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Using Primer to Unlock New Material Possibilities

In the fast-paced world of direct-to-object or direct-to-substrate digital printing, versatility and adaptability are key. As businesses aim to create unique products to order and quickly move from concept to completion, the ability to print on a diverse range of materials becomes incredibly valuable.

However, some materials used in the manufacturing of products, like certain plastics, metals, and glass, can cause ink adhesion issues. By applying a primer to a surface before printing, you can achieve high-quality prints on materials that would otherwise be challenging to print on and potentially open new sales opportunities.

Roland DG's printable primer installed in a flatbed UV printer
Roland DG's printable primer installed in a flatbed UV printer

What are Primers?

Primers are substances applied to a surface before the actual printing process to improve ink adhesion and print quality. They act as an intermediary layer that prepares the substrate, ensuring that the ink bonds more effectively and lasts longer.

Let’s delve into the benefits of using primers and share some practical tips for their effective use.

5 Benefits of Using Primers

Enhanced Adhesion

Primers create a receptive layer on the substrate, improving ink adhesion. This ensures that the print remains intact and vibrant over time. Enhanced adhesion is especially crucial when printing on non-porous surfaces like metals, glass, and plastics, where ink might otherwise struggle to stick properly. With a primer, you can achieve a more durable and long-lasting print.

Broader Material Compatibility

With primers, you can print on materials that are typically difficult to handle, such as metals, glass, plastics, and fabrics. This expands your creative possibilities and market reach. Whether you’re looking to create intricate patterns on glassware, or produce durable signage on metal surfaces, primers make it possible to explore new applications and reach a wider range of customers. Certain specialist primers can also be printed onto a transfer media, unlocking a vast range of applications where print is required on irregular or awkward items.

Improved Print Quality

By providing a uniform surface, primers help achieve smoother and more consistent prints, reducing the likelihood of defects. Primers also enhance colour vibrancy and clarity, resulting in more visually appealing products. The even surface created by the primer allows the ink to distribute more uniformly, leading to sharper and more defined images. This is especially important for high-resolution prints where every detail matters.


Primers enhance the durability of prints, making them more resistant to wear, scratching, and environmental factors. This is particularly beneficial for items that will be subjected to harsh conditions, or areas of high footfall. A durable print not only looks better for longer but also reduces the need for frequent replacements, saving costs in the long run.

Cost Efficiency

Using primers can reduce waste and labour by minimising print errors, ultimately leading to cost savings. By ensuring that the ink adheres properly the first time, you can avoid the need for multiple print runs and corrections, streamlining your workflow and improving overall efficiency.

Durable graphics printed on primed metal sheets
Durable graphics printed on primed metal sheets

Tips for Using Primer

Choose the Right Primer

Select a primer that is compatible with both your substrate and the type of ink you are using. Not all primers are suitable for all materials. Conduct thorough research or consult with your supplier to ensure that the primer you choose will provide the best results for your specific application. There is also a choice to make between a digitally printed primer, like those featured in Roland DG’s UV print range and hand applied methods.

Test Before Full Production

Conduct tests on small samples of the substrate to ensure the primer and ink combination yields the desired results. Testing helps you identify any potential issues before committing to a full production run, saving you time and resources in the long term.

Ensure Clean Surfaces

Clean the substrate thoroughly before applying the primer to remove any dust, oil, or contaminants that could affect adhesion. A clean surface is essential for the primer to adhere properly and perform its function effectively. Use appropriate cleaning agents and methods for the material you are working with.

Use the Correct Application Method

Depending on the material and primer type, application methods may vary. Spray, roller, wipe-on and brush-on methods each have their specific use cases. Choose the method that best suits your needs and ensures even coverage. For instance, spraying might be more suitable for large, flat surfaces, while brushing could be better for intricate details.

Consider Printable Primer

If your work requires the use of primer regularly, costs can mount if you apply your primer in a wash. With a printable primer, you only apply primer where it is needed, which means that the surface isn’t altered outside of the print area. This also helps ensure that costs are kept down. Printable primers can be applied precisely to the areas that will be printed on, reducing waste and making the process more efficient.

Allow Proper Curing Time

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for drying or curing times to ensure the primer sets correctly before printing. Rushing this process can lead to subpar adhesion and print quality. Make sure to allocate sufficient time for the primer to dry or cure completely.

Maintain Equipment

Regularly clean and maintain your priming and printing equipment to prevent buildup and ensure consistent application. Equipment maintenance is crucial for achieving consistent results and extending the lifespan of your machinery. Schedule routine maintenance checks and cleanings to keep everything in optimal working condition.

Optimise Printer Settings

Adjust your printer settings to accommodate the primed surface. This may involve tweaking some print settings too. Different substrates and primers can require different settings to achieve the best results, so be prepared to make adjustments as needed.

Store Primer Properly

Keep your primer in a controlled environment, as exposure to extreme temperatures or humidity can affect its performance. Proper storage conditions will help maintain the quality and effectiveness of the primer over time. Follow the storage recommendations provided by the manufacturer.

Stay Updated on Innovations

The field of primers is continually advancing. Keep abreast of new products and techniques to ensure you are using the best possible solutions for your needs. Attend industry conferences, read relevant publications, subscribe to manufacturers’ newsletters and participate in professional networks to stay informed about the latest developments.

Printing directly to a primed plastic luggage case
Printing directly to a primed plastic luggage case


By integrating primers into your digital printing processes, you can significantly expand your material options, enhance print quality, and achieve superior durability. This not only elevates your product offerings but also provides a competitive edge in the market.

If you want to hear about Roland DG’s range of printable primers and devices, get in touch with a Roland expert who will be happy to discuss your options.

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