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Archive for April, 2018

Custom Printing: Discovering the Art of the Obi Strip

Sunday, April 29th, 2018

Ever since I studied karate in my late teens, I’ve had a penchant for things Japanese. I like the exotic. So when a colleague mentioned that his commercial printing company had just produced a print book with an “obi strip,” I was intrigued. So I did some online research.

According to Wikipedia, an obi is:

“a strip of paper looped around a book or other product. This extends the term obi used for Japanese clothing; it is written with the same kanji. It is also referred to as a tasuki (襷) (another kimono accessory), or more narrowly as obigami (帯紙, belt paper).”

So there is a sense of formality and ritual in this device, somewhat like the tone of a tea ceremony. Apparently such bands are added outside the dust jacket of a book, or they may also be affixed outside a slipcase, if the print book is sold in a slipcase.

Interestingly enough, an obi strip may also be affixed vertically (according to photos on Google Images) around an LP album, a CD, DVD, or even a video game. The purpose is to:

“…provide the title of the product, track listings (if applicable), price, catalog number and information on related releases in Japanese. It is used by the consumer to determine what is included in the album or book, and the store can use the information for ordering.” (Wikipedia)

Of further interest to me was the fact that collectors of these products value the obi strip very highly, and an LP, for instance, with an intact obi strip will be worth considerably more than the same LP without an obi strip. (It sounds a bit like finding a Hot Wheels car in an antique store in its pristine packaging from the 1970s.)

The Belly Band

Before I researched the Japanese product my colleague had mentioned, I thought it sounded a lot like the belly bands I had participated in producing and wrapping around periodicals back when I was a commercial printing consultant for a local political magazine publisher.

Although Wikipedia lists “belly band” as another term for the obi strip, I saw some differences. First of all, the obi strip seems to be primarily a vertical band of paper, of narrow width, that wraps around the print book, CD, DVD, video game box, etc. This makes sense to me because the Japanese writing is presented vertically, so the vertical format seems more appropriate as a design choice.

In addition, while the obi strip does obscure part of the underlying product packaging design, it does this to present (and perhaps highlight as well) information about the underlying product. It has an informational purpose.

In contrast, the belly bands the publisher affixed to the periodicals he printed were exclusively horizontal. They were wrapped, like a belt, around the “host publication.” For an 8.5” x 11” magazine with a white gloss cover, the belly band was approximately 8.5” wide (the same width as the magazine) but only about 4” high. In addition, it had a marketing rather than an informational purpose. It was tied directly to an advertiser, who for the most part also had an advertisement in the periodical (often on the back cover). The belly band was printed on a coated or uncoated stock (usually on an 80# or 100# coated text sheet). If the belly band was produced on an uncoated sheet, it was printed on 7 pt. card stock or 67# vellum bristol (very much like either a cover wrap or a reply mail postcard stock).

So the belly band was intended to obscure the underlying host publication and at the same time draw attention to itself as an advertising medium, first and foremost because the reader had to take action. To read the magazine, you had to tear off the belly band. And this strip of paper, the belly band, which was similar to a “sleeve” (which wraps around the whole magazine covering the entire back and front covers) was prime advertising space because the reader always saw it first.

Interestingly enough, a belly band had some requirements. First of all, it couldn’t cover the ad on the back of the magazine unless that ad was for the same advertiser. That makes sense. What advertiser wants to pay the premium price for a back-cover ad only to have it obscured by another advertiser?

In addition, the belly band had to extend over itself in the back of the magazine and be permanently glued into a closed loop, keeping the periodical shut. All of the periodicals produced by this particular publisher went out to readers in either polybags or envelopes, but according to my research, if the address label had been affixed directly on the magazine, the belly band would need to have been actually attached to the host publication in the back, if the publisher wanted to mail the periodical without a polybag. (The idea is to avoid the magazine’s opening up during the Post Office’s machining or delivery process, so the belly band had to stay closed and also stay attached to the magazine.)

If you paid close attention to the magazines this publisher sent out during the course of a year, you would see that other cover wraps of various kinds were used from time to time. Some were the complete flat size of the front and back covers and were stitched outside the magazine. Others were fugitive glued to only the front cover of the magazine. For the most part, all of these were printed on a cheap, uncoated presss sheet (postcard stock), and the idea was for the reader to tear them off after reading the marketing or advertising message (either for the magazine itself–perhaps a renewal–or for an actual advertiser).

In contrast, the goal of the obi strip seems to be more about communicating information about the product itself than promoting either the publisher or another advertiser.

Totally unrelated, but interesting as well, the colleague who told me about the obi strip noted that affixing an obi strip is hand work (time consuming and a bit pricey), and yet his printer could include such special effects as glow-in-the-dark ink and multiple tactile coatings (all of which would set a print book apart from an online book).

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

If you’re designing a print book, think about whether you want to highlight information about the product by wrapping a strip of paper around the dust jacket. If you do so, you will immediately attract the attention of the reader. This may be useful if you have a quote about the book by an expert in the field or if the book has won a particular award.

If you’re producing a magazine, consider whether you want to promote an advertiser or the publication itself. However, in this case, since a magazine will mail out as either Standard or Periodical mail, you will need to conform in both the physical production details (size, placement, method of affixing the belly band) and the content/design (including specific printed wording about the periodical) to the requirements of the US Postal System. To be safe, I would provide the Post Office with a trimmed printer’s proof (not a laser proof, but an actual digital blueline or color proof from your print vendor) of the belly band attached to the magazine. It’s much better to have the Post Office request changes before the magazine goes to subscribers than to have the whole mail run stopped by the Post Office and ruled as being undeliverable.

To make this process easier (and more likely to succeed), before you produce the belly band or obi strip, ask the Post Office for both printed samples of successful belly bands and for their published list of printing requirements, which is usually either provided in printed book form or online. Then, when you’re ready, show a business reply mail specialist at your entry point business mail center the actual publication with an attached digital blueline of the obi strip or belly band. I’d also do this for a cover wrap, a sleeve, or any other wrap product that will be affixed to your magazine.

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.

Custom Printing: New Foiling Machine for Precise Imprints

Thursday, April 5th, 2018

A friend and colleague recently sent me a press release from Roland DGA describing new laser foiling equipment. The article, entitled “Roland DGA Launches the World’s First Laser Foil Decorator – the DGSHAPE LD-80,” published on 3/23/18 in various online publications, describes the machine, which uses metallic and holographic foils to imprint small items including pens, cell-phone covers, cosmetic cases, and even paper (such as corporate letterhead) with logos, text, and graphics.

Roland DGA notes that this foil press is ideal for short runs. In addition, due to its focused laser it can not only decorate products with much smaller legible type and graphic detail than prior technologies, but it can also avoid potentially melting plastics, a problem that occurred with prior hotter lasers. This makes it ideal for polycarbonates, ABS, and acrylic.

The press release, “Roland DGA Launches the World’s First Laser Foil Decorator – the DGSHAPE LD-80,” goes on to note that available materials include gold and silver (as well as other) metallic foils and holographic foils, which can be used to produce striking, detailed, and precise effects.

The software that runs the DGSHAPE LD-80 provides a broad range of fonts, adjustable font sizes, and the capability to incorporate vector art (such as logos) into the product decoration.

Since the machine has a small footprint and since it runs on standard electrical current, it can fit easily to an existing commercial printing workflow, and it can even be transported to an event site for immediate personalization of promotional items.

Furthermore, the press release describes the safety features of the DGSHAPE LD-80, which has been specifically designed in such a manner that no laser light is visible during operation, and laser foiling will stop immediately if the covering hood is opened.

Why This Is Important

This is not just another press release. It reflects certain trends within digital commercial printing and finishing:

  1. For a long time the focus was entirely on digital custom printing, starting with laser printers (electrophotography) and then inkjet presses. These improved significantly over the years, but there was little attention given to finishing operations (such as trimming and folding equipment). Now I’m beginning to see more of a focus on incorporating the digital printing workflow into the rest of the pressroom by addressing finishing capabilities (which also include hot foil technology, such as the DGSHAPE LD-80).
  2. Prior to laser foiling, custom-made steel dies were used to cut foil and apply it with heat (to book covers or other objects). The dies were expensive and time consuming to create. Laser cutting and laser foiling (in this case) sidestep the need to make these metal dies, thus saving money and time.
  3. In the past, commercial printing on pens and cosmetic cases would have been done with custom screen printing technology (and, perhaps, pad printing technology). Based on the consistency of the ink used, and my understanding of these processes, this would not have allowed for the kind of precision (the small type, for instance) made available by this new DGSHAPE LD-80. In addition, the kind of holographic and metallicized foils the press release describes would most probably not have been options for either custom screen printing or pad printing. Now, vendors can personalize items with small type and detailed line work.
  4. “Swag” sells a brand. Little trinkets like pens emblazoned with a company’s logo are the gift that keeps on giving. Every time a prospective customer picks up the pen on his or her desk to write a note, the name of the company is right there. It’s an advertisement that she or he sees again and again, reinforcing the brand message.
  5. Based on photos I’ve seen of the DGSHAPE, this foiling machine looks a bit like a 3D printer, and based on the kinds of items it decorates (also based on the photos), the technology seems to be akin to “direct to shape” custom printing. This is important because it allows users to place an image on an irregular surface (a cylinder, in the case of the pen and the cosmetics case in the website photos). In prior generations of digital technology (digital printing, for instance), printing on an irregular surface often entailed first printing a flat label and then affixing this to the irregular surface. Printing (or in this case foiling) directly on a curved surface is a step forward. It simplifies the decorating process, reducing the number of operations needed. In the case of the DGSHAPE LD-80, it does this while improving the detail in imaging.
  6. Based on my online research, the DGSHAPE Corporation is a spin-off of the Roland DG Corporation. Based on the logo, logo colors, and the name, there seems to be a direct connection to the Manroland AG company that manufactures sheetfed and web-fed offset presses, as well as newspaper presses. (In fact, I just found another website linking the two logos and company names.) Therefore, DGSHAPE has a company history of manufacturing durable printing and finishing equipment. It is not a newcomer to the commercial printing world. Therefore, I would expect an exceptional build quality in the equipment as well as an ability to integrate this foiling machinery into existing commercial printing workflows.
  7. At the moment, there seem to be two major kinds of foil decorating equipment in existence. I have read about the original “hot foil stamping” process done with steel dies. (The new DGSHAPE laser-based option that cuts and affixes foil to a substrate appears to be a digital version of this approach.) I have also read about “cold foiling” equipment that applies foil to precisely placed adhesive (and then tears away unused foiling film). But beyond hot and cold foiling technology, I have also read about equipment that builds up layers of synthetic foiling material. (Scodix decorating equipment would fit in this category.) Scodix seems more akin to 3D custom printing (also known as additive manufacturing), in which polymer materials are built up in layers. However, in contrast to Scodix, the DGSHAPE process seems more akin to actual hot foil stamping applied to book covers and similar products. It just seems to be laser-based (digital) and appropriate for a wider range of substrates (paper, plastic pens, plastic cosmetic items, etc.).

I think all of this bodes well for the future of digital finishing in general, and digital foiling in particular.

Custom Screen Printing: A Good Choice for Coating Offset Sheets

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018

A friend and colleague of mine is a sales rep for two different book printers. (This is a little like what I do, although I’m completely independent, working with multiple printers as a representative for my clients. In contrast, as a sales rep my colleague has the firm backing of two specific book printers. One printer focuses on color work. The other focuses on black-ink-only print books.)

Recently, my colleague sent me information on a custom screen printing press one of these two printers had bought and put into service to apply special coatings to print book covers.

I found this interesting, primarily because it is a hybrid process involving both offset printing and serigraphy (custom screen printing). So I did some research online in order to share this process with you.

The Equipment

My colleague’s book printer has a Sakurai Maestro MS-102AII screen press, a cylinder press which accepts a 29.5” x 41” press sheet and cures the screen printing inks and coatings using UV drying technology.

According to its online specification sheet, this screen printing press can print up to 4,000 images an hour on substrates ranging from .003 inches to .032 inches in thickness.

When you watch this press operate online in one of a number of YouTube videos, it’s a rather interesting machine. The overall build of the machine resembles a small offset press, with its automated feeder at one end of the press and its bin for completed press sheets at the other end. But in the middle, it has a stationary squeegie with a movable serigraphy screen underneath. When the screen moves, the squeegie forces ink (or cover coating) though the mesh screen and onto the cut sheets traveling through the press along the internal conveyor.

The Sakurai does not look like the multi-unit carousel screen printing presses used to print textiles. These have more of a wheel-like operation, with multiple screens accessible to the printing platform, all of them in a circle that can be rotated as needed to reposition new screens to print additional colors.

Rather the Sakurai looks and sounds more like an offset press.

If you continue to watch the videos, you will see the press sheets leaving the screen printing section of the press and traveling through the UV dryer. This drying process is based on the ability of UV inks to cure instantly when exposed to UV light. That the equipment specifications also reference LED ink-curing suggests that low-power, but equally effective, LED lights are used to cure the ink. This reduces the heat of the press and dryer (and also the resulting cost to cool everything).

How Would You Use Such a Press?

If this press lays down only one ink at a time, how would you use it?

According to its promotional material, the particular book printer my colleague represents uses this press for “specialty finishing applications over offset printed material, including: spot raised UV clear/high gloss, spot glow in the dark, and spot soft touch [coatings].”

What this means is that this book printer does not need to dedicate one unit of an offset press to a special coating process. Rather he can focus on printing the maximum number of inks in one pass on the offset press, and then after the press sheet has dried, he can send it through the Sakurai screen press to lay down a thick coating on the book cover (a coating that might not be appropriate for use on an offset press). Moreover, the printer’s promotional literature notes that the application can be either a “spot” application or a “flood” application. (It can cover the entire press sheet or only a portion of the sheet, allowing for a subtle, or not so subtle, contrast between one coating and another on the same book cover.)

The printer’s promotional information on the Sakurai Maestro MS-102AII screen press goes on to describe the substrates on which the equipment can print: “The Maestro is capable of printing on a wide range of substrates such as plastic film for electronic applications, membrane switches, display panels, touch screens, etc., as well as paper, board, and foil….”

This makes the Maestro useful not just for book printing and promotional printing but also for industrial or functional printing (printing on objects like computer screens or printing circuit boards for electronic devices).

But for a book printer it also opens up avenues for more dramatic cover coatings, such as the thick, almost rubbery soft-touch product, a tactile coating that will set a print book apart from any screen-based ebook.

The specification above also includes foils as substrates, allowing a printer to create metallic book covers. And with the UV formulations used in the process, the inks can easily cure and adhere to the non-porous surface of foil.

Now let’s revisit the size and speed of the press. When you consider the fact that a lot of specialty presses are rather small in format (closer to 13” x 19”), the 29.5” x 41” maximum sheet size accepted by the Sakurai Maestro MS-102AII is more than ample. So a book printer can impose multiple copies of the book cover onto a press form, which will allow more copies to be printed (or coated, as in the case of this book printer) more quickly. This is a real press that accepts standard press sheets.

Moreover, the 4,000-images-per-hour press speed noted in the printer’s promotional sheet is a respectable speed. (To put this in perspective, a Komori Lithrone offset press, which I just found at random on the Web, prints at a maximum speed of 13,000 sheets per hour, and this is a high-speed offset press, not a screen printing coating unit.)

Finally, it is useful to remember that not all coatings will adhere to all printed products. For instance, some digital presses using toner and fusing oil will have serious problems with various kinds of coatings not adhering to printed products. In the case of my colleague’s printer’s Sakurai Maestro MS-102AII, the coatings have been formulated to work well with offset printed book covers, providing both durability and visual enhancement to the printed product.

One Final Suggestion

My colleague’s promotional literature from the printers he represents doesn’t tell you this, but not every book press has this kind of coating equipment on the pressroom floor. If you are producing this kind of job, you will get better pricing and faster turn-around if your printer does not need to subcontract the cover coating work (which many printers need to do for certain coating processes). In this light, it will serve you well to request samples of the coating options your printer can provide with in-house equipment.

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