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Archive for the ‘Large-Format Printing’ Category

Large Format Printing: Preparing Your Artwork

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2020

Throughout most of the early part of my career (as a graphic artist and art director), I mainly produced small format print products, ranging from print books to brochures, from announcements to stationery and business card packages. So the rules for file preparation, especially regarding photo resolution, have become second nature to me.

In short, the main rule is to include all images at 266 to 300 ppi (pixels per inch, which is similar to dpi, or dots per inch) resolution at the final printed size.

What this really means is that images should be twice the halftone line screen the offset printer will use. In my experience, 150 lpi halftone screens, reflecting the number of rows of halftone dots per inch, are fine for this math problem.

The purpose of this simple rule is to make sure that all images are of sufficient resolution that the reader’s eye will not see any pixelation (i.e., the square image elements that make up a computer-imaged photo on a display screen).

But here’s the rub. What about large format print graphics? I designed a roll-up banner stand a few years ago, so I had to go back online and reread the rules for large format print design. I knew that huge graphics would require a lot of storage space for the Photoshop file and/or the InDesign file, so I wanted to see what was really needed for high-quality imaging.

“Perceived” Resolution of the Photo

Again, the key phrase here is “what is really needed.” The viewer’s eye is forgiving. It needs to see images rendered at 300 ppi (or at least 266 ppi) to avoid noticing the square pixels of an image. But this is only because of the distance involved (0 to 3 feet). If you’re reading a print book or magazine, your eyes are this close to the reading material.

This is also true for some large format print banners you might design for a trade show, or a table throw to lay across your convention table. But an image that will be seen from, say, across the room (6 feet or more) can be of a lower resolution, and yet your eye will still see the images as being continuous tone (no visible halftone dots or pixels).

To further clarify this point, let’s go in the other direction. Presumably, most of the images you see on the internet are 72 ppi. This is the resolution that is perceived as continuous tone on a computer monitor based on the size of the pixels that make up the screen. If, however, you take the 72 ppi image and put it in InDesign, even at 100 percent size, the image will look like a checkerboard. The pixels will be visible and distracting. The images will look grainy or blurry. Moreover, they will be even worse if you place the photo in InDesign and then enlarge it (for example, doubling the size of an image cuts its resolution in half; therefore, a 72 ppi image enlarged by 200 percent would be 36 ppi in resolution).

How this translates into large format printing is as follows. If you are designing a roll-up banner stand that will be viewed from 3 to 6 feet away, you can include images that are 150 ppi rather than 300 ppi. Your eyes won’t know the difference, and your final art files won’t be unnecessarily large.


There’s a word for doing what I just said you shouldn’t do. Enlarging a low-resolution image to make it the right size for printing is called “interpolation.” While it is possible to do, it is ill advised because as the computer software enlarges an image, it actually creates picture information to place between existing pixels. This image information is fabricated. It is not part of what the camera captured, so there will be degradation of the overall quality of the image. And this will be visible.

That said, I personally have had some success in enlarging images slightly by making this enlargement process in very small steps. (For instance, I once enlarged an image 103 percent repeatedly without visible pixelation until it reached the desired size.) You may want to research this work-around online. But it’s still ill advised, and it doesn’t always work. I got lucky.

Reducing the Size of Images

Reductions in size are another matter. Go for it. If you have an 8” x 10” image and you’re making it smaller (perhaps for a photo montage on a fabric banner stand or table throw), your image resolution will go up. More specifically, if you reduce a 150 ppi 8” x 10” image to a 4” x 5” image, it will have a resolution of 300 ppi (which is twice a printer’s 150-line halftone screen). So you’re golden. (When you’re making the photo smaller, you’re actually removing picture data rather than adding it—or interpolating, or making up picture information.)

Vector Type Layers

Let’s say your banner-stand image will include type, a gradation of a color, and a photo. How can you best prepare your art files? We’ve already discussed the photo, which is bitmapped. But you could conceivably also render the type at a high enough resolution to make the edges of the letterforms appear smooth. However, there’s a better way. In Adobe Photoshop, and other software, you can put the text of your banner on a separate vector layer.

Vector images are defined with mathematical formulae. They are not a grid of dots (like the bitmapped photos discussed above). Therefore, you can enlarge (and print) vector type at any size, and the edges will be smooth. (Actually, vector type is only turned into a bitmap at the final printing stage, by the software RIP, which stands for “raster image processor.” And this transition from vector to raster type is done at the highest possible resolution of the prepress or printing equipment you’re using.) Similar in its effect to Photoshop’s vector type layer, Illustrator has a “create outlines” function, as does InDesign. In all three cases you’re creating an infinitely enlargeable vector image instead of a specific size of text in a raster image format.

In addition, you would be well advised to also use vector images for any line drawings and logos that you want to include on your large format print product.


Now, finally, gradations. I once learned a secret about gradations (colors that lighten gradually from a solid hue at one end–like the bottom of the banner-stand art–to white–let’s say at the top of the banner-stand art). You can create a gradation mathematically (and automatically) that will gradually darken or lighten from one end to the other, or you can create a gradation (to the exact size) as a separate art element in Photoshop format. (You would then import it into your InDesign banner file as you would a photo or type.)

In my experience, if you create the gradation in Photoshop, you will often get a smoother transition from white to the solid color. This is because “banding” can occur in some mathematically produced gradations, depending on the physical distance from one side of the gradation (let’s say solid blue) to the other (let’s say white) and the resolution of the output device. The banding in question is a visible and abrupt change from one shade to the next adjacent shade. That is, the gradation is no longer smooth. It has one or more bands disrupting the even flow.

Unfortunately, what you see on-screen might not be what you get when you print, depending on the physical length of the color transition within the gradient.

As a work-around, I have found that creating the gradation (like a piece of bitmapped art) in Photoshop can mitigate this. I have also found that adding “noise” to the gradation in Photoshop can reduce banding.

Just a thought. You might want to check this out online.

Color Space

Please remember that your monitor creates color with light, within the RGB (red-green-blue) color space, and yet your printer (both offset and digital) produces colors with ink, within the CMYK (cyan-magenta-yellow-black) color space. Therefore, you should always convert everything in your Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign files to CMYK prior to creating final art files for your commercial printing supplier.

Large Format Printing: Current Inkjet Options

Tuesday, January 29th, 2019

I’ve been reading a lot about inkjet printing in the online journals recently. I have seen trends in the market toward improved inkjet for publications printed on roll-fed equipment that can produce significantly better quality than in past years in an economical manner.

However, along with the new trend (which just may usurp laser printing as a means for producing long-format documents digitally, such as textbooks and periodicals) I have seen a steady growth in large format printing on inkjet equipment. Why? Because it’s profitable. Why is it profitable? Because the quality is there, it’s infinitely variable, and it is economical. More importantly, large format printing is striking and memorable. Moreover, since many of the inks are water soluble, it’s also environmentally sound.

I thought you might find it interesting to review some of the substrates on which you can effectively print using digital inkjet equipment. Some of these will be familiar. Others you may not have thought about.

Large Format Signage

When I think of signage, I now think almost exclusively of grand-format inkjet, although people are still crafting permanent metal and glass channel letters for signs, or cutting and grinding wood, or manufacturing building signs out of stone or concrete.

But inkjet sign-making offers a lot of options for significantly less money. You can print on vinyl scrim, then hem the edges, and insert grommets to allow for tying up the large format print with ropes. (I once hung a banner like this on the exterior facade of a building. As I recall, it covered three stories of the structure. Since we had only a small crew of installers, I was struck by the way the wind tried to pull the huge banner out of my hands like a big kite or a sail.)

If you’re printing a similar large format graphic, talk with your large format print supplier about options. Your printer will need to know whether the print will be hung indoors or outdoors, as this will affect both the substrate and the inks used. For instance, solvent-based inks will be more light-fast (i.e., will tolerate the sunlight without fading) and will also stand up to weather (rain). Water-based dyes and pigments are fine for interior signage (particularly if the banner is temporary), but for exterior use, you need inks that are more robust.

So to be safe, think about how long you want to keep the banner, and where it will be displayed (even an indoor sign hung near a window will fade when exposed to sunlight day after day). Discuss with your custom printing supplier the various substrate options (vinyl, paper, and canvas–if interior–or even mesh, if you plan to affix the graphic on a window and you will need to see through the banner). You may also want to ask about inks (solvent, eco-solvent, UV, latex, dye vs. pigment). Some are more durable. Some provide more intense colors. Some are less taxing on the environment.

All of the aforementioned papers, fabrics, are meshes are essentially flexible substrates that come on rolls. But you don’t have to stop here. Depending on the kind of large format printing capabilities your supplier offers, you may even be able to print on rigid substrates such as doors and glass. Essentially, instead of either draping a banner on a wall or gluing it to a backing board, you can just print the graphic right on the wood, metal, or other rigid substance, but only if you’re using a flatbed digital inkjet press (not a roll-fed press).

When you’re discussing such work with your commercial printing supplier, here are some things to consider. If you’re printing on glass, for instance, you’re printing on a non-porous substrate. Regular inkjet inks will dry but not adhere to such a surface. However, using UV inks, which cure instantly when exposed to ultraviolet light, you can print directly on non-porous surfaces, either flexible (with a roll-fed inkjet printer) or rigid (with a flatbed inkjet printer).

Again, it’s smart to discuss with your printer the environmental conditions in which you plan to hang the graphic. UV inks do adhere well to flat, non-porous surfaces, but they can still be scratched off. So discuss rub resistance with your printer, and ask about any surface coatings that might further protect your large format print image.

Vehicle Wraps

Let’s not forget the potential marketing space on the side of a bus or a car. Vehicle wraps are hot. They will make a car or bus really stand out from all the other vehicles on the road. Do keep in mind, however, that printing on the vinyl is just a part of the process. You also need a skilled vendor who can adhere the graphic to all the nooks and crannies of the exterior of a car or bus. This is specialized work. Done well, it can be heart-stopping. Done badly it can be a waste, or it can damage your brand.

Fabric Printing

You can write books on the current digital custom printing options available for interior design. You can print drapes, bedding, pillow covers, wallpaper. Fortunately, these are all interior uses of large format printing. However, in this case the composition of the fabric will determine the particular technology you use. Direct inkjet is fine for cotton-based fabric. However, for polyester, you need to either transfer the graphic from a carrier sheet to the substrate (with some technologies, you can initially print directly on the substrate) and then sublimate the fabric inks into the polyester fibers using intense heat. Fortunately this technology preserves and in some cases actually improves the vibrant colors of the fabric inks.

And if you don’t need to produce bolts of fabric for interior design, you can always print on fabric to create flags and table throws. (Table throws are large graphics on fabric that can be laid over a table at a convention site, providing a marketing opportunity as well as protecting the table.)

Or you can print on garments. While these really aren’t large format print graphics, inkjet is still suitable (direct inkjet for cotton and dye sublimation for polyester). Or, you can print on vinyl transfer material and then use a heat press to adhere the graphic to the t-shirt or other garment.

What to Consider and Discuss with Your Printer

First of all, most printers will not have all of these technologies or inks. You may need to do some research and request samples to verify quality. Ask your current print suppliers. If they can’t do something in-house, perhaps they can refer you to a trustworthy large format print supplier.

Then describe the kind of graphic, the environmental conditions, and the length of time it will be in use. (Fortunately, such things as vehicle wraps can be repaired. Since they come from digital files, if you damage part of a car wrap, you can just print out a small section, and remove and replace the damaged part of the graphic.)

Discuss the various substrates (canvas, vinyl, fabric, paper, film, back-lit film) and the various inks (dye-based vs. pigmented ink, latex, solvent, eco-solvent, UV) and their durability and color properties (color gamut, intensity, color fidelity, and such).

I’d also encourage you to research these variables yourself, online, in addition to searching for a trustworthy large format printing vendor. And it’s always prudent to request samples. When you have the samples, don’t hesitate to test them. (For instance, if your banner will be outside, get the sample wet and see how it fares.)

Commercial Printing: Printing on Wood Flooring

Monday, January 21st, 2019

About four years ago my fiancee and I had a house fire. In the ensuing months we went to all manner of cabinet stores, tile stores, and flooring stores (in addition to CraigsList vendors) to collect materials for rebuilding the house. Needless to say, I saw more than my share of floor and wall coverings that had been digitally decorated. It was intriguing since I had grown up with real wood and real stone, but I filed it away in my memory.

Then, earlier this week I read an article in entitled “Digital Print, Expanding Horizons in Woodworking,” by Ron Gilboa (published on 9/21/18), and everything gelled in my brain. This is another growth industry within the commercial printing universe. Another article (in Wikipedia) regarding rotogravure custom printing (and its uses in decorating materials for flooring) helped all of this come together in my mind. It became crystal clear to me that large format printing, digital printing, gravure printing, and the flooring industry offered interior designers new and exciting opportunities.

The Article: A Synopsis

Gilboa’s article references the biannual International Woodworking Fair, which recently held its Digital Printing Symposium in Atlanta, GA, from August 21 to 25. The focus of the event was the intersection of “short-run, cost-effective decorative surfaces” with the “ongoing development in [the] digital inkjet printing sector” (“Digital Print, Expanding Horizons in Woodworking”).

The symposium, which attracted woodworking companies like Barberan, Baumer, Cefla Finishing, North American Plywood, and Schattdecor, as well as digital custom printing companies like Canon and Vanguard digital, addressed “mass customization in an $11 billion M2 per year décor laminate market and an over $140 billion annual woodworking industry in the U.S. alone” (“Digital Print, Expanding Horizons in Woodworking”).

What this really means is that woodworking companies and digital inkjet printing companies pooled their resources and knowledge base to focus on creating custom designs for cabinetry, paneling, high-pressure laminates, flooring laminates, and such, to help individuals enhance their living spaces and to help interior designers and architects provide striking and unique additions to their work.

An added benefit to the quality and specialized nature of these decorated products is the ability to print them on demand, reducing the need for product storage and inventory. In fact, the new technology also avoids product obsolescence.

That is, the long press runs of printed flooring materials done on gravure presses not only require the expense of the gravure cylinders—the printing plates—but they also have huge minimum runs to stay cost-effective. In contrast, new digital inkjet printing on flooring can produce both short- and long-run products cost-effectively. Therefore, there’s less chance that a supplier would over-produce a particular flooring design that might become obsolete and therefore useless.

Gilboa’s article also notes a technical benefit of digital inkjet printing that sets it above gravure for flooring decoration. That is, designs that exceed 15 feet before repeating would not be printable on a gravure press (they would exceed the circumference of the press cylinder that prints the design). In contrast, large format inkjet printing can produce designs larger than gravure’s maximum print dimensions.

Furthermore, “Digital Print, Expanding Horizons in Woodworking” references a new concept in flooring, the “rainbow roll.” In contrast to the usual high-run minimums for gravure print runs (the article notes that one ton of paper–2,000 pounds–is the typical minimum order), the rainbow roll can “contain several lengths of print jobs with different designs based on client requirements” (“Digital Print, Expanding Horizons in Woodworking”). This makes sense since digital inkjet printing can produce just enough of one design to decorate the interior of just one client’s office or home. Therefore, the concept of the rainbow roll of short-run flooring decoration material is a groundbreaking concept, one that avoids both obsolescence and waste.

An Example of Digital Flooring Decoration

Gilboa puts these benefits in concrete terms in his article, describing an intriguing decoration approach by North American Plywood, one of the producers of the International Woodworking Fair’s Digital Printing Symposium. North American Plywood sands and primes, and then inkjet prints and coats decorated boards used for flooring. Using this technology, they can stain natural wood and veneers, or even fully coat paneling using UV inks and large format inkjet commercial printing equipment.

However, instead of immediately curing the UV ink with UV light, North American Plywood lets the UV ink sit on the wood and soak into the wood fibers. After the ink seeps in, the company can cure the wood with UV light and then coat the panels to ensure abrasion resistance.

Gilboa notes that “the result is a wood face that looks naturally stained, or resembles a premium wood species, simulated on a less expensive baseboard” (“Digital Print, Expanding Horizons in Woodworking”).

As Gilboa highlights in a quote from Grand Burkholder from Sauder Woodworking Company, “The capabilities of … [digital printing], creating depth of pattern, reproducing wood species, using pigmented inks, is amazing” (“Digital Print, Expanding Horizons in Woodworking”).

Implications of the New Technology

Here are my thoughts:

  1. You can make any wood you choose (perhaps a less expensive wood, or even a more durable wood), look like any other wood. (Presumably there are limitations.) This bodes well for controlling building costs without sacrificing appearance. If the choice of wood you’re simulating allows for a more durable substrate (such as custom printing wood grain on water resistant flooring that can be used in a basement), all the better.
  2. You can control inventory and waste. Therefore you can spend less on a warehouse to store inventory, as well as less on equipment and labor to maintain and track inventory. Your designs never have to become obsolete because you’re producing only what you need (not a huge minimum order). Due to the efficiencies in the process, you also have less waste.
  3. You can allow for more creativity and personalization in the interior designs due to the color gamut and resolution of inkjet technology. For instance, you can include photorealistic images on flooring. And you can create a one-off design for a client who wants an interior “look” that no one else has.

So specifically within the realm of interior design, inkjet printing on flooring, along with printing on wall treatments, glass, and even bedding and drapery, can provide unlimited creative options for interior designers. Moreover, the growth within this arena of commercial printing can provide lucrative jobs for both designers and sales professionals.

So it’s worth your time reading the trade journals and staying current with developments in the digital decoration of custom wood products.

Large Format Printing: Digital Décor Is on the Rise

Thursday, April 26th, 2018

I’m starting to see a lot of articles on digital décor in recent weeks. It doesn’t surprise me. I had read about digital custom printing on floor tiles and even on glass in prior months, but this now seems to be a tsunami of expanding market interest, an unstopable force.

Heimtextil in Frankfort, Germany

In a January 15 article posted on, Adrian Wilson describes the digital décor offerings at Heimtextil in Frankfurt, Germany (which ran from January 9 through January 12). Entitled “The Power of Digital Decor at Heimtextil,” this article references the “technical textiles, nonwovens, and synthetic leather…, glass, and brickwork” showcased by HP at the trade show.

HP’s interior design displays ranged from a living room to a bedroom, a bathroom, a kitchen, and a dentist’s office, reflecting the benefits of HP’s latex inks and Indigo digital technology in sample wallpaper treatments, flooring, textiles, and furniture.

In addition, HP specifically highlighted their HP Indigo Wallpaper, which makes HP Indigo 20000 digital technology ideal for producing short-run wallcoverings due to its speed and “gravure-quality” output.

In its displays HP also included OLEDs integrated into the wallcovering, adding a source of light to the wall treatments.

What Can We Learn from This Article?

  1. There is enough consumer demand for printed textiles that OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) have been investing heavily in extra-wide format digital presses as well as high-fastness pigmented ink formulations and latex ink formulations.
  2. The specific items interior designers have been digitally printing have expanded. They now include wallpaper, curtains, blinds, cushions, lampshades, tiles, bed linens, and glass, just to name a few.
  3. Manufacturers are taking into consideration the environmental impact of their offerings. For instance, latex ink is odorless and environmentally sound. Also, the dentist’s office display at Heimtextil included antibacterial wallpaper, according to Wilson’s article.
  4. Digital décor designers are branching out from surface design into product design, with some items based on recent advances in science and technology. Specifically, Wilson’s article references a lounge with sound-absorbing sofas, as well as the aforementioned OLED lights positioned within the wallpaper.
  5. All of this consumer interest and technological innovation is spurring demand for the skills of interior designers and fabric designers.
  6. Since the more traditional commercial printing technologies used for decorating interior fabrics were analog in nature—screen printing and gravure, for instance—they required a lot of preparation, and therefore long press runs were necessary for a job to be economically feasible. Now, even though screen printing and gravure are still used for long runs of wallpaper or fabric, a digital option exists for profitable short runs. This means that prototypes can be developed quickly, and products can come to market faster. Moreover, everyone can essentially have their own completely customized environment.

To all of these benefits noted in Wilson’s article, “The Power of Digital Decor at Heimtextil,” I would add the following observations from my own reading online and in the trade journals:

  1. In terms of the digital decoration of personal home space, I have noticed that since 9/11 and then the 2008 stock market decline, many people have been more likely to stay at home and “nest” (the media has also called this “cocooning”). I think that prioritizing home and family has motivated many people to make their home surroundings as beautiful and unique as possible. At the same time, the flexibility of digital printing has democratized interior design, since it lends itself to unlimited mass customization. Everyone can create his or her dream environment. (I think 3D custom printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has contributed—and will continue to contribute–to this trend.)
  2. In terms of commercial interior designers’ starting to include digitally printed floor tiles, glass, and fabrics in their work, I think this is in part a reflection of more companies’ competing for fewer clients. I think companies are setting themselves apart from their competition in part by creating an artfully designed interior for their workspaces. This can be a subtle, even subconscious, influence–but nevertheless a powerful one–in a customer’s choice of a vendor.

InfoTrends Study on Digital Décor Printing

I found another article on the InfoTrends website ( entitled “Profit Through Digital Printing in the Décor Marketplace.” It is focused more on architects and interior designers, but in many ways it echoes the sentiments of the first article by Adrian Wilson. Like the first article, the InfoTrends article also recognizes an increase in digital décor design over the last ten years.

The InfoTrends article addresses a scholarly study of the digital design market, noting the desire of both individual consumers and businesses to “surround themselves with color rich materials at work, at home, or anywhere that can benefit from innovative architectural and interior design” (“Profit Through Digital Printing in the Décor Marketplace”).

This article goes on to acknowledge the powerful human need to customize one’s living and working space and the accessibility of this dream made possible through digital custom printing on tile, glass, flooring, wallcoverings, and laminates.

Like the first article about the textile printing show in Frankfurt, Germany, this article notes the following drivers of increased interest in digital décor:

  1. A desire for mass customization. Digital technology frees printers from the arduous make-ready that makes screen printing and gravure only appropriate for longer press runs. With digital commercial printing, a vendor can create an environment for only one client and still make a profit.
  2. A desire for sustainability in printing. Increasingly the digital technologies (such as latex inksets) are becoming ecologically sound.
  3. Faster production cycles. Businesses and individual consumers demand quicker turn-arounds, and the nature of digital commercial printing supports faster print production of interior décor than analog printing technologies.
  4. A desire to reduce inventory. The on-demand nature of digital custom printing makes this possible.
  5. Flexibility in printing substrates. Customers want to be able to print on anything. Ink formulations for digital printing are coming to market that address this need. For instance, UV inksets are ideal for laminate flooring (i.e., products that take more abuse than walls). These ink formulations can be both durable and more ecologically sound than solvent-based commercial printing options.

What Can We Learn from This Article?

  1. This article addresses a survey of trends in digital décor design and production. Based on the article’s description of the survey’s methodology, audience, and participants, InfoTrends clearly takes very seriously the uptick in digital décor demand and the ensuing technological growth.
  2. This increased activity in digital décor custom printing offers increasing opportunities for designers who may be finding fewer demands for their skills in other areas of print media.
  3. As consumer demand increases for digital printing of interior design products, the number of available substrates is also expanding, including flooring, carpet, tile, laminates, textiles, signs, glass, and wallcoverings.

Large Format Printing: Installing Low-Tac Wall Clings

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

I had a bit of a crisis today installing a large format low-tac wall cling at a movie theater. The problem was that I tried to do it myself. I also learned a lot about low-tac wall clings.

First, some background. I went to the theater without my fiancee to give her a break, assuming the wall cling would be easy to apply. It was a promotional piece for the new movie Ferdinand, a cartoon about a bull. The wall cling was approximately three feet by four feet, printed in four color process inks on clear plastic.

If you looked closely, you could see that the job had been “back-printed,” with the heavy, peel-away backing sheet followed by a layer of low-tac glue, followed by white ink that would be a “ground” layer behind all printed imagery. Then there were the four process colors, and then the thick plastic sheet that would be the covering for the entire wall cling.

Interestingly enough, the 4-color custom printing extended just slightly beyond the perimeter of the white ink. Based on my knowledge of both large format printing and optics I knew exactly why the white ink was there. Not only did it provide a single color backing, regardless of the color of the wall onto which the large format print was mounted, but it also provided a bright, even, reflective surface for the ambient light.

Light projected from a ceiling lamp onto a clear surface (like the clear plastic of the wall cling) goes through the overlaid transparent screens of the process colors and has nothing to bounce off to return to the viewer’s eyes unless you have a white backing. In this case it was a very bright white to enhance the brilliance of the colors comprising the bull, his horns, and the promotional lettering and title of the film.

If you disassemble a lightbox with a back-lit advertisement in a subway station or even at a cosmetics counter in a department store, you’ll see the very same treatment: a white inkjet backing behind the 4-color imagery.

The Problem

To get back to the crisis, it takes four hands to peel this large a wall cling off a backing sheet. I learned this as I was holding the backing sheet steady with my two knees as I peeled the image off in preparation for hanging it. To make a long story short, the weight of the card-stock backing sheet at that large of a dimension (three feet by four feet) pulled and stretched the plastic of the wall cling and caused portions of the image to flop over onto other portions of the image. This happened even when, or especially when, I had attached the top part of the cling to the wall as a starting point.

To back up for a moment, the proper way to install such a large-format print is to peel the top of the image slightly off the backing sheet and attach it to the wall. Then you smooth out the image as you work downwards, peeling the wall cling off the backing as you pull the backing sheet out and away, finally attaching the bottom of the wall cling to the wall. You then use a squeegie, a flat plastic rectangle, to burnish the wall cling to the wall, moving from the center outward. You do this to move the air bubbles out and away from the center, finally affixing the image to the wall in as flat a position as possible.

Keep in mind that this particular image was not rectangular. Now, on large format printing equipment you can set a plotting knife to cut out the image in an irregular way. In this case, the operator had used the digital data to trace the horns of the bull, as well as other parts of the overall graphic, such as the title of the film. This “kiss cutting” went through the plastic sheeting but not through the backing sheet. Therefore, when I pulled the wall cling away from the backing, I had an especially irregular contour cut around the entire image, bull and movie title. Needless to say, all of this plastic covered on the back with glue wanted to cling to itself rather than to the wall.

It was not quite a clump or a ball, but it was scratched up a bit. The adhesive had pulled up some of the inkjet pigment attached to the underside of the plastic sheet (remember that the entire printed image is actually sandwiched between the wall, the adhesive, and the outer clear protective cling material).

The Solution

So I called my fiancee, and she was onsite in less than an hour with acrylic paints, brushes, and a hair dryer. She also had a clear head, presence of mind, and the patience to peel apart the folded over portions of the Ferdinand wall cling without further damage.

Once the wall cling was flat, the two of us could work from the bottom up, attaching it to the wall. We did this for the following reason. The backside of the reclining bull was as close to a straight line as anything else on the large format print graphic. Moving upward and outward to keep the air bubbles toward the outside, we could eventually reach the most irregular portion of the image, the bull’s head and horns, and the movie title. We then burnished the entire image with the plastic squeegie to remove the air bubbles and make sure the Ferdinand cling stuck to the wall.

Finally, my fiancee went up on the ladder with the acrylic paints we use in our art therapy work with the autistic. Using her fingers to mix and apply the colors, she repaired all the cuts and scratches, anywhere the plastic had stuck together and had removed the pigment from the back of the wall cling plastic sheeting. She added this color to the outside of the cling, that is, on the surface of the plastic sheet. The acrylics worked perfectly. They were matte coated (similar enough to the dull coating of the plastic sheet). And they dried quickly. Moreover, by not painting on the underside of the plastic sheet, my fiancee kept the acrylic paint off the movie theater wall.

Then it was over and we were on our way home. I was very grateful. We have one more to install. We will do it together.

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

You can learn a lot about large format signage from static clings and wall clings:

  1. Static clings have no adhesive but stay attached to windows based either on static electricity or on the propensity for moisture in the air to attach thin plastic sheets to glass (depending on what you read).
  2. Wall clings are large format print graphics that stick to walls or windows with a light form of adhesive that is somewhat repositionable.
  3. Window clings tend to be small and manageable by one person on a ladder. Wall clings are not. The glue likes to stick to itself and the plastic sheeting more than the walls. Therefore, you really need two people for installation.
  4. Looking carefully at the order in which the glue and pigments have been applied to the plastic sheeting is instructive. From the outside in, you have the matte or satin surface of the outer plastic cover sheet, then you have the four process colors from the inkjet printer, then you have a white base to reflect light back to the viewer, then you have the low-tac adhesive. Then you have the wall. This can teach you about light and vision.
  5. Digital information can direct a knife, held in place vertically, much like a plotter pen. The knife can cut almost any shape around the printed graphic, so the background does not need to be rectangular. Presumably, in the not too distant future you will be able to do the same thing with a laser cutting device.
  6. Finally, the glue itself is pretty amazing. In spite of my struggles with the adhesive causing the plastic cling to stick to itself, the glue was still rather forgiving. It came apart with patience and time, and then it stuck to the wall perfectly at the end, making for a dramatic and hopefully never-to-be-repeated evening.

Large Format Printing: Exciting New Vinyl Substrates

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

When I think about substrates for large format printing, I don’t usually get excited. It’s not a sexy topic.

Granted, I understand how paper substrates for print books and brochures can make a huge difference. I know that the roughness or smoothness of the paper, and even its color, can dramatically affect both the look and the feel of a printed product. It can even reinforce or detract from the tone of the piece. For instance, a textured, uncoated paper just “feels” more environmentally sensitive.

This is valuable information for marketers.

But what about substrates for signage? You don’t touch a vehicle wrap or building wrap. So it has to make its visceral impression without the viewer’s sense of touch.

With this in mind, I was surprised at the implications of the new signage materials referenced in Brenda Hodgson’s article, “Special Effects Vinyls,” published on 3/25/18, on

Hodgson describes the following products that have been recently developed by 3M and other manufacturers. They are important because they are visually striking. They immediately grab viewer attention, and they have the durability to last, providing marketing benefits over a longer than usual period of time. Keep in mind that these are just the substrates. You can print on these using UV, latex, solvent, or eco-solvent inkjet equipment.

The New Vinyl Films

  1. Avery Dennison Supreme Wrapping Film Color Flow Series with Easy Apply RS Technology is offered by trade vendor William Smith. It is 80 micron premium cast film. It has a 12-year life span, comes in 12 colors (with gloss or satin finish), and is ideal for vehicle wraps. This product has a high level of opacity, so it will block out high-contrast surfaces. The adhesive it employs is repositionable, slidable, and bubble free. It is especially conformable to both convex and concave three-dimensional surfaces (such as the contours, nooks, and crannies of vehicle exteriors).
  2. 3M offers a new product called Wrap Film Series 1080. This product takes advantage of color-flip technology that allows the color of the vehicle wrap to shift and change depending on the ambient lighting and the viewing angle. This can provide an especially striking result at night. And since it can be purchased in 1.52-meter-wide rolls, installers can apply the film to large sections of vehicles without visible seams. This product is durable and long-lasting. It has “excellent dimensional stability and repositionability” (“Special Effects Vinyls”), as well as good adhesive properties. The particular technology used for the “flip colors” provides one transmitted color (light goes through the film) and a completely different reflected color (light bounces off the film). This means that the film substrate can shimmer and change from cyan to gold, for instance.
  3. 3M offers Dichroic Glass Finishes. These also have both a transmitted and a reflective color, providing a shifting and shimmering effect based on the lighting and angle of view. What makes this particularly attractive to marketers (or interior designers) is how easy it is to use compared to actual dichroic glass. Wikipedia describes dichroic glass, noting that:
  4. “One dichroic material is a modern composite non-translucent glass that is produced by stacking layers of glass and micro-layers of metals or oxides which give the glass shifting colors depending on the angle of view, causing an array of colors to be displayed as an example of thin-film optics.”

    So from a manufacturing point of view, dichroic glass is complicated and expensive to make. Therefore, being able to simulate this effect with a printable film is a major breakthrough. Plus, it can be applied to both flat and slightly curved surfaces, it is durable, and it can be used to create a privacy barrier. In addition, you can use the film to cut out detailed designs or letterforms.

  5. William Smith also provides a dichroic film (Vion Dichroic Film, Ambience), as well as other decorative films for glass, such as 3M Scothcal Series 5525-300 and Vion Crystal 5500 Series. These are 75-micron translucent film products. They can be used both indoors and outdoors, and their adhesive is not only clear, pressure-sensitive, and permanent, but it also releases the air bubbles when it is being applied. Due to its multi-colored nature, it is especially good for not only interior and exterior displays but also for internally-lit displays.
  6. 3M offers the Di-Noc product range, which “mimics the effect of everything from wood grains and stone to leather and textile” (“Special Effects Vinyls”). There are more than 800 different designs, and these films can be used on interior and exterior walls. They will allow a company to much more easily and inexpensively change the look of its walls and floors (when compared to removing and replacing the actual building materials).
  7. Alumi Graphics is an aluminum foil medium for floor and wall graphics. (It’s ideal for “pavements, concrete columns, tiled surfaces, brick walls, and tarmac.”) (“Special Effects Vinyls”) You can print directly on it using solvent, eco-solvent, UV, or latex inks. It is durable enough to last for between six months and two years outdoors without overlamination (so it’s easier, faster, and less expensive to install). It’s also more environmentally-friendly and can be recycled with other aluminum products. In addition, it can be cut with digital cutters and plotters. From a design perspective, Alumi Graphics will adhere tightly to the brick or concrete surface, maintaining its rough base texture (the image will appear to have been painted on the surface).

Benefits These Films Offer

These are the main implications I see for these large format printing films:

  1. They are becoming easier to install. The fact that they will conform to the irregularities (recesses) of a vehicle exterior makes installation faster and less tedious, and therefore less expensive. The fact that bubbles can be easily removed during installation also makes the process easier.
  2. These products are more flexible. You can print on them with solvent, eco-solvent, UV, or latex inksets using most large format printing equipment.
  3. They are durable, lasting between six months and two years. For the vehicle-wrap film, they can even last up to 12 years. This means that changing the graphics on an entire fleet of business vehicles will be less expensive over time since it will need to be done less often.
  4. They are good at simulating actual patterns and textures (wood, leather, stone). Therefore, the entire look of a building’s interior can be changed without ripping out walls, glass, and floors. You can just replace the surface coatings of the walls, glass, and floors.
  5. More importantly, they provide the “wow” factor. More attention has been given to providing a striking appearance, from the simulated grain of wood and texture of stone and leather to the multi-colored, shimmering effects of the dichroic films. Those who have created these special films clearly know how to grab the viewer’s attention.

Large Format Printing: Update on Billboard Advertising

Thursday, April 12th, 2018

I had always assumed that digital billboards were going to eclipse print advertising, from my first glimpse of the constantly changing signage on my trips to Ocean City. They were soon showing up in the malls my fiancee and I frequented when installing standees: large, high-resolution screens displaying make-up ads two stories high.

So I was surprised to learn recently that print billboards are not only going strong, but they are in fact a burgeoning industry, surpassing many other advertising venues.

On this subject, I recently read an article entitled “Signs of the Times: Digital Boards Offer New Versatility to the Billboard Industry,” written by Allison Shirk and published in EDGE on 04/01/18. The article notes some interesting facts about both digital and print billboards, and about outdoor advertising in general.

Facts and Figures About Digital and Print Billboards

  1. Shirk’s article opens with a reference to digital billboards installed by Fairway Outdoor Advertising after Stephen Hawking’s recent death. They were able to set up ten billboards in honor of Hawking within a few hours. In contrast, print billboards need between 20 minutes and an hour for installation, and that’s after they have been inkjet printed. As Shirk’s article notes, digital billboards can be “changed with the click of a button.” And after installation (and programming with multiple advertisements), the billboards can be changed remotely as often as every ten seconds. (And that’s just because of the regulations ensuring that drivers aren’t distracted by even shorter ads.)
  2. The Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) data shows that outdoor billboard advertising revenue has increased steadily over the last nine years, from $5.9 billion in 2009 (across the country) to $7.6 billion in 2016. During this same time, advertising revenue for other media has decreased. In addition, the article references The Pew Research Center’s figures showing a $30 billion drop in newspaper advertising revenue from 2006 to 2014. Shirk’s article goes on to attribute this to consumers’ increasing dependence on their cell phones and social media for news, reviews, etc.
  3. Fairway Outdoor Advertising, the outdoor advertising agency noted in “Signs of the Times: Digital Boards Offer New Versatility to the Billboard Industry,” has more than 17,000 print billboards and digital billboards distributed across the Southeast, Southwest, and Midwest. It is the “nation’s largest privately held outdoor advertising company” (as per Shirk’s article). That said, according to the article, Fairway has more than 1,500 static (printed) billboards and 43 digital billboards. So outdoor print advertising isn’t going away in the near future.
  4. Determining whether to use a large format print billboard or a digital billboard involves the following considerations, according to Shirk’s article. Static, printed vinyl billboards are good for consistent, long-term display. In contrast, a digital billboard can display up to eight ads in less than two minutes. Certain kinds of advertising information will lend itself to print (perhaps reinforcing brand awareness); other advertising information would be more appropriate for digital display (perhaps a rotation of ads for a series of concerts). In addition, location, advertising duration, content, and cost are other determining factors.
  5. Digital billboards have some unique qualities that static print billboards cannot match. For instance, Shirk’s article references an ad for heating and air conditioning that can be automatically displayed when the temperature reaches a certain point.
  6. I was personally surprised at the pricing, assuming digital billboards would be much more expensive. According to the article, larger print billboards run from $250.00 to $1,200.00 each week, depending on their location, while digital billboards cost from $375.00 to $750.00 per week. Smaller billboards, called “posters,” are closer to $200.00 per week.
  7. There are regulations for the display of outdoor advertising, specifying placement, lighting, and size. The goal of the regulations is to avoid confusing or distracting drivers. For instance, digital images must remain in place for at least 10 seconds.
  8. In terms of manufacturing and installation costs, digital advertising is economical, since it eliminates the cost of the vinyl print substrate and the time and expense of installation (20 minutes to one hour, as noted before).
  9. Fairway Outdoor Advertising does a good business with other media. Shirk’s article includes a quote from Fairway, noting that “all the other media are our clients—television, radio, even print.” In addition, Fairway combines advertising on billboards, computer screens, and mobile phones, providing an integrated presentation across multiple media.

What This Means For Print (Specifically) and Advertising in General

  1. Starting with Fairway’s multi-channel advertising approach noted above, repetition makes ads more effective. Each time you see an ad, the brand makes an impression on you. Therefore, integrating print ads and digital ads is prudent. In fact, adding vehicle wraps, television ads, radio spots, or anything else (including special events) to your advertising mix is wise. It is clear that outdoor large format print advertising isn’t going anywhere. In fact, with the improvements in large format inkjet printing, outdoor print advertising should expand even more.
  2. If anyone else was under the impression that, due to their complexity, digital billboards are more expensive than print, it’s good to see the data. If you can afford print billboards, you can afford digital billboards. So the question becomes which will be more effective for a given advertising subject and goal.
  3. Certain attributes of print and digital small format printing can make one a better choice than the other. (For a print book, for example, you can produce tactile effects with cover coatings, but a digital book provides no such tactile experience.) In a similar vein, certain design goals will favor either print billboard or digital billboard design. If weather temperature can trigger a digital heating and air conditioning ad, for instance, perhaps there are (or will soon be) other relevant triggers. For example, around lunch time or dinnertime, digital restaurant ads might be programmed to play on billboards across the Interstate highways.
  4. The advertising survey information from The Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) is sobering in that ad revenue has been declining for all other media (including newspapers). I guess it is not surprising. That said, this data highlights a potentially lucrative market for outdoor signage in many forms. And this means large format printing will continue to be a vibrant opportunity for marketers, printers, and graphic artists. Print seems not to be dying out but just reorganizing itself around other venues (such as large format printing, packaging, and the like).
  5. Shirk’s article presents some interesting observations about the attention span of consumers and their ability to process information. For instance, if static advertising is more effective in establishing brand awareness than ever-changing digital advertising, and if transmitting a large volume of information (such as a list of upcoming bands for a musical event) lends itself more to digital signage, this awareness of consumer needs and behavior can be priceless for advertisers.

So the bottom line is that large format print advertising is a growth industry, and digital advertising is just one more tool in the advertiser’s arsenal, to be applied at the most appropriate time and place.

Large Format Printing: Bold, Economical Standee Design

Sunday, April 8th, 2018

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.

Large Format Printing: Printing Art and Photos on Canvas

Monday, March 12th, 2018

I read an article yesterday by a company that prints clients’ photos on canvas. The article, entitled “The Rise of Canvas in Art: From Oil Paintings to Photo Prints,” written by Jessica Stewart and published on on 3/6/18, got me thinking not only about the history of canvas but also about the sense of importance and permanence it conveys.

On a related note, my fiancee and I do art therapy with the autistic, and many of our projects, such as collages of photos, fabric, and paint, could be prepared on paper. For the paintings we do, we could hand out canvas board (panels with canvas glued to chipboard). However, we have found that the autistic members with whom we work get more of a sense of pride and accomplishment when we give them stretched canvases stapled on wood stretcher strips. This three-dimensional substrate showcases their work. To quote from Stewart’s article, it gives the work “a sense of prestige.”

Jessica Stewart’s Article About Canvas

Stewart’s article provides a brief history of canvas, noting that it is “a rather recent development in art history.”

In Venice in the 16th century during the Italian Renaissance, painters started using canvas for two reasons. First, it was better than applying paint to wet plaster (in frescos), which had trouble drying in the humid Venetian environment. It was also better than applying paint to wood panels, which tended to warp and crack in the humidity. And canvas was plentiful in Venice since it was used to make sails for ships.

There was one other benefit, which had nothing to do with the humidity of Venice in the Italian Renaissance. Since canvas was thin and light, it could be attached to the wood stretcher strips in a very large format. It could also be removed from the stretcher strips and then rolled up.

The Spanish followed in Italy’s footsteps and started to paint on canvas, and by the 17th century this new substrate for painting was being used throughout Northern Europe and had become more prevalent than wood panels as a base for artwork.

Jumping forward to the present, if you attend a street art fair, you’ll now see large, stretched canvases with brilliantly colored photographs inkjetted onto their surface, as well as reproductions of paintings produced with large format printers on stretched and framed canvas.

What Is Canvas?

“The Rise of Canvas in Art: From Oil Paintings to Photo Prints” then goes on to explain exactly what canvas is. Stewart notes that the word “canvas” comes from the Latin “cannabis,” since it used to be made from tightly woven hemp, or in some cases linen. Both of these were more expensive than the material that came to be used for canvas in modern times: cotton. In addition to being less expensive than hemp and linen, cotton will stretch, which protects the artwork from cracking. Depending on its weave, it is also very strong. That said, many artists today still prefer to use linen for their canvases.

Once the canvas has been stretched onto wooden strips (and tacked or stapled in place), the artist primes the canvas with “gesso.” This base layer keeps the oil paints from actually touching the canvas and therefore prevents the decay of the canvas substrate.

While I was studying painting just after college, an art teacher of mine had us prepare our own gesso to apply to wood panels. This traditional ground included rabbit skin glue (an adhesive that also served as a sizing) and chalk or marble dust, (or in our case titanium white paint, due to its brightness and opacity). Since this gesso was not flexible, we had to apply it to wood panels. In contrast, the acrylic gesso you’ll find on prepared canvases in art and craft stores is based on an acrylic polymer medium, calcium carbonate (chalk), and titanium white paint. This kind of gesso is flexible, so it is ideal for priming stretched canvases.

Inkjet Printing on Canvas

Large format printing on canvas is an ideal way to showcase photos in a dramatic but flexible format. It is also ideal if you’re a fine art painter or print-maker and you want to produce multiple copies of your work in an easily frameable format. (Granted, they won’t be as valuable as the original painting from which they have been made, but depending on the materials and inkjet custom printing technology used, they will still be works of art.)

Specifically, a large-format inkjet printing device can be bought with an expanded inkset (more than just cyan, magenta, yellow, and black). Some inksets include two shades of magenta and two shades of cyan; and/or different black inks; or even orange, violet, and green ink. Whichever colors are chosen, these additional inks greatly expand the color gamut. That is, you can print a wider range of far more intense, color-faithful, and fade-resistant hues than you can with the usual CMYK inks. Color gradients are also smoother, and the apparent image resolution is higher.

In addition, as Stewart’s article notes, you can choose special archival paper, canvas, or vinyl as a substrate for custom printing your artwork. Therefore, you can produce and sell prints that are more intense in their color and that have a much longer lifespan than those made with lower-quality materials. Because of this, in the 1990’s Jack Duganne (a printmaker) coined the term “giclée” (which comes from the French verb for spray, spout, or squirt) to distinguish prints made with pigment-based inks and archival papers from prints made with standard inks and papers.

The initial giclée prints were produced on an Iris printer, a large format, high resolution proofing device used by commercial printing vendors. This term later was used in reference to all high-end inkjet prints, including Canon, Epson, and HP proofs.

While not cheap, giclée-level, large format inkjet printers can be within the financial reach of many individual artists. Therefore, with a good scanner and skill in Photoshop, they can produce individual prints on canvas, watercolor paper, or another substrate that are color corrected and otherwise enhanced with fine attention to detail. Artists can also produce the prints on demand, so maintaining an inventory (and storing the work) becomes unnecessary. In addition, the art can be printed with latex inks, which are water-based, solvent free, and environmentally friendly.

From the perspective of the buyer, this process is ideal because it makes art affordable. Even though giclée prints are more expensive to produce than standard inkjet images (up to $50.00 per print, not including scanning and color correction, vs. $5.00 per print for an offset-printed image–as per Wikipedia), a customer can buy a work of art for $60.00 to $150.00, rather than upwards from multiple hundreds to multiple thousands of dollars.

What You Can Learn From This Discussion

First, keep in mind that there’s only a thin line between fine art and commercial art. Such fine artists as Andy Warhol, Ben Shahn, Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Piet Mondrian also produced commercial art and illustration.

Another take-away is that custom printing a work of art on canvas gives it a sense of prestige that sets it apart from works on paper.

Finally, take the time to find samples and study the effects of an expanded inkset on inkjet custom printing. Compare the enhanced color gamut to those colors available through 4-color inkjet and even 4-color offset printing. Then apply this to your own graphic design work to enhance the intensity, fidelity, and brilliance of the colors you use.

Large Format Printing: Thoughts About a Gigantic Standee

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

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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