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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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Custom Printing: Case Study for a Large Banner Stand

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

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

Backstory for My Client

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

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

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

Buying the Large Format Printing

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Considerations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Steps

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

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

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

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

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

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