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Striving for More with Digital

Critical Finishing Components

By Gretchen A. Peck

Print service providers (PSPs) need to push the envelope by embracing technologies and rebuilding a workflow that’s slick, efficient, and effective—from creative collaboration with the customer to prepress, proofing, printing, and finally to finishing and fabrication.

The three large format print specialists profiled here find that digital finishing technologies improve quality, decrease turnaround time, and produce more innovative and aesthetically pleasing print. These are their stories.

A Gallery for Graphics
When you place a call to Graphics Gallery, of Glen Allen, VA, you’ll likely hear the following message, “You may have heard about the recession. At Graphics Gallery, we have simply chosen not to participate.”

“We created a tabletop display announcing that we are not participating in the recession,” notes Steve Samuel, founder and co-owner, Graphics Gallery. “Using a router, we created Recession Buster signs. We take them around to local businesses and to Chamber of Commerce meetings and receive many requests for them.” The signs, some printed on card stock, and others on styrene with an easel on the back, depict stacks of coins. “We want to think positively and keep America moving forward. It’s a very challenging environment and what we have to do is rise above that,” asserts Samuel.

Samuel practically grew up in the world of print. His father taught him the typesetting trade. By the time he was an adult, Samuel settled in Richmond, VA, and started his own typesetting company.

“The desktop revolution began at that point,” Samuel recalls. “The next thing I knew, typesetting fell by the wayside and I had to adapt. So we became a service bureau—a term that almost ceases to exist these days. We began to do color separations, bought imagesetters, and grew the company.”

“Then the printers began to buy imagesetters, which eventually became platesetters. Once again, I was cut out of the equation,” Samuel continues. “A friend gave me some great advice and suggested I find a more stable market. He said, ‘you need to get into big color.’ That was in 1997.”

It was sage advice. Samuel acquired a local large format company shortly after. He paid $43,000 for the company and generated $50,000 in large format business the very first month. Within two years, large format print accounted for 100 percent of the workload at Graphics Gallery.

Customers include large corporations, retailers, and institutions such as museums—businesses with design agencies to assist with creative and production.

Graphics Gallery owns three digital routers. “I bought the first one, a Gerber Scientific Products, Inc. Sabre, back in 1999, and still have it today,” explains Samuel.

“I also have two machines from ZŸnd America, Inc. We bought the first one in 2004, and in 2008 purchased the brand new ZŸnd G3,” Samuel notes. “When you experiment the way we do with cutting, to see the progress made with that machine is unbelievable!”

The combination of computer-assisted cutting technologies and Graphics Gallery large format print solutions—an EFI VUTEk PressVu, a Durst Image Technology US LLC Lambda, and a DuPont Artistri—enable the company to print and precisely cut even the most intricate of designs and challenging media, such as metals and ceramics.

“When you’re doing things like acrylics, using jigsaws, the quality is not going to be there,” laments Samuel.

Because finishing large format print jobs tends to be one of the most labor intensive parts of the workflow, automated digital equipment is essential to a company’s health, Samuel suggests.

“We don’t charge extra for cutting,” he confides. “We are able to lock in more business by saying to clients, ‘Why not try something new, create something different and interesting, because you’re not going to pay any more for it.’ From a philosophy standpoint, finishing equipment is critical—especially digital routers,” says Samuel.

Creative Collaboration
Harlan Graphic Arts Services, Inc., based in Cincinnati, OH, is a family owned large format print business focused on high-end retail, point of purchase (POP), and museum clients, most of which are local, though they do have a few national accounts. Harlan is equipped with several digital print engines to handle almost any client request.

“We have an Inca Digital Printers’ Columbia and a new Hewlett-Packard (HP) Scitex FB6700, a water-based inkjet with the ability to automatically load and unload the media,” explains Jeff Ehrman, VP/co-owner, Harlan.

“Additionally, we have an EFI VUTEk, a 10.5-foot wide roll-fed printer that also accommodates sheet-fed jobs, but we just use it as a roll-fed printer. We have a DuPont Artistri for fabric printing, and a couple of OcŽ North America LightJet machines,” he notes.

Flatbed printing technologies and digital cutting equipment are invaluable to Harlan’s success in the high-end large format space. They allow the shop to print on very exotic substrates.

“I just printed on a sheet of zinc that will eventually be installed as a bar top,” Ehrman says. He also recalls a recent job that resulted in something unique and visually spectacular.

“We just finished a job for a library. We were using three-fourths-of-an-inch thick maple plywood and printing on three sides of these sheets—three images that needed to be routed out,” he explains. “We were able to bring it right over to our EskoArtwork Kongsberg machine to cut the sheets so that, when assembled, it would look like a tree.”

Harlan’s Kongsberg cutting system is equipped with i-cut, inc. technology; it was installed approximately a year ago, to supplement and complement the company’s existing MultiCam, Inc. router.

The Kongsberg technology handles materials of up to ten feet wide. “It loads, cuts, and then advances it another ten feet. Then it automatically cleans off the bed, and loads the next job,” Ehrman explains.

“We are getting work, thanks to the Kongsberg, that we didn’t get before. Take, for example, a standee made of corrugated paper. You wouldn’t want to cut that with a router, but with the Kongsberg, we can cut it with a knife blade.”

Harlan also has a beam laser for intricate cutting. It’s especially adept at cleanly cutting acrylics, Ehrman points out. Sewing machines round out the finishing department’s most valued tools.

Kolor is King
Scott Cohen has his father to thank for helping pave his print career. After spending 30 years building homes in Cleveland, OH, his father fell victim to the housing downturn of the early 80s and went in search of a new career. He was introduced to a local screenprinter interested in selling his business, and though Cohen’s father knew little about printing, he decided to “jump in with both feet,” according to Cohen.

“I came onboard about a year and a half later, and we grew it from $300,000 in annual revenues to a $4.5 million company,” Cohen recalls.

Eventually, they sold the company to its largest client, and Cohen moved to Denver, CO. After working for a large screenprinter in the area, Cohen and his wife Cathleen bought King Kolor. That was seven years ago, and the company has devoted itself to large format digital print ever since.

Compared to today’s landscape, the industry seven years ago was vastly different then today, Cohen suggests. “There are fewer barriers nowadays.” The printing technologies are more sophisticated, faster, and just plain better at reproducing color. Substrates are more adept and diverse. Even quantity isn’t as much of a barrier as it once was, Cohen asserts.

King Kolor’s customer base primarily consists of business-to-business relationships—non-competitive local printers, ad agencies, and other types of marketing communications businesses. Cohen estimates that approximately 50 percent of the jobs coming through the shop are printed on HP large format aqueous printers—things like presentation boards, trade show graphics, and retail POP display items. The balance of the work is better suited to the UV-curable nature of the company’s newer EFI VUTEk PV200.

“Several years ago, we set out to stop using a ruler and a utility knife, because we were kind of tired of cutting the tips of our fingers off,” Cohen quips. King Kolor invested in two straight-edge cutters—one, strictly for paper, and a second, a cutter from Keencut Ltd., capable of cutting through a variety of substrates.

As a complement to the digital print engines, Cohen also invested in a 103x148-inch Gerber M3000 flatbed cutting system a little more than a year ago.

“We knew that as we grew and our client base progressed, we needed to get to a point where we stopped cutting things by hand. Also, we didn’t have the ability to cut shapes, so we outsourced that type of finishing,” Cohen recalls. “We knew we had to automate.”

The introduction of the Gerber M3000 allows King Kolor to manage even the most complex finishing jobs in house. A modular technology, users can swap out cutting tools—a pneumatic oscillating knife, pneumatic router, creasing tools, sword blade, and vinyl spring knife are standards.

“Now, we not only cut shapes on the table, we also do square cuts on it too. We can kiss cut, cut Fome-Cor, Dibond, and Sintra from Alcan Composites USA, Inc., and Gatorboard and Coroplast,” Cohen explains. “We find ourselves cutting six mm Sintra all of the time. It is one of the best technologies we invested in and allows us to cut down on waste. We don’t make mistakes, because we use a cutting program that lines up precisely to what we print. There aren’t any surprises.”

Grow or Die
In an unstable economy, Cohen feels that it’s vital to continue to invest in technologies that enable workflow. “I think it’s ‘grow or die’ out there,” he notes.

“I also think that by continuing to improve our processes and our capabilities, we are poised—if competitors of ours are unfortunate and end up succumbing to the pressures—to accept new business,” concludes Cohen.

And that really is the name of the game in the large format space, replete with new economic and market challenges. It’s not enough to simply retain existing customers by keeping them happy; PSPs need to recapture their imaginations by showing new ways to create interesting print. They need to enable their clients to get more bang for their buck. And, of course, they need to find new and creative print and finishing services for broader audiences.

Apr2009, Digital Output

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