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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

Large Format Printing: What’s Behind the Standees?

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

My fiancee and I spent about ten hours this week installing standees. It’s that time of year again, and movie theaters are receiving stacks of cartons containing the large format printed pieces that we will assemble into the (sometimes) massive cardboard structures used to promote upcoming movies.

When you look at the front of a standee, you can get lost in the promise of fantasy, adventure, and just plain good times. But what’s behind the standees?

I know this sounds like a trick question, or even a philosophical or psychological one based on marketing theory. But I mean it quite literally. Behind the ink or toner on paper (the graphic panels that face forward), there is a huge amount of artistry that goes unseen. That is, the finishing operations required to present a three-dimensional marketing structure both require a lot of thought before the actual design process and fabrication, and also depend a lot on several post-press operations.

Choice of Substrate

Last night when my fiancee and I were assembling the new Baywatch standee, I noticed that several of the structural elements looked alike but were made from different kinds of cardboard. Since I’m familiar with the graphic studio that designed this piece (and since I have a lot of respect for them), I assumed there was logic behind the decision.

One of the structural “girders” (for want of a better term) spanned the space between two base units I had just assembled. It was composed of chipboard (thinner than corrugated board and without the fluting). This was a horizontal piece. In contrast, two vertical girders, which were also 4” x 4” square crosswise and about six feet long, were made out of fluted cardboard, also printed black (presumably with flexographic ink).

I thought about why the design studio had made different substrate choices as I proceeded with assembly, but as I built up the portion of the standee above the horizontal chipboard base girder, I realized that the weight distribution requirements were different. The horizontal chipboard piece held less weight. Basically, it just connected the left and right base of the Baywatch lifeguard tower. In contrast, the thicker, vertical corrugated-board “poles” held up the entire lifeguard building. The moral is, chipboard is flimsy when compared to corrugated board. It’s perfect for some things, but not for “load-bearing” structures.

The Take-Away

Throughout the design and fabrication process, the standee designers are thinking in terms of structure. What has to be strong? What can be less strong, but perhaps lighter? And what commercial printing technology is required to decorate each: flexography, custom screen printing, offset printing, or digital printing? On a smaller scale, even the point of purchase and point of sale large format print products you see in the grocery stores depend on the same kinds of functional decisions as well as the marketing and commercial design decisions that influence the creation of the graphic panels the viewer sees.

Pattern Gluing, Die Cutting, and Scoring

I’m going to address these together because each depends closely on the others.

In many cases, when you look at the back of a standee, you’ll see one piece of cardboard that has been glued to another using hot-melt glue. For instance, in the back of a large graphic panel, or even a die cut figure, you might need a spacing “arm” (if you will), to hold the center of the piece rigid and straight. If you have a die cut figure, such as that of Dwayne Johnson in the Baywatch movie, such attachments may be needed to keep the lifesize image from flopping over or tearing off the standee.

In the case of the Dwayne Johnson “lug,” as these attachments are called in the industry, extra cardboard (flexo-printed black) has been hot-melt glued to the back of the die cut Dwayne Johnson image. If you fold in the tabs on this attachment and insert them into the background—and, if you use double sided tape on the bottom of his feet to attach the figure to the printed floor panel—Dwayne Johnson will be stable and secure.

So automated pattern gluing is integral to this process, even though the viewer will never see the glue or any of the strengthening cardboard attachments. And, by the way, the extra cardboard structures glued behind Dwayne Johnson’s character’s legs are made of corrugated board, not chipboard, for durability.

Regarding die cutting, you will see all number of cut-outs if you look closely at the structure of the standee. All tabs and all slots into which the tabs fit are die cut. In addition, the silhouettes of all the characters that are free-standing on cardboard poles had to be cut out of flat printed press sheets laminated to corrugated board. Everywhere you look, something has to be cut out, and all of the “scrap” (anything that’s not the image) has to be punched out and removed.

Granted, this kind of die cutting makes the silhouetted figures less sturdy. If you look closely, in fact, you’ll see that in transit through the Postal System, many of the die cut character figures have been banged up, since in most cases they are not securely attached together in the shipping carton. So it helps for a standee installer to have experience in the fine arts and commercial arts to be able to touch up the banged-up pieces with tape and marker pens.

Regarding scoring, all of the pieces of cardboard that will be folded must first be scored, and this is another automated post-press function. Scoring is, for want of a better term, a “pre-fold” crease made with a metal scoring rule on the cardboard using a letterpress. The scoring rule mashes the fluted corrugated board slightly, so that when my fiancee and I fold over the corners of the standee (or the spot-glued arms attached to the back of a figure to hold it straight), all of these pieces align correctly when folded. This is not for our ease of assembly. Rather it is to ensure that the folds are made exactly where the designers had intended, while avoiding mis-folding or tearing or any other problems.

The Nuts and Bolts

Any large format print product attached with enough screws in enough stress points will gradually become very strong. Some of these standees can have 80 or more screws, used for attaching pieces together while improving stability and strength. And all of the screw holes are considered die cuts, which means that overall, a massive and intricate matrix of die cuts has to be planned for (and metal die cutting rules created) to make all of this happen. If everything is not precisely and accurately aligned (with zero tolerance for even a hair’s breadth of misalignment), things won’t go together correctly. So to the educated viewer, each and every complex standee is a masterful success that has been clearly crafted by both knowledgeable graphic designers and the computer aided design hardware and software that are their tools of trade.

The Take-Away

Here are some thoughts to ponder:

  1. If you choose to be a standee designer, you will need to understand marketing, psychology, and graphic design. But you will also need to understand the laws of physics, differences in materials (such as chipboard vs. corrugated board), and all commercial printing processes (when to screen print, for instance—on clear plexiglass substrates; or when to flexo print—on incidental or unseen background pieces).
  2. All of this must be unbelievably expensive to do—per unit, ie., for each standee. So the press runs for these standees must be very long for the unit costs to be reasonable (think how many theaters receive the standees across the United States).
  3. However, for the larger standees, not every theater gets one (because they are expensive to produce, ship, and install). So for all of the post-press operations that will drive the unit cost of each standee way up, the overall press run is not unlimited, so the final cost per standee must still be very high.
  4. This shows how much the movie industry depends on, and how committed it is to, marketing.

Final Thoughts

If you can handle the deadlines, this may be a very lucrative field for commercial designers to consider. It’s fun, and it challenges both your creative and mathematical/engineering skills.

Custom Printing: Large Banner Stand Case Study Follow Up

Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

I noted in a prior blog article that I had been working on a large banner stand project for a print brokering client. To review, it is a 10’ x 8’ large format print on a frame made up of thin metal poles at right angles to one another, with feet on either side that are perpendicular to the frame. Fortunately, this was exactly what my client had wanted, and I found photos online showing this specific product.

After drafting specifications for the job and sending these to three brick-and-mortar printers for estimates, I also found the product online for a very reasonable price. I told my client about the online vendor. I also told her that I could not vouch for the quality of their product since I had not worked with them before. Therefore, I sent my client an email with the vendor’s contact information, specifications, and price, and assumed she would want the online product.

Surprisingly, I was wrong. My client contacted me and said she wanted me to select one of my preferred vendors. She did not want to buy the banner stand online. I was so pleased that my client shared my belief in the mutual benefit of long-standing client-vendor relationships.

The Bids for the Large Format Print and Banner Stand

Shortly thereafter, I started receiving bids from my vendors. This is what I found:

  1. The online vendor was clearly the lowest bid, a little under $250 plus shipping (for $25). The lowest brick-and-mortar price was about $400 plus shipping (for $50), or about 64 percent more than the online bid. Then again, my client didn’t want an online printer.
  2. The midrange printer had priced the job not on scrim vinyl but on polyester fabric. The principal of the firm was worried that the weight of the vinyl, in such a large format print, would cause the center of the frame to hang down. He priced his fabric banner product at about $700 plus shipping.
  3. The high bid was for about $850 plus shipping. Interestingly enough, this printer offered to hand me directly over to the vendor (i.e., she was brokering the job, which indicated she did not have the large format press capabilities for this particular kind of banner).

New Assumptions for the Banner

Based on this information I made some assumptions:

  1. I had visited the mid-range printer before and had seen his grand-format inkjet printing equipment. So I surmised that this vendor would print the job in-house and then pair the banner with a banner stand bought from another vendor. Moreover, since this particular vendor was worried about the weight of a large vinyl banner, and since his price was higher than that of the first vendor, I wondered whether the cost of the fabric was higher, too, accounting for the price difference compared to the vinyl.
  2. With the assumption that polyester fabric costs more than vinyl scrim, I approached the low-bid brick-and-mortar printer and asked for a second bid based on this material. This printer also confirmed my belief that the polyester fabric reflected less light than the vinyl.
  3. When the additional pricing came back, it was almost identical to the mid-range printer’s price (about $700 plus shipping).
  4. I shared all specs and prices with my client, along with my thoughts and reactions. I encouraged her to buy from the printer that had initially bid on the vinyl banner. I did this specifically because I knew he printed his own banners and because he said he had never had a problem with the weight of the scrim vinyl.
  5. It’s not that I didn’t trust the mid-range vendor. I just liked having a large format print supplier comfortable with both vinyl and polyester fabric. Then I could let my client choose the substrate she preferred.
  6. In general I felt comfortable with whatever choice my client would make, because I already had working relationships with all vendors except the online vendor. I had confidence in their work.
  7. I wasn’t as concerned about the mid-range vendor’s fear that the vinyl would be too heavy because of the other vendor’s direct experience in producing scrim vinyl banners.

We’ll see what happens, but my client now has credit with the printer. She also has all information from the printer regarding PDF creation requirements plus FTP art file transmission procedures. Now all she has to do is choose between two banner materials and complete and upload the art.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. It seems that in the process of buying commercial printing services, if you’re alert and logical, the best option will “reveal” itself. I trusted all three vendors, but one planned to broker the entire job. (In other words, this printer didn’t have the appropriate large format print equipment.) No problem there. Not everyone does. I still had two vendors.
  2. Seeing comparable pricing from your selection of commercial printing vendors is a good sign. When I saw that the vendor with the scrim vinyl provided a revised price almost identical to that of the mid-range vendor when the job was priced on polyester fabric, it increased my faith in both printers.
  3. If a vendor is uncomfortable with a process, don’t make him do it. I trusted the first vendor because he had personal experience with the vinyl substrate. But I don’t think any less of the mid-range vendor for other kinds of work.
  4. Note that materials can be a large portion of the total cost of the job. The fabric was almost twice as expensive as the vinyl. If you’re making a choice like this, be clear as to why you’re choosing one material over another. For example, in my client’s case, the minimized light reflectivity, lighter weight, softness, and overall perceived higher value of the polyester fabric banner might be worth the higher price.
  5. When compiling a budget, don’t forget the cost to ship the banner and banner stand.
  6. More than anything, take time to regularly communicate with current vendors and forge relationships with new printers based on mutual benefit and trust. Nothing will help you buy commercial printing more intelligently and successfully.

Custom Printing: Case Study for a Large Banner Stand

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017

A client came to me today with a request for a large banner stand. I mean large: 10 feet by 8 feet horizontal. Since my fiancee and I assemble and install movie theater standees and hang movie banners and posters, I can fully appreciate the size and heft of a 10 foot by 8 foot banner.

I have produced and brokered the commercial printing for a number of small banners. I understand the physical requirements of a roll-up banner stand, or a free-standing banner with hems and grommets for tying to a wall or other structure. I’ve even hung a 13 foot by 17 foot banner off the side of a building with ropes.

Backstory for My Client

I wanted to make sure the product I sold my client worked both aesthetically and functionally. In her email, my client noted that the banner would be used behind a podium at an event. It needed to be free-standing. It would not be hung on a wall. Conversely, it did not need to be an elaborate, wall-like structure with a dramatic graphic image, like the ones used at a trade show. I wanted my client to be happy with what she got. However, I didn’t want to give her more than she needed.

It happens that my fiancee and I had installed a similar banner at a movie theater using a structure made of thin metal piping. It looked like a giant clothes rack: a rectangle with feet extending toward the front and back, perpendicular to the metal frame to keep it standing and steady.

So I went online and started Googling images of 10 foot by 8 foot banner stands. I found a few photos, with and without banners, and emailed them to my client. She was happy. This was exactly what she wanted.

Buying the Large Format Printing

Not all printers do large format printing. It requires special equipment and special expertise. This particular kind of banner is an inkjet printed product created on either a roll-fed or flatbed inkjet press. After the commercial printing process, the flat sheet of vinyl has to be hemmed for edge protection. Often the printer will punch holes around the perimeter of the banner and then strengthen these holes with metal grommets, so the banner can be suspended from the wall with ropes.

In the case of this banner, though, presumably the top and bottom would need to be folded over and sewn to create a “tunnel” through which the top and bottom metal pipes of the banner stand would go in order to keep the banner flat and vertical, in spite of its weight. (These are called “pole pockets.”) If you can imagine drapes with a curtain rod going through the top under a flap of fabric, you’ll have a good idea of what I’m describing.

A thorough search online came up with an alternative, which involved tying the banner to the stand in numerous places around the perimeter of the image.

I also found very elaborate structures that resembled temporary walls with the inkjet printed fabric stretched over them. I noticed in the ads that these often cost over $1,000, while the simpler banner stands cost about a quarter of this, or a little more.

With this information in hand, plus my client’s description from her email, I sent a request for bid to two vendors.

(Why did I choose brick-and-mortar printers when these banners are also sold online? Because I have worked with these vendors before. They provide support and good ideas, and they back up the quality of their work. Not that online vendors don’t. I just don’t have long-term relationships with any at the moment. If my client balks at the pricing I get, I’ll do more research on the Web and give her some online “web-to-print” alternatives.)

The Considerations

So I already have my client’s approval of the banner and the banner stand options. This is a good start. From both online research and my personal experience installing movie theater graphics, I know for sure that this particular banner stand will hold the weight of a 10 foot by 8 foot banner while being relatively cheap to produce. I also have two hanging options: tying the banner to the stand or hemming the top and bottom to accept the horizontal piping of the banner stand structure. What’s left?

Actually, two considerations: what banner material to choose and what inkjet inks to use. In addition, it will be useful to request PDF file preparation information for my client.

First, the inks: Since my client will be using the banner for a single (presumably night-time) event, I won’t need to worry about lightfastness (how the banner will tolerate sunlight without fading). I also won’t have to worry about weather-tolerance, since the banner will be used inside a building.

Although I know there are a number of different inks available for large format printing, ranging from solvent inks (good for non-porous materials in weather) to latex inks to UV cured inks (also good for non-porous materials), I plan to defer to the large format printing vendor. Basically, anything he can provide with a wide color gamut will work. In fact, since my client sent me the mock-up of the banner, I see that it is only one color (or perhaps a CMYK build to produce one color). It isn’t complicated (not a wide-format fashion shot that has to be absolutely color faithful). So I can be reasonably certain that whatever inks the printer chooses will be successful.

Regarding the substrates, I know that any number of papers, films, vinyls, and even canvas can be run through the large format inkjet presses. For my client’s project, I will assume there will be intense, direct lighting (since the banner will be the backdrop for a speech my client will be giving). It will therefore not benefit her to use a gloss vinyl substrate. Rather a dull vinyl will avoid glare from the lights. From my initial impression, a matte vinyl with edges that won’t curl should be fine. The vinyl will also be durable, which will be good if my client decides to use the banner for more than one event.

It would also be good to get a carrying case for the banner and banner stand (for protection and ease of transport). But on a budget, a ripstop nylon bag should be fine instead of a large and heavy plastic traveling case.

Next Steps

So with all of this information in hand, I plan to see what my two large format print vendors have to suggest. If the pricing is too high for my client’s taste, I’ll look for an online supplier.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

More than anything, I would encourage you to do research. If you know what you want, go online and look for images. This is particularly helpful when your project involves physical requirements. For instance, a banner stand can’t be too light, or it will fall over. If your banner will be outside in the wind, this will be a big problem. You will need a way to anchor the banner to the ground. Send the images you find online to a number of printers, and ask for their advice.

Consider how long the banner and banner stand will be in use. If it’s a banner that will be used outside, consider the durability of the substrate and the weather-fastness and lightfastness of the substrate and inks. If your images are color critical and vibrant (such as images of food, fashion, or automotive subjects), consider the number of colors in the ink set. For example, it might be good to use cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK), and then add an orange, green, and violet, or some other colors, to get the color range and intensity you need.

The best approach is to find vendors you trust (or get referrals). Then tell them what the final product will look like, how long it must last, and what kinds of stress (like weather) it must endure. Then defer to their expertise.

Large Format Printing: A Standee Light Box Case Study

Monday, December 19th, 2016

My fiancee and I received a request from our California broker yesterday to install a lightbox standee in a local movie theater. The movie the standee promoted was Fifty Shades Darker, the next film in the Fifty Shades of Grey series.

To give you an idea of what a lightbox standee is, picture a cardboard rectangular box, taller than a soda vending machine as well as a bit wider. It is black, with a transparent graphic panel on the front and a light source within. The goal is to backlight the graphic image. As with a computer monitor, this backlighting gives the graphic image incredibly vivid colors. In addition, the whole box stands out from among the surrounding movie standees because it has a light source and is therefore brighter than the other standees, even the larger ones (called “theatrical standees”).

To add drama to the aforementioned description, the image on the lightbox is of Christian Grey holding a lace carnival mask over Anastasia Steele’s face and eyes. Everything else on the graphic panel is typography, promoting the film and providing marketing and film-opening information.

On a Deeper Level

It seems simple enough: an especially large format print poster, similar to the smaller “one-sheets” (posters with one image on the front and a reverse of the image on the back of the poster to intensify the colors when the poster is illuminated in a lightbox).

As my fiancee and I assembled the large format print lightbox standee, I thought about the benefits of such a standee for marketing purposes, about how such a structure fits into the “functional printing” category of commercial printing, and about exactly how the product was produced.

From a Marketing Perspective

I mentioned earlier just how dramatic a backlit standee can be. Many standees actually have their own light source, in my experience, but often these are just rows of LEDs, which highlight the three-dimensional image but don’t dramatically illuminate it. These are decorative, whereas a lightbox turns an image from “reflective” art into “transmissive art.”

To explain these two terms, think of a photographic slide, which in graphic arts terminology is called a transparency. Light from behind creates the image, much as an image is created on your cellphone, desktop computer or tablet screen, or your television. Since these images are created by transmitted light, the colors are brighter and the color gamut (number of reproducible colors) is larger than that of a printed poster. In contrast, a poster can only be seen when illuminated by reflected light coming from the front of the poster. For instance, in the movie theater lobby, a large format print banner is visible because of the ambient light.

From a marketing perspective, this makes for highly dramatic backlit images on lightboxes. When paired with a good design, this kind of display option enhances the marketing effect. In the case of Fifty Shades Darker, the simplicity of the graphic image, along with the focus on Anastasia’s face, benefits from the backlighting. The light makes her face “glow.” On a purely functional level, this is because there is only a thin film of bright, transparent ink (presumably inkjet ink) on the clear acetate base, in the area of her face, so the five banks of fluorescent light inside the cardboard lightbox structure come through this portion of the graphic in full intensity, drawing the viewer’s eyes magnetically to Anastasia’s face.

So from a marketing perspective, this clearly works. It will distract passersby from all of the other standees, presumably selling tickets (or at least sparking interest in the movie).

From a Functional Printing Perspective

“Functional printing” is all about physical products that include ink or toner on a substrate. Your car dashboard with its knobs and buttons is functional printing. So are elevator panels and computer keyboards. And so is an inkjet printed circuit board imaged with inks that can transmit an electric charge.

Functional printing involves the physical properties of an object, in this case a promotional lightbox. The box is an object in space. When you assemble one, you first build the back, walls, top, and bottom to create a “trough” that is larger than a bathtub made out of cardboard. The paper walls fold back over themselves to strengthen the paper board, and everything is held together with die cut tabs inserted in die cut slots (all prepared on a special die cutting press).

A separate unit, which is a scored and die cut piece of white cardboard, has holes for wires, which come out of 12” fluorescent tubes that are attached to the backing board with die cut cardboard clamps. When the fluorescent lights have been attached to the board, the white cardboard light panel is lowered into the exterior “trough” to which it is then attached with screws. At this point, the only commercial printing is the flexographic black ink laid down over all of the exterior panels of the lightbox, plus the white printed on the front of the light panel. The black draws the viewer’s attention away from the exterior of the lightbox, and the white background of the light panel enhances the reflected fluorescent light within the box (i.e., behind the transparent graphic panel covering the front of the box).

The transparent graphic panel is then screwed onto the exterior perimeter of the lightbox (like a swimming pool cover is stretched over a pool at the end of the season).

What made this particular lightbox standee interesting is that instead of printing white ink on the back of the printed graphic panel (of Christian an Anastasia), the standee creator had included a white plexiglass panel to position between the light and the graphic panel in order to diffuse the light.

(If you look at the back of a backlit display image in a cosmetics counter lightbox in a department store, you’ll see that the artwork of the model is printed on plexiglass or other thick plastic, and there is an opaque white film over the side of the image facing the light source. This diffuses the light so it will be of even brightness over the entirety of the graphic image. Without such a barrier, you would see brighter light–or brighter imagery–in those areas of the graphic panel immediately covering one of the illumination lamps. Diffusing the light with a backing of white ink behind the graphic image avoids that problem.)

In the case of the lightbox standee, the transparency (the large graphic image of Christian and Anastasia) had been printed on a thin sheet of plastic. My fiancee and I had to sandwich the additional sheet of thick, frosted white plastic between the cardboard lightbox frame we had just assembled and the thin, transparent graphic panel. We did this, and then we screwed the graphic onto the lightbox assembly with nuts and bolts. (In fact, due to the weight of the graphic panel and the plastic diffusion sheet, we had to first put several screws in strategic places around the perimeter of the lightbox to suspend the heavy plastic image evenly, and then fill in the remaining screws. It was not easy.)

However, once we had folded the exterior flexographic printed panels over the backing paper and plugged the lights into the wall socket, the overall effect was profound.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

I think the take-away from this case study is threefold:

  1. Commercial printing extends far beyond flat brochures, annual reports, and posters. In many cases printed press sheets are converted into three dimensional objects. These include product packaging and movie standees. In these instances, if you look closely, you can see the finishing operations of scoring, folding, pattern gluing, and die cutting. When you’re designing such a promotional piece as a movie standee, you have to think in terms of creating a physical object. You also have to think about the weight of the product (how the graphic panels will hang on the lightbox, for instance, and whether they will be too heavy to be supported by the cardboard structure).
  2. You also have to think about printing technologies that fit your purpose. In this particular case, the outside walls of the cardboard structure would have been crushed by the pressure of offset press rollers, so the printer had to use a flexographic press. For the transparent graphic panel, presumably the plastic sheet would not have gone through an offset press without shifting, so my assumption is that the printer had used large format print inkjet technology to produce the transparent graphic panel.
  3. In spite of the limitations inherent in creating a physical product, the overall effect has to be stunning. In the case of this lightbox movie standee, the designer and printer used two printing technologies, a lot of die cut cardboard, and lighting materials from the hardware store to promote a fantasy and create an image that captivated the viewer.

Custom Printing: “One-Sheet” Movie Posters

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

I was overjoyed to receive a phone call from a reader yesterday. My fiancee and I were driving to our art therapy class with our autistic students when my cell phone rang.

The reader asked me about movie one-sheets. She needed to have some printed, and she wanted to know what percentage of ink her commercial printing vendor needed to use to print the back of the one-sheet. I was clueless, so I suggested that she have her offset printer check the back of her sample one-sheet with a densitometer or spectrophotometer (the former checks the density of an ink film on a press sheet, and the latter determines the specific color based on its wavelength).

When we got home I went to school on one-sheets, researching the topic on the Internet. I found some interesting information, which I want to share with you—and particularly with the reader who called my cell phone.

First of All, What Is a One-Sheet?

I have mentioned in prior blogs that, among other things we do, my fiancee and I install movie signage (standees, banners, one-sheets, and the like). One-sheets are posters that are produced specifically for installation in light boxes (also called marquees).

The first time you install one of these, you will see that it is usually printed on both the front and the back. On the back is a lighter image printed backwards. On the front is the original, right-reading image.

To install a one-sheet, you open the light-box door and then pry up four spring-loaded clamps, one on each side of the rectangular light box. You slip the one-sheet into the lightbox, over the frosted glass covering the lights, lower the clamps, and then close and lock the marquee box. Done.

Uses of One-Sheet Posters

Not all one-sheets–even for the same movie—are the same. One might be for a premiere, another might note a particular movie opening date. You might even find a lenticular copy of one of these posters. In this case, in addition to displaying the promotional information for the film in stunning back-lit color, the one-sheet will display the image with the three-dimensional illusion provided by lenticular custom printing.

But even though the content of the one-sheet may vary from poster to poster, in all cases their purpose is the same: to advertise an upcoming or current movie and generate “buzz.” Given their relatively modest cost to produce, this is a good use of advertising funds (and delivery and installation funds as well).

History of the One-Sheets

Apparently the one-sheet has been around since the early 1900s, produced via traditional lithography (stone lithography) on thinner paper and later, in the 1930s, by offset lithography on clay-coated glossy stock. Originally, the larger, 27” x 41” size was the norm, but now the smaller 27” x 40” size is common, with the poster image bleeding on all four sides of the sheet.

Go to for more information. This was my first stop in my research.

Double-Sided Printing

Starting in the 1950s, movie theaters were printing on both sides of the sheet. On the front, the image and text were right-reading; on the back of the sheet the image and text were wrong-reading (backwards). What this meant is that when the back-lighting from the fluorescent tubes shone through the movie poster, the front and back images on the sheet would align perfectly.

The result was a more intense color (a sheet printed on one side might appear washed out when back-lit—although the white background did help maintain the color saturation on the front to an extent). And there was an added sense of depth and realism in the image, even without lenticular printing.

Obviously, these are much more expensive to produce than single-sided posters, but they are also far more effective.

The Percentage Screen of the Back-Printed Image

The PIE Blog reader who called me asked specifically what percentage the back-printed image should be. She was producing a one-sheet of her own, and her custom printing supplier had asked this question.

Based on my reading, the answer is that the back-printed image is 30 to 40 percent of the density of the inks on the front of the poster.

What You Can Learn from This Anecdote

  1. Sometimes it’s just fun to learn new facts about commercial printing history.
  2. Beyond this, it is interesting to note that posters of this sort are very effective marketing tools. After all, in one local theater we service there are no more than seven standees on each of the theater’s two floors. However, there are far more one-sheets both in the theater and out in the adjacent mall. Posters are like postcards. They’re cheap to make and they’re effective advertising.
  3. The fact that a commercial printing press can align the two images perfectly on the front and back of a one-sheet shows the precision that can be achieved on press.
  4. What you print on the back of something makes a difference. Think about it. If you print on acetate without first laying down a white background, the colors you print on the clear sheet will be washed out. (Non-one-sheet posters have white on the back of the poster for this reason.) Also think about this when you design a perfect-bound print book. (If the paper is not opaque enough, or if the ink on one side of the sheet is too dense, the image on the back of the page can be seen through the front.)

Large Format Printing: A Change in the Malls and Shops

Monday, November 16th, 2015

I’m seeing a change in the malls and retail shops. Mind you, I seldom buy things in malls, so I have—perhaps—a more objective view than many other people. What I’m seeing is the more creative use of large format print signage.

It seems that not that long ago, when a shop in a mall went out of business and had to be rebuilt and rebranded, a large, ugly sheetrock wall went up to block off the construction. Not only was it ugly, but it didn’t fit in with the rest of the décor in the mall, nor did it use the potential display space for anything productive.

But over the last few years I have seen a change for the better. As large format print signage has become more prevalent, showing up on the sides of buildings as well as on buses and cars, the wall space blocking off construction sites in malls has taken on the function of a huge advertisement.

In most cases the signage has maintained the “look” of the mall, in terms of color palettes, imagery, and fonts. In some cases the space has been used as a press release, advertising the upcoming opening of a new store, perhaps even a new brand. Graphic designers have spread huge, glamorous models across the walls to entice onlookers to buy once the store has opened, or reopened in the case of remodeling.

Benefits of This New Approach

  1. For a mall, a vacancy can be the kiss of death. Vacancies often breed more vacancies, and the point comes when the mall dies. Obviously it is in the vested interest of the mall owner to avoid the appearance of a vacancy. Fortunately, the splash of color and imagery that has become the norm for build-outs of new mall stores avoids this look of dereliction completely, and even suggests that something new and exciting is about to happen.
  2. Safety is another issue. People tend to feel less safe around construction sites, and this concern could slow down mall traffic. Large format print signage used in this way can mask the appearance of construction, while showing that the mall management is both aware of and sensitive to the concerns of its clients.
  3. Promotional opportunities are a third benefit. A savvy marketer can see a construction wall in a mall not as an eye sore but as a potential billboard to inform passersby of the kind of store coming to the new location, what it will be selling, and when it will open. Advertising: now that’s a good use of space.
  4. A sense of cohesiveness. A large format print display covering the construction site gives a feeling of unity within the mall, a sense that all of the diverse shops are part of a unified shopping experience. Even the currently unused space is important because it is on the way to becoming a new and important destination.
  5. Privacy. This really applies more to street corner drug stores and the like than to retail clothing establishments found in a mall. Sometimes people in a store want to avoid being in a fish bowl. They want privacy. In such cases a large format print display covering the windows of such a store can give passersby a good idea of what to expect inside while shielding those doing business within the building.
  6. New branding opportunities abound, and high-flying brands like Starbucks and Chipotle can establish a presence even before the opening day. I recently saw a Chipotle on a local street corner, not in a mall but within a shopping district. The signage for the upcoming burritos, bowls, tacos, and salads prepared the neighborhood for the opening while reinforcing the brand. It was as though the store was already there satisfying hungry customers. The large format print signage—clearly more so than any blank, vacant windows on the street—gave the sense that Chipotle was robust and expanding into all the neighborhoods.

What You Can Learn from This

Don’t waste any opportunity to advertise, to keep the public informed.

In an age where even the shopping carts in the local grocery stores have advertising emblazoned on them, it is prudent to not let empty space go to waste. This awareness can inform your own graphic design and print buying, in terms of the marketing opportunities you suggest to those higher up in your organization. If you come up with new ways for them to make money–such as creative uses for large format print signage–they’ll love you for it.

Large Format Printing: Display Marketing Options

Friday, November 13th, 2015

I just received a catalog from a trade show and marketing display printer, and it has given me a number of new ideas for large format print jobs. Here are some options you might want to consider:

Roll-Up Banner Stands

You’ve probably seen a number of these, anywhere from apartment lobbies to trade shows. First you extend a vertical, telescoping pole. Then then you grab a loop at the center of the horizontal case on the floor. When you pull up on the loop, a spring-loaded banner rolls out of the aluminum case. The bottom of the banner stays fixed in the case while the banner extends. When you reach the top of the vertical pole, you hook the loop onto the hook at the top of the extended pole. A horizontal bar parallel to the aluminum case on the floor keeps the banner dimensionally stable. Once you hook the top cross bar onto the hook, the banner is open and flat, and you’re done.

According to this particular catalog, you can buy stands that will contain banners from 24” x 80” to 62” x 96”. Some are even double sided. When you line up two or three side by side, you can create one giant image out of a number of smaller ones. Prices in this particular catalog range from just over $240 to $405, so this is an economical choice for a trade show.

One thing to note is that some makers of banner stands will let you pay a fraction of the cost to upgrade the banner stand by swapping out the original large format print banner for a new one. This is a useful feature if you update the content year to year.

X-Frame Displays

This is a bargain-priced alternative to a retractable banner stand. You have to hook grommets at the four corners of your large format print banner into hooks on the “X” support stand, but the background frame folds easily, and it keeps the banner dimensionally stable when it’s up and open. It’s not spring loaded like the retractable banner stands, but there are no moving parts to damage. It’s simple and elegant as well as inexpensive. (The grommets keep the hooks from damaging the large format print when it’s open.)

Table Top Displays

These are adorable when compared to the retractable banner stands on the floor. They’re miniatures in every way. Consider buying a big one for your trade show booth (usually a 10′ x 10′ space) and then a few of the miniatures for your display table. Keep in mind that they won’t be seen well enough to stand alone. You will need to get passersby into your booth with larger signage, but once your prospects have arrived, a table-top unit can show them useful branding imagery and information.

Table Throws

Under the table top displays noted above, you might want to spread out a table covering (perhaps a single color cloth) with a smaller printed runner on top. A runner might take up a third of the horizontal space and display an image and text on the top and also on the front of your fold-up table.

Or, you can produce a full-color table throw with a much larger image that extends across the top, front, and sides of the entire table.

A third option is the fitted table throw, which provides space for images and text on the top, sides, and front but hugs the legs of the display table as it slopes inward and down from the table top. This option looks more like a futuristic podium and less like a table covered with a table cloth.

Trade Show Displays

These printed walls can cost upwards of $980, according to the catalog I received, but they are large and dramatic. That is, they can attract customers. Picture a straight or curved wall of support struts covered with a fabric sleeve. The image on the sleeve can end before the curved “end caps,” or the full-color printed fabric can wrap around the entire large panel. You would use such a device for the background wall of your booth, then add lights on top, then either use the display case as a podium or perhaps add a table with a table throw in front of this large format print display.

Other variants have the fabric printed artwork attached to the fold-up background stand. In this case the image is on the front, and the geometric background struts are visible. Since the banner is already attached to the stand, you can open and install the entire display in seconds. Not only are such display walls lighter than those mentioned above, but they are also much less expensive, ranging from $225 to $1,100 in this particular catalog.

Other Large Displays

Some of the displays in the catalog include banners printed on the back and front of a pillow-case-like slip-on bag. This fits snugly on the aluminum display structure, which can be curved around your podium for larger banners. For smaller banners, the fabric sleeve can just be slipped onto a narrow vertical support structure. Some of the banner stands are even “S” shaped for a unique twist.

Feather Flag and Tear-Drop Stands

If you take an aluminum pole and curve it around like a shepherd’s crook (and then add a banner in the curve and down the straight part of the pipe), you have a feather flag or teardrop flag (depending on the shape). You can set these up with outdoor water bags (as ballast, to ensure stability of the base) or with stakes that can be jammed into the dirt if you’re outside on grass. For indoor use, there are bases with support arms.

Event Tents

You can even buy an entire printed tent. The structure comprises a matrix of interlocking, adjustable aluminum poles around which you can attach a printed roof and walls. Maybe you’ll attach just a back wall, or maybe three walls to create a more intimate, enclosed space. These are pricey but dramatic.

General Information

In most cases you’ll get the structure, a hard or soft case (a hard case for the larger format displays, and some cases that even come with wheels due to the overall weight of the display), and the graphic panels. As noted before, some of the panels can be pre-attached to the geometric display structures while others will be slipped on like a pillowcase or sock. Most of the large format displays I’ve mentioned are produced on polyester fabric for their stretch. Therefore, the printing technology used is dye sublimation, which provides astounding color brilliance.

Custom Printing: The Power of Large Format Print

Friday, October 2nd, 2015

My fiancee and I were driving to an appointment yesterday, when we saw a delivery truck parked diagonally in a lot. Normally that would not have raised an eyebrow for either of us, but the large format print sign on the side of the truck was facing the oncoming traffic at the perfect angle to position its message towards anyone driving up the pike.

The ad was for kitchen appliances. I took a photo with my smartphone so I could study the image later and consider exactly why I thought it made for such good advertising.

First of all, the sign included the company logo and a bright photo of sample kitchen appliances highlighted in red (a color certain to catch the eye of oncoming drivers). It included the price (in red type on a black background), the URL for the company’s website, and a tagline reversed to white on the red background. All type was set in a simple, bold, sans serif face.

Beyond the powerful nature of the ad on the side of the truck, my fiancee and I both thought about the implications of such signage:

  1. After all, the company that owned the truck presumably neither had to pay rent for the advertising venue nor get approval from the local government authority for its display. I may be wrong, but it seems like he or she was getting prime advertising exposure for free. Should anyone complain, he or she could just move the truck and capture an entirely new set of onlookers, many of whom might be interested in kitchen appliances.
  2. Beyond township permit issues and advertising charges, the idea of an ad on a truck reflected the fact that a fixed sign such as a billboard (which would be the nearest equivalent) would only be seen by select individuals driving on a particular route. Mobile signage could be repositioned as needed to vary the demographic exposed to its message.
  3. Similar advertising tactics are reflected in the use of bus graphics, fleet graphics, car wraps, and even the much older practice of mounting double-sided signs on flatbed trucks (the driver’s equivalent of a fabric sign tied to a small plane at the beach). All of these not only display the promotional message as a large format print, but they also can vary the audience exposure as needed.

The Target Store Trucks with Their Red Bulls-Eyes

Moments later my fiancee and I saw two Target trucks unloading inventory into a large, beige Target store. The red bulls-eye logo on the trucks echoed the bulls eye on the side of the building. I’m sure all of these logos could be read from low-flying aircraft. In fact, if you had removed the name of the company and had just kept the bulls-eye logo in that particular red color, you would still have had an immediately recognizable icon.

What You Can Learn from These Observations

Here are some thoughts you can bring to your own large format print design work.

  1. It takes work to link a logo to its brand attributes in the minds of your target audience. Much of this work involves consistent exposure. That said, be mindful of the viewer you wish to influence and consider how best to approach him/her. Large format print signage is an excellent approach. However, it’s important to consider not just your message but also the consumer. How can you capture his/her interest, and where will your best venue for exposure be?
  2. The color red was integral to both the roadside truck sign and the Target store logo. Both stood out dramatically. Consider the blue in the IBM logo and the orange in the Home Depot logo. Even by themselves, these colors can bring to mind the two companies due to the consistent pairing of the color with the logo. In your own work, consider how well your logo colors will stand out, and be aware of what attributes people will associate with the colors (the color green is often associated with natural food stores, for instance).
  3. Be bold and creative with your marketing initiatives. You may have qualms about leaving a truck-sign in a parking lot to get (presumably) free advertising, but consider wrapping a car with a vinyl, ink jetted car wrap and paying someone to drive it around advertising your company. If you can coordinate this with an Internet initiative and perhaps a radio spot, all the better.

Large Format Printing: Details of a “Non-Glass Cling”

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015

I received a request today to install a series of non-glass clings at a local movie theater. These fit into the category of standees, just as the one-sheets and even the giant beach ball for the movie Rio fit this category. Non-glass clings also require digital large format printing capabilities for their creation, and they employ an interesting base substrate and adhesive.

Some Background on Clings

Until now, most of the “clings” I’ve been assigned to install have been static clings attached to windows. They don’t actually use static. Rather, the moisture in the air and the moisture on the clings create a bond between the glass and the plastic large format print signage. They can be easily peeled off and repositioned on the glass since they require no adhesive. Unfortunately, in dry climates, they don’t last well and tend to dry up and fall off the glass.

Non-Glass Clings

In contrast to these static clings, the non-glass clings I installed today had to be attached to metal columns in the theater, plastic parts of the movie concession stands, a mechanical ticket machine, and even the wallpaper on which the one-sheet (i.e., back-lit, large format print poster) cases had all been mounted in a row.

The diecut characters in the clings were all from The Peanuts Movie. They had been printed, presumably with inkjet technology (I didn’t have my loupe) on clear, flexible plastic. Fortunately, a very forgiving adhesive had been applied to their backs, and the images of the Peanuts characters had been diecut, allowing for easy removal from the backing sheets.

Let me break this down:

  1. The pigment had been applied to the clear plastic substrate over a white ink background. As noted in prior blog postings, this custom printing technique brightens up the colors significantly by providing a ground off which light can be reflected.
  2. The substrate had a good amount of dimensional stability. That is, when I peeled the diecut images away from the scrap (anything not considered the image area), they kept their shape. This was a particularly useful characteristic, since occasionally the adhesive stuck to another portion of the cling (like plastic food wrap, which often winds up in a ball in the trash). I was grateful that I could peel apart the stuck portions easily without damaging the Peanuts characters. In more technical terms, the plastic substrate was strong and dimensionally stable.
  3. The glue was forgiving but also quite strong. When I peeled the large format print clings away from their gloss paper backing sheets, they often stuck together in inappropriate places. Due to the qualities of the adhesive spread across the backs of the clings, I could easily peel them apart and position them on the wallpaper, concession stand, metal columns, or anywhere else. This also says something about the flexibility of the adhesive, in that it worked equally well on metal, plastic, and textured wallpaper. Moreover, I could remove and reposition the clings whenever I made a mistake in their placement.
  4. The non-glass clings had not only been diecut; they had been “kiss cut.” That is, the plastic of the clings had been perforated with the metal cutting rules but the thick backing sheet had not. So I could easily peel off the precise, diecut image of each Peanuts character without having part of the backing sheet come away with the plastic of the cling.
  5. Once I had accurately positioned the clings on the walls, columns, and concession stands (there were nineteen large format print clings in all), I could easily rub them down with my squeegie. (This is a flat plastic wedge that looks like a pan scraper used to clean food out of pots and pans. If you rub it across the surface of the clings, from the center to the perimeter of the images, it will drag the air bubbles away from the center of the cling toward the edges where they can be released. The cling will then lie completely flat with no air bubbles. The clings were even strong enough, and the adhesive flexible enough, for this to happen.)

Why You Should Care

Here are some thoughts on applying this case study to your own work:

  1. Good marketing catches the eye of the prospect by being different in some way. If it’s a postcard printed on clear plastic, it will stand out from all other mail in your mailbox. If it’s a non-glass “cling,” then having an irregular contour (in the case of the Peanuts characters, the contour was the shape of Snoopy, Linus, etc.) sets the cling apart from its surroundings. For instance, when I put four characters on top of four rectangular one-sheet lightboxes, you could see them from across the mall outside the theater. Why? Because everything else (all the back-lit posters) were rectangular. So the “take-away” is that as a designer you should consider ways to make your project different from the competition’s design pieces.
  2. Printing is a physical operation. Consider the substrate you’re printing on. Consider its dimensional stability, its flexibility, and the adhesive applied to its sticky side. If you need to remove and reposition a large format print, you’ll be grateful you thought about these characteristics.
  3. Research the use of extended color sets in inkjet digital printing and the value of opaque white as a background. This is new technology (both for inkjet and laser), and it deserves a close study. If you understand and apply it, your design pieces will “pop.”
  4. Look around, wherever you go. I’ll bet that you’ll see more and more large format print signage. As a designer, this bodes well for your future.

One Sheet Posters at the Movies

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015

Movie theaters seem to be undergoing a transformation. As installers of standees, banners, one sheets, etc., my fiancee and I recently had the opportunity to enter one of the new cinemas to install a one-sheet (a large format print poster for an upcoming film).

The Theater Ambiance

The environment was exceedingly upscale, more like an art film theater than a commercial film venue. The focus in the lobby was on the food (more substantial offerings than the popcorn and candy I’m used to) and the beer, wine and non-alcoholic beverages. So it was a bit of a cross between a movie theater, a restaurant, and a bar, with a young-urban-professional vibe.

The Movie Signage

Unlike all of the other cinemas my fiancee and I service (with the possible exception of an art film venue) this theater accepted no standees. No cardboard environments, no giant beachballs for animated films. Nothing but one sheets.

(As a point of information, a one-sheet is a large format print poster. However, unlike most posters, it has an image and text on the front promoting the film, and on the back of the press sheet is the exact same image with all graphic elements backwards, aligned exactly with the image on the front. When placed in the one-sheet frame, which is a back-lit frame covered with a diffusing white glass, the one sheet poster appears brighter and more vivid than usual—presumably due to both the back-light and the double printing.)

The One-Sheet Wall

In addition to a large clock and a wall of film showing times—all presented elegantly—there was a wall of one-sheet frames. Unlike the one-sheet frames along the hallways, this giant mosaic of images comprised 99 frames (I called to ask) showing one huge collage of images, all related to a single theme.

(As another point of information, the eye will join related portions of a single image, even when they are separated by the horizontal and vertical elements of a frame. In fact the eye will even join the sections of the image if they’re slightly separated. This is particularly useful information when you’re designing large format print banner stands. If your image needs to extend across multiple banners, it can still appear to the viewer to be one picture.)

So this giant, 99-frame mosaic extends up the wall at this new, upscale cinema, and each of the 99 frames contains a portion of the overall image.

Another thing to know about one-sheets is that the frames are spring loaded. The top, left, right, and bottom elements of the frame operate independently. You lift one (like a spring-loaded clip on a clipboard), slip the poster and acetate cover sheet under the clip, and then close it. You’re done. It takes me about three minutes to install a one-sheet without smashing my fingers or tilting the poster.

When you multiply three minutes by 99 images, it will take approximately 297 minutes or almost five hours to complete this installation. This does not include the time needed to move the motorized lift, which is a bit like a forklift with a little basket for you to stand in as you are lifted up and down. I’ve also heard it referred to as a “cherry picker.” It’s similar to the equipment used by electric companies to work on overhead power lines.

When I spoke with the attendant at the theater I was told the installation happened at night after closing time and was only a periodic occurrence.

So this is a lot of work and equipment allocated to installing posters.

An Alternative to Large Format Print Posters

Perhaps I’m speaking out of turn here, but this seems to be an ideal venue for digital signage. Just think about the five hours of installation time and the cherry picker that would no longer be needed. Images or portions of images could be created on the 99 screens and coordinated with relevant hardware and software, minimizing the labor and machinery cost (or transferring the cost from a mechanical to a digital process). Granted, whether or not this would be cost effective would depend on the price of the electronics and the frequency with which the images need to be changed.

As an added benefit, the digital images would not need to be static. They could include movement and sound, perhaps even an interactive element as well.

How This Relates to You (and to Printing)

We now live in a multi-channel universe. Prudent design involves knowing which technology to use for which applications. For instance, the one sheets populating the hallways of the theater could be either digitally imaged or printed on paper, as they are now, while the giant poster wall might be a better candidate for digital signage.

In your own work, this means considering how to best present the imagery, type, and overall messaging for an ad campaign. What portions of the job lend themselves to digital large format printing? What portions are better suited to offset printing? What components fit better on digital signage boards?

And—even more importantly—how can you make a seamless transition from one medium to another in such a way that the message and imagery are recognizable as promoting the same brand. Digital, large format, offset—these are just tools. The real challenge is how to use them together to inform and persuade your audience.


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