Forget Fast Throughput If Mounted Graphics
Don't Stay Put

The right materials can also help 
you get jobs done faster

In the imaging industry, business owners typically spend days researching purchases such as printers, RIPs, media, color-management tools, print servers, inksets, and laminators. Often lost in the decision-making shuffle is the type of mounting substrates to use. Mounting boards aren't high-ticket items, but the choice of mounting substrate is important to the overall look and quality of the finished job. And certain options, such as boards that are precut or precoated with adhesive, can cut labor costs, avoid the need to buy expensive cutting equipment, minimize redos, and help get finished jobs out the door faster.

Decisions also need to be made in terms of adhesives. An adhesive that adheres well to one type of board may not adhere well to another. The adhesive needs to be compatible both with the board and the paper or material the image is printed on. When selecting a board already coated with an adhesive, be aware of the type of adhesive being used by the manufacturer on that board. Is the adhesive pH neutral? Is it carrier-based or not? Does it cover minor defects in the substrate? Some adhesives are optically clear and are used on translucent materials for back-mounting. Some adhesives are somewhat "spongy' and will hide minor variations in the mounting substrate. Some adhesives are white and are used on dark substrates to preserve the highlights of an image. Some adhesives have a carrier in the center of the adhesive that protects the image from contaminants in the mounting board itself. Other adhesives have no carrier. Some adhesives are more aggressive than others. Adhesives may be permanent, repositionable, or removable. Release liners on adhesives vary in smoothness and thickness, directly affecting the quality of the adhesive. Pressure-sensitive adhesives are applied "cold," while thermal or heat-activated adhesives require a source of heat for application.

As explained below, considerable variations exist in the composition, thickness, and durability of mounting substrates. Some of these differences affect a board's tendency to warp, bow, and outgas.

Cardboard is the least expensive of all mounting substrates. As a natural fiberboard, cardboard is affected by changes in moisture content and may warp or bow in larger sizes or in display environments in which there are changes in humidity. Portrait labs use cardboard for framing prints. Cardboard is also used to create counter cards used for P-O-P advertising.

Hardboard is the generic name for boards such as Masonite made by International Paper. Hardboard is a 1/8-in. thick wood product with two smooth, tempered surfaces. Hardboard is used mostly in the portrait industry, but it can be used for indoor permanent displays.

Foam boards:
Foam boards vary in density, quality, and construction. These boards have a center of expanded polystyrene foam and a paper or plastic skin. The foam center may be either "beaded" or extruded. The most common thicknesses are 1/8-, 3/16-, and 1/4-in. The make-up of the outer shell or skin differs on various boards from different manufacturers. Let's look at International Paper's Fome Cor and Gatorfoam and two products from Coda.

A Fome Cor mount is inexpensive, lightweight, and easy to trim. It generally has a white paper skin. It is fairly soft and easy to compress. This board is fairly fragile and susceptible to corner damage. Because the skin is paper, changes in humidity and temperature can cause this board to warp. This board is usually used for mounting photographic or inkjet images. Fome Cor can be coated with pressure-sensitive or thermal adhesives.

Gatorfoam is denser than Fome Cor and more expensive. It has a wood fiber skin and is available in white, black, or kraft. The most popular thicknesses are 3/16- and 1/2-in. Because of its natural fiber skin, Gatorfoam can warp.

At Coda, we offer a precoated stabilized Gatorfoam that resists warping. Coda precuts black Gatorfoam, coats it with a white, carrier-based pressure-sensitive adhesive, then seals the back to prevent warping.

CodaFoam is our own proprietary foam-centered board. It is precut and precoated with Cold-Mount pressure-sensitive adhesive. It has a tough, white plastic skin. Stiffer than standard foam core, it is completely sealed and cannot absorb moisture. CodaFoam is lightweight and less expensive than Gatorfoam.

Styrene mounting boards are moisture-proof, warp-free and perfectly smooth. Because they have no natural fibers in them, they aren't affected by ambient variations in moisture. Lightweight yet extremely durable, they can be used indoors or out. They are used extensively in picture framing and signage. Common thicknesses for Styrene are 0.040-in. (about 3/64-in.) and 0.080 (about 3/32-in.).

It's likely that more and more digitally imaged graphics will be mounted for displays. After all the homework the imaging professional does to guarantee quality output, we want to do our part to guarantee quality "stayput" of the image to the substrate.