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Innovative Quality

Backlit Fabric Signage

By Melissa Tetreault

Graphics Gallery of Glen Allen, VA began as a prepress house for offset printing. The business evolved with technological advancements—from manual imposition to proprietary type setting equipment and Mac-based desktop publishing systems. In the last 21 years, their customer base dramatically changed. Originally serving the graphic arts community by providing services such as design, film separations, slides, and transparencies, Graphics Gallery eventually decided to focus solely on large format digital output, finishing, and installation.

Serving the Richmond, VA metropolitan area and anyone in a three hour radius, the shop creates output for museums, exhibits, corporate environments, retail, and interior design.

"Most of our clients expect us to assume a certain professional level of responsibility for the quality and timeliness of our work. It is always a challenge, but that is the type of work we prefer," explains Michael Elrod, principal, Graphics Gallery.

Elrod and his business partner, Steve Samuel, built Graphics Gallery to be a project-oriented, museum-quality, large format company. Today, their staff consists of 24 employees.

Their 12,500 square foot shop houses an array of hardware. In the early years, the shop used inkjet devices from Hewlett-Packard and Encad; they then bought a Durst Lambda—which they still use today for a majority of their production output.

A major milestone was the addition of their first flatbed device, a VUTEk PressVu. "We were careful with flatbed printing and tried to understand that we needed to grow our client base and not simply switch our current clients to flatbed. Choosing to produce a job on a flatbed provides us with the flexibility to assist the client in choosing the right product for the right situation," shares Elrod. Recently, Graphics Gallery upgraded to a VUTEk QS2000 flatbed with white ink. For textile printing, the shop uses a DuPont Artistri textile printer.

Sparking Interest
To keep clients informed about recent purchases and new offerings at Graphics Gallery, Elrod and Samuel hold open houses. The most recent event introduced backlit fabric signage to potential customers.

Says Elrod of the open house system, "We held three open houses. Once every three years for the past nine years. The last one being this past Spring in which over 300 people attended." Graphics Gallery plans to hold more. The benefits of these types of events are endless.

"Because we sell large format it is often hard to convey what sort of impact certain graphics can achieve unless you can get the client to see them being used at full size in a variety of useful and creative applications," Elrod explains.

New business booms as a result. Open houses help educate Graphics Gallery’s clients on new products and applications and illustrate how they can interweave these new items into current marketing strategies.

Fabric Illuminated
Currently, 15 to 20 percent of Graphics Gallery’s business is backlit. Despite this seemingly low number, Elrod does not despair. Instead, he counters, "backlit graphics have a higher perceived value and therefore are a higher margin product. In other words, they are more profitable."

Elrod is a member of Global Imaging and Graphics Association (GIGA) and learned about backlit fabric through the organization. Many European GIGA members were producing backlit fabric walls and other retail signage, spurring Elrod to do some research of his own. What he found was Matrix Frame BV, based out of the Netherlands, manufacturer of the Matrix Frame light box. Graphics Gallery is one of the only dealers of this product in the U.S.

The Matrix Frame system is unique in that is uses LED lighting, which creates low power consumption. The light source is attached to a grid-lined acrylic panel. This panel helps balance the lighting throughout the graphic while at the same time provides a brightness not usually achieved with fluorescent lighting. The largest Matrix Frame system uses 12 volt power supplies. Explains Elrod, "There is virtually no heat generated within the box and consequently, no heat generated in the room. This means the air conditioning system does not have to compensate for excessive heat generation." Despite being more expensive than traditional backlit signage, the cost difference offsets itself in less than two years thanks to energy savings.

Other attractive benefits of the Matrix Frame system include its slim width—1.75 inches. Additionally, with such a skinny frame, the product is light—resolving heavy freight issues. "We are amazed at how versatile the product is," expresses Elrod. At the Spring open house, Graphics Gallery showcased freestanding, double sided 18- to 30-foot long seamless versions of the Matrix Frames. Elrod and Samuel also constructed a six- by ten-foot door using fabric and the frame system. This was also shown at the event.

Between low heat consumption and printing with fabric, which is generally much more eco-friendly than traditional media even after it is disposed of, the Matrix Frame system is truly a "green" solution. "We see the Matrix Frame system as an environmentally friendly display that looks absolutely beautiful," says Elrod. Graphics Gallery customers feel the same way. Elrod says that clients are beginning to regularly request backlit signage due to the open house. The company hopes interest will grow in the coming months.

Look for an expanded article on Graphics Gallery and backlit signage in the October print edition of Digital Output.

Jul2008, Digital Output

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