Green printing

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Usually, I write about new and cool uses of digitally printed fabrics. This is about something much more mainstream: banners. Banners are one of the, if not the, primary wide format digital print applications. They can be used indoors or outdoors for one day or for months at a time. Banners have primarily been printed onto vinyl. However, one thing we’re seeing in the wide-format market, especially for promotional graphics, is the use of fabric for banner printing.

The move to fabrics is due largely in part to polyester, which is lighter than vinyl and can be folded and shipped less expensively. Print buyers like that, but they also like the look and feel of printed fabrics.

Fabric has enhanced environmental properties compared to PVC-based substrates. A lot of the development in the digital printing substrate market is on more environmentally friendly flexible substrates.

I attend important wide format printing trade shows and notice multiple fabric vendors advertising the sustainable properties of their print media. Many “vinyl” companies have made adjustments and additions to their substrate line to accommodate this change in print buyer demand. One vendor from Europe, StarFlex, has launched a new line of wide format digital print media that is advertised as “PVC-free, heavy metals free, fungicide-free, phthalate-free, and emits zero VOCs.” These are the kinds of materials that buyers want to see their printers using.

Sustainability has been on the minds of many in the wide format digital printing market, but it takes a backseat to price. “Green” wide format print media typically costs more, and, according to our research, print buyers are generally unwilling to pay for it. However, it is widely known that some major retailers have added recyclability to their print buying specification, driving demand for more sustainable print media.

Wide format digital print media suppliers are doing a great job at re-engineering products to improve their environmental characteristics. This is work and someone has to pay for it, so for now we expect these “greener” print media will have a premium price.

Printers will offer sustainable printing with green media. The printing will often have a premium because the media is more expensive. However, we believe that as the manufacturing processes are perfected and better chemistry is applied, the premium will diminish, buyers will recognize lower costs at their end (for shipping and disposal) and we will see much greater volumes of fabric and other “green” substrate printing.

Tim Greene is director, wide format printing and jetting technologies opportunities, InfoTrends, Wehmouth, Mass.

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