A simple guide to choosing the right printing process for your vinyl sticker production.
Everyone knows the old saying ‘Horses for Courses’, but what’s that got to do with the printing of vinyl stickers you may ask.
Put simply, there’s lots of ways of doing things, but there are also the best ways of doing things…
The world of print is wide and diverse. Stickers and self-adhesive labels are everywhere in our daily lives, just look around you; Logo stickers, Membership stickers, Floor stickers, Accreditation stickers, Car stickers, Website stickers, Plant Hire stickers, Bus side advertising stickers, stickers on sheets, stickers on rolls… It just goes on and on, and then on some more.
So where do all these stickers come from?
You know that you can’t make them on your desk top printer, so there must be a sticker printing machine available?
As you’d imagine, it’s not quite as simple as all that…
Imagine a full length Advertising sticker on the side of a bus, a printed Floor Sticker in a supermarket aisle, or the sticker in your Car window. Of course they’re all printed vinyl stickers, they all convey a message, they’re all fundamentally the same thing, but they’re each made in entirely different ways.
The problem for the would-be customer wanting to have vinyl stickers produced is understanding in which direction to head for the very best sticker printing deal and service; to find the company that can marry up the details of the job, to the best, fastest and most cost effective method of production.
A quick search of the internet will reveal 101 print firms offering everything from printed mugs to building sized plastic banners. But beware! The printing industry is a deceptive place for the unwary. It’s an industry that’s full to overflowing with trade re-sellers, print agencies, brokers, dealers and middle men all buying and selling, and adding their cut along the way.
What’s needed is to cut through the noise, and seek out the actual specialist vinyl and plastic printing companies from whom you can buy directly.
Back to the Horses and the Courses…
Fundamentally there are three tried and tested print processes for the printing of plastic and pvc vinyl:
Traditional screenprinting, digital ink jet printing, or an adaption of conventional litho, or lithographic, printing.
Each process has its strength, each its weaknesses. Here’s a very simple guide of which horse is best for which course:
Screenprinting is basically a stencilling process whereby ink is transferred on to the surface that is being printed, through a stencil, that is held in position on a fine woven fabric mesh.
The material on which the print will be made is placed directly under the taut mesh and the ink is forced through the stencilled mesh by the use of a rubber or polyeurathene ‘squeegee’.
The required artwork image is in negative form on the mesh, and so the ink passes through the open areas of the mesh, reproducing the image back in positive, readable form once printed.
Screenprinting is a single colour print process. Many colours can be printed in the design, but only one colour at a time can be printed. A print job of several colours requires the same sheet to be passed through the printing press the corresponding amount of times to the colours required, each time through its own stencil.
Each print colour is dried before the next colour can be applied. It is in the drying process that the durability of the print is made.
Although screenprinting is a very simple process, it creates results that are impossible to create in any other way, and can only be mimicked by other processes.
As each chosen colour is specially mixed before printing, there are no colour matching or colour balance problems created in other processes. If a specific pantone, pms, or spot colour is required, then screenprinting can hit the spot directly. The ink being printed is mixed before it goes onto the press, to the precise colour you choose.
As screenprinting is a ‘direct’ print process, the thickness of the ink layer laid down is much greater than with other processes. This thickness of ink film helps with opacity, durability and light fastness. Screenprinted inks will last much longer is harsh environments than ink printed by any other process. Ink used in the printing of self adhesive sticker pvc is actually a liquid pvc itself, and bonds to become part of the actual vinyl during drying.
To recap, screen print is the best process for printing long production runs of printed vinyl stickers, where colour matching, durability and a long outdoor life expectancy are required.
The most recent and cutting edge process to enter the print industry. Digital inkjet printing is an adaption of the technology used in every day desk top printers, but usually on a larger scale, and with the ability to print on to a pre-loaded roll, as well as trimmed sheets.
The artwork is finely sprayed in great detail on to the surface of the sticker material by a selection of printheads that pass back and forth across the width of the vinyl being printed.
A CMYK process, required colours are created by the blending of transparent cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks onto the white surface of the self-adhesive material.
The wet ink is dried by a passing UV light, which ‘sets’ the ink on to the surface of the plastic.
Being a digital process, there is no requirement for printing plates, screens or other ‘set up’ costs associated with the other processes. Print set up in achieved in moments, there’s no waste created, and the finished prints are dry and ready to trim.
Strengths and weaknesses: Digital inkjet print is high resolution, pin sharp, and cost effective for smaller print volumes. A welcomed addition to the print industry that fills a gap for the production of smaller volume full colour printing on plastic, at low cost. Its inherent drawback is the speed of production, ruling it out as a high volume print process at this time.
The world of printing changed forever in 1769 when Alois Senefelder’s discovery of a new printing process named lithography.
Prior to Senefelders experiments utilising the long known fact that oil and water didn’t mix, the world of printing had been little altered since Glutenberg’s invention of moveable type, used in the ancient relief printing process known as letterpress. This letterpress process worked on the basis of inking a carved wooden plate, and then crushing it to a piece of paper under great pressure.
Using a flat, polished piece of limestone as a rudimentary printing plate, Senefelder realised that if an image was written on to the stones surface in a greasy wax, a thin layer of water applied to it, a greasy ink when rolled onto the stone would only key to the greased ‘image’, and be repelled by the remaining wet surface of the stone plate.
From this greased, inked image, an exact print could be taken from the stone, over and over again, as long as the ink was continuingly replenished.
Lithography, or litho as it is better known, was born.
Long gone of course are the limestones, long since replaced by treated micro thin aluminium print plates, but the process of greasy ink not liking water has remained.
Developed along the way into the most prolific printing process the world has ever known, sheet and reel fed litho is used as the predominant process for the production of most of the print now produced.
But, as you would expect, nothing is perfect, and litho has its own set of problems, although much outweighed by its many advantages.
Printing onto anything other than paper or card was at the top of the problem list. Lightfastness of the printed image a close second.
However, through continued development, litho presses have now been designed that can successfully produce work on thin and flexible plastics, pvc’s and self-adhesive vinyls.
Utilising specialist inks, created especially for the printing of high quality images on plastic, along with specialist UV drying equipment, litho is now the choice process for certain types of high quality, long run or high volume sticker printing.
Strengths and weaknesses: As a rotary process, the size of printing sheet is restricted, therefore limiting the size of the work that can be physically be printed.
Although lightfastness problems have been addressed, litho ink will only last outdoors for a limited period of time.
Set up costs can be expensive on smaller runs, as the cost of machine plates, set up, and strip down at the end of the run is exactly the same for a short run as a long run.
As it’s a very fast printing process, the cost of the machine set up is soon absorbed into longer run jobs, making it the absolute choice for certain specifications, and run lengths of printed plastic vinyl stickers.
As we’ve seen described above, there’s a little more to sticker printing than might be imagined…
It’s crucial that you seek out the right printer for the job in hand. What’s needed is a company that offers ALL of these print processes. One that can take your details and decide down which route to go, to give you the best printed vinyl stickers, for your end use, and at the very best competitive price.
Edge Stickers have 30 years of experience in the printing of every description of self-adhesive label, vinyl sticker, window cling, or printed self-adhesive graphic.
Using screen ,litho and digital processes, we offer the best trade prices, direct to you from the back of our presses.
Stuck for stickers? Give Edge a call.