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Designing to Sell

Design Software at Work

By Thomas Franklin

Stacy Carter
Stacy Carterís sign-making career started early. Very early. "I was always the kid in class making signs for the teacher," she says. Carter taught herself how to paint and pitched in her hand-made signs for a family pizzeria. Her work there was noticed by a customer who asked her to letter his truck.

At first she demurred. "I told him there was no way I could do it." Nevertheless, Carter relented and a career was born. But it wasnít a straight line from there to her business, Designs By Stacy. A pair of children, two jobs, and building a house came first.

In 1998, with one of two sons in high school, Carter returned to sign making and Designs By Stacy was born. "I told my son, why donít we play around with this?" The Turner, ME-based business grew steadily, with vehicle lettering, screen printing, and embroidery. "Weíre a one stop shop," Carter explains. It was one of two jobs Carter had at the time, but the business grew to the point where she had to devote herself full time.

Much has changed since the companyís founding, but not Carterís dedication. "I do it all, I meet with the clients, I create the designs, I install them." She does, of course, have some help. "My husbandís the computer tech, he keeps everything running and my son designed our Web site."

To create her designs, Carter uses SignLab from CADLink Technology Corp. Carter bought her first version of Signlab (v 4.95) at a tradeshow and has stuck with the design program ever since. She says she was initially attracted to the program for its ease-of-use. "Itís very user friendly," she states.

In particular the measuring distance tool helps her properly align graphics, lettering, and designs onto a digital image of a vehicle. "It helps me locate where everything is and needs to be so I can design right on top of the picture," she says. It also allows her to show her clients what the finished design will look like on the vehicle itself.

Just as she taught herself to paint, Carter dove into Signlab without professional assistance. If she encounters an issue or has a question, she pops onto CADLinkís SignLab forum where either a product manager or a fellow user will lend a hand. "Theyíre very responsive," she notes.

Now that CADLink is offering flexible, scheduled online courses, she will take some lessons. "I think thatís a very good idea to fit it around our schedules, so I can do the training when I have the time."

Time is a sparse commodity for Carter since the introduction of digital printing. She bought the 30-inch Roland VersaCAMM SP300 a year ago and has become enthusiastic about its business benefits.

"Itís awesome, the best thing I could have done for my business," Carter says unequivocally. "Itís opened so many doors. I only need to print and cut one piece of vinyl and people are in awe of the quality," she notes.

"I donít do any advertising at all," she says. "The only advertising I have is that vehicle when it leaves my driveway, and itís the best advertising I could have."

Micha Riss
When Adobe went searching for a design firm to beta test and later evangelize its Creative Suite 3, NY-based Flying Machine seemed almost too good to be true.

The agency is nothing if not integrated. Its three principles hail from corporate branding, TV, and new media, combining expertise in three disciplines under a single roof. Adobeís Creative Suite, which seeks to package a host of design tools for print, the Web, and video, was a natural fit.

"People are used to segmenting those disciplines, but we sought to integrate them to provide the solution for all of our clientsí visual needs," explains creative director Micha Riss. "A lot of what weíre asked to do is not run-of-the-mill," he adds.

Flying Machineís client list includes iconic brands like Harley Davidson, ESPN, A&E, and American Stock, alongside Amnesty International.

"We donít have a design philosophy because every client has unique needs," Riss says. "Some need big, some need small. The strategy must speak to what the client needs, we design to their message."

That message also includes large format work such as building wraps, billboards, and wall paper, along with unique packaging.

Riss wonít disclose where the firm does its printing other than to note that itís done in NY and Milan, Italy. "One time we disclosed where we produced a really creative print job," he notes, and competitors swarmed the printer trying to duplicate it. "For elaborate packaging, we go out of the country," he adds.

Flying Machine is positioned to handle "all of a companyís visual needs" and as such, has turned to Adobeís Creative Suite to realize its creative vision. Vector-based designs made in Illustrator can be transformed into a Flash video to be viewed on a 17-inch monitor or made into a towering print graphic for a 17-foot building wrap. Indeed, it can be etched into any materialóone of the firmís recent projects includes cigar boxes.

That integration is what made CS appealing to Flying Machine, Riss states.

According to Riss, the ability to "transparently move files between programs" has helped the efficiency of his agency. "Weíre not a huge studio and we need to be very efficient." Time saved in the manual creation of graphics and ad collateral is time spent in the creative process, conceiving of high impact campaigns.

Another benefit to the integrated approach is the PDF workflow, Riss says. "People look at it as a way to send files but now clients can work with a PDF in Illustrator. Thatís a huge deal."

From a design standpoint, color remains a daunting challenge, Riss observes. "There are so many hurdles from design to final product. Just as software has made the pre-press process easier, we need more assistance with color. When you get to the printer, itís crunch time. We need them to get it right, and they need to get us done to move onto the next job," he says. "At the printer, thereís always a moment when your heart is in your chest."

He credits Adobe with a penchant for closely listening to its end users and delivering what clients need. "They have software thatís designed for the users, they understand what we do," he concludes.

Fay Sirkis
Art has infused Fay Sirkisí life. "When I look at the world, I see one big painting," she says.

Sirkis is never without her camera, ready to capture a scene and transform it into a piece of art. In years past Sirkis, whose background is in traditional fine art, would bring her creations to life under the noxious fumes of oil paints. Today, she uses Corel Painter X.

"Art was a major part of my life, but I had to give it up because of the fumes," she states. The dawn of desktop publishing led to a personal reinventionódesigning childrenís books. However it was not, she admits, the "real deal."

She turned her creative energies to wedding photography and "one fine day" while walking the floors of a tradeshow in NY, she discovered Corelís Painteróthen on version 6. "My jaw dropped," she says. Sirkis is, as she will readily concede, an unapologetic enthusiast for the program. "I talk about Painter at the grocery store," she admits.

Upon seeing the program "I thought, Ďhow cool would it be to mix photography with painting?í"

That thought turned into a thriving portrait studio transforming images into pieces of art. Sirkis prints her own portraits in her Brooklyn, NY studio on a 12-color Canon imagePROGRAF 8000. Indeed, she describes her business as the culmination of three digital trendsóthe emergence of high quality digital cameras (she shoots with Canon digital SLRs); lower cost but higher quality wide format inkjet printers; and software, like Painter. "I was lucky to jump in at the right time," she states.

Some works she paints entirely by hand. Others, she will springboard off of photos imported into Painter.

"I do my thought process in Photoshop," she says, "sizing the photo and determining whether it will be a watercolor or oil." Then, she imports it into Painter and sets about creating. The process can take "two days or two weeks" depending on the sophistication of the approach.

The benefits of the digital approach are most apparent when working in larger sizes, Sirkis notes.

"Can you imagine how long it would have taken Monet to paint a wall? It would have taken forever. In digital, there is no extra effort to produce larger pieces," Sirkis says. Today she prints a range of portrait sizes as large as 30x40 inches.

Color matching has also made large strides, Sirkis says. "With 12-color printing, what you see is what you get."

"As an artist, I knew in my mind what the color would look like," she says. But when the gamut constricted as the file progressed toward output, frustration would set in. If the color was not right in the print, she says, what was the point? "Weíre nothing without prints."

In addition to her portrait studio, Sirkis also teaches courses on Painter. While Corel has built out a vast array of brush strokes and styles to replicate the classic styles, going so far as to have digital paint bristles dry up, there are some students who are initially hesitant about signing "digital art."

Such trepidation, Sirkis says, is unwarranted. "Itís real, the only thing thatís missing is the smell."

Rick Raeder
Rick Raeder cut his design teeth creating aftermarket graphics for cars in the late 1970s. In 1985, he started his own business, R.G. Raeder Custom Graphics and Signs in Bethel, PA.

Actually, as Raeder tells it, the "custom graphics and signs" came a bit later. He began with vehicle lettering and incorporated sign making software into his workflow in 1990, to help service his auto dealing clientele. His services later expanded from cut vinyl to include wide format digital printing with the purchase of a Roland PC 600 and now a Roland Versacamm VP-300. Today, Raeder uses SA Internationalís Flexi8 to design his graphics, which adorn race cars, utility vehicles, and billboards.

Raeder describes himself as an "every day kind of guy." He was attracted to Flexi for its very short, level learning curve. "It took about a week to learn," he states. The software was more straightforward and intuitive than the competitive products Raeder compared it to.

Even then, he has found additional support helpful. "I attended an educational class at a tradeshow. I went in thinking I knew everythingóIím the typical guy who doesnít read the instruction manualóand the class unlocked so many features."

The course helped save time by extracting greater efficiencies from the design process and also addressed the frequently challenging hurdle of color management. "Color management is very tough," he admits. SA Internationalís instructor demonstrated monitor calibration and other ways to master the art of color management, but the variables remain daunting. "Everything from the pigments to the atmosphere can play havoc" with your color, Raeder says.

Most of Raederís clients give him the creative license to conceive of designs. "Iíve been fortunate to have built up a lot of trust with my clients," he says. While the bulk of Raederís work is automotive signage, he has been more aggressive in the banner and sublimation market. His wife, who handles the new sublimation business, works with CorelDRAW and Flexi, he notes.

The design element is rarely the challenge, Raeder says, itís the output. "Thereís a lot to learn with digital printing," he says. As soon as space permits, Raeder plans to upgrade from a 30- to a 54-inch Roland. Heís also looking for a facility large enough to handle his automotive work. "I just need a bigger space," he states.

Designing digital graphics destined for wide format output eats up a lot of memory and places heavy processing demands on the computer and Raeder notes that a top-of-the-line PC was essential.

Among Flexi8ís list of features, Raeder singles out the Select Within tool for altering single bitmaps within an object or group as particularly useful. The auto measuring tools and the ability to export files as PDFs "are other time savers," he adds.

When asked what features and functionality heís looking forward to in an eventual release of Flexi9, Raeder laughs. "Thatís hard to say, Iím still learning all you can do in 8!"

Jul2007, Digital Output

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