When investigating the use of these acrylic digital printing sheets, there are several things to keep in mind. One of the biggest is to check for the flatness of the sheet, and to set the print head gap accordingly to avoid a print head strike. Having a print head strike the edge of bowed acrylic can lead to a costly repair. Print shops have been known to tape down the edges of bowed media to avoid this occurrence, but ideally they shouldn’t have to. Since acrylic will absorb moisture, especially during the hot and humid summer months, it is important to keep digitally printable acrylic stock covered in its polyethylene wrapping to minimize this. Special packaging is also available to help maintain the quality of printable acrylic.
Also important to acknowledge is the fact that static electricity can affect the printed result. As a minimum, a static-reducing wand should be waved slightly above the acrylic after peeling the poly masking but before printing. The use of low-static poly masking in some cases can help with this situation.
Aside from the digital printing grade of acrylic, there are a number of other acrylic sheet products that will help your POP display pop. A rainbow of colors is available, and some are transparent while others are translucent or opaque. Mirrorized acrylic sheet is also available to give your display a sparkling appearance. There are textured acrylic sheets that can provide some softness and an alternative look. Textured sheets that have a satin finish can even hide fingerprints, making it easier to keep your display looking good. Newer to the scene are clear acrylics with an anti-fingerprint or easy-clean coating that again help to keep your displays from showing the day’s wear and tear.
Acrylic sheet is a natural choice to use in lighting applications. In some cases, the high clarity and light transmission of acrylic is ideal. In other cases, the acrylic can be manufactured with surface textures or encapsulated diffusing agents to create other lighting effects. One particular type of acrylic sheet is designed to pipe light from the face of the acrylic by edge lighting with LEDs. The value of this type of product is that the resulting sign or display can be very thin, less than an inch, instead of having a traditional back-lit sign or display of several inches. Illuminated POP displays can then be made by placing one of these edge-lighting panels behind a piece of digitally printed acrylic, for a real eye-opening display. It’s like getting the best of two worlds – sharp digitally printed acrylic signs or displays with very thin illuminating panels behind them.
If you’re in the market for a digital printer, there are a great number of them to pick from. Some are pure flatbed printers, and others are hybrids that can also be used in a roll-to-roll configuration. The design intention of printers can vary too – some are more suited to high-volume sign printing, for example, while others are more capable when printing high-resolution photographs. Two big factors that affect the price of most printers is the size that they are capable of printing and the throughput of the printer (often reported as the number of 4’x8’ “boards per hour”). Printers are also capable of a wide range of resolutions or quality settings to fit your needs. Flatbed printers generally use UV light to cure the ink after it is applied to the sheet (the UV energy can be provided by bulbs or LEDs) – this allows the prints to be completely “dry” immediately after they’re printed.
It can be a daunting task to select a printer, but there are ways to make it easier. Attend a trade show that is either dedicated to digital printing or have a large representation by companies that make digital printers. Two examples of these shows are the ISA Sign Expo, typically held in the spring (in Orlando in 2020), and the Printing United show, typically held in the fall (in Atlanta in 2020). These shows present the opportunity to view a great number of printers “in action”, talk to the people that make them, and to get some samples. Your acrylic sheet manufacturer should also be able to provide you with some ideas for selecting a digital printer. In addition, most major printer manufacturers have demo labs in the U.S. that are available for your visit to see their printers demonstrated right in front of you. Combine that with the cost information for each one and you’re well on your way to selecting the printer that works best for you – and you’ll be printing beautiful POP displays on digitally printable acrylic before you know it.