The Wonderful World of UV Special Effects
Find out how you can use the latest generation of UV-curable inks and coatings to add value to signs, graphics, packaging, and other screen-printed applications.
The playing field within the printing community has undergone seismic changes during the past decade or more, where one dedicated process muscles in to take business away from other processes’ traditional territory, hoping to bring in much needed pro-fit. Margins are squeezed so tight that many printed jobs seem to be a gift, as the proverbial pie appears to be getting smaller.
As profits continue to dwindle with no letup in sight, printers of all stripes (offset, flexo, digital, and screen) are desperately seeking resourceful ways to shore up their own bottom lines just to stay in business. Perhaps the most resourceful and least costly approach to succeed in winning additional profitable business is to provide value-added finishing features—the types that bring unique sensations by effectively transforming any ordinary looking print into an extraordinary, breathtaking one.
Creating value with special effects
Screen printers are beginning to recognize a new, extremely lucrative market niche that has suddenly increased the size of the pie: value-added special effects. Print buyers are more demanding than ever. They want more and better for less. But they are also clamoring to provide excitement for their own markets and customers—something totally different and imposing; something very special and stunning.
Buyers are more than willing in mindset to spend additional premiums for something that clearly sets their prints apart and boasts some form of electrifying enhancement. While screen printing is known as the poor cousin of the allied printing community, it provides some of the most spectacular, visual-enhancing results that no other process can emulate.
The type of special effects referred to here are those created by a single pass or multiple layers of specially formulated, UV-curable clear coating (varnish), together with additives as necessary. These products are designed to provide an abundance of different effects according to desired needs. Further spectacular results can be produced with combination layers and applied onto unprinted coated/uncoated stocks, thereby creating an inexpensive assortment of exclusive-looking substrate types, such as foil-likeness but in selective areas (Figure 1).
Interestingly enough, these special-effect UV inks can be coated onto any previously printed material to provide an enhanced effect, whether the job was originally produced by offset, flexo, digital, or screen. The extraordinary pulling power of these effects can produce deep gloss, texture, abrasive feel, wrinkle, coral, icy snow, genuine-looking silver/gold, bubble, glitter, selective foil stamping, and fine line micro-embossing and 3D holographic designs.
The purpose and target
for special effects
Value-added features provide subtle, but distinctive, characteristics to a print and a unique boost in appearance to a sign, display, or product package, enabling it to stand head and shoulders above the rest. The aim is to draw immediate attention by an unspoken message, be remembered the longest, and, if required, entice viewers into an intended action.
Take five small, similar sized posters displayed together in a bookstore or travel agency, for instance. Other than the book covers’ graphics or vacation destinations’ sceneries, chances are none will particularly standout—that is, unless one had something visually compelling to attract viewers’ sensory interest more than the others (Figure 2), being mindful that real-life samplings provide more pronounced and accentuated characteristics of the added features.
Special-effect UV inks and coatings can help screen printers produce graphics that people literally want to see, touch, and feel—especially when the aesthetics are breathtaking in comparison to the status quo. While gaining more business is the obvious reason to take on such work, the underlying motive is clearly to improve the bottom line. The marketplace today is entrenched competitively in every measurable way, and more jobs are undertaken at ridiculously low margins—a practice unheard of recently.
To reverse this futile dilemma, it is good to know print buyers can be convinced to pay a premium to make their prints or products stand out in an eye-catching and pleasing way. Special effects can be the largest, or only, money-making part of the whole job, regardless of which printing process was originally used.
The markets for special effects are plentiful in general merchandise, posters, P-O-P/P-O-S displays, children’s products, reference books, digitally printed publications, greeting cards, calendars, catalogs/folders (Figure 3), advertisements, high-end/luxury labeling and packaging (Figures 4 and 5), audio-visual products, cosmetics and jewelry, and more.
In particular, combining value-added special effects with offset-, inkjet-, flexo-, or screen-printed graphics can land a printer in a rewarding and profitable niche that offers marketers, designers, and print buyers truly enhanced, unique-looking possibilities to make the initial difference—the only one that matters: increasing sales! Ultimately, special-effects packaging and labels carry their own enormous power of attraction and curiosity to excite consumers and drive desire for ownership.
Shifting business core to
Screen-printed special effects provoke a significant response from market-hungry promoters for new ideas by exploring creative and innovative solutions that add value. Many offset and digital companies are now embracing the screen process because they felt it was the missing link to expand their business and bottom line. One offset company with 12 presses said the move into screen was bold because they considered it a backward step! Their expectations have since been superseded in less than a year by an average of 100,000 sheets weekly—a runaway success as the appetite for creative finishing soars.
Industry’s inclination is beginning to shift from a single-process to multiprocess approach as print buyers’ needs are becoming more passionate in today’s highly competitive environment. It has been estimated that 35% offset printers require some form of special effects that they are unable to perform in house. Printing companies not into the special-effects-finishing market risk leaving money on the table.
While difficult to determine in present-day screen printing, consumables suppliers generally agree that offset/digital printers are supplementing their in-house capabilities with screen printing at the annual rate of 5%, which is expected to grow some 15% in the immediate future. Even though the practice of special effects is still much in its infancy, one training school enrolls some 60 participants monthly just to learn the art of it.
An exceptionally high level of interest also exists in exploring features that could enhance many industrial applications too, making an array of products stand out with greater prominence. Special-effects screen printing can potentially replace foil stamping, doming, silvering and micro-embossing—effects that, in many instances, are costly and very slow in-house processes. While illusionary 3D labels are attention-grabbing, taking the feature to another dimension with hypnotic, 4D dome labels reflects stunning imagination of space, haptic-friendly motion, and depth under any printed domed logo/label.
What types of special
effects are possible?
New special-effect inks and coatings are UV curable and designed for compatibility with one another, thereby enabling the production of a wide variety of surface treatments, finishes, and characteristics. They augment the visual and tactile appeal of printed graphics, and they’re formulated to yield the exact same finishing characteristics regardless of printing and finishing equipment used in the production workflow.
Furthermore, the coatings are all designed to generate a desired finish right out of the can without measuring or special mixing, except for customization with additives. Each can be used alone or as part of other printed elements to provide varying levels of hand, dimensional appearance, gloss or matte finish, highlights and reflective elements, and more. Numerous types of special effects can be created to provide a distinctive and stunning addition to any plain-looking print to bring it alive (Figures 6 and 7).
These UV-curable formulations can deliver spectacular special effects simply through creative printmanship, either singly or in multiple layers, for something remarkably out of the ordinary. Example include:
Deep/high gloss for superb spot lamination or to provide a wet, glossy look selectively to an existing matte surface to highlight subject matter
Deep matte for lamination and to give a sense of rich depth or to reverse an existing glossy surface selectively to accentuate another part of the print
Crystal provides a dazzling, light, glistening, transparency finish for a different effect than deep/high gloss; startling finishes include water droplets or sparkling effects with glitter flakes—a great transition by adding a touch of reality to jewelry. Highly visible lamination radiates when printed over silver, gold, or virtually any color. It also can be used for tactile applications (Figure 8), Braille, doming, and more.
Refractive creates 3D holographic or micro-embossed effects. A foil-like surface is child’s play with unlimited vector patterns (Figure 9).
Texture simulations, such as leather-like finishing, are possible and can form realistic surface consistency or can be applied to backgrounds to develop breathtaking exteriors.
Softening effects are possible and can de-emphasize backgrounds with a suede-like characteristic and feel.
Relief effects are possible with specialty, UV-curable coatings—a great way to add 3D effects, as well as thick-film deposits to small, round objects such as berries, pebbles, etc.
Coral/bubble effects provide a deep, distinct bubble effect to accentuate pimple-/dimple-like surfaces, such as the stigma center of flowers.
Abrasive roughness is possible in varying degrees and provides a great looking finish to images that call for rough surfaces—a feel that is not meant to be smooth to the touch, such as a crab, brick, sand, concrete, etc., to emphasize real-life characteristics.
Sparkle sheen with deep luster accents the body of a car, appliance, machine, or any decorated panel surface to confer an elegantly appointed finishing touch not possible by other means.
Can anyone screen
these special effects?
In a word, yes. Any company that has UV screen-printing capabilities can reap the rewards of creating special effects for their own customers. For long production runs, those usually printed by offset, are best screen printed with a cylinder line rather than semi-automatics designed for short-run lots. During this year alone, a large number of digital printers invested for the first time in screen printing (talk about a major trend reversal) with offset printers joining the club to provide their own customers with these exciting finishing effects.
This is not surprising when considering such alluring, value-added print features become the new redeemer for print buyers—and printers alike—and one that can almost name its own price just to satisfy the objective. Providing special effects can enable any printing company to win business and increase profits. Enterprising printing companies today are seeking ingenious ways to enhance their customers’ products, by adding and creating value-added additions to their in-house capabilities. These special features are truly unique and striking, each with distinct properties for many knock-your-socks-off applications. The results have such an impact that virtually any graphics application can be transformed to provide added embellishments that promote genuine isolation from the competition.
In today’s economic climate, there has never been a better time or opportunity to reignite one’s business passion by strategically embracing an extraordinary market niche that can infuse much needed financial benefits into an existing printing operation. Screen printing is a tried and true process that exists largely today due to its ability to print the widest range of substrates with the broadest selection of inks and coatings and its support for intense color vibrancy and opacity that deliver the greatest visual impact of any printing process.
It has been said that you only have one chance to make a lasting impression. UV special effects are limited only by imagination, so innovative printers who are willing to think outside the box will enjoy a higher return on their venture with value-added features that radiates excitement instead of minimizing cost per printed unit. When special effects become product, profits increase.
The author would like to thank Ron Hayden of RH Solutions for his assistance and expertise in this area. The UV special effects inks mentioned in this article are available through RH Soluitons. For more information, go to rh-Solutionsllc.com.