Choose the right media for your prints!

The most impor­tant thing you can do to ensure a suc­cess­ful print project when start­ing a new print project is to choose the right media for the appli­ca­tion. Choose the wrong media and you’ll fail — dis­ap­point­ing both your­self and your cus­tomer, not to men­tion wast­ing time and resources.

The final appli­ca­tion dic­tates your media choice. You must ful­ly under­stand the appli­ca­tion first — before all oth­er con­sid­er­a­tions and before choos­ing the media.

So, before begin­ning, you must answer these two ques­tions right away:
  • Is it an indoor or out­door appli­ca­tion?
  • How long are the prints expect­ed to last — a cou­ple of days, a cou­ple of weeks, months, years?
14448652432_3b5d44be7f_zPho­to by by Plot­ter­pa­pi­er, on Flickr,
licensed under Cre­ative Com­mons CC BY 2.0


Once you’ve answered those ques­tions you can start choos­ing your media. Of course, the media choic­es you have are also lim­it­ed by the type of print­er you have. Do you have an aque­ous, a UV-cur­able, or a sol­vent (eco-sol­vent) inkjet print­er? In fact, if you don’t have a the prop­er type of print­er, media choice becomes irrel­e­vant — you might not be able to do the job any­way. For exam­ple, if you’re look­ing to do a vehi­cle wrap and you only have an aque­ous inkjet print­er, you’re out of the job any­way.

Here’s a gen­er­al list of media types for wide for­mat inkjet print­ers, their prop­er­ties, and rec­om­mend­ed appli­ca­tions. But be sure to check the list of sup­port­ed media for your print­er before mak­ing your final choice.

Papers

Papers are suit­able for a wide vari­ety of appli­ca­tions includ­ing posters, line art (tech­ni­cal doc­u­ments), bill­boards, mount­ed prints, ban­ners, and even some back­l­its. For most appli­ca­tions it’s coat­ed and often requires lam­i­na­tion – accord­ing to the demands of the appli­ca­tion.

ruby-gardens copy

Paper — Uncoat­ed

All papers are cre­at­ed from the ground pulp of wood chips and start out as uncoat­ed. They’re good for print­ing vibrant images where col­or qual­i­ty is the main require­ment. But they’re not meant for prints intend­ed for use over a long peri­od. For exam­ple, you wouldn’t choose plain, uncoat­ed paper for prints meant to be hung in a store win­dow for sev­er­al months. And they’re def­i­nite­ly not intend­ed for out­door use with­out some kind of lam­i­na­tion or chem­i­cal over­coat­ing.

Since they’re uncoat­ed, they’re porous, and they soak up more ink than coat­ed papers or syn­thet­ic media. They’re often used with aque­ous inkjets, where the type of ink used also dri­ves media choice. Dye inks have a wider col­or gamut than pig­ment inks, so pro­duce more bril­liant col­ors. But they’re more sus­cep­ti­ble to degra­da­tion — UV expo­sure can make them fade in a few days. Pig­ment inks will resist water far bet­ter than dye inks but only for short term use.

Paper — Coat­ed

Start­ing with uncoat­ed paper, man­u­fac­tur­ers spread a clay or caulk filler over its sur­face. The coat­ing fills in the uneven gaps in the paper sub­strate to cre­ate a smooth sur­face. The coat­ing then lim­its the amount of ink that gets absorbed into the sub­strate — most of the the ink sits on top of the coat­ing rather than sink­ing into it. They’ll usu­al­ly add chem­i­cals to bleach out the coat­ing to boost its bright­ness and widen its col­or gamut.

Coat­ed papers are usu­al­ly clas­si­fied as “glossy” or “mat­te”. They’re well-suit­ed for posters, pho­tographs, door hang­ers, and so on. Like uncoat­ed papers, though, they’re short term solu­tions — not what you’d choose for a poster that’s meant to be hung out­doors unless you lam­i­nate or over­coat them.

Films

Film media are made from syn­thet­ic mate­ri­als such as poly­ester and poly­eth­yl­ene which makes them plas­tic-like and pli­able. They’re water­proof and tear-resis­tant, mean­ing they’re great for out­door appli­ca­tions. They’re wide­ly used in graph­ic arts appli­ca­tions and are suit­able for back­lit appli­ca­tions such as lob­by signs, park­ing garage signs, tran­sit shel­ters, kiosks and direc­to­ries, and menu fix­tures.

Mount­ing the film print to a sol­id sub­strate like Plex­i­glas or Lex­an helps with rigid­i­ty and fur­ther mount­ing in a fix­ture. If they’re to be used out­doors they should be lam­i­nat­ed. Lam­i­na­tion also helps to dif­fuse the light shin­ing through the print. You’ll also find them used for decals or “win­dow clings” to be hung in busi­ness and store win­dows.

flickr-6950390942_9713657f6a_k copy

Pho­to by Elliot Brown, on Flickr,
licensed under Cre­ative Com­mons CC BY 2.0

Vinyls

Vinyl media are often used as sig­nage for the­atre lob­bies, restau­rants, and retail stores. Although it’s quite durable it can also be lam­i­nat­ed to pro­vide fur­ther dura­bil­i­ty and improve light fast­ness. Vinyl also lends itself to fin­ish­ing oper­a­tions like grom­met­ing and stitch­ing to pro­vide pock­ets for mount­ing. Pres­sure-sen­si­tive vinyls have an adhe­sive back­ing that can be applied direct­ly to flat sur­faces such as glass, steel, floors, and so on.

If your project is for vehi­cle wraps or floor graph­ics — you’ll almost cer­tain­ly be want­i­ng to use vinyls.

bigstock-Shop-Window-With-Sale-Banners--16658675 copy

Fab­rics

If you’re look­ing to pro­duce ban­ners, flags, or hang­ing pan­els, your best choice would be woven fab­rics. Some fab­rics are even fire-retar­dant — mean­ing that they’re quite use­ful in pub­lic venues like muse­ums, schools, con­ven­tion cen­ters, and so on. When you have large assem­blies of peo­ple you’ll most like­ly also have gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions requir­ing the use of fire-retar­dant mate­ri­als to pro­tect the pub­lic.

Lamp post banners

Use ICC Pro­files

No mat­ter which media you end up using be sure to use the prop­er ICC pro­file for that media to ensure the best pos­si­ble qual­i­ty print. If you choose the right media, but use the wrong pro­file (or for­get to choose one) you can eas­i­ly end up with poor prints. Col­or man­age­ment is a whole dis­ci­pline in itself. If you can’t cre­ate your own ICC pro­files you should at least be able to get one from the media ven­dor.

Store Your Media Prop­er­ly

You want your media in good con­di­tion and ready for use when it’s time to print. So be sure to store unopened media in the orig­i­nal wrap­pers in a envi­ron­men­tal­ly con­trolled room. Tem­per­a­ture and humid­i­ty can great­ly affect media con­di­tion and per­for­mance. Also, be sure to keep unused media away from direct sun­light. If you don’t use all the media — wrap it up and put it back into its orig­i­nal con­tain­er and store accord­ing­ly.

Final Thoughts

Over­all, the best approach — espe­cial­ly if you’re unsure of what media is best for your par­tic­u­lar project — is to check with your media ven­dor! They’ll most def­i­nite­ly be able to guide you to the best choice. And be sure to check the list of approved media for your par­tic­u­lar print­er. If your print­er can’t han­dle that kind of media you’ll need to re-think the project and send it to a dif­fer­ent print­er.

So, ALWAYS START by thor­ough­ly under­stand­ing your project’s require­ments. First, ask your­self these ques­tions:

  • Is it an indoor or out­door appli­ca­tion?
  • How long are the prints expect­ed to last — a cou­ple of days, a cou­ple of weeks, months, years?

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