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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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Archive for the ‘Large-Format Printing’ Category

Custom Printing: More Than Just a Bus, It’s a Billboard

Monday, December 26th, 2022

Photo purchased from …

My fiancee and I were out driving the other day, and she pointed out a bus entirely covered in graphics. Even the windows were covered. And there were several QR codes strategically positioned so other drivers could take advantage of what was essentially a billboard.

In advertising, whatever stands out promotes the brand. And as with bottles in the grocery store that have shrink sleeves stretching the graphics across every inch of a product, a bus covered in graphics stands out from every other vehicle on the road.

After all, we are effectively bombarded each day with a huge number of ads (6,000 to 10,000, depending on what you read). And everything from a billboard to a cereal box really is an ad. Everything competes with everything else for your attention.

Analyzing the Bus Wrap

When my fiancee pointed out the vehicle, I quickly whipped out my cell phone and took several photos for later consideration. The bus was for local transport, so it wasn’t huge. And its design presentation, in addition to noting the name of the company, included a background map of the area, a few graphic images, and several QR codes. The overall color (or most prominent tone) was a deep green with other areas in lighter shades of green.

Upon my further reflection, these were the three areas I thought might be of interest to you as readers of the PIE Blog:

  1. Increasing marketing power with a large graphic.
  2. Covering windows without obstructing vision.
  3. Using QR codes to drive traffic to a brand’s website.

The first issue I started to address above. If you want your marketing materials to stand out (in this case a large format graphic), size makes a difference. Covering the entire surface (in this case the entire surface of a vehicle) makes the large format print graphic stand out far more than a simple sign on the side of the bus. It is expansive. It feels larger than life. And there’s nothing else to distract the viewer from the graphic image (no visible windows, lights, bumpers, or anything else that’s part of a bus).

This leads to the second issue noted above, covering the windows. The windows of the bus my fiancee and I saw were completely covered with inkjet graphics printed on perforated window film. From a distance, this appears to be a solid, flat surface on which the large format print images have been produced. But due to the graphic’s being a printed image on a perforated substrate, it is possible to look out of the bus easily without those outside the bus being able to look in. So perforated window vinyl has an added benefit beyond its ability to extend the large format print graphic across the entire surface of the bus. That is privacy.

To give you a little extra information, this mesh product (to me) looks a bit like the 60/40 window mesh I’ve seen advertised (which presumably refers to the printed vs unprinted percentage–of the full 100 percent total area–of what would otherwise be solid, unperforated vinyl for large format inkjet printing).

I’ve also seen material like this used on interior windows of restaurants, on shops in a mall that are under construction (to avoid unsightly boarded up sections and to advertise the brand offerings of the upcoming tenant). I’ve even seen large format print graphics produced on similar perforated material stretched across exterior fences to advertise a company in an attractive way.

And the third benefit of such a bus wrap (or vehicle wrap or fleet wrap) is that once you add QR codes, you allow for a two-way conversation between the consumer and the brand. The person (like myself) who sees the bus and is impressed (or wants more information) can point her or his cell phone camera at the black and white image on the bus, and, using software that can be downloaded to a cellphone, she or he can be directed to a website. Presumably, having reached this website, the interested person can then request more information, or email or call to interact with the company.

The QR code is a cross-media device providing a bridge between print advertising or marketing and an internet experience. And market research has determined that nothing cements brand recognition in the mind of the viewer as well as a blend of print and online marketing. Repetitive, consistent exposure drives up brand awareness.

Elements of the Bus Wrap

What do you need to consider if you’re researching bus wraps or any other large format print vehicle wraps in your own work? Here are some thoughts:

  1. Find a dedicated vehicle wrap company that can print the graphic and install it. These are two different skills. It is worth paying for both kinds of expertise.
  2. Consider the length of time you will need the vehicle wrap to be pristine. Depending on what I have read, the life span of a vehicle graphic ranges from two years to six or even ten years. Presumably, this will depend to a good extent on whether the vehicle is parked outdoors or in a garage, since exposure to sunlight, rain, snow, and rocks being thrown up against the vehicle by other traffic will all shorten the lifespan of the vehicle wrap.
  3. However, choosing the right construction materials makes a huge difference. These include the substrate (a vinyl specifically made for vehicle wraps) and the inkjet inks (latex, solvent, eco-solvent, or UV inks, all specifically fabricated for exterior use). On a side note, one benefit of latex ink beyond it’s being more eco-friendly than solvent inks is its ability to stretch. When you consider the fact that a vehicle wrap is applied with heat and adhesive to a three-dimensional surface with bulges and indentations, the flexibility of the ink can make a big difference in its installation, appearance, and durability.
  4. You will also want to consider the specific adhesive you will use to affix the printed vinyl vehicle wrap to your bus, truck, or car. These large format print graphics can be removed, so a vehicle wrap need not destroy the underlying paint job. However, it is wise to remove and replace the vehicle wrap before the stated lifetime. As time passes beyond this point, the adhesive gets harder to remove, potentially threatening the underlying auto paint.
  5. You might also consider an overcoat of some kind, like a laminate or some other barrier to UV light, to keep the inkjet color intensity from fading in the sunlight.
  6. If you think you can install/apply the graphic yourself, think again. This is highly specialized work. It’s worth every penny to find a skilled installer who knows just how to bend and shape the printed vinyl and wrap it into all the indentations of the vehicle, overlapping the printed segments of the image in such a way that the installed large format print graphic looks like a single printed photo. In addition, the graphic is installed with an adhesive and heat as well as pressure, and a skilled installer knows how to get rid of the creases and air bubbles.
  7. The good news is that if you scratch or ding a vehicle wrap, it can often be repaired. You don’t have to remove and reinstall the entire image. You just need to print out the damaged portion and reattach it. And this might go a long way in lengthening the life of a vehicle wrap.

The Takeaway

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Personally, I think this would be a great avenue for creative expression, appealing to designers who like to work on bold, sophisticated imagery. Overall, vehicle wraps are affordable, so advertising agencies presumably need graphic artists to do this kind of work for their clients.
  2. Study the physics behind the products (inks, substrates, coatings, as well as general aspects of installation) so you can direct a photo shoot if necessary and communicate knowledgeably with the inkjet printing staff and installers. The more you understand the physical process as well as the design process, the better.
  3. Regarding QR codes being incorporated into the design of vehicle wraps, you might want to study cross-media marketing (the synergistic effect of combining print marketing with digital marketing).

Becoming proficient in all of this will make you indispensable as a marketing creative.

Custom Printing: Grand-Format, Wall-Size Banners

Sunday, November 6th, 2022

Photo purchased from …

When I was a consultant working with a large Washington, DC, magazine publisher, one of my tasks was to coordinate the commercial printing and installation of a huge banner (an inkjet printed cover of one of the company’s magazines). I also helped the printer with the installation.

I’m a great believer in learning on the job. Just as it didn’t hurt to learn how to use motorized pallet loaders, plastic skid wrapping, and industrial freight elevators when my fiancee and I were doing freelance display installations for Chanel, neither did it hurt to help install a three-story-high banner on the side of the magazine publisher’s exterior wall.

This is what I learned. Hopefully it will help you in your custom printing work.

Design Considerations

First I had to find a vendor. Not all vendors produce large-format print graphics. In this category I include all forms of inkjet work produced on either flatbed printers (for rigid substrates) or roll-fed printers.

Fortunately most inkjet printers include large inksets (cyan, magenta, yellow, black, sometimes a second black, sometimes light cyan and light magenta, sometimes white, sometimes red, blue, and green, or even orange and purple). The goal is this. The more additional colors beyond the traditional CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) color set, the wider the color gamut and the more individual hues (such as specific corporate colors) you can match. So if you need to select a large-format print shop, I’d encourage you to approach a dedicated sign-maker or ask a trusted commercial printing supplier for a referral. Referrals go a long way in ensuring product quality, vendor skill, and deadline reliability.

Regarding technical specifications, consider size and resolution. For a large-format print image, you don’t need 300 dpi resolution if your banner will be three stories high. This would create an unnecessarily large (and time-consuming to print) art file. From a distance, your eye is perfectly fine with 80 dpi, or whatever else your printer suggests. (So ask him specifically.)

Presumably he will want a PDF file (not InDesign or Photoshop) of the job. But you should ask about the overall size. Most probably he will ask you to make the banner file the exact size of the final art (to avoid needing to enlarge the artwork when printing). He will probably also ask you to embed the fonts in the file or, more likely, to convert the type into outlines. He will definitely ask for files in CMYK format rather than RGB format. (If he does accept RGB files, he will still need to convert them to CMYK files on his end, so it’s best for you to make the shift before submitting the file so you can see how this will affect the overall color.)

What Will You Print On?

If your banner will be hung indoors, you might consider some kind of fabric (maybe for a table throw, interior wall banner, or roll-up banner stand). But for the kind of exterior banner I needed to provide to my consulting client, vinyl was the best choice. After all, it had to withstand the elements (sun, rain, and wind), which are very hard on a banner.

In this case I had the vendor stitch together the sections of the huge magazine-cover photo image, since the final banner was larger than the 16-foot width of many grand-format, roll-fed, inkjet printing machines. The vendor also hemmed the edges of the banner to improve durability, and added metal grommets along the edges to accept the rope for tying the banner to the side of the building.

Inks were also a consideration. Dye-based inks are more vibrant than pigment-based inks (solutions of water and dye molecules rather than larger particles of pigment suspended in liquid). However, dye-based inks are less weather resistant. More than likely, your printer will suggest a solvent-based, eco-solvent-based, or even UV ink that will tolerate rain and sunlight (which otherwise will cause the color in the inkjet inks to fade).

Be specific when talking with your custom printing vendor about whether your product will be an exterior banner, a bus or car wrap, or a billboard. You may also want to ask about lamination to increase durability, depending on what inks and substrate your printer will use. How long you will need the banner to be outside will also make a difference (three days, three months, three years). Solvent-based inks have the greatest longevity, eco-solvent inks slightly less, and water-based inks least of all. Unfortunately, the most durable inks also pose the largest health and environmental concerns.

Accounting for Wind

Wind does interesting things to banners. When I was hanging the banner on my client’s building with the sign manufacturer, I was struck by how even a gentle wind would catch the vinyl banner like a sail. To keep such a large banner from taking flight, the banner vinyl is often slashed in a regular (often curved, like horizontal “C’s”) pattern. The wind just travels through the vinyl material, and the pattern of slashes is minimal enough to not really compromise the overall look of the banner from a distance.

Interestingly enough, a similar technique is often used for large-format banners that cover windows in buses (or that cover vendor shop windows). These are called 60/40 mesh banners. (I have also seen them outside on fences, so the breeze travels through 60/40 mesh as well.) When a banner or bus wrap has been printed on 60/40 mesh, from a distance the eye sees the portion of the image that is printed and doesn’t really notice the matrix of regularly-spaced holes with no commercial printing ink.

But again, even though it can be used to reduce wind interference, 60/40 mesh is primarily a way to allow bus riders to look out the windows and those outside the bus to just see the banner wrapped around the vehicle.

Two More Considerations

Large-format graphics such as my client’s three-story banner may also show up as billboards, depending on how they are designed and positioned. Interestingly enough, one of the considerations for such a banner is viewing angle.

From a marketing perspective, it’s important to get the attention of the viewer when she or he is driving (especially true for a billboard but also true for a building wrap). In my client’s case, the front of the building was at a 45 degree angle to the road and right next to it. So it was visible for a number of seconds to those driving by.

In contrast, a banner facing a road or highway at a 90 degree angle might be missed, or it might be seen only for an instant. You may want to think about this, and ensure that the viewer gets as long an exposure to the image as possible. Of course this is also why you want to only include a few words on the banner along with a striking image. (Don’t make the viewer take more than an instant to process the information while driving.)

This is relevant in terms of safety as well. If the banner faces the street at a 90 degree angle, and the person driving looks away from the road to see the banner, she or he will be at serious risk.

Final Thoughts

So, as with most other printed products, a large-format print banner (whether a building wrap, a bus or car wrap, or a 60/40 banner covering a store window) has both a design component and a functional, production component.

The best large-format graphics make a dramatic statement with only a few words and a striking image in brilliant color. They don’t make the viewer take more than an instant to process the information. But it’s also important to consider the best vendor for such a job, as well as the proper inkset (both the hue and the ink formulation, whether dye-based, eco-solvent, UV, or solvent), file resolution, and document size.

Your printer is your best ally in helping you get this kind of work done.

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. (more…)

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. (more…)

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. (more…)

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. (more…)

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. (more…)

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. (more…)

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. (more…)

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). (more…)


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