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Introduction: Can You Really Print on Chrome Vinyl?
Is solvent printing on chrome vinyl a risky business or a viable option? The answer varies depending on who you ask. While some find success in this endeavor, others face a series of challenges. But we’re here to assure you—it is entirely feasible. With a good understanding of the material, careful planning, and some tricks up your sleeve, you’ll be part of the “success stories” club in no time.
Target Audience of This Article
Note that this guide is tailored to users of solvent and eco-solvent inkjet systems. While there may be some overlap in challenges faced by UV curable and latex systems, our solutions are specifically aimed at solvent and eco-solvent users.
A Quick Note on Latex Printing
See the end of this article for tips on how to print using latex inks.
The Foolproof Method for Chrome Printing
Desire a steadfast guarantee for inkjet printed chrome vinyl? Follow this approach. Start by printing on transparent vinyl or laminate, then top it with another layer of laminate if needed. Finally, adhere the printed film to your chrome vinyl.
By employing this technique, you can opt for any type of chrome vinyl—it doesn’t have to be inherently printable. Your customers may need to foot the bill for two or three different films, but that’s a small price to pay for unbeatable quality. Remember to pair films with similar attributes and lifespans. For instance, you could match Oracal 351 Chrome, Orajet 3651 Transparent, and Oraguard 210 Laminate.
The Big Challenge: Edge Curling
Some chrome vinyl options can handle direct inkjet printing. Brands like Express Sign Products provide options such as Gemstone Chrome Polish, Universal Products UP-683 Premium Chrome Mirror, and RTape VinylEfx Smooth Silver. These are metalized PVC films, distinct from metalized polyester films, but they aren’t as forgiving as your usual inkjet vinyl. The main issue? Edge curling. With a little foresight, however, you can conquer this problem.
The Contributing Factors
What primarily influences curling is the film’s layered structure, typically comprising an adhesive layer, a metal film, and a PVC layer. If one layer undergoes a change, the others will react accordingly.
Temperature also plays a role, invoking principles of thermal expansion from high school physics. Each layer in the chrome film expands at its own rate when heated, leading to curling.
Lastly, ink density is a critical factor. Solvent and eco-solvent inks can chemically alter PVC, exacerbating the curling issue.
A Workable Solution to the Curling Issue
There’s no magic bullet to completely eliminate edge curl, but there are several manageable variables that together can tackle the issue:
- Regulate the heat during printing, ideally between 35°C and 40°C.
- Adjust ink density. Test with lower-density profiles if curling persists.
- Allow for outgassing. A minimum of 24 hours is recommended before proceeding to the next steps.
- Maintain a ¼” unprinted border around your graphics.
- If you can’t control these variables, consider lamination.
- Finally, for installations, always edge-seal your graphics to prevent curling and lifting.
- A foolproof method: Print on transparent film and apply to chrome vinyl.
- The primary issue: Edge curling.
- Influencing factors: Layered structure, temperature, and ink density.
- Practical solutions: Control heat, ink density, outgassing time, border size, and lamination.
An Update on Latex Printing
For those using latex printers, you’ll be pleased to know that latex inks do work on certain chrome vinyls. Unlike solvent inks, latex inks sit on the film without altering its properties. However, temperature management remains crucial.
- Conduct a test print.
- Feed the vinyl past the heater to avoid curling and head strikes.
- Keep a ¼” unprinted border around all designs.
- Let the film cool before contour cutting.
- Apply laminate for added UV protection, if necessary.
Q: Can I really print on chrome vinyl using solvent inks?
A: Yes, it’s entirely possible with careful planning and some technical know-how.
Q: How can I avoid the curling issue?
A: There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but a combination of controlling heat, ink density, and outgassing time can significantly reduce the problem.
Q: Can I use latex inks for printing on chrome vinyl?
A: While not guaranteed, it’s definitely worth a try. Latex inks are less invasive compared to solvent inks, but heat management remains crucial.