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With all the choices for print finishing, there are plenty of pros and cons to consider between the three main types of finishing.
When protecting the printed sheet or carton from abrasion, chemicals, or even fingerprints is of the utmost importance, film lamination is the best choice without exception. The solid coverage and thickness that thermal lamination offers is its flexibility. You can achieve a high-gloss finish on a variety of stocks, including coated, uncoated, non-woven, and even vinyl and styrene plastics. Film lamination is available in several matte and gloss finishes and can even be applied with a special embossed roller that leaves a textured pattern over the laminated sheet.
As the number one advantage of aqueous coatings is the cost of savings, a major deterrent to the use of film lamination is the price. High volume production of many packaging applications prohibits the use of thermal lamination because of the expense of the film itself and the slower off-line application used to apply the film compared to UV or water-based coatings. From an application standpoint, film lamination is the most environmentally acceptable. It is a completely dry process.
Probably the number one advantage of aqueous coating is the cost of savings you can achieve, especially in sheet-fed applications. Aqueous coating is very user friendly when additional finishing is necessary as well. They work efficiently over most printing process inks, wet over wet or in some cases, wet over dry. They also accept many glues and are very receptive to hot stamping foil. There is a small percentage of solid waste (about 10%) left from aqueous run and should be handled with some precautions.
Aqueous-based coatings do not provide the exceptional high gloss of UV or film laminates. If this is a major factor in the final outcome of the finished product, aqueous may not be the best choice. Also, aqueous does not offer the protection against abrasion or the solvent resistance you find with the thermal lamination or UV coatings.
UV is a very popular coating choice due mostly to the high gloss finish one can achieve, adding a brilliance to the finished sheet unlike any other coating method. UV coatings also provide good resistance to solvents and abrasion, much better than most water based coatings. Because of its high sheen, UV coatings are popular on a wide variety of consumer products, including paperback books, trading cards, and cosmetic packaging.
However, UV coatings are not the best choice for all applications. Special precautions are necessary, especially when hot stamping foil, scoring, folding or gluing is involved. Certain types of UV coatings can also cause cracking problems if the sheet or carton is to be scored and folded. UV coatings are a challenge when foil stamping is involved as well. If the coating has high levels of silicone, hot stamping foils will simply not adhere. Even special UV coatings without heavy silicone additions are difficult in many situations. In addition, UV coatings have been known to yellow over long periods of time, and are highly susceptible to fingerprinting. Environmental concerns also surround the use of UV coatings. Anything left over from UV coatings is extremely toxic.