Printing on Holographic Vinyl

Sheet of printed graphics on Schein Rainbow holographic vinyl

Printing on holographic vinyl is the current craze in the craft decal market. The specific film in demand is iridescent silver vinyl. We call it Rainbow holographic vinyl and, it’s so popular, demand is outpacing supply. Why? Partly because the pandemic is still causing some havoc in the global supply chain, but mostly because it looks really cool.

The rainbow holographic decal craze continues a long tradition in craft and fashion worlds of obsession with the shiny. Whether it’s Glitter heat transfer vinyl, hot-fix rhinestones, sequins on cheer & spirit wear, or glitter vinyl on yeti tumblers, there’s always another sparkly trend right around the corner. This year’s rainbow holographic fad is the flavor of the month, and the online sticker world seems insatiable.

If you’ve seen rainbow holographic blow up, you might be wondering how to jump in, have fun and make some money. If you’ve already jumped in, and found the water deeper than you thought, you might be wondering how to get your footing.  Here’s what you need to know about printing on rainbow holographic vinyl.

What is holographic vinyl? A quick primer

In the digital sign & graphics industry, it always helps to have a basic understanding about the materials involved. To that end, let’s review some basic info about what makes holographic vinyl unique. Holographic vinyl is fundamentally different from standard self-adhesive sign vinyls. It’s generally manufactured by extruding embossed foils and laminating them with adhesive. The process of embossing the foil produces unique visual effects. Because of its eye-catching visual properties, holographic foils have been used for years, in everything from limited edition comic book covers to decorative tissue boxes and retail merchandising. In the sign and graphics industry, holographic vinyl is popular in motor sports and promotional signage.

Because the face film is a metalized foil, holographic vinyls are generally less conformable than standard PVC. These aren’t cast films. They’re generally calendared, so they’re best used on flat surfaces and simple curves. The foil can also be corroded by exposure to fluids, so dry application is recommended. Other application tips can be found in our basic guide to holographic vinyl.

Printing on Holographic Vinyl: Face Film Facts

The rise in popularity of printed holographic decals comes in part because of the growing popularity and affordability of large-format, solvent-based digital printers. Eco-solvent ink is extremely versatile. Printers like the PrismJET VJ series and MUTOH ValueJet and XpertJet printers can image scrim banner media, cast and calendared vinyl, photo paper, backlit film, artist canvas, heat transfer film, self-adhesive fabric, and yes, metalized, holographic film. Well… most metalized film.

Ferrari Digital Image Printed on Schein Holographic Silver Metal Flake

PVC, Yes – Polyester, No: Eco-solvent ink works by penetrating the surface of the media’s face film and carrying the pigments below the surface. Prints typically dry quickly and last for years. This works well with metalized PVC film like Schein Holographic vinyl. But not so with metalized polyester. Polyester foils prevent the ink from penetrating. The result is generally mottled prints with excessive dot gain and drying issues. So how do you know if the vinyl you want to print on is metalized PVC or polyester? Fortunately, all compatible Schein Holographic films start with a “VC” product code. Schein Chrome – which begins with a VGF designation – is a metalized polyester film and is therefore not printable with eco-solvent ink.

Silver only: Large-format inkjet printers use CMYK process colors. These inks work in a subtractive color space; meaning, they work by taking away portions of light reflected off the print media. Correct color depends on a full spectrum of light produced by white paper or media. Printing on bright, white media produces vibrant color. Printing on gray or silver produces less vibrant, but correct color. Printing on colors such as red, blue or green produces incorrect color. You’ll find more info in our Basic Guide to Color Space. The bottom line is, you can print on any of our Schein holographic ‘VC’ films, as long as you choose silver.

Printing on Holographic Vinyl: Sticky issues

Out-gassing and adhesion: After eco-solvent prints are produced, they need a certain amount of time to cure. This process is called out-gassing, and can have undesired effects on media if not managed correctly. Most holographic vinyl is made with acrylic adhesives, which don’t resist solvents well. If you allow prints to out-gas fully before contour-cutting or trimming, everything works fine. If you trim or contour-cut prints before they’re finished out-gassing, the acrylic adhesive around the edges may be  weakened, leading to edge curling and adhesion problems. 

For best results, wait 12 – 24 hours between printing and contour-cutting, or between printing and trimming. With contour-cut decals, it’s also a good idea to leave a border around the printed area instead of offering full-bleed decals. The properties of the film will render the un-printed border less obvious than it is in wall decals, and the un-printed border will prevent edge curling.

Holographics and Application Fluid: Holographic vinyls don’t like application fluid. The fluid can penetrate to the foil layer in the face film and cause corrosion. If you must use application fluid, or if our customers want to do so, use Rapid Tac II, which is specially formulated for these kinds of films. Acrylic adhesives in general are harder to apply wet because the adhesive is water-based and wet application dilutes its bonding power. So, for best results, apply dry. If you’re reselling decals, instruct your customers to do likewise.

Print Quality

Speaking of curling, one of the most common pitfalls in printing on holographic vinyl is media curling during or immediately after printing. This is not as big a problem as it used to be because modern eco-solvent printers rely less on heat and more on the ink chemistry. But if you see this, just reduce the pre-heater and/or platen temperatures on your printer.

The other major component of optimal print quality is using the correct ICC profile. Unfortunately, there aren’t many available for specialty media like holographic vinyl, especially since it’s not primarily made for digital printing. If you have drying problems or mottled images, experiment with different glossy vinyl profiles. If you have a PrismJET VJ24, you’re in luck. We have two custom profiles you can use to produce excellent print quality: one for high resolution, and one for faster print speed and vivid color. You can download them here. There are more on the way.

Get Over the Rainbow

As noted above, printing on rainbow holographic vinyl is quite a hot trend. It’s so popular that demand is outpacing supply. With the other constraints on production imposed by the pandemic, we don’t know when this supply bottleneck will be resolved. Rather than dealing with delays, why not try some other options? The profiles above work with all of our silver Schein VC series holographic vinyls. Your customers might enjoy them as much as rainbow.

The full range of compatible options includes PPP Chrome, Silver Carbon Fiber, Sequins, Mosaic, Lens, Plaid, Bubbles, Glitter Holographic, two Engine Turn patterns, two Diamond Plate patterns, and three varieties of Textured Holographic. Plaid, Bubbles, and Sequins all have iridescent properties similar to Rainbow Holographic.

It’s fun to see what creative people do with our printers. The latest rainbow holographic fad has produced some stunning images and shows no sign of fading. If you haven’t considered it, this might be another business opportunity for your sign shop. If you have considered it, but hesitated because of worries about ink adhesion, unwanted color shifts, curling or adhesion issues, we hope we’ve provided some useful tips. Remember to choose silver metalized PVC film, apply it dry, control your heater settings, allow sufficient time for outgassing, and use the best profiles. And if you can’t get your hands on all the rainbow you want, try some other silver Schein Holographic options. You might be delighted with what comes off your printer next.