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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: Bold, Economical Standee Design

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.

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