An article earlier this year looked at finishing options for rigid substrates. Now, Nessan Cleary focuses on options for finishing flexible materials.
The most obvious place to start when considering finishing options for flexible substrates is with the various cutting tools available, with the most basic item being a straightforward trimmer. Most of you will have a manual trimmer but there are plenty of automated trimmers available too now and Andrew Hand, communications and design manager for Art Systems, says these are becoming more popular.
Art Systems sells the Summa range of vinyl cutters, including the R-cut series that can read cross marks for contour cutting on both standard and reflective materials. There’s a Flexcut feature that can cut simple designs right through the backing materials with a tear-off line. It runs at 1131mm/sec and is available in 67cm, 127cm, 142cm and 2164cm widths and can cut rolls or sheets.
Mutoh makes the ValueCut range of cutting plotters, which are typically used for cutting out vinyl letters or for contour cutting around stickers. They are available in 770mm, 1.6m and 1.9m sizes and can cut up to 1.5mm per second.
Hand points out that some flatbed cutters such as the Summa F-series, will also handle roll-fed media, noting: “You could put a whole roll on it and it will automatically cut the whole roll out for you.” So, it obviously makes sense if you are buying a cutting table to look into its roll- fed capabilities as well.
WELDING AND SEWING
A common requirement for flexible materials is to add seams or pockets as part of a fitting system. Sewing machines in particular are becoming more widespread as more people turn to textiles for exhibition graphics and backlit graphics, and there’s an increasing number of different options. Solent, for example, makes both welders and sewing machines for a number of industrial uses including sign makers. This includes the Miller Impulse Extreme that can weld signs and banners and can seam PVC, PE and textiles. It’s designed for a single operator and can store settings for commonly-used materials. It uses thermo impulse sealing technology which works by applying pressure and heat to the seam area and then uses liquid cooling to produce 3m and 6m long welds.
Amongst the sewing machines is the Solent Bannersew Pro, a one or two needle lockstitch machine that can sew hems and pockets at up to 18mpm. It has automatic lubrication and thread trimmer. Solent also makes the Texsew Pro Conveyorline that is suitable for fast seaming of digital prints, including adding silicone or latex keder edges and adding hems to dye sub prints. It works with single or twin needles and has automatic thread trimming and footlifting.
Atech sells the Matic range, including the Cronos Plus automatic sewing station, a conveyor belt driven machine that can handle heavy fabrics and has automatic finishing with back tacking and thread cutting.
Matic also makes an automatic and a semi-automatic impulse welder which can handle both banner and textile welding. The hem size is adjustable from 20mm to 90mm and it can weld up to 6m in one stroke.
Some dealers believe that the market for laminators is disappearing although Loic Delor, managing director of Josero, argues that most sign makers still regard laminators as an essential piece of kit. He accepts that it's mainly a replacement market but thinks the market won't shrink much further because there are still applications that need to be laminated and there's no other alternative.
The cheaper machines use pressure rather than heat and are therefore much easier to operate. But Delor points out: “If you laminate on a cold laminator you will have silvering, although it will disappear if you wait 24 hours but with a hot laminator it goes straightaway.” Consequently most people will be better off with a mid- range machine with heated top rollers.
The more expensive higher end machines will also be faster, which may not be a big consideration if you aren't doing much laminating, but if you have a printed a 50ft roll overnight then it might be quite useful to turn that around as quickly as possible.
Kala makes an entry-level cold laminator called the Kala Starter, which is available in 108cm, 140cm and 160cm widths. It can mount boards up to 50mm thick and runs at speeds up to 3.60mpm. It’s said to be easy to use, with self-blocking roll shafts for easy loading and single controls to lift the upper roller and to adjust pressure between the rollers.
For higher volume users Kala sells the Mistral, available in 1650mm and 2100mm widths. These have heat-assisted top rollers that can reach 60oC to help activate the adhesives in the laminate films. They can produce up to 6.20mpm.
An alternative is the Easymount range, available in 1.4m and 1.6m sizes, with a choice between cold and hot laminators. The 1600H, for example, is a 1600mm wide model with a single heated top roller. It takes ten minutes to warm up but runs at 6mpm. It will mount materials up to 25mm thick. There’s also an optional take up unit for the laminated material.
A variation is the flatbed applicator that is used to mount rolled prints to boards, and is essentially a large pressure roller that moves across the media, mounted to a flatbed. Most people will use a laminator for this, and indeed the ability to print direct to board is the main reason for the decline in the laminator market. But Delor argues that laminators are not really designed for handling large boards as you need tables either side and it’s difficult to line the board up as you feed it through the laminator. He adds: “Most of the time you need two people but with a flatbed applicator you just need one person and it can produce up to 25 boards per hour.”
It’s a good argument and there are an increasing number of these applicators appearing.
Thus Josero sells the Bubble-Free applicator, which is available in 1500mm, 1700mm and 2200mm widths and lengths from 2800mm up to 7000mm. It takes media up to 60mm thick, though there’s an option to increase this to 140mm. The pressure roller has a 15mm thick soft rubber coating for bubble-free working and can be controlled from either side.
The main competition comes from the Rolls Roller, which makes an enormous range from entry level models all the way through to high its high production Traffic models. There are a number of optional features including a self-sealing cutting mat, an illuminated bed and extension tables.
There’s an obvious trade-off between cost and automation across all the different finishing processes so it’s your qualified call as to which way you go, but bear in mind that automation is becoming more of the norm.