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Printing on Specialty Substrates

(April 2010) posted on Tue Mar 23, 2010

Managing variables associated with the substrates you use is critical to quality. Find out how to work with some popular, but picky, materials.

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By Gail Flower, Johnny Shell

We print on metal, but we primarily print labels on polymers. Our main product is Lexan panels. We have been in business since 1976. In any given quarter, we do work for about 260 different high-tech manufacturing companies (Figure 1). Approximately 20% of our product is shipped to about 90 different overseas locations.

Helpful hints
You need to print on a clean surface. Do a tape test after you print to make sure the ink doesn’t fall off. This is true for metal and polymer substrates. In addition to UL- and CSA-approved constructions, which are tested by UL annually, I always have printed samples (applied to magnetic sign material) of our printing on the roof of my van with a duplicate set in a cabinet in the shop. Every three months, I compare the two sets. Then I run my car through the car wash, leave it in the sun, drive it around, and that tests survivability. My car roof is my final test.

Best markets
We will print signage for anyone making a product; however, we primarily print Lexan panels. We do flexo printing and hot stamping, as well as screen printing. Our customers are electronics firms. We print indoor and outdoor signage for industrial companies because they are the safest bet for us. Retail companies do not have the economic wherewithal. Big chains don’t always pay their bills, either. But people who manufacture are our bread and butter, making up 90%.

Common disasters
Most metal is cut with a shear. Chipping becomes a problem when your ink bleeds off of an edge. Sometimes getting up in the morning is a disaster.

GM Nameplate
Seattle, WA
Mike McDaniel, technical manager, screen-printing department

Helpful hints
When printing on polycarbonate and polyester, make sure you have a good process for handling the material during manufacturing and transporting to prevent denting or scratching. Control and document ink thickness accurately so that it remains consistent from run to run. Document mesh correctly, such as plain weave vs. twill weave, thread or wire diameter, and mesh count. Control ink-curing parameters to ensure good cure and consistent color. Have good traceability, including substrate-lot numbers, ink-lot numbers, and expiration dates. Make sure you have a non-conforming ink and substrate area isolated from your controlled inventory.


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