Image Enhancers

Image Enhancers-p-1 Written by: Mr. Timo’Connor

Graphixon finishes develops a breakthrough method for placing images on materials.

 Abbas A. Sadriwalla had what was sure to be a hit product: a water-based liquid shoe polish that would keep footwear and other leather articles polished and protected for up to a year or longer. The chemist believed the long-lasting protective coating would revolutionize the market and encour­age more customers to use his shoe and leather and vinyl polish products. But when he tried to sell it to shoe and leather polish companies he was turned away. They weren’t interest­ed because their business relied on repeat and frequent sales. If a single shine could last a year, what good was it to their bottom line?

The corporate mentality didn’t mesh with Sadriwalla’s philosophy of giving consumers more value of their money. So, when he created his next revolution­ary product, he knew he needed to take a new marketing approach.

The seeds of that next breakthrough began in 2009 when another com­pany began developing a process to print on clear film and then apply it to leather. The company’s team of chem­ists started by targeting the process to consumers, but eventually moved their focus to the commercial arena with manufacturers that made prod­ucts, such as shoes, and handbags, apparel and upholstery. The team had some success in prototyping the pro­cess but failed to develop a market us­able technology. Then, they stumbled on the website for Sadriwalla’s com­pany, LiquiGuard Technologies Inc., which specializes in eco-bio friendly protective surface coatings. Using LiquiGuard’s coatings, the team im­proved the overall product and pro­cess. “For the first time, they really felt they had a go-to market product,” Sadriwalla says.

But the company’s internal busi­ness structure came apart. It was a setback for LiquiGuard as well, which was on the verge of becoming a coat­ing supplier for a promising graphics printing technique. Sadriwalla real­ized he could pick up where the pre­vious company left off. As a R&D guy, it took him about a year to develop his own version of the printing and image transfer process using LiquiGuard’s extensive knowledge of coatings.

Innovation in the printing industry has been confined to equipment and ink technologies, according to Sa­driwalla. Few new technologies have emerged that allow for high-quality durable printing directly onto diffi­cult materials such as leather, poly­ester fabrics, aluminum, wood, etc. Methods that do exist, are often cost, labor and time intensive, require ex­pensive specialized machines and use environmentally unfriendly ma­terials. The printing and application process Sadriwalla developed prom­ised a better, faster and cost effective alternative. He incorporated a new company, Graphixon Finishes, to de­velop and market the graphics appli­cation technique and provide the jolt the printing and graphics application industry needs.

“What makes this technology inter­esting is the scope of it,” Sadriwalla says. “So many different materials and so many different marketplaces.”

While printing on canvas is rela­tively common, the printing potential of other materials, such as leather, re­main largely untapped. Existing print­ing or image transfer techniques can compromise the natural feel of the leather and also lead to the image get­ting marred through use. As a result, high-end bags and accessories makers are unwilling to print graphics onto their products. After all, who would buy a $5,000 handbag with a graphic of questionable durability? “The issue is that surface enhancement of a du­rable nature has been the industry’s holy grail, especially when you speak of luxury leather,” Sadriwalla says.

The Graphixon technology re­sults in an image that feels natural to the material and will not lose its original appearance over time. “The importance of our innovation is not simply that we’re imprinting, but the imprinted image is automatical­ly protected,” Sadriwalla explains. The process incorporates a clear top coat on the graphic rendering it abrasion, soil, water, fading, mold and wear resistant. Graphixon’s coated images have been field-test­ed and demonstrated tolerance of more than 150,000 double rubs during abrasion testing. The other tests the Graphixon image has suc­cessfully undergone include, flex, fire, UV and indigo ink (resistance to dyes from blue jean fabric). Fur­ther, the printing technique does not change the physical nature of the material it has been applied to: a soft leather purse will never lose its buttery touch and a vinyl couch will retain its softness.

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The patented technology can be used to apply graphics to leather, vinyl and canvas objects, including apparel, bags, briefcases, footwear, upholstery and other material. It can even be used on inexpensive wood veneer to replicate marquetry patterns normal­ly only found on high-end cabinetry, allowing furniture manufacturers to create bar tops, tables and cabinets with a beautiful design using an in­expensive process. Sadriwalla says the Graphixon process could also be used for commercial upholstery per­mitting corporate logos and graphics on sports, restaurants, aircraft seat­ing and other areas, without concern that the graphic will rub off over time. “The customization will now give fur­niture originality,” he explains. “You can order a sofa for your home and put whatever pattern or graphic on it to match the rest of your décor or ex­press a personal taste.”

When design is no longer limited by capability the possibilities become infinite. Customers could even sketch their own drawings and have manu­facturers replicate it for a product’s design. “We are getting national and international interest in our product because it is unique, has many practi­cal applications and implications, and it is something that has never been done before with this level of reliabili­ty,” Sadriwalla says.

Perfecting the Method:
While the overall process appears rather conventional, there was a large amount of behind the scenes techni­cal innovation. Conventional release papers attribute their release capabil­ity to a layer of silicon polymer. Since Graphixon’s coatings are totally wa­ter based and incompatible with the silicon, a new and customized release coating had to be developed, to be paired with readily available paper. In keeping with the overarching “green products” philosophy, a special aque­ous ink compatible polymer coating had to be developed to enable printing with water based inks, as opposed to the industry standard of solvent based inks. Another upside of this latter in­novation is the ability to print using basic desktop inkjet printers and pro­duce extremely high quality images. This brings the Graphixon technology within reach of the smaller business­es that cannot afford the exorbitant costs of solvent ink based wide format printers. “With that said it is import­ant to emphasize that the Graphixon paper can be printed on with any ink and any printing equipment, as its technology is agnostic in this regard,” Sadriwalla says.

Ease of Use:
Instead of printing directly on the target material, the printing occurs on Graphixon’s specially treated pa­per which is available in various roll widths and lengths and in pre-cut sheets, just like common printing paper. “The benefit of our process is instead of printing on leather or any other material you print on what ap­pears to be conventional printing pa­per,” Sadriwalla says.

Once the graphic is printed, the user applies a clear sealer called IN­KLOC to the surface to protect and enhance the durability of the image. A primer is then applied over the dried sealer. Once dry to the touch the paper is placed on the material and bonded to it using a conventional heat press or heated laminator. When the assem­bly has cooled to room temperature, the release paper is removed and the graphic remains bonded to the target substrate. The photo-quality graphic is fully in place and able to withstand most any kind of wear.

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Sadriwalla considers Graphixon a R&D company that envisions finding partners in the marketplace and li­censing the technology to them. The company has agreements with third party coaters to apply its primary coatings and to convert the paper into appropriate market standard rolls and cut sheets. The specialized coatings that make the process possible will for now stay in-house. “We intend to keep control of the actual coating manufac­turing,” Sadriwalla says.

The coatings are produced at LiquiGuard’s facility in Fort Lauder­dale, Fla.

Sadriwalla has been in the wa­ter-based polymer chemistry indus­try for over a decade. In that time, his philosophy has been to develop products focused on problem solving. LiquiGuard Technologies produces numerous protective and anti-slip coat­ings and primers, each of which is de­signed for easy application and durabil­ity. “These are not casual solutions,” he says. “These are real solutions for real world problems.”

The same philosophy holds true for Graphixon. Sadriwalla’s experience try­ing to sell the long-lasting shoe polish to corporate companies taught him the outside world was not going to assist Graphixon in launching its graphics ap­plication process. To succeed, Sadriwal­la needed to initially focus on the little guys trying to make ends meet and how he could provide those customers with a product or technique that will elevate their business’ ability to compete. “This is the path of least resistance for a small, unknown company,” Sadriwalla says of Graphixon’s strategy.

Small customers tend to have few employees and little available fund­ing to make large purchases. Acces­sibility and ease of use are critical to selling them on the Graphixon technology. Because of the inherent technology, customers don’t need specialized printing machines. All the so-called “brain surgery” hap­pens on Graphixon’s side – virtually anyone can be trained to execute the process without the need for spe­cial equipment or training. “One of our goals as a small company was to make the process not only simple, but easy to implement so small cus­tom shops could benefit from this process without a big capital invest­ment,” Sadriwalla explains, con­tinuing, “This does not necessarily preclude the bigger players from benefiting from our technology. Af­ter all they have their own abiding markets and customers.”

Sadriwalla says the company is now ready to sell the specially treated pa­per and secondary coatings to com­mercial customers.

With the technology and process in place, Graphixon is working to market itself and build relationships with potential customers. “Right now, basically we have been exposing the technology to the market,” Sadriwalla says. “All types of product manufac­turers, including major brands, are sending their requests for samples, which we have been providing.” mt


Source:   Graphixon