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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: Thoughts About a Gigantic Standee

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

Why This Is Relevant

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specifics of the Large Format Print Job

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I Learned, and How You Can Benefit From It

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

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