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Printing Industry Exchange ( 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: Standee Lightbox Case Study

As a commercial printing broker and designer, I think that certain avenues for graphic design are still expanding, in spite of the drop off in others. I’ve read a lot over the last few years about the growth in label production (particularly personalized labels), flexible packaging, and large format printing.

With the advent of inkjet large format printing as well as the refinement of screen printing to hold finer halftone dots, I think that large format printing is in a growth phase, which will continue at least until digital signage and menu boards become more ubiquitous.

New Standee: A Lightbox for the Film DREDD

That said, I was installing a new standee last week for DREDD, an upcoming science fiction action film. It was a lightbox: a large format acetate sheet printed with a graphic design and lit from behind with fluorescent bulbs. The whole electric and graphic structure was encased in black cardboard (printed through flexography, except for the offset printed title and film credits).

The graphic film panel came rolled up, and covered on the printed side with a thin protective sheet of plastic film. Unlike most prior lightboxes I had installed, this one was not very heavy. Other lightboxes had showcased thick lenticular graphic panels (printed to simulate movement when the viewer moved to one side or the other in front of the lightbox). To protect these fragile lenticular prints, they were always attached to a protective sheet of plywood prior to shipping, which was discarded prior to installation and which made the entire standee box weigh approximately 50 to 80 pounds.

In contrast, this graphic panel was just an image on clear acetate lit from behind, far lighter and clearly more economical to ship to thousands of movie theaters than the lenticular posters.

What I Saw When I looked Closely at the Acetate Graphic Panel

The graphic was “back printed” on the dull side of the acetate sheet. That is, it was printed “wrong reading,” or backwards so as to be “right reading” when viewed through the glossy side of the acetate (the front of the graphic panel).

There also seemed to be a layer of white ink to diffuse the light (although this could have just been the effect created by printing on the dull side of the film). I suppose that along with the even lighting of the five fluorescent bulbs behind the graphic panel, the goal of the white diffusion coating was to eliminate any “hot spots” that would draw undue attention to the lights themselves.

I looked closely at the perimeter of the acetate lightbox panel. The edges that were to be covered by the flexo-printed cardboard (outside the image area on the clear acetate) included color bars, much as you might see on a press sheet produced by an offset custom printing provider. I could see cyan, magenta, yellow, and black patches as well as overprints of various colors. The inkset had been augmented with green and orange ink, as well as white ink for the diffusing background layer.

I carry a magnifying glass with me when I install standees and other signage in case I want to look at the manufacturing work in fine detail. I saw a dot pattern in the color patches. It did not present as rosettes (indicative of offset printing) or as the fine stochastic spray of inkjet printers, so I thought the DREDD graphic panel might have been screen printed. I also saw commercial printing registration marks (overlapping cross-hair targets to show the alignment of the colored screens during printing).

What I wanted to know was how the job had been printed.

I Called a Signage Shop

After closely observing the DREDD graphic panel, I thought I had a good idea of the manufacturing process used, but I wanted to confirm my hunch. Therefore, I called a local large format printing vendor I work with. This shop focuses on screen printing, inkjet large format printing, and custom printing images on flat plastic and then molding the plastic into three-dimensional forms using heat and pressure. So I consider this vendor an expert.

This is what the printer said. Due to the lack of small, random spray dots (indicative of inkjet digital printing) and the presence instead of a visible, regular dot pattern, the signage vendor thought the DREDD graphic had been produced via screen printing. This would make sense, given the large distribution. (Probably thousands or tens of thousands of copies of the DREDD lightboxes had been printed for delivery to theaters across the country and beyond.)

The signage vendor noted that screen printing would account for the color bars, extended inkset, and white background diffusion ink (both inkjet and screen printing can use extra PMS colors to increase the color gamut of large format printing projects).

Here’s an Option for a Short Press Run

If the job had been a backlit poster with a short press run (say one copy to several hundred copies, but not 1,000 copies or more), the preferred printing technology would have been inkjet large format printing. The “give away” in looking at such a digital print under a magnifying glass or loupe would have been the minuscule, irregularly spaced dots (all of equal size). This pattern indicates inkjet printing.

What All This Means to You

I would encourage you to always be expanding your knowledge of printing, particularly of those types of printing that are growing. The more you know, the more valuable you will be as a professional, the better and more cost-effective design and production decisions you will make, the more options you will have for various projects, and the more enjoyable your work will most probably be.

2 Responses to “Large Format Printing: Standee Lightbox Case Study”

  1. alex tuter says:

    Thanks for sharing information about large format printing and printing industry….. Keep sharing.
    large format printing toowoomba


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