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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: Creating “One-Off” Standees

My fiancee and I assembled a huge standee this week for the new Murder on the Orient Express movie. Essentially, it’s an exposed view of the interior of a passenger train car containing numerous movie characters. While we were engaged in the six-hour installation, a moviegoer came up to ask about this standee in particular and standees in general. She had an ice cream parlor, and she needed one copy of a standee for her shop.

Background Information

To provide a bit of background information, standees are the cardboard flat cards or the large and dramatic full environments in movie theaters that promote upcoming films. They are usually composed of printed litho paper laminated to corrugated board. Their manufacturers use everything from offset custom printing to flexography to decorate the boards, which are then die cut into appropriate shapes and packed in cartons for USPS delivery to a huge number of theaters. Installers then come out to the theaters to assemble the standees using complex sets of instructions (much like an IKEA project but made of printed paper rather than wood).

Speaking as a commercial printing broker, I personally think you can learn a lot about custom printing and finishing just by paying close attention as you assemble standees. You can even learn about scoring and folding, as well as hot-melt gluing.

In spite of my personal focus on movie theater standees, there are other standees as well, many of which appear in retail stores such as drug stores and grocery stores. A “point of purchase” display really is no different from a movie standee, which in some ways really is just an incredibly ornate box. After all, you fold the flaps and corrugated walls together to turn a flat piece of cardboard (with an attached, printed graphic) into a three-dimensional promotional product.

Back to the Potential Client

So this particular moviegoer wanted a standee for her ice cream parlor. Being a commercial printing broker as well as a standee installer, I walked her through the theater lobby and explained the various kinds of standees and their relative costs.

I noted that a “flat card” was essentially a big poster on an easel backing. At approximately 6-feet by 9-feet (with an approximately 2” depth for the flat card itself), this product could capture the viewer’s complete field of vision when he or she is in close proximity to it. I told the moviegoer that a flat card is the cheapest kind of standee to purchase but that it provides a lot of bang for the buck, given its large size.

I went on to say that such a standee would be cheaper than the others in part because the structural design was generic. Even though the graphic front of every flat card is different, most physical constructions are exactly the same (or one of a few variants). The bottom line was that my potential client could let someone else pay for the metal dies used to cut the tabs and flaps and other intricacies of such a promotional standee. This would lower the overall price (much as printing a generic pocket folder saves you money).

I then walked my potential client further down the movie lobby hallway and showed her two more standees. I showed her a larger flat card that had “lugs” attached to the front of the flat graphic. Lugs are any die cut attachments that give a sense of depth to the overall image. (The first option, the flat card, was entirely flat, other than the folded easel back.)

I told my potential client that a custom die could be made to extend an image off the rectangular frame of either the smaller or larger flat card, that this would be more interesting and involving for the viewer because the three dimensional images would appear to extend off the flat picture plane and be “real.” But I noted that this came at a price. Custom dies would need to be made, and this would drive up the overall cost. It would no longer be a generic large format print product.

Finally, I walked my potential client back to the original standee my fiancee and I were installing, and I showed her the intricacy of the simulated rail car. I showed her how all of the figures had been die cut and assembled. The physicality of half a railway car made for an immersive experience for passersby, but it cost lots of money to print, die cut, and box up. Even the installation (our fee) was expensive.

Back to the Sales Pitch

When we were finished with our walk through the standees (much like a used car salesman’s walk with a customer through a car lot), I asked her how many standees she would need. She said one, just for her ice cream parlor.

So I noted that offset custom printing would be out of the question (exorbitant for one copy) but that digital printing would be an option. Nevertheless, I did tell her that one copy of any promotional design would be rather pricey.

My fiancee, who is an artist and art therapist, reminded me that even a single digitally produced standee would be astronomically expensive. She asked why I hadn’t suggested that my client have a graphic artist mock-up one copy—kind of like a single paper sculpture.

Actually I had been thinking along the same lines, I said. I had envisioned my supplier (a standee designer and printer all the way across the United States) just using an already produced backing (cardboard flat card) and one of the already-produced, generic, folded backing easels and just digitally printing the 6-foot by 9-foot graphic front panel image and gluing it to the board, and then breaking it down, creating assembly instructions, and cartoning and shipping the product.

I thought further and realized this was exactly the nature of a “one-off” prototype, the very stage that each standee probably went through before a marketing director gave the go-ahead to print, score, die cut, hot-melt glue, and box up for delivery the thousands of copies destined for movie theaters across the country.

So we’ll see what happens with my prospective client.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Movie standees, point of purchase displays, and even folding cartons are physical, three-dimensional products. They exist in space, and this quality can make them much more powerful sales tools than flat promotional booklets or even posters.
  2. If you’re designing one of these, keep in mind that the more ornate and original your design, the more the job will cost to die cut. Sometimes a flat card will do just fine.
  3. Failing that, if you want more punch, add dimensionality to a flat card with “lugs.” The base structure will be generic (and therefore cheaper to produce), but the flat-panel graphic will be original and powerful, and the die cut lugs will add further depth to the design.
  4. Consider how many you will need. Then determine whether you will need a digital product (a large format inkjet image printed and laminated to corrugated board) or an offset lithographic product (for long runs).
  5. Don’t forget the cost of packing the component pieces (cartoning) and the cost of shipping, plus the cost for installation.
  6. Remember that advertising is an investment, not an expense. If your design and production values capture your audience and make them convert (i.e., spend money on your product or service), then your promotional cost will have been money well spent.

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