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Archive for the ‘Standees’ Category

Large Format Printing: An Animatronic Dinosaur

Sunday, October 6th, 2013

My fiancee and I installed an animatronic standee tonight for Walking with Dinosaurs. The standee comprised an 8-foot by 10-foot by 3-foot box covered in printed foliage. At the center of the structure, a huge, three-dimensional dinosaur eye peered out of the flora. An internal motor made the eyeball shift back and forth in a natural—and perhaps slightly eerie—manner.

Why I Liked the Standee

This standee referenced an earlier standee of the dinosaur image. The initial standee had been a huge flatcard, essentially a large format print with an easel back. The design of the second standee was almost exactly the same, but in the first large format print the dinosaur’s eye had been rendered flat on the poster board. In contrast, the second standee enhanced the marketing theme of the first standee by adding dimension and movement.

In addition, I have always been a fan of standees that incorporate multiple media into their construction. The Walking with Dinosaurs standee makers went to great lengths to produce a realistic upper and lower eyelid and a striking eyeball using what appeared to be a thermoformed plastic resin. The surface of the eyelids had the rough texture of a dinosaur hide, while the eyeball itself was smooth and glass-like, reflecting its surroundings in its high gloss sheen.

Inside the cardboard structure that held the large eyeball (the attached eyelid and eyeball assembly was about as large as a flat panel television), a wooden scaffold supported both the exterior lid and interior eyeball while a motor and moving arm made the eyeball turn from side to side within the eyelid.

My fiancee and I attached a number of printed pieces of foliage to one another and to the outer standee box to create a forest scene, to give depth to the standee, and to cover the resin edges of the animatronic eye.

For me, what made this a memorable marketing piece was that beyond its three dimensions of length, width, and breadth (and it was a huge standee), the structure had a fourth dimension: movement.

In the past four years of installing standees, I have noticed that those structures that either invite a viewer into an environment (perhaps a chair and surrounding movie characters ready for a photo op) or engage the viewer with multiple sensory stimuli create a magical effect.

The physical composition of the Walking with Dinosaurs standee is primarily offset printed ink on paper, or pigment on plastic resin, but by bringing movement into the mix, the designer has created a marketing device that will startle the viewer and grab his or her attention. It looks like a huge creature is staring right back at them.

Why You Should Care

In a world where the role of custom printing is in flux, it is important for designers and marketers to recognize what makes a printed product valuable: that is, which qualities engage the viewer. In addition to color, photographic imagery, physical dimensions, typography, and the texture of multiple materials, movement and even sound will captivate the viewer.

However, because a large format printed construction such as an animatronic standee depends on the laws of physics as well as the aesthetics of design, it is important to consider the physical structure itself when you create a large promotional piece. In this case, a wooden scaffold supported a motor and moving resin eye. Someone had to create the physical as well as promotional elements of this device.

Therefore, as a designer of large format printed marketing items (whether they are point of purchase display cases for a product or a large format printed standee), it’s imperative to consider their operational requirements as well as their visual design.

Finally, it is wise to consider the effectiveness of repetition in both design and marketing. People get pleasure from recognizing one element of a marketing campaign that refers back to something they have already seen. If you do something once and then vary it slightly in successive images (or successive exposures to the same image), you will elicit recognition, reinforce a tone or theme, and invite a pleasurable response in the viewer.

Large Format Printing: Complexities of Standee Design

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

I just spent five hours with my fiancee installing the new Despicable Me 2 standee in a local theater. Close observation of this “whack-a mole” game, which is the size of a small car, provides an education in everything from marketing theory to multi-level lamination, pattern gluing, and intricate folding and diecutting. If you are alert, you can learn a lot about custom printing while assembling a standee.

The Despicable Me 2 Standee at a Glance

The upper half of the Despicable Me 2 standee is a three dimensional number “2” with a sloping front that ends in a “whack-a mole” game at the front of the standee base. Six Despicable Me “minions” (three in the front row and three in the back) give moviegoers an opportunity to vent their frustration with a rubber mallet. Whenever any minion’s head has been struck, a spring assembly and leaf switch trigger a voice box that calls the moviegoer names (I must have been called a wimp 100 times while installing and adjusting the mechanism last night).

Three-Dimensional Letters

From the point of view of custom printing, diecutting, folding, and assembly, the huge “2” is intricate and challenging. The face of the “2” is a bright orange printed offset litho press sheet laminated to Fome-Cor (a display signage mounting board made with foam in the middle and paper and clay coating on either side—like a sandwich). At the bottom of the “2” are six holes through which the six heads of the minions extend like moles in a “whack-a-mole” game.

The diecut face of the “2” sits at an angle of about 70 degrees, sloping downward from more than a seven foot height toward the minions at the participant’s waist level.

To give a three-dimensional look to the numeral requires multiple white sheets of chipboard diecut at a gradually sloping angle and traveling all the way around the face of the “2.” Although the white chipboard is flexible, it still has to be folded around the intricate perimeter of the numeral.

To make this happen, the white cardboard is scored every two inches, and attached to the face of the “2” with tabs and slots (every two inches). These side walls of the extruded numeral “2” then extend vertically to the bottom pedestal, which is a three-dimensional rectangular solid. So, essentially, the large format print standee is a 3D numeral “2” sitting on a larger base with a whack-a-mole game in the front.

While assembling the “2,” I thought about how circles are created in PostScript and how similar this is to the sides of the standee “2.” The curves were essentially short line segments. They were small enough, though, to create the illusion of a curve.

If you research PostScript and “flatness” settings, you will see that in creating complex PostScript curves you use either more, or fewer, line segments to simulate the curves. Shorter line segments in PostScript create a more fluid curve (but take longer to print), while longer line segments give a more angular look to curves (but print more quickly).

I also saw a similarity between the three dimensional “2” and the channel letters in signs on the sides of buildings. These lit-up display signs also have both a front face and sides or edges that give them a sense of depth.

Using Fome-Cor for Rigidity

I noticed that using the Fome-Cor for the face of the “2” gave the structure its rigidity. Both chipboard and corrugated board would have bent or collapsed under the weight of the 3D “2.” Only Fome-Cor could hold its dimensional stability over such a large area.

Gluing Options

I noticed that pattern gluing (hot melt glue) had been used to attach a diecut, corrugated board structure under the Fome-Cor “2.” Glue had also been used to affix six banks of LED lights to three yokes that surrounded the holes through which the minion’s heads protruded. (A computer chip with a battery assembly regulated the flashing of these lights.)

Glue (or, rather, a lamination adhesive) also attached all 4-color printed offset paper to the corrugated board of the standee structure.

Interactivity and “Gamification”

Inside the cardboard base structure I built a mechanical unit on a wood base. It was composed of six interlocking PVC pipes, springs, washers, and molded fiberglass minion heads (Despicable Me characters). Batteries, wires, and an electronic voice box all worked together to insult the moviegoer smashing the heads of the minions in this Despicable Me “whack-a-mole” game.

I thought about “interactivity,” as described in marketing books and trade journals. I thought about how involvement in the game might presumably interest the moviegoer in paying to see Despicable Me 2. I had also read a lot in the trade journals about the effects of “gamification,” and I could see how the “game” of “whack-a-mole” might improve the promotional effectiveness of this standee.

Cost vs. Payoff

It all comes down to cost and payoff. This standee cost a lot to design, print, diecut, and deliver to theaters across the country. Shipping costs alone must have been very high, since the box containing all the standee pieces weighed more than 80 pounds. Then there was the cost of installation/assembly. At some point, someone in marketing had to explain why this standee would be more effective than a large banner or flat-card easel.

What You Can Learn

Here are some thoughts to consider in your own design and custom printing work.

Think about cost and payoff of your design. Are you producing a marketing item that will knock the prospect over? Will it be truly memorable?

Also, think about all the physical requirements of your product, if you’re making a point-of-purchase display or designing packaging or another large format printing piece. It has to be more than just a pretty design on paper. It has to obey the laws of physics and not collapse upon its own weight. In short, it has to “work” as well as look good.

Commercial Printing: This Standee Epitomizes Industrial Printing

Monday, March 4th, 2013

I was installing a standee tonight with my fiancee and thinking about industrial design: the concepts and goals discussed in “Industrial Print Has Awesome Potential. But What Is It Exactly?” Marcus Timson’s article in the 2/8/13 edition of, which I summarized in the last issue of the PIE Blog, had broadened my awareness.

The standee we were installing was a photo opportunity standee. I have written about these before. The goal of this particular type of standee is to place the participant within the fictional world of the movie and then provide a photo opportunity to record this interaction between reality and imagination.

The standee we installed promoted The Croods, an animated film. It consisted of a background graphic panel containing all the characters of the movie along with the movie title. Essentially it was a printed rectangular box about six feet wide, seven feet tall, and three feet deep.

Attached to the front of the graphic panel were two “lugs,” graphic panels depicting two characters sitting in approximately one-foot deep movie theater chairs. Between them was a printed and physically constructed movie chair for the audience member to sit in. My fiancee and I took as long to build the chair as to assemble the rest of the standee. To a great extent, this is because the chair had to be functional, while the remainder of The Croods standee was promotional.

Building the Chair for the Standee

As I studied the assembly instructions for the standee, the first thing I saw was just how many more printed and diecut pieces there were for the chair than for the much larger graphic panel. The seat base, back, left and right arms, and seat cover all had printed cardboard covers along with an unprinted, structural inside box, and inside this box there were cardboard assemblies to hold the weight of a human body.

The inside of the chair back and base included a honeycomb structure of corrugated board with strips set at right angles to one another (like the cardboard inserts in a case of wine bottles). Even though these were essentially made out of paper (fluted cardboard), the way they were made to distribute the weight of the person sitting in the chair proved that a cardboard structure that has been properly designed can be very strong. The inside of the seat cover, in contrast, consisted of eight flat pieces of cardboard (for comfort and equal weight distribution, I imagine).

Overall, even though the standee was nothing more than a cardboard assembly intended to promote The Croods, an awful lot of thought had gone into its construction. Some designer had carefully considered the physics of weight distribution as well as the aesthetics, printing, and diecutting of the custom printing job.

Safety First

As my fiancee and I assembled the background graphic and then the chair, and then attached the two, I could see the attention to safety that had gone into the industrial design and custom printing of the standee. Not only had the interior cardboard structures been designed for comfort and support, but a matrix of screws and washers bolted elements of the chair to each other and to the background graphic panel. In addition, the assembly instructions made it very clear that the entire structure needed to be placed up against a wall and not out in an open space. Although the chair and background graphic panel had been constructed with safety in mind, it was clear that the designer wanted to make absolutely sure that rowdy teenagers jumping into the chair to have their photo taken would not flip the entire standee over and get hurt.

Why This Exemplifies Industrial Custom Printing

In his article, Marcus Timson defined industrial custom printing as “print that does not have the primary purpose of carrying a promotional message…print that is part of a manufacturing process…that either enables the function of a product or that enhances its appearance or decoration.”

Clearly the design of The Croods photo op standee and chair reflects both art and science. The amount of offset custom printing, flexographic custom printing, and particularly the diecutting of all the individual elements of the chair (both the exterior graphics and the interior honeycomb structure) all came together to provide a functional experience as well as a promotional and aesthetic one.

The Croods Standee Compared to Other Photo Opportunity Standees

My fiancee and I have assembled and installed numerous photo op standees. The Dictator and Dark Shadows come immediately to mind since they also included chairs. While the Dark Shadows chair was attached to a floor panel attached to the background (but not directly to the back panel as in The Croods standee), the chair for The Dictator was completely separate. I think the chairs attached to the background were actually safer in their construction, and the bolting of the chair to The Croods standee made it the safest of all three standees.

Interestingly enough, the Dark Shadows chair and The Croods chair were both offset printed onto cover stock, which was then laminated onto corrugated board. However, the Dark Shadows chair had the added texture of real velvet. And the chair used in The Dictator standee was composed of actual fabric stretched over stuffing and a plywood base, arms, and back. The standee designers had gone to great lengths to achieve realism in their photo op standees, and the distributors had paid a premium to ship these heavy standees to theaters.

Why You Should Care

One might consider all of this irrelevant to commercial printing since most of the interior work was unprinted. It was, however, diecut in exquisite detail, and all with functionality, structural integrity, and safety the paramount goals. Hence, this was industrial custom printing in the purest sense.

If it hasn’t happened yet, you may one day be called upon to design and print a functional object. Maybe it will be a part of a promotional piece. Maybe it will be a point-of-purchase display that will hold hair products or stacks of magazines. In any case, you may be called upon to consider the design piece as a physical object in space as well as a flat image. It may have structural requirements or safety requirements. In either case, you will need to consider not only the elements of design but also the physical requirements of printing and diecutting, and maybe even the elements of physics.

Large Format Printing: Standee Lightbox Case Study

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

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

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

New Standee: A Lightbox for the Film DREDD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Called a Signage Shop

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

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

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

Here’s an Option for a Short Press Run

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

What All This Means to You

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

Large Format Printing: Movie Standee Lightboxes

Friday, July 13th, 2012

As I have noted in many prior PIE Blogs, I install “standees” and other signage in movie theaters as part of my multi-faceted custom printing life. One such standee promotes The Rise of the Guardians, an upcoming animated film. Although this 14-foot wide and 8-foot high cardboard display portrays six of the movie’s main characters on zig-zagging boxes stacked on a wide base, what makes this particular installation intriguing is its structure. The entire standee comprises a set of six “lightboxes.”

How Lightboxes Work

A lightbox is a device incorporating semi-transparent film or paper placed over a light source. Fluorescent, incandescent, or LED bulbs attached to an electronic light-timing device, and positioned within the structure of the standee, illuminate the transparent graphic panels from behind to give drama to the photographic images of this large format printing display.

This is a little bit like a slide or transparency placed on a lightbox, or even more like the backlit advertisements you can find in subway stations and the airport.

What makes lightboxes dramatic is the level of contrast (the difference between the highlights and shadows) in an image. A slide or transparency, or a lightbox at the airport, or even a lightbox in a standee, has a greater color range due to the back lighting than a similar large format printing graphic panel would if it did not have a source of light behind the image. The light source immediately draws the eye to the graphic panel on the standee. Moreover, by placing the lights strategically behind the graphic panel, the designer can accentuate certain elements in the image and downplay others.

How the Rise of the Guardians Lightbox Works

With the aforementioned in mind, here’s how the huge Rise of the Guardians lightbox was designed. Six graphic panels showcasing six movie characters each consisted of printed semi-transparent plastic film sheets stretched over boxes constructed from unprinted cardboard. Immediately behind each semi-transparent panel was a cardboard sheet with cut-outs for one to three fluorescent bulbs strapped to the cardboard with cable ties. Each lightbox also included multiple strands of LED holiday lights controlled by a timing device. Pushing the button on the controller would change the pattern of the flashing lights.

From a graphic design approach, the lights served a purpose. The fluorescent bulbs illuminated and accentuated the movie characters (usually their faces, since the printed graphic film through which the light shone was more transparent in the lighter colors). LED flashing lights were set behind images such as birds or sparks coming from a magic wand. The flashing lights simulated movement.

Technical Implications of Lightboxes

With the design implications in mind, I also thought about the technical aspects of this large format printing piece. For instance, some of the 100 to 200 miniature lights lay in direct contact with the cardboard standee. In this case I was not concerned. After all, the amount of heat given off by LED lights does not come close to that produced by incandescent bulbs. (My concern was for a potential fire hazard.) Regarding the fluorescent bulbs, I also had no concern. They give off minimal heat, and they were held in a fixed position within recessed cardboard light-holders using plastic cable ties.

Other Lightboxes

I have installed many other lightboxes in movie theaters. None has been as dramatic as this 14-foot construct (which took 14 hours to assemble), but most have been built around a fluorescent light source. However, one lightbox for a Katy Perry film included a semi-transparent mirror. On the back side of the mirror (within the cardboard structure of the standee) four or five incandescent bulbs were alternately turned up to full intensity and then turned off—repeatedly–using an automatic light dimmer. My concern in this case was due to the nature of the lights and their installation. The bulbs were incandescent and therefore gave off more heat than fluorescent bulbs and LED bulbs in other lightboxes. Furthermore, their sockets were just pushed into holes in the cardboard and then lights were screwed into place. So I was concerned that there might be the potential for contact between a hot bulb and the cardboard of the large format printing standee leading to the potential for fire. I have not heard of this actually happening, so perhaps I was just overcautious.


I find the use of fluorescent, LED, and incandescent lights within such a structure to be most interesting.

I also find it intriguing to see how marketers can custom print images on semi-transparent plastic films, and then light them from behind with various kinds of bulbs timed in precise patterns, to accentuate elements of the backlit graphic panel and create movement within a dramatic large format printing job.

Such a project forces the designer to balance aesthetic needs with such diverse sciences as physics and electronics to create a compelling yet functional custom printing piece.

Large Format Printing: Multiple Standees and Marketing Theory

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

Installing a large standee for The Dictator today, I had some thoughts about the importance of placement of standees and other point of purchase displays. I thought these might be of use to you in your large format printing work.

Placement of Standee (Immediacy)

The goal of large format signage is for it to be immediately seen. As the long escalator disembarks on the main floor of this particular movie theater, you are immediately greeted by a moving Madagascar standee. The canon barrel goes up and down, raising and lowering the animal characters stuffed in the barrel. Motion, wild color, and the faces of the creatures grab your interest.

Placement is key. You see this moving, large format printing structure before anything else, as the escalator reaches the main floor.

Placement of Standee (Competing Images)

When we completed The Dictator structure, we were asked by theater management to place the standee in an open spot next to the Dark Shadows standee. By itself, Dark Shadows is huge. It is also exciting, since it combines printed graphic panels with a velvet chair in which the movie patron can sit for a photo opportunity, surrounded by the ghastly inhabitants of Dark Shadows.

That said, The Dictator standee is larger, simpler, lighter in color, and first in a series of standees going down the hall in the movie theater. It includes a large, overstuffed chair in front of a large circular poster of the main character. It is flanked by two flags hanging on wooden poles. Under the chair is a circular, inkjet printed floor covering—a simulation of a round rug.

The Dictator standee dwarfs the Dark Shadows standee. I think this is true for two reasons:

  1. In general, what you see first makes the strongest impression. The Dictator is first in line and larger than the other standees.
  2. Whatever is harder to see makes a lesser impression. Movie theaters are dark, and the fact that The Dictator is positioned under better light, and is itself lighter and simpler in general, makes it more of an eye catcher than Dark Shadows, even though I personally think the Dark Shadows standee is far more intriguing up close.

Unique Materials Engage the Viewer

In a prior blog positing, I had mentioned that I liked the way Dark Shadows involved the viewer. The Dictator does the same thing. Both are photo opportunities. I think the unique construction materials accentuate the immersive quality of the standees. Both Dark Shadows and The Dictator include printed materials (flexographic panels of solid color as well as offset printed images), but they also include physical objects (chairs, flagpoles, and, in the case of The Dictator, a custom printed floor covering resembling a large, round rug.

Both standees create an environment for the viewer to step into. You can participate with the standee. In the case of The Dictator, you can run your hand across the embroidered chair or reach up to touch the inkjet custom printing work of the soft fabric flags on wooden poles. Images of flags, offset printed and diecut, just don’t compare to the emotional engagement of real flags, a real chair, and a real rug.

Safety of Standee

You wouldn’t initially think about it, but standees that invite participation put both the participant and the theater at risk. You can hurt yourself if you’re not careful. So in both the design and production of these photo booth standees, as well as their placement, safety has to be a consideration.

For instance, the Dark Shadows standee includes a chair made of layers of corrugated board covered with padded velvet cushions and graphic panels. It is quite sturdy. It is also bolted to a floor panel so it can’t move (making it safe for enthusiastic teenagers).

Overall Thoughts for Your Own Large Format Printing Work

Here are some concepts you might take away from this experience:

  1. Think big. All large format printing displays fit within an environment and compete with other point of purchase signage. Larger, brighter, simpler, more colorful—all of these qualities will get your image noticed. And for marketing, it’s all about getting noticed.
  2. Think physical reality. If your point of purchase signage has protruding elements, or is positioned in the way of foot traffic, or is dangerous in any other way, a marketing moment can turn into a legal one or even a tragedy. Someone can get hurt.
  3. Think surroundings. Your image will compete with other images. Determine the location early in the process, and even if there are no competing marketing images to consider, do consider the lighting, the surrounding wall color—everything else in the environment.
  4. Think interactive. Your large format printing display will grab the viewer if it invites him or her into its own fanciful world. Using real objects (like the chairs or the fabric flags on wooden poles) makes the installation more real and hence more immersive.

Large Format Printing: An Immersive POP Display

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

I recently wrote about a standee installation involving a motorized cannon with moving animals sticking out of the cannon barrel. Motion added a fourth dimension—time–to an otherwise three-dimensional point of purchase display.

The next standee I installed with my fiancee, while not a moving structure, added yet another dimension to the marketing art of point of purchase large format printing—viewer immersion.

A Description of the Dark Shadows Standee

The Dark Shadows movie standee (which you can see at various movie theaters) comprises a theater simulation, with diecut characters positioned from the front to the back of the structure. They are of different dimensions, from large (in front) to small (in the back), giving a sense of depth (foreground and background) within the three dimensional environment. Most of the diecut figures are free-standing, supported by rolled corrugated board posts (like scarecrows on wooden sticks).

Slightly in front of all the other characters stands a diecut Johnny Depp image on a cardboard post positioned behind a chair.

Here’s the genius behind this large format printing display: It’s a photo booth.

Passersby sit in the chair (composed of criss-crossing layers of corrugated board within a box, to create a seat with an added back and over-stuffed arm rests—a veritable throne covered in velvet cloth). Family and friends can then take photos of the person sitting in the chair. From the vantage point of the camera, however, the person in the chair is surrounded by the ghoulish inhabitants of the Dark Shadows standee.

As with photos of individuals taken beside cardboard cutouts of President Obama (which often seem to be quite real), all the Dark Shadows characters seem to be as real as the person sitting in the chair.

Why the Standee is So Effective

From a marketing perspective, this standee works because the participant can step into the fictional world of the movie. It’s like Alice stepping through the looking glass into Wonderland. From the point of view of the digital camera, it’s total immersion, so the point of purchase display not only involves the participant in the present moment, but it also allows for a photographic record one can revisit in the future.

Bridging the Gap Between Old Media and New Media

In addition, the standee actually links the physical media and immersive experience to the newer digital media. That is, the large format printing display employs cross-channel marketing technology.

Specifically (and I’m not yet sure about the details), one can send photos taken with this point of purchase display to one or more websites (including Facebook, of course) to participate in a marketing initiative related to the movie.

Good marketing involves repeated messages and, with integrated marketing, it involves coordinated exposures through different media channels. This point of purchase display engages the participants (the chair is actually quite comfortable) and brings them into another world.

The Physical Dimensions as They Relate to Custom Printing

Here’s how it’s made:

  1. The entire back of the structure is made of corrugated board printed solely with black ink on the back and sides of the display. The way the ink came off onto my hands suggests flexographic printing: i.e., printing directly onto the box with ink and rubber press plates.
  2. The front of the amphitheater is made of multiple graphic panels stitched together with tabs and slots, or metal screws and nuts. The graphic panels are examples of offset custom printing on thick enamel press stock. It looks like the graphic panels are also coated with UV varnish, film laminate, or press varnish for gloss and protection.
  3. Within the top half of the structure is a small theater composed of a diecut front panel and a graphic printed back panel. Once attached to one side of the front panel of the small theater, the back panel is bowed, creating a small curved environment within an environment. Figures placed in this space are small. They appear to be far behind the foreground figures.
  4. The front-most figures are made of offset printed paper glued to corrugated board and then diecut. Their supports are flexographic printed flat sheets folded into four-sided posts.
  5. The chair has an intricate honey-comb structure of laminated pieces of corrugated board sitting within a box. This is to support the weight of the participant sitting in the chair. In an interactive point of purchase display, such physical requirements are important, both for the safety of the participant and the liability of the theater.
  6. Foam structures covered with red velvet comprise the arms, seat, and back of the chair, and printed graphic panels (offset custom printing on enamel paper glued to corrugated board) adorn the sides. Intricate, carved chair legs are composed of printed cover stock and corrugated board (assembled via tabs and slots into multi-faceted simulations of the wooden chair legs).

How You Can Incorporate Some of These Marketing Techniques Into Your Work

Here are some things you might learn from this point of purchase display and incorporate into your next large format printing item:

  1. Consider how you can involve the viewer in the experience. Can you make the display something he/she can touch and interact with?
  2. Can you incorporate other media, in addition to custom printing, into the experience (as the movie standee connects with a marketing website to which the participant can upload a photo of himself/herself)?
  3. Other than custom printing on cover stock; laminating it to chipboard or corrugated board; and using various diecuts, folds, and spot gluing techniques to create an environment; how can you bring other substances into the sculptural environment? Can you use wood, fabric, foam, or other materials to vary the tactile experience of the participants and make the environment more immersive and memorable?

Large Format Printing: How to Create a Memorable POP Display

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

My fiancee and I just installed a movie standee for an upcoming animated film, Madagascar. What makes this particular installation noteworthy is that this is the first standee we have installed that actually moves. In addition, it incorporates almost every aspect of printing I can imagine.

Here’s a rundown of the printing and mechanical technologies reflected in the standee design. Consider using some of these in your next point of purchase display or large format printing job.

Add Flexography to Offset Lithography

The back section of the standee we installed consisted of a three-part tent made of offset-printed graphic panels laminated to corrugated board. Poles made of corrugated board that we folded into long, four-sided posts held the three tent components together. The third and smallest part of the tent (the topmost part) included a diecut flag supported by a chopstick glued to the back of the corrugated board.

A box structure was added to the back of the tent to give it support. It was composed of a back and sides (separate parts) attached to one another with tabs and slots. The box was entirely black. It had been printed via flexography (direct printing on the corrugated board with rubber plates and ink).

How you might apply this custom printing technology to your own work:

  1. For a large format printing run of a point of purchase item, consider flexography if you have simple black solids or line work. You can print directly on the cardboard without needing to first print on enamel stock and then glue this to chipboard or corrugated board.
  2. Approach a point of purchase display as a physics project as well as a marketing design project. How will you create a structure that will hold itself up and not collapse from its own weight? Consider spot gluing thin wooden sticks or pieces of cardboard to the back of otherwise fragile, diecut design elements.

Custom Printing on Thick Cover Stock vs. Gluing Text Stock to Corrugated Board

The second part of the Madagascar standee consisted of several cartoon animals jammed into a cannon, with a stack of birds on each other’s shoulders lighting the cannon’s fuse. The cannon moved up and down, powered by a motor assembly.

The back panel of the cannon (completely flat on the part not visible to the audience, and curved on the front) was made of unprinted, diecut corrugated board. Five triangular pieces of particle board were screwed together and then screwed to the back panel of the cannon as a counter weight. Strips of cover-weight custom printing stock, printed with four-color design elements, were stretched over the part of the cannon that was visible from the front of the standee.

How you might apply this custom printing technology to your own work:

  1. If you have a large budget for your point of purchase display, consider adding movement to an otherwise static piece. This creates a dramatic effect, but it involves equal parts of design/custom printing and mechanics/physics.
  2. Those design elements that are decorative (but are not absolutely necessary for the structural integrity of the point of purchase display) can be made of printed cover stock rather than cover stock laminated to corrugated board or chipboard. Keep in mind that these will not bear weight without tearing, so they must be decorative only.
  3. Consider how the point of purchase display you’re creating must move. In the case of the movie standee, the cannon barrel structure had to be attached to a cannon base (printed enamel stock laminated to corrugated board, with styrofoam wheels to which paper graphic panels had been glued). An elaborate structure of long screws, plastic or metal spacers, and lock nuts positioned the elements where they needed to be to move correctly. And a motor assembly attached to a particle board (wooden) structure allowed the standee to move.
  4. You may want to use a motor, screws, spacers, and other hardware in your point of purchase display. Stabilizing the motor on a wooden structure will give permanence to an otherwise fragile display. Consider how the display will move, and add counterweights as necessary to balance all moving parts. (In the movie standee, the animals heads were attached to their bodies with metal pins that allowed them to shake like bobble heads as the motor moved the cannon barrel up and down).

Why Go to All This Trouble and Expense?

A point of purchase display that incorporates moving parts will be expensive for your custom printing service to build and ship, and it will cost extra to assemble. However, such a large format printing job will be truly memorable. It will stand out from all the other point of purchase displays that are motionless. When you’re selling something, that’s magical. That can make all the difference.

Get Large Format Printing Quotes from Mutiple Printers.

Large Format Printing: Double-Sided, Backlit Movie Posters

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

In addition to my print brokering, design, and writing work, I install movie “standees” and signage. This side work gives me a unique view of a number of printing processes, up close. It lets me see first hand exactly how a number of promotional items have been designed, printed, and assembled.

One Sheets Are Printed on Both the Front and Back of the Poster.

The next time you go to the movies, pay attention to the multitude of light boxes lining the walls, displaying movie posters for all the new releases.

Among these large format printing posters are “one sheets.” One sheets possess a number of intriguing qualities, foremost of which is their two-sided nature. On the front is the image of the poster, and on the back is the exact same image (text and photography) printed backwards (“wrong reading” in commercial printer’s language).

Why Print on Both Sides?

One sheets are installed in a light box. In some respects they are similar to the back-lit films (Duratrans) that you may see in light boxes in subway stations or at the airport. The back-lighting makes colors in the one sheets appear more brilliant than posters merely hung on a wall. The double-sided commercial printing actually gives more of an impression of depth and dimensionality as the light travels through the gloss paper stock.

How Do They Do This?

More than anything, this double sidedness attests to the precision of offset custom printing. That a huge printing press can align an image on the front of a press sheet exactly with the reverse-reading image on the back of the press sheet, while maintaining color that matches on both images, reflects the skill of the pressman, the close register a press can hold, and the consistency of color that can be achieved on press.

These Posters Are Not Always the Same Over Time.

If you pay close attention, you may see changes over time in a movie poster. Not always, but sometimes. The first posters may be swapped out with others providing new promotional information about the upcoming theater release. These changes may be subtle, maybe a small addition, but they reflect the ongoing nature of movie advertising as a dialogue between the moviegoer and the studio. The goal is to pique the interest of the viewer while providing the most up-to-date information on the new movie release. In some cases, a series of almost identical posters introduced over time may be the answer.

The Posters Are Always Vertical.

The lightboxes into which these double-sided posters must be clamped are always vertical. (A sheet of glass covers the lights, and clamps on the top, bottom, and sides hold the one sheet flat. Then another sheet of glass in a frame covers the posters.) Therefore, the large format printing posters must always be designed in the same “landscape,” as opposed to “portrait,” orientation.

The Posters Are Always Rolled.

In the past, movie posters like one sheets used to come to theaters folded with one vertical fold and three horizontal folds. Now they always come rolled. Therefore, you cannot see any creases when the posters have been installed in the light boxes.

The Dimensions of the One Sheets Are Always 27” x 40” or 27” x 41”.

These posters are consistent from theater to theater because the light boxes are uniform, giving equal prominence to all of the movie posters lined up side by side.

Movie Studios Provide a Larger Poster for Major Productions.

However, there is another version of the movie poster called the Bus Stop/Shelter. This fits in a backlit display case as well, or you may see it outside in an actual bus stop enclosure. Like the one sheet, the bus stop poster is presented in a vertical format. It may or may not be double sided. Usually measuring 45” x 70”, the bus stop series gives more prominence to a particular movie than does a one-sheet. The large format poster is usually printed on a thicker coated stock or vinyl-like material, and like one sheets these are shipped by the commercial printer to the studios or theaters rolled rather than folded.

The Studios Control the Posters.

Like “standees,” movie posters (both bus stops and one sheets) are advertisements. The movie studios control all uses of these images very tightly, making sure that all exposure to these promotional items will foster their marketing goals.

Therefore, if you ask for these large format printing posters after their useful life, most movie theaters will turn you down. The posters are owned by the movie studios and must either be returned to the studios after use or destroyed.

In this way they are similar to the printing plates from which a limited number of offset art prints have been produced or a mold used to create only a few plaster sculptures.

In all of these cases, the value of the image or item lies in its scarcity. And in the case of the movie posters, the value lies in its controlled presentation to those groups of people the movie studios consider prime prospects for potential ticket sales.

How Does All of This Relate to Your Design or Print Buying Work?

What can we learn from these large format printing posters, beyond their individual aesthetics and their pull toward the diversion and imaginative nature of movies?

  1. They may not be high art, but as advertisements these posters are powerful. I make it a point to study the overall design, color, and typography of all movie posters that hook me. Then I can apply what I learn to my own design work. In addition, you can learn a lot about promotional work and advertising in general by studying the standees and signage in a movie theater.
  2. You will have an additional option for your own design work if you consider back-lit large format printing posters as an option for a promotional job. (You might consider either two-sided paper posters for installation in a lightbox or back-lit posters printed on Duratrans film.)
  3. You may get a deeper appreciation for both the precision a printing press can achieve and the need for precision in preparing art files when you see how one sheets have been printed on both sides of the paper in perfect register.

Large Format Printing: Observations on Movie Theater Standees

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

As noted in prior PIE Blog articles, in addition to other custom printing related pursuits, I install “standees” and signage at movie theaters. This gives me first-hand access to many printed products I otherwise would not see. I’d like to make a few observations that you may find useful, whatever kind of custom printing products you yourself may buy.

Printing on Vinyl

Among other signage I install, static clings are an interesting custom printing product. They stick to glass with no adhesive, just because of their static charge.

I have noticed a few things about these transparent plastic signs:

  1. They appear to be printed via custom screen printing technology. I had initially thought that inkjet would be the main mode of production, so I checked with a loupe (high-powered printing magnifier). The images had a distinct dot pattern, and the dot pattern was closer to the rosettes of offset printing than to the minuscule scattered spots indicative of inkjet printing. I knew that offset printing was not an option. After all, an offset press could not hold sheets of vinyl flat enough to carry them through the print rollers.
  2. Another reason I judged the production method to be custom screen printing was the thickness and vibrancy of the ink, especially the opaque white ink. In fact, all the colors seemed to be opaque (unlike offset custom printing). I was also impressed by the crispness of the 4-color photographic images as well as the reasonably fine line-screens used for the halftones.
  3. Totally unrelated to printing, but very related to marketing goals, I’m not so sure how long static clings will stay up. Consider this before you choose static clings as a marketing vehicle, and do your own research. Upon my return to some of the theaters, I noticed that the static clings had peeled up or fallen off the windows. That said, if you’re using these signs as a temporary advertising item, I’m sure you’ll be fine.

Wooden Sticks to Stabilize Portions of Diecut Standees

Somebody had been using his or her head, maybe even while they had been eating.

Fragile portions of standees (usually the diecut figures attached to the large graphic panels) often are made rigid with chopsticks glued to the back of the corrugated board. Keep in mind that many of the figures attached to the backgrounds have arms, legs, etc., that otherwise would have no support and could be easily dented, bent, or ripped off. By using a hot-melt glue gun to attach wood chopsticks in various configurations to the backs of the images, those who produce the standees had strengthened them quite a bit. By now I have seen 20 or more individual standees with this structural addition.

How does this affect you? If you’re designing three-dimensional point-of-purchase displays, use your imagination. Think about making fragile parts of your structures more resilient. If the displays must be shipped, choose something light to save on postage—like a chop stick.

Packaging Is Key

This is one problem of which standee creators seem a bit unaware. Fifty pieces of cardboard in a large carton move around. If these pieces are square cut, they will be reasonably safe, but with diecut fingers and toes, the figures attached to the background graphic panels of standees often get mashed before the job arrives at the theater. This can minimize the effectiveness of any point-of-purchase display. Think about it. If you come upon a giant Star Wars standee at a theater and all the main characters are dented, bent, and creased, that takes away from the overall “wow” factor.

So consider this in your print buying work, because it actually relates to all kinds of printing. Make sure your commercial printer packages the final job well. This goes double for fragile work. If you’re printing a book, you may ask that the covers be varnished, or perhaps you could request shrink-wrapping of a certain number of copies in the cartons. Or even paper slip sheets between every five or ten copies (within the cartons) would help. After you have paid dearly for a good custom printing job, why let the printed pieces be damaged in transit?

Access Holes in Standees

If you look closely at a standee from behind at a movie theater, you’ll see a remarkable thing: multiple holes the size of a teacup saucer. You might think these are to lighten the product, and this might well be a side effect. After all, standees are quite heavy when assembled, and they often must be moved.

But the real reason for the holes is to give the installers access to the interior of the standee. This makes it possible to affix one piece to another with screws or diecut tabs. You can get your hands into the guts of the structure to attach everything that needs to be attached.

Now you may be asking how this pertains to you, particularly if you buy book printing or brochures or posters. In this case it probably doesn’t, but if you design or print any three-dimensional products, it behooves you to consider how they will actually be assembled and used.

For instance, maybe you’ve been tasked with producing a cardboard point-of-purchase display that will hold stacks of magazines at a political convention. It happens. I did this once for a client. In cases like these, it is prudent to remember that a point-of-purchase display is an object, not just a marketing design. You need to consider its physicality. You need to consider the stress points (i.e., will the weight of the magazines eventually cause the display to cave in?). You need to consider the weight (shipping costs add up). And you need to consider the ease of assembly—and probably other things as well.

If you buy custom printing for a three dimensional cardboard object like a display box, have a prototype made. It’s much better to use it, bang it around a little, and find out what will go wrong—before you buy 1,000 copies and have them sent all across the country.


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