Plastics Printing — Handle with Care
“It’s pretty diverse; there isn’t really any one market segment that we’re focused on,” he says.
At the other end of the experience spectrum is IWCO Direct, which has been printing on plastics since 1984. The Chanhassen, MN-based company, one of the nation’s leading providers of turnkey direct mail solutions, focuses much of its plastics energies on promotional cards, along with promotional plastic key fobs, luggage tags, gift cards with magnetic stripes, postcards and specialty items such as plastic rulers.
IWCO Direct counts PVC and styrene derivatives among its primary substrates, according to Chuck Fisher, manager of procurement. He notes that the primary challenges faced during the manufacturing process are controlling static, maintaining the correct dyne level for ink adhesion and ensuring that the substrate lays flat and is cut straight.
Dyne level is not an issue for printing on paper, but it dictated the printer’s ability to adhere ink to the plastic and was a challenge early on in then-Instant Web Companies’ initial forays into plastics printing.
“The learning curve was steep but, by working closely with our ink and plastics providers, we learned what steps needed to be taken to ensure a quality result,” Fisher says. “In addition, our entry into plastics was roll-to-sheet and we had some insurmountable issues with cards that wouldn’t lay flat. We quickly switched to sheetfed printing to resolve that issue.”
Not having the proper dyne level is only one of many costly mistakes that can be encountered. “Perhaps the most common mistake in working with plastic substrates is not recognizing that you’re ultimately creating an ‘adhesion sandwich,’ ” Fisher stresses. “The ink has to be right to adhere to the substrate and the coating has to be receptive to foil for embossing.”
Color Ink’s LaForest adds that education goes a long way toward making the ramping up process less of a minefield. “The toughest part about going from conventional printing to hybrid is realizing that it won’t do everything,” he says. “All litho grade plastic substrates aren’t the same. Over time, you’ll learn what works well and what doesn’t.”