What is Digital Printing?

What Is Digital Vinyl Printing?

The world of digital printing is a large one and, it seems that with each passing day, it only becomes larger. Once upon a time not so very long ago, there was only one option if you wanted to get something printed: planographics. This is a technology in which the print and non-print areas are on the same plane surface and the difference between these areas is maintained by physical barriers or chemical properties. Some prime examples of planographic printing are as follows:

  • Lithography: A planographic printmaking process in which a design is drawn onto a prepared metal plate and affixed by means of a chemical reaction.
  • Collotype: A photomechanical flat printing process used to produce varying tones and shades. The process involves coating a glass plate in a gelatin solution, and over that a light-sensitive dichromate gelatin, which is left to dry at around 50 degrees Celsius.
  • Screen Printing: A stencil on a mesh screen is created and then ink is pushed through to create and imprint the design on the below surface.

Each of these types of printing would require pages to fully explore and each still have their niche to fill today but, for better or for worse, none of these technologies can be used to print on vinyl films. One of the most important takeaways, however, between traditional, plate based printing and digital printing is that cost and turnaround time is significantly lower with digital printing, regardless of the the substrate.

Now that we have covered the basic types of non-digital printing, let's take a closer look at the different kinds of digital printing methods that are available.

Types of Digital Printing

Types of Vinyl Digital Printing

Whether you're a sign-maker, an at-home crafter or run a window tint and wrap shop, digitally printed vinyl is the way of the future. Whether want to make custom stickers, full-color decals, wide format banners or exotic vehicle wraps, digital printing is a must. And,if you want to digitally print vinyl you'll need an ink-jet printer. Before we even begin to talk about the different brands of printers, though, we need to look at the different types of ink that are used. In short, there are four kinds of inks used in modern large format printing:

  1. Aqueous
  2. Solvent-based
  3. Latex
  4. UV curable

Aqueous Ink Printers

Of all of the types of ink, only aqueous requires top-coated media whereas all of the others can work with uncoated media. If, you decide to go ahead and try to use uncoated media with this type of printer you can expect the ink to run off and pool since the necessary coating isn't in place to hold the ink droplets. Not surprisingly, there aren’t as many printable vinyl options for aqueous inkjet printers so we'll conclude this section here and move onto the next type of printer.

Ecosolvent Inks

First made for the sign industry, solvent inks are now widely available. They include heat and chemical agents that allow the ink to penetrate the face film and deposit the resins beneath the surface. These printers are able to use both coated and non-coated vinyl and include everything from economy calendered vinyl for short term outdoor signs to premium cast vinyl with air-egress channels for vehicle wraps. Best of all, solvent inks give up to three years' protection from UV radiation so they don't need to be laminated for shorter term use.

Latex Printing

Latex printing uses a water-based ink that uses high temperatures to evaporate the water and encapsulate the resins on the surface of the media. Some say that its outdoor life is comparable to eco-solvent prints but the jury is till out on that. In terms of curing times and energy use, latex printers subject the media to temperatures as high as 257°F, which is twice as much heat as that used in eco-solvent printers so be ready for higher electric bills and longer turn around times.. T

UV Printers

UV curable ink is works best on non-flexible substrates so it's not really ideal for vehicle wraps. The major advantage to these printers is that they can produce graphics which are instantly dry so they are ideal for custom made decals that require quick shipping and craft vinyl that you don't want to bleed or smudge.

Types of Vinyl for Digital Pritning

Types of Vinyl Film: What Can You Print On?

Now that we've covered they types of inks and printers you can use to print on vinyl, it's only natural that we turn to the films themselves. As many people will know form experience, you just can't print on any old vinyl. So, what are the types of vinyl you can use for printing? In short there are three types of vinyl that you can print on:

  1. Cast: most vehicle wrap are included in this category
  2. Calendered: craft films for use in Cricut and similar machines are usually made from these films
  3. Specialty

Granted, the third category is a kind of catch-all but but we have covered all the types of vinyl film in another article just in case you want a more in-depth review.

What to Look for in Printable Vinyl?

There are two, main factors to consider when buying vinyl for digital printing: brightness and color absorption. When you want to optimize image quality you need to have the whitest faced film with the highest the ink limits. Most cast vinyls excel in these metrics but you can also find high quality calendered vinyl films as well.

Digital Printing Takeaway

The Takeaway

It's clear that there's no shortage of options when it comes to printing vinyl films. Whether you're looking for a cast vinyl for a vehicle wrap, a calendered film for craft labels or a reflective specialty film fro industrial applications the sky is the limit. For most people, eco-solvent inks and printers will be the best choice and cast films (both with and without air-release liners) may be the best choice in terms of color fastness and durability. If you think we've missed anything here or you have any other questions that we didn't answer or even think of, don't hesitate to reach out via chat or email.

Digital Pritning on Vinyl Cheat Sheet