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Archive for the ‘Large-Format Printing’ Category

Large Format Printing: Digital Décor Is on the Rise

Thursday, April 26th, 2018

I’m starting to see a lot of articles on digital décor in recent weeks. It doesn’t surprise me. I had read about digital custom printing on floor tiles and even on glass in prior months, but this now seems to be a tsunami of expanding market interest, an unstopable force.

Heimtextil in Frankfort, Germany

In a January 15 article posted on www.innovationintextiles.com, Adrian Wilson describes the digital décor offerings at Heimtextil in Frankfurt, Germany (which ran from January 9 through January 12). Entitled “The Power of Digital Decor at Heimtextil,” this article references the “technical textiles, nonwovens, and synthetic leather…, glass, and brickwork” showcased by HP at the trade show.

HP’s interior design displays ranged from a living room to a bedroom, a bathroom, a kitchen, and a dentist’s office, reflecting the benefits of HP’s latex inks and Indigo digital technology in sample wallpaper treatments, flooring, textiles, and furniture.

In addition, HP specifically highlighted their HP Indigo Wallpaper, which makes HP Indigo 20000 digital technology ideal for producing short-run wallcoverings due to its speed and “gravure-quality” output.

In its displays HP also included OLEDs integrated into the wallcovering, adding a source of light to the wall treatments.

What Can We Learn from This Article?

  1. There is enough consumer demand for printed textiles that OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) have been investing heavily in extra-wide format digital presses as well as high-fastness pigmented ink formulations and latex ink formulations.
  2. The specific items interior designers have been digitally printing have expanded. They now include wallpaper, curtains, blinds, cushions, lampshades, tiles, bed linens, and glass, just to name a few.
  3. Manufacturers are taking into consideration the environmental impact of their offerings. For instance, latex ink is odorless and environmentally sound. Also, the dentist’s office display at Heimtextil included antibacterial wallpaper, according to Wilson’s article.
  4. Digital décor designers are branching out from surface design into product design, with some items based on recent advances in science and technology. Specifically, Wilson’s article references a lounge with sound-absorbing sofas, as well as the aforementioned OLED lights positioned within the wallpaper.
  5. All of this consumer interest and technological innovation is spurring demand for the skills of interior designers and fabric designers.
  6. Since the more traditional commercial printing technologies used for decorating interior fabrics were analog in nature—screen printing and gravure, for instance—they required a lot of preparation, and therefore long press runs were necessary for a job to be economically feasible. Now, even though screen printing and gravure are still used for long runs of wallpaper or fabric, a digital option exists for profitable short runs. This means that prototypes can be developed quickly, and products can come to market faster. Moreover, everyone can essentially have their own completely customized environment.

To all of these benefits noted in Wilson’s article, “The Power of Digital Decor at Heimtextil,” I would add the following observations from my own reading online and in the trade journals:

  1. In terms of the digital decoration of personal home space, I have noticed that since 9/11 and then the 2008 stock market decline, many people have been more likely to stay at home and “nest” (the media has also called this “cocooning”). I think that prioritizing home and family has motivated many people to make their home surroundings as beautiful and unique as possible. At the same time, the flexibility of digital printing has democratized interior design, since it lends itself to unlimited mass customization. Everyone can create his or her dream environment. (I think 3D custom printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has contributed—and will continue to contribute–to this trend.)
  2. In terms of commercial interior designers’ starting to include digitally printed floor tiles, glass, and fabrics in their work, I think this is in part a reflection of more companies’ competing for fewer clients. I think companies are setting themselves apart from their competition in part by creating an artfully designed interior for their workspaces. This can be a subtle, even subconscious, influence–but nevertheless a powerful one–in a customer’s choice of a vendor.

InfoTrends Study on Digital Décor Printing

I found another article on the InfoTrends website (www.infotrends.com) entitled “Profit Through Digital Printing in the Décor Marketplace.” It is focused more on architects and interior designers, but in many ways it echoes the sentiments of the first article by Adrian Wilson. Like the first article, the InfoTrends article also recognizes an increase in digital décor design over the last ten years.

The InfoTrends article addresses a scholarly study of the digital design market, noting the desire of both individual consumers and businesses to “surround themselves with color rich materials at work, at home, or anywhere that can benefit from innovative architectural and interior design” (“Profit Through Digital Printing in the Décor Marketplace”).

This article goes on to acknowledge the powerful human need to customize one’s living and working space and the accessibility of this dream made possible through digital custom printing on tile, glass, flooring, wallcoverings, and laminates.

Like the first article about the textile printing show in Frankfurt, Germany, this article notes the following drivers of increased interest in digital décor:

  1. A desire for mass customization. Digital technology frees printers from the arduous make-ready that makes screen printing and gravure only appropriate for longer press runs. With digital commercial printing, a vendor can create an environment for only one client and still make a profit.
  2. A desire for sustainability in printing. Increasingly the digital technologies (such as latex inksets) are becoming ecologically sound.
  3. Faster production cycles. Businesses and individual consumers demand quicker turn-arounds, and the nature of digital commercial printing supports faster print production of interior décor than analog printing technologies.
  4. A desire to reduce inventory. The on-demand nature of digital custom printing makes this possible.
  5. Flexibility in printing substrates. Customers want to be able to print on anything. Ink formulations for digital printing are coming to market that address this need. For instance, UV inksets are ideal for laminate flooring (i.e., products that take more abuse than walls). These ink formulations can be both durable and more ecologically sound than solvent-based commercial printing options.

What Can We Learn from This Article?

  1. This article addresses a survey of trends in digital décor design and production. Based on the article’s description of the survey’s methodology, audience, and participants, InfoTrends clearly takes very seriously the uptick in digital décor demand and the ensuing technological growth.
  2. This increased activity in digital décor custom printing offers increasing opportunities for designers who may be finding fewer demands for their skills in other areas of print media.
  3. As consumer demand increases for digital printing of interior design products, the number of available substrates is also expanding, including flooring, carpet, tile, laminates, textiles, signs, glass, and wallcoverings.

Large Format Printing: Installing Low-Tac Wall Clings

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

I had a bit of a crisis today installing a large format low-tac wall cling at a movie theater. The problem was that I tried to do it myself. I also learned a lot about low-tac wall clings.

First, some background. I went to the theater without my fiancee to give her a break, assuming the wall cling would be easy to apply. It was a promotional piece for the new movie Ferdinand, a cartoon about a bull. The wall cling was approximately three feet by four feet, printed in four color process inks on clear plastic.

If you looked closely, you could see that the job had been “back-printed,” with the heavy, peel-away backing sheet followed by a layer of low-tac glue, followed by white ink that would be a “ground” layer behind all printed imagery. Then there were the four process colors, and then the thick plastic sheet that would be the covering for the entire wall cling.

Interestingly enough, the 4-color custom printing extended just slightly beyond the perimeter of the white ink. Based on my knowledge of both large format printing and optics I knew exactly why the white ink was there. Not only did it provide a single color backing, regardless of the color of the wall onto which the large format print was mounted, but it also provided a bright, even, reflective surface for the ambient light.

Light projected from a ceiling lamp onto a clear surface (like the clear plastic of the wall cling) goes through the overlaid transparent screens of the process colors and has nothing to bounce off to return to the viewer’s eyes unless you have a white backing. In this case it was a very bright white to enhance the brilliance of the colors comprising the bull, his horns, and the promotional lettering and title of the film.

If you disassemble a lightbox with a back-lit advertisement in a subway station or even at a cosmetics counter in a department store, you’ll see the very same treatment: a white inkjet backing behind the 4-color imagery.

The Problem

To get back to the crisis, it takes four hands to peel this large a wall cling off a backing sheet. I learned this as I was holding the backing sheet steady with my two knees as I peeled the image off in preparation for hanging it. To make a long story short, the weight of the card-stock backing sheet at that large of a dimension (three feet by four feet) pulled and stretched the plastic of the wall cling and caused portions of the image to flop over onto other portions of the image. This happened even when, or especially when, I had attached the top part of the cling to the wall as a starting point.

To back up for a moment, the proper way to install such a large-format print is to peel the top of the image slightly off the backing sheet and attach it to the wall. Then you smooth out the image as you work downwards, peeling the wall cling off the backing as you pull the backing sheet out and away, finally attaching the bottom of the wall cling to the wall. You then use a squeegie, a flat plastic rectangle, to burnish the wall cling to the wall, moving from the center outward. You do this to move the air bubbles out and away from the center, finally affixing the image to the wall in as flat a position as possible.

Keep in mind that this particular image was not rectangular. Now, on large format printing equipment you can set a plotting knife to cut out the image in an irregular way. In this case, the operator had used the digital data to trace the horns of the bull, as well as other parts of the overall graphic, such as the title of the film. This “kiss cutting” went through the plastic sheeting but not through the backing sheet. Therefore, when I pulled the wall cling away from the backing, I had an especially irregular contour cut around the entire image, bull and movie title. Needless to say, all of this plastic covered on the back with glue wanted to cling to itself rather than to the wall.

It was not quite a clump or a ball, but it was scratched up a bit. The adhesive had pulled up some of the inkjet pigment attached to the underside of the plastic sheet (remember that the entire printed image is actually sandwiched between the wall, the adhesive, and the outer clear protective cling material).

The Solution

So I called my fiancee, and she was onsite in less than an hour with acrylic paints, brushes, and a hair dryer. She also had a clear head, presence of mind, and the patience to peel apart the folded over portions of the Ferdinand wall cling without further damage.

Once the wall cling was flat, the two of us could work from the bottom up, attaching it to the wall. We did this for the following reason. The backside of the reclining bull was as close to a straight line as anything else on the large format print graphic. Moving upward and outward to keep the air bubbles toward the outside, we could eventually reach the most irregular portion of the image, the bull’s head and horns, and the movie title. We then burnished the entire image with the plastic squeegie to remove the air bubbles and make sure the Ferdinand cling stuck to the wall.

Finally, my fiancee went up on the ladder with the acrylic paints we use in our art therapy work with the autistic. Using her fingers to mix and apply the colors, she repaired all the cuts and scratches, anywhere the plastic had stuck together and had removed the pigment from the back of the wall cling plastic sheeting. She added this color to the outside of the cling, that is, on the surface of the plastic sheet. The acrylics worked perfectly. They were matte coated (similar enough to the dull coating of the plastic sheet). And they dried quickly. Moreover, by not painting on the underside of the plastic sheet, my fiancee kept the acrylic paint off the movie theater wall.

Then it was over and we were on our way home. I was very grateful. We have one more to install. We will do it together.

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

You can learn a lot about large format signage from static clings and wall clings:

  1. Static clings have no adhesive but stay attached to windows based either on static electricity or on the propensity for moisture in the air to attach thin plastic sheets to glass (depending on what you read).
  2. Wall clings are large format print graphics that stick to walls or windows with a light form of adhesive that is somewhat repositionable.
  3. Window clings tend to be small and manageable by one person on a ladder. Wall clings are not. The glue likes to stick to itself and the plastic sheeting more than the walls. Therefore, you really need two people for installation.
  4. Looking carefully at the order in which the glue and pigments have been applied to the plastic sheeting is instructive. From the outside in, you have the matte or satin surface of the outer plastic cover sheet, then you have the four process colors from the inkjet printer, then you have a white base to reflect light back to the viewer, then you have the low-tac adhesive. Then you have the wall. This can teach you about light and vision.
  5. Digital information can direct a knife, held in place vertically, much like a plotter pen. The knife can cut almost any shape around the printed graphic, so the background does not need to be rectangular. Presumably, in the not too distant future you will be able to do the same thing with a laser cutting device.
  6. Finally, the glue itself is pretty amazing. In spite of my struggles with the adhesive causing the plastic cling to stick to itself, the glue was still rather forgiving. It came apart with patience and time, and then it stuck to the wall perfectly at the end, making for a dramatic and hopefully never-to-be-repeated evening.

Large Format Printing: Exciting New Vinyl Substrates

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

When I think about substrates for large format printing, I don’t usually get excited. It’s not a sexy topic.

Granted, I understand how paper substrates for print books and brochures can make a huge difference. I know that the roughness or smoothness of the paper, and even its color, can dramatically affect both the look and the feel of a printed product. It can even reinforce or detract from the tone of the piece. For instance, a textured, uncoated paper just “feels” more environmentally sensitive.

This is valuable information for marketers.

But what about substrates for signage? You don’t touch a vehicle wrap or building wrap. So it has to make its visceral impression without the viewer’s sense of touch.

With this in mind, I was surprised at the implications of the new signage materials referenced in Brenda Hodgson’s article, “Special Effects Vinyls,” published on 3/25/18, on www.signlink.co.uk.

Hodgson describes the following products that have been recently developed by 3M and other manufacturers. They are important because they are visually striking. They immediately grab viewer attention, and they have the durability to last, providing marketing benefits over a longer than usual period of time. Keep in mind that these are just the substrates. You can print on these using UV, latex, solvent, or eco-solvent inkjet equipment.

The New Vinyl Films

  1. Avery Dennison Supreme Wrapping Film Color Flow Series with Easy Apply RS Technology is offered by trade vendor William Smith. It is 80 micron premium cast film. It has a 12-year life span, comes in 12 colors (with gloss or satin finish), and is ideal for vehicle wraps. This product has a high level of opacity, so it will block out high-contrast surfaces. The adhesive it employs is repositionable, slidable, and bubble free. It is especially conformable to both convex and concave three-dimensional surfaces (such as the contours, nooks, and crannies of vehicle exteriors).
  2. 3M offers a new product called Wrap Film Series 1080. This product takes advantage of color-flip technology that allows the color of the vehicle wrap to shift and change depending on the ambient lighting and the viewing angle. This can provide an especially striking result at night. And since it can be purchased in 1.52-meter-wide rolls, installers can apply the film to large sections of vehicles without visible seams. This product is durable and long-lasting. It has “excellent dimensional stability and repositionability” (“Special Effects Vinyls”), as well as good adhesive properties. The particular technology used for the “flip colors” provides one transmitted color (light goes through the film) and a completely different reflected color (light bounces off the film). This means that the film substrate can shimmer and change from cyan to gold, for instance.
  3. 3M offers Dichroic Glass Finishes. These also have both a transmitted and a reflective color, providing a shifting and shimmering effect based on the lighting and angle of view. What makes this particularly attractive to marketers (or interior designers) is how easy it is to use compared to actual dichroic glass. Wikipedia describes dichroic glass, noting that:
  4. “One dichroic material is a modern composite non-translucent glass that is produced by stacking layers of glass and micro-layers of metals or oxides which give the glass shifting colors depending on the angle of view, causing an array of colors to be displayed as an example of thin-film optics.”

    So from a manufacturing point of view, dichroic glass is complicated and expensive to make. Therefore, being able to simulate this effect with a printable film is a major breakthrough. Plus, it can be applied to both flat and slightly curved surfaces, it is durable, and it can be used to create a privacy barrier. In addition, you can use the film to cut out detailed designs or letterforms.

  5. William Smith also provides a dichroic film (Vion Dichroic Film, Ambience), as well as other decorative films for glass, such as 3M Scothcal Series 5525-300 and Vion Crystal 5500 Series. These are 75-micron translucent film products. They can be used both indoors and outdoors, and their adhesive is not only clear, pressure-sensitive, and permanent, but it also releases the air bubbles when it is being applied. Due to its multi-colored nature, it is especially good for not only interior and exterior displays but also for internally-lit displays.
  6. 3M offers the Di-Noc product range, which “mimics the effect of everything from wood grains and stone to leather and textile” (“Special Effects Vinyls”). There are more than 800 different designs, and these films can be used on interior and exterior walls. They will allow a company to much more easily and inexpensively change the look of its walls and floors (when compared to removing and replacing the actual building materials).
  7. Alumi Graphics is an aluminum foil medium for floor and wall graphics. (It’s ideal for “pavements, concrete columns, tiled surfaces, brick walls, and tarmac.”) (“Special Effects Vinyls”) You can print directly on it using solvent, eco-solvent, UV, or latex inks. It is durable enough to last for between six months and two years outdoors without overlamination (so it’s easier, faster, and less expensive to install). It’s also more environmentally-friendly and can be recycled with other aluminum products. In addition, it can be cut with digital cutters and plotters. From a design perspective, Alumi Graphics will adhere tightly to the brick or concrete surface, maintaining its rough base texture (the image will appear to have been painted on the surface).

Benefits These Films Offer

These are the main implications I see for these large format printing films:

  1. They are becoming easier to install. The fact that they will conform to the irregularities (recesses) of a vehicle exterior makes installation faster and less tedious, and therefore less expensive. The fact that bubbles can be easily removed during installation also makes the process easier.
  2. These products are more flexible. You can print on them with solvent, eco-solvent, UV, or latex inksets using most large format printing equipment.
  3. They are durable, lasting between six months and two years. For the vehicle-wrap film, they can even last up to 12 years. This means that changing the graphics on an entire fleet of business vehicles will be less expensive over time since it will need to be done less often.
  4. They are good at simulating actual patterns and textures (wood, leather, stone). Therefore, the entire look of a building’s interior can be changed without ripping out walls, glass, and floors. You can just replace the surface coatings of the walls, glass, and floors.
  5. More importantly, they provide the “wow” factor. More attention has been given to providing a striking appearance, from the simulated grain of wood and texture of stone and leather to the multi-colored, shimmering effects of the dichroic films. Those who have created these special films clearly know how to grab the viewer’s attention.

Large Format Printing: Update on Billboard Advertising

Thursday, April 12th, 2018

I had always assumed that digital billboards were going to eclipse print advertising, from my first glimpse of the constantly changing signage on my trips to Ocean City. They were soon showing up in the malls my fiancee and I frequented when installing standees: large, high-resolution screens displaying make-up ads two stories high.

So I was surprised to learn recently that print billboards are not only going strong, but they are in fact a burgeoning industry, surpassing many other advertising venues.

On this subject, I recently read an article entitled “Signs of the Times: Digital Boards Offer New Versatility to the Billboard Industry,” written by Allison Shirk and published in EDGE on 04/01/18. The article notes some interesting facts about both digital and print billboards, and about outdoor advertising in general.

Facts and Figures About Digital and Print Billboards

  1. Shirk’s article opens with a reference to digital billboards installed by Fairway Outdoor Advertising after Stephen Hawking’s recent death. They were able to set up ten billboards in honor of Hawking within a few hours. In contrast, print billboards need between 20 minutes and an hour for installation, and that’s after they have been inkjet printed. As Shirk’s article notes, digital billboards can be “changed with the click of a button.” And after installation (and programming with multiple advertisements), the billboards can be changed remotely as often as every ten seconds. (And that’s just because of the regulations ensuring that drivers aren’t distracted by even shorter ads.)
  2. The Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) data shows that outdoor billboard advertising revenue has increased steadily over the last nine years, from $5.9 billion in 2009 (across the country) to $7.6 billion in 2016. During this same time, advertising revenue for other media has decreased. In addition, the article references The Pew Research Center’s figures showing a $30 billion drop in newspaper advertising revenue from 2006 to 2014. Shirk’s article goes on to attribute this to consumers’ increasing dependence on their cell phones and social media for news, reviews, etc.
  3. Fairway Outdoor Advertising, the outdoor advertising agency noted in “Signs of the Times: Digital Boards Offer New Versatility to the Billboard Industry,” has more than 17,000 print billboards and digital billboards distributed across the Southeast, Southwest, and Midwest. It is the “nation’s largest privately held outdoor advertising company” (as per Shirk’s article). That said, according to the article, Fairway has more than 1,500 static (printed) billboards and 43 digital billboards. So outdoor print advertising isn’t going away in the near future.
  4. Determining whether to use a large format print billboard or a digital billboard involves the following considerations, according to Shirk’s article. Static, printed vinyl billboards are good for consistent, long-term display. In contrast, a digital billboard can display up to eight ads in less than two minutes. Certain kinds of advertising information will lend itself to print (perhaps reinforcing brand awareness); other advertising information would be more appropriate for digital display (perhaps a rotation of ads for a series of concerts). In addition, location, advertising duration, content, and cost are other determining factors.
  5. Digital billboards have some unique qualities that static print billboards cannot match. For instance, Shirk’s article references an ad for heating and air conditioning that can be automatically displayed when the temperature reaches a certain point.
  6. I was personally surprised at the pricing, assuming digital billboards would be much more expensive. According to the article, larger print billboards run from $250.00 to $1,200.00 each week, depending on their location, while digital billboards cost from $375.00 to $750.00 per week. Smaller billboards, called “posters,” are closer to $200.00 per week.
  7. There are regulations for the display of outdoor advertising, specifying placement, lighting, and size. The goal of the regulations is to avoid confusing or distracting drivers. For instance, digital images must remain in place for at least 10 seconds.
  8. In terms of manufacturing and installation costs, digital advertising is economical, since it eliminates the cost of the vinyl print substrate and the time and expense of installation (20 minutes to one hour, as noted before).
  9. Fairway Outdoor Advertising does a good business with other media. Shirk’s article includes a quote from Fairway, noting that “all the other media are our clients—television, radio, even print.” In addition, Fairway combines advertising on billboards, computer screens, and mobile phones, providing an integrated presentation across multiple media.

What This Means For Print (Specifically) and Advertising in General

  1. Starting with Fairway’s multi-channel advertising approach noted above, repetition makes ads more effective. Each time you see an ad, the brand makes an impression on you. Therefore, integrating print ads and digital ads is prudent. In fact, adding vehicle wraps, television ads, radio spots, or anything else (including special events) to your advertising mix is wise. It is clear that outdoor large format print advertising isn’t going anywhere. In fact, with the improvements in large format inkjet printing, outdoor print advertising should expand even more.
  2. If anyone else was under the impression that, due to their complexity, digital billboards are more expensive than print, it’s good to see the data. If you can afford print billboards, you can afford digital billboards. So the question becomes which will be more effective for a given advertising subject and goal.
  3. Certain attributes of print and digital small format printing can make one a better choice than the other. (For a print book, for example, you can produce tactile effects with cover coatings, but a digital book provides no such tactile experience.) In a similar vein, certain design goals will favor either print billboard or digital billboard design. If weather temperature can trigger a digital heating and air conditioning ad, for instance, perhaps there are (or will soon be) other relevant triggers. For example, around lunch time or dinnertime, digital restaurant ads might be programmed to play on billboards across the Interstate highways.
  4. The advertising survey information from The Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) is sobering in that ad revenue has been declining for all other media (including newspapers). I guess it is not surprising. That said, this data highlights a potentially lucrative market for outdoor signage in many forms. And this means large format printing will continue to be a vibrant opportunity for marketers, printers, and graphic artists. Print seems not to be dying out but just reorganizing itself around other venues (such as large format printing, packaging, and the like).
  5. Shirk’s article presents some interesting observations about the attention span of consumers and their ability to process information. For instance, if static advertising is more effective in establishing brand awareness than ever-changing digital advertising, and if transmitting a large volume of information (such as a list of upcoming bands for a musical event) lends itself more to digital signage, this awareness of consumer needs and behavior can be priceless for advertisers.

So the bottom line is that large format print advertising is a growth industry, and digital advertising is just one more tool in the advertiser’s arsenal, to be applied at the most appropriate time and place.

Large Format Printing: Bold, Economical Standee Design

Sunday, April 8th, 2018

Last year two of my print brokering clients expressed interest in standees, so I solicited custom printing bids for them. I contacted one of the manufacturers of the standees my fiancee and I install at movie theaters. I chose this particular vendor based on the quality of their standee design (both the graphic design and the physical structure of their standees).

(To back up a bit, a standee is a large format point of purchase display. You’ve probably seen one at a movie theater. They are usually made of cardboard (although my fiancee and I have installed giant beach balls printed with movie information; and a huge dinosaur eye made of fiberglass, installed in a wood enclosure with a motor to make it move back and forth). We’ve been doing this for eight years, and if we observe the standees closely, they yield a wealth of information on commercial printing and die cutting, marketing, and shipping.)

The clients I mentioned wanted the cheapest design, so I asked the standee designer/printer about “flat cards,” which are approximately 6-foot by 9-foot billboards supported by a die cut and folded cardboard easel behind the flat graphic. Standard-size flatcards are (relatively) inexpensive to produce because the cutting dies are simple and have already been made. This is basically a stock item. You just provide the image for the front graphic panel. However, as simple as this sounds, you still get a 6-foot by 9-foot display area that will grab your viewer’s attention.

To bring this back to the present moment, the most recent standee installation my fiancee and I did for Strangers Prey at Night, a horror film, piqued my interest because it provided a lot of “bang for the buck.” It was a standard (or perhaps larger than usual) flat card, but it had a number of graphic additions (called “lugs”) attached to the standard background. It was large, effective, and economically made.

A Description of the Standee

More specifically, the Strangers Prey at Night standee was a photo opportunity standee. These are set up with a fake floor (often printed with a silhouette of shoes, so you’ll know where to stand), a back graphic to set the scene for the moviegoer’s cell phone photo, and a front graphic. If you want your photo taken, you stand between the front graphic and the back graphic with your head in a die cut opening, and it looks like you’re a character in the movie. In the case of the Strangers Prey at Night standee, it specifically looks like one of three masked psychopaths has you pinned by the neck with a long ax handle. Very grisly.

In the background is the front of an old, beat up car (it looks like it’s from the 1950s or ‘60s). This is actually a lug. Since this sticks out a bit, it provides a 3D effect between the three psychopaths, the person having her or his photo taken, and the final back panel graphic. Then the large flat card graphic panel extends outward behind all of this (to approximately a 6-foot by 9-foot rectangle). It includes background imagery, the title of the movie, and other related information.

So, again, if a friend or family member takes a photo of you in this photo-booth standee, it looks like you’re a character in the movie, surrounded by masked psychopaths.

The Benefits: Why This Is an Effective Standee

The question is what makes this an example of efficient, effective large format printing.

  1. As with my two clients last year who had expressed interest in a flat card standee because it was a simple, standard design and therefore less expensive to produce, this was a simple standee. However, it was large. It immediately grabbed the viewer’s entire field of vision from a reasonably close vantage point.
  2. It was a build-out of a standard flat card. Therefore, it depended in part on standard cutting dies. Presumably, only the lug of the car and the psychopaths in the front required new cutting dies. This reduced the overall manufacturing cost.
  3. By including background, middle ground, and foreground images (the back panel, the front of the car, and the three psychopaths), the standee designer provided a multi-level environment. (That is, a similar design without the front of the car–or with the front of the car only depicted in the background photo–might have been less compelling.)
  4. Compared to many of the larger standees we have installed, this had relatively few pieces and therefore fit in a lighter-than-usual shipping carton. Keep in mind that the shipping cost difference between an 80-pound carton and a 10- to 20-pound carton can add up quickly when multiplied by the number of theaters that display the standee.
  5. This was a photo-opportunity, or photo-booth, standee. It engaged the moviegoer. She or he participated in the fantasy of the movie. Moreover, she or he left the theater with a memento: a photo to commemorate the experience forever.
  6. From a functional standpoint, interactive standees must be durable (in contrast to standees you merely look at). People tend to stand on and otherwise abuse standees. In so doing, the moviegoers need to be safe. So the structural integrity of a photo-booth standee is important. Unlike some photo-booth standees, this standee had a completely flat fake floor and no cardboard surface to sit on (i.e., it had no built-up layers that could be crushed).
  7. In addition, since die cut lugs of some standees have fragile elements and can be easily knocked over or torn off, the durability of the lugs is important. In this case a single graphic panel contains all three of the masked psychopaths, and there are no easily-torn-off cardboard arms or legs. In addition, a four-sided cardboard pole extends from the background base art to hold the front panel in place. It is large and sturdy, so the front panel is kept rigid at the proper distance.

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

If you’re designing a point of purchase display of any kind (even one much smaller than this standee), think about how to create a sense of depth (foreground, middle-ground, and background). Remember that a point of purchase display is a three-dimensional object.

Also, keep in mind that more complex is not necessarily more effective. You can design something that is efficient and therefore less expensive but that still intrigues the viewer. It can be cheaper to print, cheaper to die cut, and cheaper to ship without losing any of its punch.

Finally, do what I did with my clients. Since I didn’t know anything about printing standees at the time, I found some that I really liked and then contacted the manufacturer. This is pretty much the same as selecting a commercial printing vendor and then requesting printed samples. Only in my case, the printed samples were right there in front of me in the movie theater.

Large Format Printing: Printing Art and Photos on Canvas

Monday, March 12th, 2018

I read an article yesterday by a company that prints clients’ photos on canvas. The article, entitled “The Rise of Canvas in Art: From Oil Paintings to Photo Prints,” written by Jessica Stewart and published on www.mymodernmet.com on 3/6/18, got me thinking not only about the history of canvas but also about the sense of importance and permanence it conveys.

On a related note, my fiancee and I do art therapy with the autistic, and many of our projects, such as collages of photos, fabric, and paint, could be prepared on paper. For the paintings we do, we could hand out canvas board (panels with canvas glued to chipboard). However, we have found that the autistic members with whom we work get more of a sense of pride and accomplishment when we give them stretched canvases stapled on wood stretcher strips. This three-dimensional substrate showcases their work. To quote from Stewart’s article, it gives the work “a sense of prestige.”

Jessica Stewart’s Article About Canvas

Stewart’s article provides a brief history of canvas, noting that it is “a rather recent development in art history.”

In Venice in the 16th century during the Italian Renaissance, painters started using canvas for two reasons. First, it was better than applying paint to wet plaster (in frescos), which had trouble drying in the humid Venetian environment. It was also better than applying paint to wood panels, which tended to warp and crack in the humidity. And canvas was plentiful in Venice since it was used to make sails for ships.

There was one other benefit, which had nothing to do with the humidity of Venice in the Italian Renaissance. Since canvas was thin and light, it could be attached to the wood stretcher strips in a very large format. It could also be removed from the stretcher strips and then rolled up.

The Spanish followed in Italy’s footsteps and started to paint on canvas, and by the 17th century this new substrate for painting was being used throughout Northern Europe and had become more prevalent than wood panels as a base for artwork.

Jumping forward to the present, if you attend a street art fair, you’ll now see large, stretched canvases with brilliantly colored photographs inkjetted onto their surface, as well as reproductions of paintings produced with large format printers on stretched and framed canvas.

What Is Canvas?

“The Rise of Canvas in Art: From Oil Paintings to Photo Prints” then goes on to explain exactly what canvas is. Stewart notes that the word “canvas” comes from the Latin “cannabis,” since it used to be made from tightly woven hemp, or in some cases linen. Both of these were more expensive than the material that came to be used for canvas in modern times: cotton. In addition to being less expensive than hemp and linen, cotton will stretch, which protects the artwork from cracking. Depending on its weave, it is also very strong. That said, many artists today still prefer to use linen for their canvases.

Once the canvas has been stretched onto wooden strips (and tacked or stapled in place), the artist primes the canvas with “gesso.” This base layer keeps the oil paints from actually touching the canvas and therefore prevents the decay of the canvas substrate.

While I was studying painting just after college, an art teacher of mine had us prepare our own gesso to apply to wood panels. This traditional ground included rabbit skin glue (an adhesive that also served as a sizing) and chalk or marble dust, (or in our case titanium white paint, due to its brightness and opacity). Since this gesso was not flexible, we had to apply it to wood panels. In contrast, the acrylic gesso you’ll find on prepared canvases in art and craft stores is based on an acrylic polymer medium, calcium carbonate (chalk), and titanium white paint. This kind of gesso is flexible, so it is ideal for priming stretched canvases.

Inkjet Printing on Canvas

Large format printing on canvas is an ideal way to showcase photos in a dramatic but flexible format. It is also ideal if you’re a fine art painter or print-maker and you want to produce multiple copies of your work in an easily frameable format. (Granted, they won’t be as valuable as the original painting from which they have been made, but depending on the materials and inkjet custom printing technology used, they will still be works of art.)

Specifically, a large-format inkjet printing device can be bought with an expanded inkset (more than just cyan, magenta, yellow, and black). Some inksets include two shades of magenta and two shades of cyan; and/or different black inks; or even orange, violet, and green ink. Whichever colors are chosen, these additional inks greatly expand the color gamut. That is, you can print a wider range of far more intense, color-faithful, and fade-resistant hues than you can with the usual CMYK inks. Color gradients are also smoother, and the apparent image resolution is higher.

In addition, as Stewart’s article notes, you can choose special archival paper, canvas, or vinyl as a substrate for custom printing your artwork. Therefore, you can produce and sell prints that are more intense in their color and that have a much longer lifespan than those made with lower-quality materials. Because of this, in the 1990’s Jack Duganne (a printmaker) coined the term “giclée” (which comes from the French verb for spray, spout, or squirt) to distinguish prints made with pigment-based inks and archival papers from prints made with standard inks and papers.

The initial giclée prints were produced on an Iris printer, a large format, high resolution proofing device used by commercial printing vendors. This term later was used in reference to all high-end inkjet prints, including Canon, Epson, and HP proofs.

While not cheap, giclée-level, large format inkjet printers can be within the financial reach of many individual artists. Therefore, with a good scanner and skill in Photoshop, they can produce individual prints on canvas, watercolor paper, or another substrate that are color corrected and otherwise enhanced with fine attention to detail. Artists can also produce the prints on demand, so maintaining an inventory (and storing the work) becomes unnecessary. In addition, the art can be printed with latex inks, which are water-based, solvent free, and environmentally friendly.

From the perspective of the buyer, this process is ideal because it makes art affordable. Even though giclée prints are more expensive to produce than standard inkjet images (up to $50.00 per print, not including scanning and color correction, vs. $5.00 per print for an offset-printed image–as per Wikipedia), a customer can buy a work of art for $60.00 to $150.00, rather than upwards from multiple hundreds to multiple thousands of dollars.

What You Can Learn From This Discussion

First, keep in mind that there’s only a thin line between fine art and commercial art. Such fine artists as Andy Warhol, Ben Shahn, Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Piet Mondrian also produced commercial art and illustration.

Another take-away is that custom printing a work of art on canvas gives it a sense of prestige that sets it apart from works on paper.

Finally, take the time to find samples and study the effects of an expanded inkset on inkjet custom printing. Compare the enhanced color gamut to those colors available through 4-color inkjet and even 4-color offset printing. Then apply this to your own graphic design work to enhance the intensity, fidelity, and brilliance of the colors you use.

Large Format Printing: Thoughts About a Gigantic Standee

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

My fiancee and I just finished assembling a huge standee for the Transformers franchise. It is called Transformers: The Last Knight. It is huge. No, huge would be an understatement. It took us nine hours to assemble and install. And we may need to go back to another movie theater and assemble a second one.

Why This Is Relevant

My fiancee’s grandson, who is now five, likes to use the word “gi-normous.” It is a cross between gigantic and enormous. And so is this Transformers standee. Putting the installation work aside for the moment, this standee is a good example of foresight, commercial printing acumen, distribution know-how, and marketing genius. You could also argue that it is a masterful example of finishing technology in that it includes hundreds of die cut pieces of all sizes.

More than anything, this standee shows that a large format print product is a combined printing project and physics project, in that it must stand up by itself and support its own weight as well as look good. I would say that it also reflects the marriage of graphic design, illustration, and computer aided design (CAD). After all, the entire product was initially envisioned on a computer screen, and presumably all die cuts and assembly slots and tabs were also positioned with the use of a high-powered computer workstation.

From the point of view of an artist, this is a dynamic paper sculpture. The designer has created an interior structure of cardboard boxes (fluted paper board for its strength and its light weight) and an exterior shell of bendable chipboard pieces placed layer upon layer to create three-dimensional arms, legs, and armor, with significant physical depth.

And again, all of this weight, once assembled, will still stand up to the abuse of young movie-goers who want to hang from the structure and push and pull at it.

Finally, this is a masterful example of organization. All of these unassembled pieces arrive at each theater in two cartons (“shippers,” as our installation broker calls them). Most but not all scrap has been removed from the die-cut pieces. We have to remove the rest. Many of the pieces for this standee come in plastic bags with labels (A through E), and each of the “lugs” is numbered (A-1, A-2, etc.) (“Lugs” are small die-cut graphic pieces inserted onto a larger graphic panel.) And all of this has to be accurately explained in words and pictures in the assembly instructions. (For this particular standee, the 11” x 14” instruction booklet is 54 pages long.)

So the big question is, how is this relevant to designers? Well in almost all cases of large format printing or point of purchase (POP) and point of sale (POS) commercial printing, the designer has to think about not only the creative and marketing aspects of the job but also the graphic treatment and custom printing, as well as the finishing operations, packaging and distribution, and assembly. In addition, the designer has to consider the physical requirements (whether the printed and assembled product will be able to hold and display any products, as do the point of sale standees at the grocery store). Usually these POS and POP displays are much, much smaller than the Transformers standee. Granted. But the same steps and considerations usually apply.

Specifics of the Large Format Print Job

Let’s focus on the most extraordinary aspect of the job.

I would say the overall organization of the standee was beyond measure. After all, nine hours (spread over two days) can be either interesting and challenging, or it can be torture. This depends on many things, including the accuracy and specificity of the instructions (relevant descriptions and good photos) and the packaging of the printed materials. (Interestingly enough, the weather makes a difference, too, since moist cardboard won’t hold it’s shape well when you’re inserting tabs into slots, and overly dry cardboard will cut you).

Beyond the quality of the instructions and packaging, the Transformers: The Last Knight standee has an interesting overall structure. As noted before, the designer “hung” portions of the movie character on a structure of long, thin boxes that my fiancee and I cobbled together with screws. From my fine arts training, I saw this as being similar to the wire armature around which a sculptor builds a clay figure. In both cases the physical “skeleton” of the piece is never seen, but it holds up the entire structure (just as our own skeletons do).

In the case of this Transformers standee, all small graphic pieces came in five bags, which corresponded to specific areas of the overall standee. These included the knight character’s head, right arm and sword, left arm, raised knee and foot, and bent supporting leg and foot. These were situated in rock formations, which held a title plate (movie title and movie studio information).

Each of these had to be assembled in a certain order and then stitched together into the final 9-foot-high structure. My fiancee and I actually had to change the order a bit, since we realized we would not be able to move the standee out of the room in which we had built it once it was fully assembled. So we put together the bottom half, the structure for one arm, and the top half with the knight character’s head, and then moved everything to the final staging area in the movie theater. In that location we assembled the final composite pieces in place.

All of this had to be thought out by the designer, printer, marketing agent, die cutting fabricator, and everyone else long before ink ever hit the commercial printing paper. For that alone I was both impressed and grateful.

What I Learned, and How You Can Benefit From It

  1. This was, more than anything, a huge paper sculpture. It was very interesting to me that the interior structure depended on the strength and lightness of corrugated paperboard wrapped into numerous boxes and poles to support the knight character’s back, arm, sword, and legs. Moreover, it was interesting to see how the thinness and bendability of chipboard with printed paper laminated to it provided the kind of multiple layers out of which the surface of the 3D knight was crafted.
  2. As noted above, the foresight and organization were astounding.
  3. The size of the overall structure was a marketing plus. Not only did such a large structure dwarf all nearby standees, but since the knight himself was so much larger than a normal person, this added to the “wow-factor” of the standee. Ironically, the title panel displaying the name of the film and its movie studio was slightly smaller than usual. Because of this, the knight character seemed even larger than he really was.
  4. I think about not only this installation but the installation of the same large format print product in theaters across the country. The movie studio paid a huge amount of money to make the film. Then they paid a huge amount to design the standee, then fabricate it, pack it safely, and ship it across the country. The cost of shipping alone must have been astronomical. Then the movie studio paid for installation. So the overall expense to promote this film was very high (just for the standees, and excluding all other marketing venues). Since the overall goal will be to make a profit, it boggles the mind to consider the cost and potential gain. This is a huge industry.

Large Format Printing: What’s Behind the Standees?

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

My fiancee and I spent about ten hours this week installing standees. It’s that time of year again, and movie theaters are receiving stacks of cartons containing the large format printed pieces that we will assemble into the (sometimes) massive cardboard structures used to promote upcoming movies.

When you look at the front of a standee, you can get lost in the promise of fantasy, adventure, and just plain good times. But what’s behind the standees?

I know this sounds like a trick question, or even a philosophical or psychological one based on marketing theory. But I mean it quite literally. Behind the ink or toner on paper (the graphic panels that face forward), there is a huge amount of artistry that goes unseen. That is, the finishing operations required to present a three-dimensional marketing structure both require a lot of thought before the actual design process and fabrication, and also depend a lot on several post-press operations.

Choice of Substrate

Last night when my fiancee and I were assembling the new Baywatch standee, I noticed that several of the structural elements looked alike but were made from different kinds of cardboard. Since I’m familiar with the graphic studio that designed this piece (and since I have a lot of respect for them), I assumed there was logic behind the decision.

One of the structural “girders” (for want of a better term) spanned the space between two base units I had just assembled. It was composed of chipboard (thinner than corrugated board and without the fluting). This was a horizontal piece. In contrast, two vertical girders, which were also 4” x 4” square crosswise and about six feet long, were made out of fluted cardboard, also printed black (presumably with flexographic ink).

I thought about why the design studio had made different substrate choices as I proceeded with assembly, but as I built up the portion of the standee above the horizontal chipboard base girder, I realized that the weight distribution requirements were different. The horizontal chipboard piece held less weight. Basically, it just connected the left and right base of the Baywatch lifeguard tower. In contrast, the thicker, vertical corrugated-board “poles” held up the entire lifeguard building. The moral is, chipboard is flimsy when compared to corrugated board. It’s perfect for some things, but not for “load-bearing” structures.

The Take-Away

Throughout the design and fabrication process, the standee designers are thinking in terms of structure. What has to be strong? What can be less strong, but perhaps lighter? And what commercial printing technology is required to decorate each: flexography, custom screen printing, offset printing, or digital printing? On a smaller scale, even the point of purchase and point of sale large format print products you see in the grocery stores depend on the same kinds of functional decisions as well as the marketing and commercial design decisions that influence the creation of the graphic panels the viewer sees.

Pattern Gluing, Die Cutting, and Scoring

I’m going to address these together because each depends closely on the others.

In many cases, when you look at the back of a standee, you’ll see one piece of cardboard that has been glued to another using hot-melt glue. For instance, in the back of a large graphic panel, or even a die cut figure, you might need a spacing “arm” (if you will), to hold the center of the piece rigid and straight. If you have a die cut figure, such as that of Dwayne Johnson in the Baywatch movie, such attachments may be needed to keep the lifesize image from flopping over or tearing off the standee.

In the case of the Dwayne Johnson “lug,” as these attachments are called in the industry, extra cardboard (flexo-printed black) has been hot-melt glued to the back of the die cut Dwayne Johnson image. If you fold in the tabs on this attachment and insert them into the background—and, if you use double sided tape on the bottom of his feet to attach the figure to the printed floor panel—Dwayne Johnson will be stable and secure.

So automated pattern gluing is integral to this process, even though the viewer will never see the glue or any of the strengthening cardboard attachments. And, by the way, the extra cardboard structures glued behind Dwayne Johnson’s character’s legs are made of corrugated board, not chipboard, for durability.

Regarding die cutting, you will see all number of cut-outs if you look closely at the structure of the standee. All tabs and all slots into which the tabs fit are die cut. In addition, the silhouettes of all the characters that are free-standing on cardboard poles had to be cut out of flat printed press sheets laminated to corrugated board. Everywhere you look, something has to be cut out, and all of the “scrap” (anything that’s not the image) has to be punched out and removed.

Granted, this kind of die cutting makes the silhouetted figures less sturdy. If you look closely, in fact, you’ll see that in transit through the Postal System, many of the die cut character figures have been banged up, since in most cases they are not securely attached together in the shipping carton. So it helps for a standee installer to have experience in the fine arts and commercial arts to be able to touch up the banged-up pieces with tape and marker pens.

Regarding scoring, all of the pieces of cardboard that will be folded must first be scored, and this is another automated post-press function. Scoring is, for want of a better term, a “pre-fold” crease made with a metal scoring rule on the cardboard using a letterpress. The scoring rule mashes the fluted corrugated board slightly, so that when my fiancee and I fold over the corners of the standee (or the spot-glued arms attached to the back of a figure to hold it straight), all of these pieces align correctly when folded. This is not for our ease of assembly. Rather it is to ensure that the folds are made exactly where the designers had intended, while avoiding mis-folding or tearing or any other problems.

The Nuts and Bolts

Any large format print product attached with enough screws in enough stress points will gradually become very strong. Some of these standees can have 80 or more screws, used for attaching pieces together while improving stability and strength. And all of the screw holes are considered die cuts, which means that overall, a massive and intricate matrix of die cuts has to be planned for (and metal die cutting rules created) to make all of this happen. If everything is not precisely and accurately aligned (with zero tolerance for even a hair’s breadth of misalignment), things won’t go together correctly. So to the educated viewer, each and every complex standee is a masterful success that has been clearly crafted by both knowledgeable graphic designers and the computer aided design hardware and software that are their tools of trade.

The Take-Away

Here are some thoughts to ponder:

  1. If you choose to be a standee designer, you will need to understand marketing, psychology, and graphic design. But you will also need to understand the laws of physics, differences in materials (such as chipboard vs. corrugated board), and all commercial printing processes (when to screen print, for instance—on clear plexiglass substrates; or when to flexo print—on incidental or unseen background pieces).
  2. All of this must be unbelievably expensive to do—per unit, ie., for each standee. So the press runs for these standees must be very long for the unit costs to be reasonable (think how many theaters receive the standees across the United States).
  3. However, for the larger standees, not every theater gets one (because they are expensive to produce, ship, and install). So for all of the post-press operations that will drive the unit cost of each standee way up, the overall press run is not unlimited, so the final cost per standee must still be very high.
  4. This shows how much the movie industry depends on, and how committed it is to, marketing.

Final Thoughts

If you can handle the deadlines, this may be a very lucrative field for commercial designers to consider. It’s fun, and it challenges both your creative and mathematical/engineering skills.

Custom Printing: Large Banner Stand Case Study Follow Up

Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

I noted in a prior blog article that I had been working on a large banner stand project for a print brokering client. To review, it is a 10’ x 8’ large format print on a frame made up of thin metal poles at right angles to one another, with feet on either side that are perpendicular to the frame. Fortunately, this was exactly what my client had wanted, and I found photos online showing this specific product.

After drafting specifications for the job and sending these to three brick-and-mortar printers for estimates, I also found the product online for a very reasonable price. I told my client about the online vendor. I also told her that I could not vouch for the quality of their product since I had not worked with them before. Therefore, I sent my client an email with the vendor’s contact information, specifications, and price, and assumed she would want the online product.

Surprisingly, I was wrong. My client contacted me and said she wanted me to select one of my preferred vendors. She did not want to buy the banner stand online. I was so pleased that my client shared my belief in the mutual benefit of long-standing client-vendor relationships.

The Bids for the Large Format Print and Banner Stand

Shortly thereafter, I started receiving bids from my vendors. This is what I found:

  1. The online vendor was clearly the lowest bid, a little under $250 plus shipping (for $25). The lowest brick-and-mortar price was about $400 plus shipping (for $50), or about 64 percent more than the online bid. Then again, my client didn’t want an online printer.
  2. The midrange printer had priced the job not on scrim vinyl but on polyester fabric. The principal of the firm was worried that the weight of the vinyl, in such a large format print, would cause the center of the frame to hang down. He priced his fabric banner product at about $700 plus shipping.
  3. The high bid was for about $850 plus shipping. Interestingly enough, this printer offered to hand me directly over to the vendor (i.e., she was brokering the job, which indicated she did not have the large format press capabilities for this particular kind of banner).

New Assumptions for the Banner

Based on this information I made some assumptions:

  1. I had visited the mid-range printer before and had seen his grand-format inkjet printing equipment. So I surmised that this vendor would print the job in-house and then pair the banner with a banner stand bought from another vendor. Moreover, since this particular vendor was worried about the weight of a large vinyl banner, and since his price was higher than that of the first vendor, I wondered whether the cost of the fabric was higher, too, accounting for the price difference compared to the vinyl.
  2. With the assumption that polyester fabric costs more than vinyl scrim, I approached the low-bid brick-and-mortar printer and asked for a second bid based on this material. This printer also confirmed my belief that the polyester fabric reflected less light than the vinyl.
  3. When the additional pricing came back, it was almost identical to the mid-range printer’s price (about $700 plus shipping).
  4. I shared all specs and prices with my client, along with my thoughts and reactions. I encouraged her to buy from the printer that had initially bid on the vinyl banner. I did this specifically because I knew he printed his own banners and because he said he had never had a problem with the weight of the scrim vinyl.
  5. It’s not that I didn’t trust the mid-range vendor. I just liked having a large format print supplier comfortable with both vinyl and polyester fabric. Then I could let my client choose the substrate she preferred.
  6. In general I felt comfortable with whatever choice my client would make, because I already had working relationships with all vendors except the online vendor. I had confidence in their work.
  7. I wasn’t as concerned about the mid-range vendor’s fear that the vinyl would be too heavy because of the other vendor’s direct experience in producing scrim vinyl banners.

We’ll see what happens, but my client now has credit with the printer. She also has all information from the printer regarding PDF creation requirements plus FTP art file transmission procedures. Now all she has to do is choose between two banner materials and complete and upload the art.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. It seems that in the process of buying commercial printing services, if you’re alert and logical, the best option will “reveal” itself. I trusted all three vendors, but one planned to broker the entire job. (In other words, this printer didn’t have the appropriate large format print equipment.) No problem there. Not everyone does. I still had two vendors.
  2. Seeing comparable pricing from your selection of commercial printing vendors is a good sign. When I saw that the vendor with the scrim vinyl provided a revised price almost identical to that of the mid-range vendor when the job was priced on polyester fabric, it increased my faith in both printers.
  3. If a vendor is uncomfortable with a process, don’t make him do it. I trusted the first vendor because he had personal experience with the vinyl substrate. But I don’t think any less of the mid-range vendor for other kinds of work.
  4. Note that materials can be a large portion of the total cost of the job. The fabric was almost twice as expensive as the vinyl. If you’re making a choice like this, be clear as to why you’re choosing one material over another. For example, in my client’s case, the minimized light reflectivity, lighter weight, softness, and overall perceived higher value of the polyester fabric banner might be worth the higher price.
  5. When compiling a budget, don’t forget the cost to ship the banner and banner stand.
  6. More than anything, take time to regularly communicate with current vendors and forge relationships with new printers based on mutual benefit and trust. Nothing will help you buy commercial printing more intelligently and successfully.

Custom Printing: Case Study for a Large Banner Stand

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017

A client came to me today with a request for a large banner stand. I mean large: 10 feet by 8 feet horizontal. Since my fiancee and I assemble and install movie theater standees and hang movie banners and posters, I can fully appreciate the size and heft of a 10 foot by 8 foot banner.

I have produced and brokered the commercial printing for a number of small banners. I understand the physical requirements of a roll-up banner stand, or a free-standing banner with hems and grommets for tying to a wall or other structure. I’ve even hung a 13 foot by 17 foot banner off the side of a building with ropes.

Backstory for My Client

I wanted to make sure the product I sold my client worked both aesthetically and functionally. In her email, my client noted that the banner would be used behind a podium at an event. It needed to be free-standing. It would not be hung on a wall. Conversely, it did not need to be an elaborate, wall-like structure with a dramatic graphic image, like the ones used at a trade show. I wanted my client to be happy with what she got. However, I didn’t want to give her more than she needed.

It happens that my fiancee and I had installed a similar banner at a movie theater using a structure made of thin metal piping. It looked like a giant clothes rack: a rectangle with feet extending toward the front and back, perpendicular to the metal frame to keep it standing and steady.

So I went online and started Googling images of 10 foot by 8 foot banner stands. I found a few photos, with and without banners, and emailed them to my client. She was happy. This was exactly what she wanted.

Buying the Large Format Printing

Not all printers do large format printing. It requires special equipment and special expertise. This particular kind of banner is an inkjet printed product created on either a roll-fed or flatbed inkjet press. After the commercial printing process, the flat sheet of vinyl has to be hemmed for edge protection. Often the printer will punch holes around the perimeter of the banner and then strengthen these holes with metal grommets, so the banner can be suspended from the wall with ropes.

In the case of this banner, though, presumably the top and bottom would need to be folded over and sewn to create a “tunnel” through which the top and bottom metal pipes of the banner stand would go in order to keep the banner flat and vertical, in spite of its weight. (These are called “pole pockets.”) If you can imagine drapes with a curtain rod going through the top under a flap of fabric, you’ll have a good idea of what I’m describing.

A thorough search online came up with an alternative, which involved tying the banner to the stand in numerous places around the perimeter of the image.

I also found very elaborate structures that resembled temporary walls with the inkjet printed fabric stretched over them. I noticed in the ads that these often cost over $1,000, while the simpler banner stands cost about a quarter of this, or a little more.

With this information in hand, plus my client’s description from her email, I sent a request for bid to two vendors.

(Why did I choose brick-and-mortar printers when these banners are also sold online? Because I have worked with these vendors before. They provide support and good ideas, and they back up the quality of their work. Not that online vendors don’t. I just don’t have long-term relationships with any at the moment. If my client balks at the pricing I get, I’ll do more research on the Web and give her some online “web-to-print” alternatives.)

The Considerations

So I already have my client’s approval of the banner and the banner stand options. This is a good start. From both online research and my personal experience installing movie theater graphics, I know for sure that this particular banner stand will hold the weight of a 10 foot by 8 foot banner while being relatively cheap to produce. I also have two hanging options: tying the banner to the stand or hemming the top and bottom to accept the horizontal piping of the banner stand structure. What’s left?

Actually, two considerations: what banner material to choose and what inkjet inks to use. In addition, it will be useful to request PDF file preparation information for my client.

First, the inks: Since my client will be using the banner for a single (presumably night-time) event, I won’t need to worry about lightfastness (how the banner will tolerate sunlight without fading). I also won’t have to worry about weather-tolerance, since the banner will be used inside a building.

Although I know there are a number of different inks available for large format printing, ranging from solvent inks (good for non-porous materials in weather) to latex inks to UV cured inks (also good for non-porous materials), I plan to defer to the large format printing vendor. Basically, anything he can provide with a wide color gamut will work. In fact, since my client sent me the mock-up of the banner, I see that it is only one color (or perhaps a CMYK build to produce one color). It isn’t complicated (not a wide-format fashion shot that has to be absolutely color faithful). So I can be reasonably certain that whatever inks the printer chooses will be successful.

Regarding the substrates, I know that any number of papers, films, vinyls, and even canvas can be run through the large format inkjet presses. For my client’s project, I will assume there will be intense, direct lighting (since the banner will be the backdrop for a speech my client will be giving). It will therefore not benefit her to use a gloss vinyl substrate. Rather a dull vinyl will avoid glare from the lights. From my initial impression, a matte vinyl with edges that won’t curl should be fine. The vinyl will also be durable, which will be good if my client decides to use the banner for more than one event.

It would also be good to get a carrying case for the banner and banner stand (for protection and ease of transport). But on a budget, a ripstop nylon bag should be fine instead of a large and heavy plastic traveling case.

Next Steps

So with all of this information in hand, I plan to see what my two large format print vendors have to suggest. If the pricing is too high for my client’s taste, I’ll look for an online supplier.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

More than anything, I would encourage you to do research. If you know what you want, go online and look for images. This is particularly helpful when your project involves physical requirements. For instance, a banner stand can’t be too light, or it will fall over. If your banner will be outside in the wind, this will be a big problem. You will need a way to anchor the banner to the ground. Send the images you find online to a number of printers, and ask for their advice.

Consider how long the banner and banner stand will be in use. If it’s a banner that will be used outside, consider the durability of the substrate and the weather-fastness and lightfastness of the substrate and inks. If your images are color critical and vibrant (such as images of food, fashion, or automotive subjects), consider the number of colors in the ink set. For example, it might be good to use cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK), and then add an orange, green, and violet, or some other colors, to get the color range and intensity you need.

The best approach is to find vendors you trust (or get referrals). Then tell them what the final product will look like, how long it must last, and what kinds of stress (like weather) it must endure. Then defer to their expertise.

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