ink receptivity also depends on an appropriate coating to match the ink load.

In the graphics market, shops frequently rely on suggestions from sales representatives who may have no hands-on experience in defining how printable media should best 
be matched with a printing platform. It is extremely important to look for high-quality brands that not only have a long history of successful experience behind them, but also have been tried and tested for compatibility with the other necessary brands, so as to truly validate the quality of a given ‘recipe’ using all of the various ‘ingredients.’

Scrutinizing the variables
When considering inks’ compatibility with printers and media, some of the important variables that need to be scrutinized closely include pigment particle size, coagulation and separation. These are some of the areas where it can become apparent if less expensive alternative ink options are not of suitable quality, well before incorporating them into the digital imaging process, where they could negatively affect printed graphics.

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Most printers use ink filtration systems, for example, which can become clogged up by inks that are too thick or contain particles large enough to block the filters. The end result is similar to the carburetor not working properly in a car, as the ink will not flow properly and will put more stress on the cycling and replenishment of the ink system, resulting in printing faults or errors or, even worse, leading to the breakdown of the printer.

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