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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Large Format Printing: “People Cut-outs”

Have you ever seen a street vendor offering to take photos of passersby with a large format print of the president? Or maybe a celebrity or movie star?

Why do they look so real when you see the printed photos? It’s like the president is just standing there with you.

How These Large Format Prints Are Made

I thought about this as my fiancee and I were installing standees at movie theaters. There was a special kind of standee called a “photo booth,” made to entice the viewer to step into the scene and have his or her photo taken. In the particular standee I’m thinking of, you could sit on a velvet covered throne with Johnny Depp as the Dark Shadows vampire standing right behind you.

Upon close observation I could see that an image of the character had been printed via offset lithography. (I could see the rosette patterns indicative of four process color screens turned at slight angles to one another.) The flat, untrimmed press sheet had been laminated to a thicker sheet of chipboard (the kind of cardboard you find on the back of notepads, memo pads, and personalized pads). I suppose that corrugated board could have been used as a backing instead of chipboard. Anything rigid would have worked just fine.

Once the printed press sheet had been glued to the backing board stock for durability (and to make the image stand up straight), cutting tools had been used to cut along the perimeter of the image and remove everything outside its silhouette. In the case of the Dark Shadows standee photo booth, everything that was not Johnny Depp had been cut away.

My assumption is that either a knife-based mechanical tool controlled by digital data so as to precisely cut the outline of the figure, or a laser-based mechanical tool similarly controlled by digital data, had made the cuts on some sort of routing equipment.

I assumed that the Dark Shadows cut-out of Johnny Depp had been printed via offset lithography because of the rosette patterns in the image and also the printer’s marks (screen builds, targets, crop marks, register marks, etc.) on the edges of the mounted press sheet. This made sense to me, since a huge number of copies of the standee had to be prepared for theaters across the country.

However, for much shorter commercial printing runs I would assume that flat-bed UV inkjet presses (such as the Inca) can be used for custom printing just a few people cut-outs. In addition, if certain roll-fed inkjet printers include inline, knife-based cutting equipment run by digital information, perhaps the UV flatbed presses can be fitted to do the same.

So in either case, it looks like the approach would be as follows:

  1. Print the image.
  2. Laminate the large format print to chipboard or corrugated board.
  3. Use a router to cut out the image.
  4. Then add an easel to make the large format print a free-standing “people cut-out.”

Why People Cut-outs Are Effective

I have a theory about this. When I was learning to paint in oils and acrylics, my fine arts teachers told me to never paint from photos because they were “flat.” The photographic images lacked a sense of depth. My painting teachers said that if I painted from photos, my paintings would reflect that “flatness” and would not give a sense of depth and dimension.

So my theory is that since a photograph collapses the normal sense of depth and dimension that you see in real life using your two eyes, if you take a photo of your spouse with a cut-out standee of Johnny Depp as a vampire, the photo you take will eliminate the spatial sense of depth, and your spouse and Johnny Depp will both appear on the same flat “plane.” In this way it will look like your wife or husband is next to a vampire.

This is just my theory, based on what I know about the human eye, optical perception, commercial printing, and photography, but I think it may be a valid theory nevertheless.

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