PMA—In a small booth in the Korean section, there were demonstrations on new finishing technology—UV coating for medium-format portraiture plus signage, inkjet, and digital offset.
There were the pessimists who said that nothing new was shown at PMA in Las Vegas last March. How wrong they were. In addition to the introduction of UV print finishing, there was a new twist to producing photo albums by creating them on the desktop; and if you didn't want to print in-house, sending out the printing and binding. Most post show interviewees said, "It was all about photo books, wasn't it?"
Book printing and binding seemed to be the most ubiquitous, and Albumprinter and Artography led this new printing scheme. Their plan is to let entry-level retailers and labs earn a commission without actually doing the work, but just the marketing.
You will read a lot about album, calendar, and card production elsewhere, but we think this new UV coating approach to print finishing is something to shout about. It offers value added to prints and saves production times and labor, and costs a lot less than topical laminates.
Last summer at two Shanghai exhibitions, visitors could see a good selection of small-to-large-format liquid laminators. Some ran solvent coatings, some water, but the cleaner, more interesting machines used UV coatings that were fast and the prints came out dry.
Jim Tatum, formerly with Seal Graphics and Neschen Accutech, traveled to the Far East to bring to PMA a new line of versatile medium-format UV liquid laminators. Branded Versa Coater UV, they are ideal for photographers, studios, minilabs and even ProLabs. These UV liquid laminating machines are different from the large-format UV units. The Versa medium-format units use only cut-sheet materials up to one-half inches thick and users can choose from five different textured surface rollers. The large-format units coat rolls and rigid substrates.
"The Versa UV Coaters are two machines in one…a texturing machine and a coater; there is no other coater like it in size and format," said Tatum. "The designers have married UV liquid coating and embossing technology into a small footprint machine, the size of an office copier. The coaters literally accept any photo print or inkjet paper."
The Versa UV Coaters have textured rollers that are the ideal solution for coating photographic portrait prints. There is a choice of five finishes: smooth, fine, heavy, linen, and canvas-textured cotton. Rollers can be changed in as little as a few minutes. It is possible to load two textures/coatings (upper and lower) to run two coatings or textures, one on top and one on bottom without changing rollers. A lab can set up glossy and matte without roller changeover.
There are two Versa designs, a single path featuring an adjustable nip to 1/2 in. and a dual path design with multiple input paths and separate supply tanks. Machine widths are 17-, 24-, and 36-inches wide. According to Tatum, the 24-in. model was the most popular at the show. Unlike other liquid coating machines, UV units are clean to operate and more environmentally friendly. This is due to its filtered supply and recovery system, plus an adjustable metal scraper blade eliminates coating streaks on the backside.
Let's look at some numbers
Versa units range from $20,000 to $41,000; the coating costs $220/gal. Units are delivered with one smooth roll and buyer's choice of a second. Delivery is 6-8 weeks and includes a video for installation.
But it's not all about the cost of the hardware. With a UV coating machine you save labor, and the space that having multiple hot and cold laminators take up. Topical film laminates including adhesives can cost at the low end $.40 square foot, with premium over-laminates running upwards of $1.10 a square foot, whereas UV coatings run between $.3-.5 a square foot. You can vary the thickness of the coating on the Versa from 10 to 14 microns.
Some media is more absorbent and requires more coating. Also, if a print is for outdoors you may need a heavier coating. There are always questions about the cost of UV lamps. Tatum says that lamp life runs between 800 and 1,000 hours, and the replacement cost is $260 each. Those with UV flatbed printers have a comparable experience.
Lou George of BWC Imaging, Dallas, TX, saw the savings immediately and said her shop could benefit from UV coating in both her portrait and commercial display and signage divisions. She also liked the added benefit of security, because embossing prints with the UV coating restricts the ability of people to scan prints for copying.
For years, commercial labs and digital display shops have taken advantage of liquid coatings, primarily water-based for indoor and outdoor applications. Their primary material for coating has been canvas. Studios and people labs have used spray booths and McDonald (now Tara) canvas transfer presses to give that great textured finish to portraits. These procedures were costly and labor intensive. "The difference between water-based and UV liquid coatings is that UV doesn't evaporate and has light absorbers," said Tatum; "there is a much higher content of solids in the UV, you have no waste, and the coaters run up to 90 ft/min."