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Invest for Success

It takes more than the right hardware and media choices to properly enter the building wraps market.

by Thomas Franklin

1 of a 4 Part Series

To hear print providers tell it, producing building wraps is a lot like climbing a mountain. You donít start out on Everest. That would almost certainly be fatal. Instead, you begin by struggling up the small hills before working your way up to the pinnacle.

"Building wraps are not something you start out doing when you invest in grand format printing," says Tom Wilhelm, president, GP Color & Imaging Group. "But itís something you end up doing."

Tackling building wraps entails a considerable investment, though one that will open the door to a range of offerings, not simply building wraps. This investment entails both tangible one-time and recurring costs such as a printer, RIP, laminator, welder, sewer, requisite staffing, ink, and media. The costs can easily reach $500,000. But it also entails some intangibles investments, providers say, such as your willingness to learn on the fly, to be flexible in the face of unexpected problems, and a solid grasp of what you can deliver.

Any wide format solvent printer can technically get you started up the building wrap mountain. Itís a matter of how much productivity youíll sacrifice as you stitch or weld the panels together. The smaller the printer, the longer it will be dedicated to producing a wrap and nothing else. Some print providers wonít touch building wraps unless theyíre using 16-foot machines. Others have proven success with smaller models.

Wide-to-grand format solvent and UV printer costs can start in the $60,000-range and climb to as much as $350,000-plus depending on productivity specs, resolution, and included software. While the low cost is tempting, building wraps entail serious, often around the clock, production. Theyíre frequently ordered under tight deadlines. Printers need to be capable of running on a full time basis to ensure client satisfaction with a responsive technical support system in place to address problems immediately.

"Sometimes weíre given ten days in production, sometimes five. Sometimes ten days can turn into five while we work to get the file correct," relates Gary Lucke, owner, Fast Signs.

Printers in this class include, but arenít limited to, the Nur Expedio 5000óa 16-foot roll fed model capable of 1,600 sf/h print speed. It also uses UV-curable inks and offers 700 dpi resolution, 4- or 8-color printing.

Another 16-foot roll-to-roll printer, EFIís VUTEk UltraVu II 5330 cranks out 2,230 sf/h. The 4/8-color printer features 330 dpi resolution and uses the Fiery FX Production RIP or ColorBurst RIP. It starts at $349,000.

Gandinnovationsí 6-color, 16-foot Jeti 5024 is a solvent roll-to-roll model featuring 600 dpi resolution and 24 Spectra print heads. A 300 dpi, 4-color iteration gives you print speeds up to 1,650 sf/h. The printer is sold with a selection of RIPs from Onyx, Wasatch, or Shiraz.

Finally the HP Scitex XL1500 can switch from 4, 6, and 8 colors with a maximum resolution of 370x740 dpi. The 17-foot version is capable of print speeds up to 1,333 sf/h. It ships with Onyxís PosterShop RIP software.

Wraps are produced on mesh vinyl or with a new class of film such as 3Mís Scotchcal Graphic Film for Textured SurfacesóIJ8624. Prices can range widely, depending on roll size. The price range for solvent inks can exceed $10,000 depending on the kit configuration.

Finishing supplies will also require added investment. Depending on the duration of outdoor time, a wrap may need laminating. Large format laminators can cost upwards of $40,000. Regardless of whether a wrap will need laminating, it will need to be assembled. Industrial sewers can cost as little as $3,000 but RF welders can reach into the six figures. Then there are smaller expenses, like grommets and rope, to keep in mind.

Get it Up
A small number of building wrap providers do their own installation using internal staff. Often, union rules at facilities such as sports stadiums or convention centers, mandate that union employees are the ones scaling the wall or riding the bucket truck. In other instances, the property owner or media company has their own preferred installation team.

Considering the relatively few firms that can produce building wraps, many companies offer the service on a national basis, working with a team of qualified installers around the country.

"Sometimes we just mail it out and wait for a phone call to come in," jokes Wilhelm.

Qualified installation, either in-house or subcontracted, is often a key value-add that a print provider can use to differentiate their offerings. Itís one thing to print a wrap graphic, itís another to shepherd a project from start to successful finish.

Oct2007, Digital Output

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