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Archive for the ‘Poster Printing’ Category

One Sheet Posters at the Movies

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015

Movie theaters seem to be undergoing a transformation. As installers of standees, banners, one sheets, etc., my fiancee and I recently had the opportunity to enter one of the new cinemas to install a one-sheet (a large format print poster for an upcoming film).

The Theater Ambiance

The environment was exceedingly upscale, more like an art film theater than a commercial film venue. The focus in the lobby was on the food (more substantial offerings than the popcorn and candy I’m used to) and the beer, wine and non-alcoholic beverages. So it was a bit of a cross between a movie theater, a restaurant, and a bar, with a young-urban-professional vibe.

The Movie Signage

Unlike all of the other cinemas my fiancee and I service (with the possible exception of an art film venue) this theater accepted no standees. No cardboard environments, no giant beachballs for animated films. Nothing but one sheets.

(As a point of information, a one-sheet is a large format print poster. However, unlike most posters, it has an image and text on the front promoting the film, and on the back of the press sheet is the exact same image with all graphic elements backwards, aligned exactly with the image on the front. When placed in the one-sheet frame, which is a back-lit frame covered with a diffusing white glass, the one sheet poster appears brighter and more vivid than usual—presumably due to both the back-light and the double printing.)

The One-Sheet Wall

In addition to a large clock and a wall of film showing times—all presented elegantly—there was a wall of one-sheet frames. Unlike the one-sheet frames along the hallways, this giant mosaic of images comprised 99 frames (I called to ask) showing one huge collage of images, all related to a single theme.

(As another point of information, the eye will join related portions of a single image, even when they are separated by the horizontal and vertical elements of a frame. In fact the eye will even join the sections of the image if they’re slightly separated. This is particularly useful information when you’re designing large format print banner stands. If your image needs to extend across multiple banners, it can still appear to the viewer to be one picture.)

So this giant, 99-frame mosaic extends up the wall at this new, upscale cinema, and each of the 99 frames contains a portion of the overall image.

Another thing to know about one-sheets is that the frames are spring loaded. The top, left, right, and bottom elements of the frame operate independently. You lift one (like a spring-loaded clip on a clipboard), slip the poster and acetate cover sheet under the clip, and then close it. You’re done. It takes me about three minutes to install a one-sheet without smashing my fingers or tilting the poster.

When you multiply three minutes by 99 images, it will take approximately 297 minutes or almost five hours to complete this installation. This does not include the time needed to move the motorized lift, which is a bit like a forklift with a little basket for you to stand in as you are lifted up and down. I’ve also heard it referred to as a “cherry picker.” It’s similar to the equipment used by electric companies to work on overhead power lines.

When I spoke with the attendant at the theater I was told the installation happened at night after closing time and was only a periodic occurrence.

So this is a lot of work and equipment allocated to installing posters.

An Alternative to Large Format Print Posters

Perhaps I’m speaking out of turn here, but this seems to be an ideal venue for digital signage. Just think about the five hours of installation time and the cherry picker that would no longer be needed. Images or portions of images could be created on the 99 screens and coordinated with relevant hardware and software, minimizing the labor and machinery cost (or transferring the cost from a mechanical to a digital process). Granted, whether or not this would be cost effective would depend on the price of the electronics and the frequency with which the images need to be changed.

As an added benefit, the digital images would not need to be static. They could include movement and sound, perhaps even an interactive element as well.

How This Relates to You (and to Printing)

We now live in a multi-channel universe. Prudent design involves knowing which technology to use for which applications. For instance, the one sheets populating the hallways of the theater could be either digitally imaged or printed on paper, as they are now, while the giant poster wall might be a better candidate for digital signage.

In your own work, this means considering how to best present the imagery, type, and overall messaging for an ad campaign. What portions of the job lend themselves to digital large format printing? What portions are better suited to offset printing? What components fit better on digital signage boards?

And—even more importantly—how can you make a seamless transition from one medium to another in such a way that the message and imagery are recognizable as promoting the same brand. Digital, large format, offset—these are just tools. The real challenge is how to use them together to inform and persuade your audience.

Large Format Printing: A Scary Ouija Board Poster

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

I was out at a movie theater installing a standee this week, a large flat-card (an approximately 5-feet by 8-feet image on an easel structure) promoting an upcoming film. On my way out of the theater, I noticed a table with stacks of small posters, presumably for moviegoers to take home. I thought this was a novel idea. I found one that appealed to me and brought a part of the “moviegoing experience” back to my home as well.

The Design of the Poster

The take-home poster is approximately 30” wide by 5” tall. It’s very wide and squat, just like a huge bumper sticker. The front of the poster is primarily black: a dense, matte black that seems to soak up all surrounding light. Since the focus of the poster is the new movie Ouija, the dense black, which is highlighted with a gold plenum (the plastic, heart-shaped Ouija board reader with the clear round window for reading the letters on the board) and roughened, light green type for the title, seem to echo the sinister tone of the movie.

Furthermore, the typeface, color scheme, and imagery of the poster all bring back vivid memories of the spooky fortune-telling item from the 1960s.

The Technology Reflected in the Poster

When I look at the poster under a loupe, this is what I see:

  1. The back of the poster is a thick piece of acetate, very similar to the large format backlit signage I’ve seen in department stores. A layer of white ink noticeable around the edges of the black coating (visible through the loupe) suggests that the designer had added a ground of white to the clear or frosted acetate, both to intensify the black, gold, and green tones printed on the surface of the acetate and perhaps to diffuse the light if the poster were to be backlit.
  2. Close observation reveals the minuscule scatter dot pattern of either stochastic screening or inkjet printing. Given the plastic substrate, I would presume it is an inkjet product. That said, I asked myself how such a printed product could be cost-effectively produced. After all, for such a long run, I would assume that custom screen printing would be more efficient than inkjet. Then I had a thought. If this small poster were laid out (step and repeat) in huge numbers on a large sheet of acetate and then trimmed down to the approximately 30” x 5” dimensions, the operation would then presumably be quite efficient.
  3. As much as I tried to peel off the poster from the backing, I could not do so. From this I would surmise that the product is all of one piece. Instead of a paper or vinyl poster attached with adhesive to an acetate carrier sheet, the inkjet printed acetate sheet is the poster. Granted, this would make it hard for a moviegoer to mount the poster. It really would need to be inserted into some kind of light box (such as the backlit poster cases at movie theaters) to be optimally displayed.

The Poster as a Marketing Item

What makes this interesting to me is the comprehensive nature of the marketing campaign. I went online and found a video promotion for the Ouija film. Using modern make-up techniques, the promotional company had created a prosthetic device for the psychic reader. After the plenum moves around the board on its own (which is scary enough), landing on the letters “R,” “U,” and “N,” the psychic reader’s eyes actually bug out, and she says “Run!” Of course, the client sitting for the reading (presumably just a passer-by) screams for dear life. It’s scary and effective, and the poster I picked up at the movie theater allows me to bring home some of the magic (or terror). Tying the (multi-generational) Ouija board icon to the colors and typefaces of the poster, and then reinforcing the memories from the 1960s with the pressing question of whether or not “it’s just a game,” makes for a memorable experience. It creates “buzz” for the upcoming film using multiple touch points via multiple media (film, Internet, and poster).

What You Can Learn From This

Here are some thoughts for your own promotional design work:

  1. If possible, start with images or concepts that are well known, preferably over several decades. The Ouija board touches people brought up in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and later. It actually goes back much further as well, touching on Spiritualist practices of automatic writing. In short, the more well known the icon, the better. Dream images and concepts with roots in the unconscious, such as the ability to predict the future, can be exceptionally powerful.
  2. Use colors and typefaces that reinforce the tone of the design piece: particularly its underlying theme or concept. Use surface texture (dull or gloss coatings) to reinforce the theme as well.
  3. If at all possible, provide something the reader or viewer can take home with them, something physical. Every time I see this poster, I’ll get a chill. Screen printed cups, hats, calendars, and pens depend on this marketing concept, but be creative in your work. A print book or a large format print poster your clients can take home may be even more memorable.

Poster Printing: Is It a Litho or a Screen Print?

Monday, June 16th, 2014

My fiancee and I both fell in love with a poster we found at a thrift store yesterday. The poster depicts a caricature of a horse in lion tamer’s garb with a whip, holding a top hat in one hoof. He looks ornery. The background sans serif type reads “CYRK.”

I did some research into the artist starting with his signature, “Swierzy,” and learned that Waldemar Swierzy had been a Polish artist who had died just a few short months ago (November 2013).

In Wikipedia I read that “in 1992 the government of Poland [had] issued a postage stamp to honor one of his Cyrk posters, ‘Clown with derby’ in 1992” and that “Swierzy is one of the Polish School of Posters’ most prolific artists, having created over 2500 posters.”

What Is It?

This was all very exciting, to have acquired a Polish circus poster for $20.00, but my fiancee asked me how it had been printed, and I could not immediately answer without a close inspection and some thought and research.

She loved it. I loved it. But what my fiancee was really asking about the poster was whether it had value as a work of art.

First of all, the poster came shrink-wrapped to a sheet of cardboard. I was concerned at first and thought it was probably a reproduction. After all, when posters are dry mounted to Fome-Cor or other, similar substrates, their value drops. I believe this is due to their not being removable, to the potential for damage during the mounting process, and to the likelihood that non-archival materials had been used in the dry mounting process (leading to a reduced lifespan for the print).

Fortunately, I was proven wrong. As soon as we had removed the shrink-wrapping, the poster fell off the board backing and dropped to the floor. It was just an unmounted sheet of art paper. This was encouraging.

Four Color Custom Printing or Custom Screen Printing with Match Inks?

Next, I looked at the colors in the large format print with a loupe. Specifically, I was looking for the four process colors and the rosette pattern of offset commercial printing (caused by the angles at which the process color screens are set to avoid moire patterns).

The rosette pattern would show that the poster was a “reproduction” rather than a “print.” Both traditional lithography and custom screen printing yield multiple copies of an artist’s work, but these are within a limited run, the artist participates directly in their creation, and they have artistic and monetary value.

In contrast, an offset lithographic copy of a work of art is created with cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink. It may have an aesthetic appeal, but the reproduction has far lesser monetary and artistic value because the offset lithograph is made from a photograph of the artist’s work.

Under the loupe I saw full, rich, solid colors, and I also saw a few areas with a screen pattern of dots. I did not see any of the process colors, and the dot pattern I did see was only of one color. From past reading, I knew that the pressure of the custom screen printing process yielded somewhat irregular halftone dots, and when comparing the halftone dots in the poster with the smaller, more regular, and more precise dots of offset lithographic work, I did see a difference. Not only were there no rosettes (and no overlapping screens of color at all), but the few areas of halftone dots were a bit irregular and not completely filled in. Some dots bled into one another as well.

From my print brokering work with a large format screen printer, I knew that even though the majority of custom screen printing work was done with flat colors, nevertheless, a skilled screen printer could produce halftones (and could even print process color halftone screens).

I also knew that process colors were transparent, and in looking closely at the inks used in the poster I could see only thick films of opaque ink colors. Looking at the back of the poster I could see that the ink was so thick that it had bled through onto the back of the poster in several places. The edges of the print were also pinkish red, just like the background behind the horse caricature, so it seemed that the pressure of the squeegie drawing the ink through the mesh screen of the custom screen printing press had forced the viscous ink through the porous press sheet.

Was It Signed?

The artist’s signature was present, but unfortunately it was not original. I could see halftone dots slightly smeared behind a solid black printed image of the signature. Granted, this would make the poster less valuable than a print from a limited edition that was hand-signed by the artist and then numbered (3/25, for instance, indicating the third “pull” from an edition of 25, made before the screens had been destroyed in order to limit the press run and increase the value of the individual posters).

But none of this was present. However, a hand-written number was on the back of the poster, drawn in light red pencil, perhaps a notation by the gallery that had shrink-wrapped the piece.

The Verdict

There are three levels of value you might look for in such a print. The lowest is an offset lithographic reproduction of a painting or another print. Clearly, this was not such a reproduction.

The next level would be a screen print (an indeterminate press pull from a print run of indeterminate length), unsigned but clearly the work of a noted artist (and Waldemar Swierzy had just died, making his work more valuable—since there would be no more prints or posters forthcoming).

Third and best would have been a hand-signed, original screen-printed poster with a notation of the numbered print and the length of the print run, which this was not.

What is the poster worth? Neither more nor less than a willing buyer would offer. More than anything, it’s just exciting to acquire a real piece of art for $20.00. It comes with a history and with all the fanciful images an ornery lion-tamer horse can evoke.

Poster Printing: A Venue for Art, Marketing, and Politics

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Posters have a long history as works of art, marketing venues, and vehicles for protest. What they all share–in the best of cases–is immediate impact. They’re powerful. They present a single image and a few words (like a small billboard) that grab you.

They also share another quality: mass production. Because of this, modern posters can really be traced back to the perfection of color offset lithography in 1870.

Posters Throughout History

Here are some notable historical posters that make the cross-over between art and marketing:

  1. The Moulin Rouge posters produced by the artist Henri Tolouse-Lautrec in 1891.
  2. The Alfonze Mucha posters promoting everything from dance to cigarette rolling papers in the late 1800s and early 1900s (and notable for their art deco style).
  3. The psychedelic posters of the 1960s, such as the works of Peter Max or the posters promoting the Grateful Dead.

Posters have also been used to convey political messages:

  1. Consider the famous stylized poster of Che Guevera, the Marxist revolutionary.
  2. Or the Rosie the Riveter or “Loose Lips Sink Ships” posters of World War II.

In all of these cases, the aim of the poster has been to use a little text and an eye catching image to elicit a strong reaction from the viewer. Unlike large-format graphics, they are of a limited size, and they are usually hung on a wall. They range from movie posters to travel posters to reproductions of art works to commemorations of events (like concerts or political gatherings).

Custom Printing Specifications for Posters

Here are some specifications to consider when producing posters:

  1. Size: Poster printers will usually suggest sizes ranging from about 11” x 17” to 24” x 36”. The goal is to capture the viewer’s field of vision when he or she is standing at a comfortable distance from the poster on the wall. Along with this, it is prudent to consider the maximum size press sheet your commercial printing vendor can run and how many copies of a poster he can get on a single press sheet.
  2. Paper Stock: A good rule of thumb is to start with 100# text (gloss or matte, although you can also print on an uncoated sheet). Some posters are much heavier, with weights between 100# and 130# cover. Posters hung on exterior walls (consider some of the political posters wallpapering Europe) will be exposed to sunlight and rain. For them to last even a short while, it is prudent to laminate, UV coat, or aqueous coat them. Posters hung indoors may still be exposed to sunlight (through windows) and fingerprints, so in this case lamination is still not a bad idea. (However, if you’re producing a poster for use in a school, for instance, and teachers will need to write on any part of it, you will need to knock out–i.e., not print–the varnish, UV coating, or lamination in that area.)
  3. Folding: Consider whether you will want the posters delivered flat, folded (image in or image out), or rolled and inserted in cardboard tubes.
  4. Press Run: For 100 or fewer posters, you will probably want to digitally print your poster press run. (Commercial printers have different digital and offset equipment, so this cutoff point may vary from 100 to 250 copies.) Above this number, you will probably move to offset printing to be more cost-effective. Let your commercial printing supplier suggest the optimal printing technology, but ask to see printed samples before you proceed. In addition, size may be an issue for digital printing. Some digital presses only accept smaller sized press sheets (although this has been changing recently, and digital presses have been made that can print larger press sheets).
  5. Color: Traditionally, posters have been produced in 4-color process inks, although you may want to add a touch plate (a separate ink) to highlight the color in certain areas of the poster. For instance, purples, greens, blues, reds, and oranges can benefit from additional PMS touch plates to increase the color gamut of the four process colors. You may also want to add a metallic color, or even white.
  6. Overall Design: Keep it simple. The best posters are dramatic because they are simple. They focus on only one concept, and they use a single, powerful image and just a few words to make their point.

Large Format Printing: Your Options for Political Signage

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

With the presidential election less than two months away, it’s definitely the season for political signage. And surprisingly enough, there are multiple options to consider if you need to produce this printed product for a client.

Methods for Custom Printing Your Political Signs

While it is certainly possible to use offset custom printing technology to produce paper signage on thick cover stock, by far the more common methods are screen printing and digital inkjet printing.

If you will be printing a one-color or two-color job, you might want to approach a screen printing company. Screen printing uses metal or synthetic screens through which a thick ink is forced with a squeegie. Open areas on the screen allow the ink to pass through onto the printing substrate, while areas blocked out on the screen keep ink from passing through the screen onto the paper.

Set-up charges are rather expensive for screen printing, so the longer the press run the better. For instance, one vendor charges over $8.00 per sign if the press run is 10 copies but only $2.00 per sign if the press run is 100 copies. Long runs drive down the unit cost significantly.

Some screen printing companies do not count the background color (white or yellow, for instance) but only charge for each additional color for type and graphics printed on the sign. One thing to remember is that screen printers often give you a list of standard colors (one particular blue or red, for instance), but if you want to match a particular PMS color, they will charge you extra for the PMS match.

An alternate technology used for much shorter press runs (such as one copy or five copies) is digital inkjet printing, using four process colors to simulate the full color spectrum. Digital inkjet is also a good option for signage incorporating photographs into the design. And with the increasing use of UV ink technology, it is possible to produce political signage that will withstand exposure to both sunlight and rain.

(As a side note, for long runs of signage including 4-color imagery, screen printing can actually be an option as well, since it is possible to use finer halftone screens than in the past.)

The Substrate onto which You Will Print Your Political Signs

Large format printing companies offer a wide variety of substrates for your signs. Cardboard “fold-over” signs are one option. The front and back of the sign are screen printed onto one side of the press sheet, and the sign is then folded in half. A wire structure underneath the cardboard provides the frame that is stuck into the ground.

Polybag plastic sleeve signs are another option. The sign is printed on the front and back of (essentially) a bag with a black interior coating, which creates an opaque barrier between the two sides of the sign. The “bag” fits over a wire support structure, which you can stick into the ground.

A third option is Coroplast, a corrugated plastic similar in structure to the corrugated cardboard in paper cartons. Coroplast has a flat front and back attached to a center made of plastic fluting. Coroplast is both lightweight and durable. You can screen print or inkjet print right on the flat sign material. Wire supports can then be inserted into the fluting of the Coroplast, and the stakes can be inserted into the ground.

For more durable political signage, some custom printing suppliers use .040 aluminum sheets. These can be screen printed or digitally printed depending on the number of colors required and the press run of the sign. The printer can then laminate the sign, which will give it a high gloss appearance, both protecting the ink and increasing the sign’s visual impact.

Unlike political signage produced on Coroplast or cardboard, aluminum signage needs a more substantial mounting structure than just thin wire. Sandwich-board stands (like a tent) are one option. Another option is an inverted “L” bar from which the sign can be suspended (with the base pole inserted into the ground). Other structures for hanging aluminum political signage involve frames made of metal or plastic into which the rectangular signs can be slipped.

Banners: An Alternative to Political Signs

Political signs need not always be printed on rigid material such as thick paper, Coroplast, or aluminum. You may also want to consider inkjet printing your political signage onto vinyl banner material. Large format printing vendors can heat weld the seams of such banners (for added strength) and insert grommets (holes reinforced with metal) through which you can add ropes for handing the banner.

How to Specify Political Signage to Your Printer

Here’s a recap of specifications to consider when you contact your commercial printing supplier:

  1. Printing technology
  2. Size of sign
  3. Number of copies
  4. Number of colors
  5. Whether to print on the front only, or on both the front and back of the sign
  6. Substrate (Coroplast, cardboard, or aluminum)

Large Format Printing: Standee Lightbox Case Study

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

As a commercial printing broker and designer, I think that certain avenues for graphic design are still expanding, in spite of the drop off in others. I’ve read a lot over the last few years about the growth in label production (particularly personalized labels), flexible packaging, and large format printing.

With the advent of inkjet large format printing as well as the refinement of screen printing to hold finer halftone dots, I think that large format printing is in a growth phase, which will continue at least until digital signage and menu boards become more ubiquitous.

New Standee: A Lightbox for the Film DREDD

That said, I was installing a new standee last week for DREDD, an upcoming science fiction action film. It was a lightbox: a large format acetate sheet printed with a graphic design and lit from behind with fluorescent bulbs. The whole electric and graphic structure was encased in black cardboard (printed through flexography, except for the offset printed title and film credits).

The graphic film panel came rolled up, and covered on the printed side with a thin protective sheet of plastic film. Unlike most prior lightboxes I had installed, this one was not very heavy. Other lightboxes had showcased thick lenticular graphic panels (printed to simulate movement when the viewer moved to one side or the other in front of the lightbox). To protect these fragile lenticular prints, they were always attached to a protective sheet of plywood prior to shipping, which was discarded prior to installation and which made the entire standee box weigh approximately 50 to 80 pounds.

In contrast, this graphic panel was just an image on clear acetate lit from behind, far lighter and clearly more economical to ship to thousands of movie theaters than the lenticular posters.

What I Saw When I looked Closely at the Acetate Graphic Panel

The graphic was “back printed” on the dull side of the acetate sheet. That is, it was printed “wrong reading,” or backwards so as to be “right reading” when viewed through the glossy side of the acetate (the front of the graphic panel).

There also seemed to be a layer of white ink to diffuse the light (although this could have just been the effect created by printing on the dull side of the film). I suppose that along with the even lighting of the five fluorescent bulbs behind the graphic panel, the goal of the white diffusion coating was to eliminate any “hot spots” that would draw undue attention to the lights themselves.

I looked closely at the perimeter of the acetate lightbox panel. The edges that were to be covered by the flexo-printed cardboard (outside the image area on the clear acetate) included color bars, much as you might see on a press sheet produced by an offset custom printing provider. I could see cyan, magenta, yellow, and black patches as well as overprints of various colors. The inkset had been augmented with green and orange ink, as well as white ink for the diffusing background layer.

I carry a magnifying glass with me when I install standees and other signage in case I want to look at the manufacturing work in fine detail. I saw a dot pattern in the color patches. It did not present as rosettes (indicative of offset printing) or as the fine stochastic spray of inkjet printers, so I thought the DREDD graphic panel might have been screen printed. I also saw commercial printing registration marks (overlapping cross-hair targets to show the alignment of the colored screens during printing).

What I wanted to know was how the job had been printed.

I Called a Signage Shop

After closely observing the DREDD graphic panel, I thought I had a good idea of the manufacturing process used, but I wanted to confirm my hunch. Therefore, I called a local large format printing vendor I work with. This shop focuses on screen printing, inkjet large format printing, and custom printing images on flat plastic and then molding the plastic into three-dimensional forms using heat and pressure. So I consider this vendor an expert.

This is what the printer said. Due to the lack of small, random spray dots (indicative of inkjet digital printing) and the presence instead of a visible, regular dot pattern, the signage vendor thought the DREDD graphic had been produced via screen printing. This would make sense, given the large distribution. (Probably thousands or tens of thousands of copies of the DREDD lightboxes had been printed for delivery to theaters across the country and beyond.)

The signage vendor noted that screen printing would account for the color bars, extended inkset, and white background diffusion ink (both inkjet and screen printing can use extra PMS colors to increase the color gamut of large format printing projects).

Here’s an Option for a Short Press Run

If the job had been a backlit poster with a short press run (say one copy to several hundred copies, but not 1,000 copies or more), the preferred printing technology would have been inkjet large format printing. The “give away” in looking at such a digital print under a magnifying glass or loupe would have been the minuscule, irregularly spaced dots (all of equal size). This pattern indicates inkjet printing.

What All This Means to You

I would encourage you to always be expanding your knowledge of printing, particularly of those types of printing that are growing. The more you know, the more valuable you will be as a professional, the better and more cost-effective design and production decisions you will make, the more options you will have for various projects, and the more enjoyable your work will most probably be.

Large Format Printing: Finishing Techniques

Monday, August 13th, 2012

Large format printing is big now, not just in terms of size but also in terms of popularity. Just look at the sides of buildings, buses, and cars, decked with large format print work. Ink jet printing has revolutionized advertising in the last decade. Therefore, it behooves us to understand some of the options for finishing, within the arena of large format printing, as well as understanding how the ink is sprayed onto the paper or plastic substrate.

Mounting Large Format Prints

In many cases, the product that comes off the inkjet press is relatively thin paper or plastic. (This is true for roll-fed inkjet presses at least. Flatbed presses can print directly on much thicker substrates.) Therefore, in many cases you will want to mount the print on a rigid base, such as Gator Board, Fome-Cor, Coroplast, Sintra, or even metal.

Gator Board and Fome-Cor are similar in that they both have a lightweight foam center covered on either side by paper or plastic. This makes them very light (as well as rigid), but they can be easily dented or crushed (Fome-Cor more so than Gator Board). Gator Board is also more durable than Fome-Cor since the front and back sheets of Gator Board are made of paper, plastic, and adhesives, while the front and back sheets of Fome-Cor are paper.

Sintra is a solid PVC plastic board. It is very strong. However, it is also a little heavy for its size.

In contrast, Coroplast is very light. Imagine a plastic version of corrugated cardboard, with fluting inside covered with a top and bottom sheet of thin plastic (strong, light, and easy to cut). You may have seen this material used for political signs or real estate signs on people’s front lawns, or signage on the back of buses.

You can mount your large format printing posters directly on these materials, using anything from spray adhesive to dry mounting film (using a machine that applies heat and pressure to activate an adhesive tissue sheet). Or, if you have a flatbed press, you can print the large format graphic directly on the rigid board. (Or you can even screen print the graphic directly on the rigid board.) The benefit of the above-mentioned mounting materials is that the art stays flat and does not curl.

Laminating and Coating Large Format Prints

Another way to present (and preserve) your large format print is to cover it with a film of clear plastic. This is known as lamination. Lamination protects the print from the elements (sun, moisture, dirt), gives it a bit of a sheen, makes the colors more vivid in some cases, and, along with the mounting board, keeps the large format print flat.

As an alternative, you can add an aqueous coating (water based) or UV coating (cured, or hardened, by exposure to ultraviolet light) over the print in much the same way as you would cover the large format print with a laminate. This will also protect the underlying large format piece, but unlike a laminate you can choose to cover either the entire print (flood coating) or only certain portions of the print (spot coating).

Cutting Large Format Prints

Sometimes you will want your final printed piece to not be square or rectangular. In these cases, you will need to cut the mounted piece into an irregular shape. For this task, your options include metal dies, lasers, routers, and knife-based plotters.

Like cookie cutters, the sharp edges of a custom fabricated die will cut away anything that’s not a part of your design (for example, they will cut out the silhouette of a stand-up figure, if that’s the end-use of your large format piece). Using a letterpress, cylinder press, or other equipment, the commercial printing supplier will press the custom-made metal die into the paper of the large format print to cut away the excess printing stock.

Lasers and plotter-based knives will also cut irregular shapes, but unlike metal dies, lasers and knife-based plotters use digital information stored in a computer file to position the cutting elements. Therefore, they are much faster than physical dies. In addition, you do not have the added expense of creating the metal die. Also, you can produce much more intricate die cutting work with a plotter-based knife or a laser than with a metal die, and, by using variable data, you can even alter the die cutting for every piece that comes off the inkjet press (which you can’t do with a traditional metal die).

Routing is more complex than laser, knife, or traditional die cutting. One would use routing equipment for more intricate cuts or grooves, perhaps to fabricate individual elements of a larger graphic structure, or signage with beveled letterforms cut out of wood.

Large Format Printing: Faux Beer Cans on a Standee

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

My fiancee and I installed a standee this week for the movie That’s My Boy. It came with three or four beer cans.

A few years ago, while installing another standee, I thought I had seen everything when I opened the heavy standee box only to see a bag marked “bricks.” (They had been ballast for a Lazy-Susan type of rotating display stand.) But the beer cans really took the cake.

Interestingly enough, assembly instructions for the beer cans appeared in the four-page instruction manual. The text showed exactly how to twist them so they would look like the remains of a fraternity party. To keep them in place, each can had two strips of double-sided tape. The instructional print book showed exactly where to place them on the “lawn” portion of the standee.

How Is This Relevant to Custom Printing?

You might ask how this relates to commercial printing. I see two very direct connections.

First, if you looked closely, you could see that the faux beer cans were not metal. They were cardboard canisters with applique’s of a nondescript beer. Someone had printed and assembled cylinders, each with a top and bottom image and another image wrapped around and glued to the sides. The custom printing vendors had done a lot of work.

Why cardboard and not metal? I haven’t a clue, but here are some thoughts:

  1. Liability: If broken or torn apart, an aluminum beer can could have a jagged edge that might cause an accident. The movie studios, standee designers, and movie theaters increasingly attempt to avoid accidents to those who interact with standees, particularly as more physical materials are used in standees and as standees become more interactive.
  2. Sensitivity in Marketing: Perhaps the designer of this large format printing piece wanted to avoid promoting a particular beer (again for liability issues regarding product placement). Perhaps the studio wanted to avoid explicitly promoting beer to minors who might see the standee (after all, a cardboard beer can with a nondescript label glued to its surface can give the impression of a beer can without identifying a particular beer or any beer at all).
  3. Cost: Creating a fake beer can out of cardboard allowed the designers at the movie studio to avoid the need to have aluminum beer cans mocked up. Perhaps the cost to create simulated aluminum cans exceeded the (considerable, I would assume) cost to mock up a cardboard tube, print the beer can label in four colors on 80# or 100# enamel printing paper, and then, using hot-melt glue, affix the appliques onto the sides, top, and bottom of three cans per standee (multiplied by the majority of movie theaters in the country, presumably).

What About Your Large Format Printing Work?

What can we learn from this? First, consider multiple custom printing options and a variety of materials for your large format printing work. Cost is one factor. The number of copies you will need to produce as well as the accessibility of the particular materials are two more considerations. Talk with your commercial printing suppliers early. In fact, the more outlandish the project, the earlier you should start making physical mock-ups of the large format printing piece, and the sooner you should involve the printing suppliers.

Also Consider Shipping Logistics

When you create something as easily crushed as three beer cans, you need to consider shipping logistics. The standee company inserted all three cans in an additional carton within the main carton that contained the standee. Not to have done so might have compromised a lot of work and wasted a lot of money. So don’t just design a large format printing piece. Also think about how you will get it to it’s destination for assembly.

The Immersive Experience

As an aside, I want you to know how real these looked. The manager of the movie theater came into the room we were using to assemble the standee, and looked disgusted when he pointed at the beer cans and asked, “What are those?” Apparently he had thought we were drinking on the job.

Large format printing, as reflected in movie standees, is moving away from cardboard-only assemblages toward real-world objects. Over the last month I have assembled one standee with a metal street sign pole affixed to a base covered in simulated grass. I have also assembled two photo opportunity standees with fabric-covered chairs.

Anything that looks real captures the interest of the movie-goers and draws them into the fictional world of the movie (and the movie standee). I think it’s powerful marketing. I also think it is fascinating that this is happening at the same time as computer technology is embracing both virtual reality and augmented reality.

There is room for custom printing, it seems. However, to make offset and digital printing viable alternatives to entirely electronic media, it helps to accentuate the tactile qualities of print. After all, you cant touch anything on a computer screen.

Large Format Printing: Multiple Standees and Marketing Theory

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

Installing a large standee for The Dictator today, I had some thoughts about the importance of placement of standees and other point of purchase displays. I thought these might be of use to you in your large format printing work.

Placement of Standee (Immediacy)

The goal of large format signage is for it to be immediately seen. As the long escalator disembarks on the main floor of this particular movie theater, you are immediately greeted by a moving Madagascar standee. The canon barrel goes up and down, raising and lowering the animal characters stuffed in the barrel. Motion, wild color, and the faces of the creatures grab your interest.

Placement is key. You see this moving, large format printing structure before anything else, as the escalator reaches the main floor.

Placement of Standee (Competing Images)

When we completed The Dictator structure, we were asked by theater management to place the standee in an open spot next to the Dark Shadows standee. By itself, Dark Shadows is huge. It is also exciting, since it combines printed graphic panels with a velvet chair in which the movie patron can sit for a photo opportunity, surrounded by the ghastly inhabitants of Dark Shadows.

That said, The Dictator standee is larger, simpler, lighter in color, and first in a series of standees going down the hall in the movie theater. It includes a large, overstuffed chair in front of a large circular poster of the main character. It is flanked by two flags hanging on wooden poles. Under the chair is a circular, inkjet printed floor covering—a simulation of a round rug.

The Dictator standee dwarfs the Dark Shadows standee. I think this is true for two reasons:

  1. In general, what you see first makes the strongest impression. The Dictator is first in line and larger than the other standees.
  2. Whatever is harder to see makes a lesser impression. Movie theaters are dark, and the fact that The Dictator is positioned under better light, and is itself lighter and simpler in general, makes it more of an eye catcher than Dark Shadows, even though I personally think the Dark Shadows standee is far more intriguing up close.

Unique Materials Engage the Viewer

In a prior blog positing, I had mentioned that I liked the way Dark Shadows involved the viewer. The Dictator does the same thing. Both are photo opportunities. I think the unique construction materials accentuate the immersive quality of the standees. Both Dark Shadows and The Dictator include printed materials (flexographic panels of solid color as well as offset printed images), but they also include physical objects (chairs, flagpoles, and, in the case of The Dictator, a custom printed floor covering resembling a large, round rug.

Both standees create an environment for the viewer to step into. You can participate with the standee. In the case of The Dictator, you can run your hand across the embroidered chair or reach up to touch the inkjet custom printing work of the soft fabric flags on wooden poles. Images of flags, offset printed and diecut, just don’t compare to the emotional engagement of real flags, a real chair, and a real rug.

Safety of Standee

You wouldn’t initially think about it, but standees that invite participation put both the participant and the theater at risk. You can hurt yourself if you’re not careful. So in both the design and production of these photo booth standees, as well as their placement, safety has to be a consideration.

For instance, the Dark Shadows standee includes a chair made of layers of corrugated board covered with padded velvet cushions and graphic panels. It is quite sturdy. It is also bolted to a floor panel so it can’t move (making it safe for enthusiastic teenagers).

Overall Thoughts for Your Own Large Format Printing Work

Here are some concepts you might take away from this experience:

  1. Think big. All large format printing displays fit within an environment and compete with other point of purchase signage. Larger, brighter, simpler, more colorful—all of these qualities will get your image noticed. And for marketing, it’s all about getting noticed.
  2. Think physical reality. If your point of purchase signage has protruding elements, or is positioned in the way of foot traffic, or is dangerous in any other way, a marketing moment can turn into a legal one or even a tragedy. Someone can get hurt.
  3. Think surroundings. Your image will compete with other images. Determine the location early in the process, and even if there are no competing marketing images to consider, do consider the lighting, the surrounding wall color—everything else in the environment.
  4. Think interactive. Your large format printing display will grab the viewer if it invites him or her into its own fanciful world. Using real objects (like the chairs or the fabric flags on wooden poles) makes the installation more real and hence more immersive.

Large Format Printing: An Immersive POP Display

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

I recently wrote about a standee installation involving a motorized cannon with moving animals sticking out of the cannon barrel. Motion added a fourth dimension—time–to an otherwise three-dimensional point of purchase display.

The next standee I installed with my fiancee, while not a moving structure, added yet another dimension to the marketing art of point of purchase large format printing—viewer immersion.

A Description of the Dark Shadows Standee

The Dark Shadows movie standee (which you can see at various movie theaters) comprises a theater simulation, with diecut characters positioned from the front to the back of the structure. They are of different dimensions, from large (in front) to small (in the back), giving a sense of depth (foreground and background) within the three dimensional environment. Most of the diecut figures are free-standing, supported by rolled corrugated board posts (like scarecrows on wooden sticks).

Slightly in front of all the other characters stands a diecut Johnny Depp image on a cardboard post positioned behind a chair.

Here’s the genius behind this large format printing display: It’s a photo booth.

Passersby sit in the chair (composed of criss-crossing layers of corrugated board within a box, to create a seat with an added back and over-stuffed arm rests—a veritable throne covered in velvet cloth). Family and friends can then take photos of the person sitting in the chair. From the vantage point of the camera, however, the person in the chair is surrounded by the ghoulish inhabitants of the Dark Shadows standee.

As with photos of individuals taken beside cardboard cutouts of President Obama (which often seem to be quite real), all the Dark Shadows characters seem to be as real as the person sitting in the chair.

Why the Standee is So Effective

From a marketing perspective, this standee works because the participant can step into the fictional world of the movie. It’s like Alice stepping through the looking glass into Wonderland. From the point of view of the digital camera, it’s total immersion, so the point of purchase display not only involves the participant in the present moment, but it also allows for a photographic record one can revisit in the future.

Bridging the Gap Between Old Media and New Media

In addition, the standee actually links the physical media and immersive experience to the newer digital media. That is, the large format printing display employs cross-channel marketing technology.

Specifically (and I’m not yet sure about the details), one can send photos taken with this point of purchase display to one or more websites (including Facebook, of course) to participate in a marketing initiative related to the movie.

Good marketing involves repeated messages and, with integrated marketing, it involves coordinated exposures through different media channels. This point of purchase display engages the participants (the chair is actually quite comfortable) and brings them into another world.

The Physical Dimensions as They Relate to Custom Printing

Here’s how it’s made:

  1. The entire back of the structure is made of corrugated board printed solely with black ink on the back and sides of the display. The way the ink came off onto my hands suggests flexographic printing: i.e., printing directly onto the box with ink and rubber press plates.
  2. The front of the amphitheater is made of multiple graphic panels stitched together with tabs and slots, or metal screws and nuts. The graphic panels are examples of offset custom printing on thick enamel press stock. It looks like the graphic panels are also coated with UV varnish, film laminate, or press varnish for gloss and protection.
  3. Within the top half of the structure is a small theater composed of a diecut front panel and a graphic printed back panel. Once attached to one side of the front panel of the small theater, the back panel is bowed, creating a small curved environment within an environment. Figures placed in this space are small. They appear to be far behind the foreground figures.
  4. The front-most figures are made of offset printed paper glued to corrugated board and then diecut. Their supports are flexographic printed flat sheets folded into four-sided posts.
  5. The chair has an intricate honey-comb structure of laminated pieces of corrugated board sitting within a box. This is to support the weight of the participant sitting in the chair. In an interactive point of purchase display, such physical requirements are important, both for the safety of the participant and the liability of the theater.
  6. Foam structures covered with red velvet comprise the arms, seat, and back of the chair, and printed graphic panels (offset custom printing on enamel paper glued to corrugated board) adorn the sides. Intricate, carved chair legs are composed of printed cover stock and corrugated board (assembled via tabs and slots into multi-faceted simulations of the wooden chair legs).

How You Can Incorporate Some of These Marketing Techniques Into Your Work

Here are some things you might learn from this point of purchase display and incorporate into your next large format printing item:

  1. Consider how you can involve the viewer in the experience. Can you make the display something he/she can touch and interact with?
  2. Can you incorporate other media, in addition to custom printing, into the experience (as the movie standee connects with a marketing website to which the participant can upload a photo of himself/herself)?
  3. Other than custom printing on cover stock; laminating it to chipboard or corrugated board; and using various diecuts, folds, and spot gluing techniques to create an environment; how can you bring other substances into the sculptural environment? Can you use wood, fabric, foam, or other materials to vary the tactile experience of the participants and make the environment more immersive and memorable?

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