What Media to Use For Your Digital Printing
Now that you’ve decided to upgrade your operation from traditional printing to a digital printing press, one of the first questions you might have is what the right kind of digital printing media is best for the projects you’ve got lined up.
Since digital printers will print on nearly any flat surface, there are a tremendous amount of media possibilities out there, but the four primary types of substrate media you can use on your digital printing press are Paper, Synthetic, Plastic, and Fabric.
Digital Printing Paper Media
By far the most common type of digital printing medium, the properties of paper media range as widely as the applications they’re used in. Generally, most types of paper media conform to one of the subcategories listed below:
Standard paper products will nearly always contain some amount of acid, which leads to quicker decay and a limited shelf life, but they are the least expensive media for digital printing. Standard paper may come in thicker or thinner varieties, and more or less porous variants, giving you a wide range of ink absorption characteristics to choose from.
Ultimately, however, standard paper is the cheapest alternative, and any positive qualities you can find here you will find to a larger degree in another media.
Standard papers products are intended for normal business communication or short-term data storage applications – such as a marketing presentation or a romance novel. Standard paper is not intended or recommended for archiving or artwork.
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Similar to standard paper, but designed to absorb ink more quickly. While quick drying, porous papers have an even shorter shelf life than standard paper.
Porous paper is useful primarily in commercial applications where printed documents need to be put to work quickly – however, due to the fact that porous paper tends to leave ink closer to the surface than standard paper, the especially vibrant image quality it provides has some usefulness in artistic expression.
Resin-coated (RC) Paper is essentially a single sheet of standard paper sandwiched between two layers of plastic polymers. The top, or “receiving” layer accepts ink, while the bottom layer does not. Images on RC paper will stay glossy and vibrant over time because the ink is actually being absorbed by the polymer layer, and not by the paper base underneath. While this technically makes RC paper a form of plastic media, it is widely recognized as paper.
Since increased overall image quality and gamut are the entire purpose of RC paper, it is generally used in applications where graphical or artistic expression is important, or where image detail needs to be maintained over time.
Cast Coated Papers
Cast Coated (CC) Papers incorporate a special coating that hardens in contact with a polished chrome surface, giving it an exceptionally glossy finish. Like RC paper, CC paper has an ink receiving polymer layer on top of a paper layer, allowing prints to dry quickly. Unlike RC paper, CC paper facilitates absorption of the ink through the polymer layer and into the paper base.
CC paper tends to fade in bright light, and excessive amounts of ink can cause wrinkling or bubbling of the medium, negating the glossy finish. Further, the surface of CC paper is easily marred or scratched. Generally, CC paper is used for photo quality printing in situations where the print will be inserted into a frame or a form of paper protection to ensure the consistency and quality of the printed image.
Cotton Rag Papers
Also known as fine art paper, cotton rag (CR) paper are thicker and more textured than other forms of standard paper. Additionally, CR paper is acid free, meaning its shelf life is substantially longer than other types of paper media. CR paper comes in two main variants – 100% cotton, and a 50/50 cotton-polyester blend known as canvas.
As the secondary name suggests, CR paper is generally used for artistic applications where the image is intended to last for some time. However, the superior texturing and longevity of the paper also make it ideal for archiving printed information.
Digital Printing Synthetic Media
Also known as films, synthetic printing media come in a large variety of compositions, including flat vinyl, transparent film, transfer film, and even films that appear luminescent in the absence of light. Synthetic media offers several advantages over paper: increased longevity, superior ink retention, and finer image detail – however, film media is much more expensive than standard paper.
Since cost is the predominant factor in uses film media, synthetics are generally only used for applications where photo realistic quality of the printed image is paramount, or where the specific characteristics of the media – luminescence or transparency, for example – are required.
Digital Printing Plastic Media
Sometimes included in the film category of synthetic media, plastic media refers to the thicker, more durable composites used in digital printing. These composites vary from vendor to vendor, but generally include polyester, polycarbonate, styrene, PVC, and inflexible vinyl.
Plastic media is used in applications where rigidity, width, and durability are key characteristics. Examples include credit cards, menus, signage, tags, or any printed product that requires resistance to heat, chemicals, or extreme environments.
Fabric media, or textiles, include any cloth or semi-flexible material like silk, cotton, or polyester intended to be used as an article of clothing, a component in a garment, or a related application. Image quality and color fastness will depend on the quality of the textile receiving the ink, and additional layers of laminate or similar protection can help ensure the longevity of the image.
Like silk screening, digital textile printing can produce photo quality images on most forms of clothing – hats, t-shirts, jackets, and the like. Additionally, non-garment products like sheets, pillowcases, or mouse pads can accept digital printing with ease.
Ultimately, digital printing can add imagery to nearly any form of flat surface, so the only limitation is your imagination. Should you decide to experiment with different types of non-traditional printing media, it’s a good idea to determine the ink absorption rate, longevity, and durability of the medium you choose prior to expending resources on what might prove to be a disappointing experiment.