While the commercial sign market has employed digital sign printing for decades, this technology is relatively new to traffic sign printing. Many manufacturers with years of experience in the commercial market might claim that a solution that relies exclusively on combining process colors is appropriate for the traffic market as well.
However, high purity, highly saturated colors (such as those required for traffic signs) are difficult to achieve by mixing standard CMYK process colors. It is therefore typical for such process color printing to have a color gamut that degrades one or more traffic colors.
For that reason, it is important to be clear on your priorities. Will traffic signage be your focus, with occasional fabrication for the non-regulated market? If so, look for a manufacturer with corresponding experience serving the traffic market.
Do you need a roll-fed solution, sheet-fed solution or the flexibility of a hybrid printer that can handle both? Roll-fed printers, also called roll-to-roll printers, work just as the name indicates – by feeding a roll of material through the printer. Sheet-fed, aka flatbed printers, can print on flexible or rigid sheets of various materials. Finally, hybrid printers allow the considerable versatility of functioning either way.
Then, consider the range of media on which you will need to print. Ink adhesion on more traditional media, such as vinyl graphic film, is a relatively straightforward matter. Reflective traffic sign sheeting, on the other hand, presents challenges. The composition of the top layer of reflective sheeting can undermine ink adhesion. It is important that whoever provides your solution has carefully formulated their ink to bond with their materials, as well as performed ample testing to ensure years of durability.
While speed may seem to be a clear-cut metric, solution providers will sometimes present a printer’s speed based on the lowest quality mode, or quote “up to” speeds. Be sure to discuss your specific needs and determine whether the system’s real-world print speeds match those needs.
If nonstop printing is in your future, be sure to inquire about the printer’s duty cycle specifications. Industrial printers are generally priced, in part, in relation to the number of hours they can perform without maintenance downtime. If a price seems too good to be true, investigate whether its duty cycle will truly meet the rigors of your day-to-day printing needs.
Do you want “hands-off” or continuous operation? Then you may want to find out if the printer in question supports these work styles. Some printer systems allow for multiple jobs to be queued at once, as well as on-the-fly ink replacement without stopping the print job. You might also investigate the time and ease of changing media. If your printer manufacturer can give you average times for media changeover, all the better.
With a variety of ink types available, you should work with a solution provider that has performed adequate testing on the system as a whole, including the printer, ink and media. This is especially important if you hope to reliably meet the traffic sign industry’s standards for daytime color, nighttime color and reflectivity.
The only way to know if your image will resist the elements is with extensive weathering testing. It’s important to understand the manufacturer’s warranty on the finished sign, and whether this includes the durability of the inks.
If a manufacturer claims to offer long-term durability, ask them how they verify the durability. At a minimum, make sure that the testing is consistent with the same level of performance required by NTPEP or other relevant testing agencies.
The value of a durable protective overlay is clear when you consider how long many DOTs expect their signs to resist the elements. An effective protective overlay adds years to the color and retroreflectivity of the finished product, while expediting graffiti cleanup and resisting solvents.
When you acquire a printer, the service provided by the warranty can actually come from a variety of sources. The vendor may service their own printers, or they may rely on the original manufacturer. Yet another possibility is the involvement of a third-party service provider, contracted by the vendor. Moreover, not all printer manufacturers have a global reach when it comes to service and support. Does yours? Find out where your service is actually coming from and ask about the remedy process for a warranty claim.
There is no substitute for real-world performance. As the digital traffic sign printing market takes off, more and more solutions are being introduced. As you consider your options, ask to what extent the solutions have been proven in the field and how much experience the solution provider has in digitally printing regulated traffic signs.
Finally, if you want to get your digital traffic sign printing operations up and running quickly, consider the included training. If you have a question about the software, how easily can you get expert help over the phone? Are training sessions available upon delivery?
All the components you need to digitally produce a fully reflective, durable traffic sign, backed by the 3M™ MCS™ Warranty for traffic.
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