During times of great prosperity print service providers (PSPs) strive to differentiate themselves. That often means finding the right niche within a broad large format graphics segment and sticking to a core competency.
Specializing in a certain genre of print product is a luxury. A vigilant PSP is charged with the task of growing business, even if it means broadening services and streamlining production efficiencies and profit margins. Investing in digital finishing technologies helps achieve both goals.
“We see a lot of growth in print-and-cut technologies,” notes Don Skenderian, VP, market development, CAD/CAM, EskoArtwork. “However, opportunity is limited if a company only cuts rectangles and squares.”
Print-and-cut technologies enable PSPs to differentiate themselves from competitors, according to Skenderian. “Because of the automation of the product, there is significant impact on cost reduction. If done using traditional methods, a company faces heavy labor costs, not to mention the potential for human error,” he cautions.
EskoArtwork offers three versions of its i-cut enabled Kongsberg i-XE digital finishing tables for signs and displays; the i-XE10, with a working area of 31.5x43.3 inches; the i-XE32, 51x63.75 inches; and the i-XE54, 62x120 inches. EskoArtwork’s Kongsberg XP24 and XP44 finishing tables offer working areas of 66x126 and 87x126 inches, respectively.
“The ability to automate the production of printed, contour cut decals and signage on one device increases productivity dramatically,” asserts Dana Curtis, product manager, inkjets and cutters, Roland DGA Corporation. “It also opens the door for non-traditional signage at a profit, including POP, window signs, floor graphics, decorated apparel, banners, signs, and exhibits.”
“From a pure cost perspective, a print-and-cut system is two machines in one. PSPs can save thousands of dollars compared to investing in two separate devices,” Curtis adds. “Because Roland’s systems are turnkey, out-of-the-box, there is no need to purchase additional software.”
Curtis also suggests a few advantages to owning separate cutting devices. “An integrated solution saves most shops time and money and is easier to use. However, having two separate devices enables PSPs to contour cut labels for one customer, while the printer continues to produce banners for another.”
More than 70,000 Roland VersaCAMM and SOLJET printer/cutters are installed worldwide today. This Spring Roland announced the new “i” version of VersaCAMM VP solutions. VersaCAMM VP-i features Roland Intelligent Pass Control to enhance productivity. The Roland product line also includes solutions that combine the VersaArt RS series of printers with the Roland GX series of cutters for customers that prefer separate devices.
Mutoh America, Inc. manufactures two standalone cutting solutions. The Ultima Series 1400 Multi-Purpose Cutting Plotter accepts media up to 55 inches wide—with a cutting width of 47 inches—and performs at speeds up to 39 inches per second. The Mutoh SC-PRO 1650 is a 64-inch cutter/plotter equipped with a drag knife, well-suited to vinyl media. This device accepts roll or sheet substrates up to 72.83 inches wide.
Gerber Scientific Products, Inc. markets the company’s Sabre routers to the sign and large format markets. Two iterations of this solution—the Sabre 404 and 408—are able to cut media up to 4.4 inches thick. The supplier also created the Gerber M Series flatbed cutter. The device is capable of routing corrugated plastic, kiss-cut vinyl applications, and contour-cut digitally printed graphics for POP displays.
GCC’s Gaia laser cutting system offers PSPs a laser-based cutting and engraving solution with a working area of 51x36 inches. GCC also developed the Jaguar and Puma families of cutting plotters to complement large format print systems.
Summa USA offers both integrated print-and-cut technologies—the Summa DC4sx and DC4 thermal transfer printer/cutters—and standalone vinyl and contour cutters such as the company’s S Class D Series. Available in four models—30, 48, 54, and 64 inches, this technology is for high-volume vinyl and reflective label cutting.
New cutting devices in the S Class T Series include S140T and S160T contour cutting plotters, which use OPOS-CAM—a contour cutting alignment system.
According to Marie Friemann, marketing representative, Mimaki USA, Inc., a PSP needs to choose a solution that meets production needs and is engineered to last. “Look for a machine that is easy to use and maintain,” she advises. “A cutter that not only matches needs for size, but for speed, is essential. However, you also want a machine that grows with your shop.”
Available in three widths, Mimaki’s CG FX series II cutting plotters feature high-speed, continuous crop mark detection courtesy of an optical sensor. Mimaki’s proprietary half-cut technology enables the cutting of backing sheets, leaving appropriate connecting points, which may be detached in preparation for application. Friemann suggests that the CG FX series II is a perfect complement to Mimaki’s popular JV33 and JV5 large format printer families.
Mimaki also delivers an integrated print-and-cut solution with the CJV30 series, which prints at resolutions of up to 1,440 dpi and cuts at speeds of up to 30 centimeters per second.
No Job Too Big or Small
Cousins David Hay and Brandon Stapper founded 858 Graphics in San Diego, CA with a single piece of equipment—a vinyl cutter. Soon thereafter the company invested in its first print solution, a 54-inch Roland VersaCAMM VP-540 digital printer/cutter.
“Thanks to the print-and-cut nature of the printer we streamlined our production,” Hay explains. The technology proved ideal for the market 858 Graphics planned to tap—primarily trade show graphic buyers.
Hay reports that the company stocks more than 40 brands of media. “We load ten to 20 different mediums into the Roland each day,” he estimates.
The technology is instrumental in 858 Graphics’ ability to accept almost any job, no matter how big or small.
Recently, a client asked the PSP to produce a 50x25-foot banner. The banner was intended to promote a surfing contest sponsored by Revolt Magazine and hung from the side of a pier. Hay credits the VersaCAMM with enabling the company to produce the job in a single day. “Responding quickly was critical,” he confides.
“Our dedication to exceeding our clients’ expectations—no matter how crazy the timeline—is what sets us apart,” Hay says. “With our VersaCAMM, we consistently produce spectacular displays for our clients.”
“I opened a mini-lab in 1989, which morphed into a wedding and portrait lab,” recalls Peter Fradin, owner, Mighty Imaging. “When I sold it 15 years later, we had 23 employees and ran two shifts, Monday through Friday, and one shift on Saturdays. No master plan or any genius involved here. I just listened to my customers, and added equipment and services as needed.”
“I noticed that the small print channel became a commodity, so I transitioned into the large format business by purchasing an OcŽ North America LightJet,” he adds.
Mighty Imaging is based in Phoenix, AZ. “Initially, our client base was strictly local, but as we religiously worked on our Web site and blog, we began accepting jobs from all over North America. It is to the point where UPS placed a workstation in our shop, so the driver can get in and out quickly,” Fradin states.
The company invested in a blend of print technologies in order to manage an array of large format graphics. “Right now, the equipment line-up is the OcŽ LightJet for fine art and photographic applications, an Epson Stylus Pro 9800 for giclŽe output, and a OcŽ Arizona 350 GT UV flatbed for direct to substrate application,” explains Fradin. “While the LightJet is our workhorse, the 350 GT is going to eclipse that rather quickly.”
Corporate wall art is a strong segment of the market for Mighty Imaging. “We produce a fair amount of wallpaper for restaurants and bars, in addition to large prints and fabric graphics for lobbies, conference rooms, board rooms, and call centers. Our attention to detail and ability to manage color allows us to fill the fine art reproduction niche,” he explains.
With growing volumes and a demanding customer base, it wasn’t enough to simply provide exceptional print. Mighty Imaging needed to offer sophisticated and stealthy finishing services. Thus, the company recently ordered its first digital cutting solution, a ZŸnd G3.
“Prior to the G3 I’m afraid I lived in the last century in regards to a cutting solution—panel saw, table saw, and lots of cutting by hand. The cost savings in labor and turnaround time should be significant, and of course, having every step in the workflow process under one roof is every PSP’s goal,” admits Fradin.
Fradin expects the G3 to eliminate bottlenecks in finishing by automating cutting and trimming. “Cutting by hand, with its inherent labor costs, potential for human error, and lack of efficiency, should be reduced to nearly zero,” he says. “More importantly, atypical applications will allow us to set our customers’ display graphics apart from others.”
“I grew up in the large format silkscreen and litho business,” recalls Tom Young, GM, Unleashed Displays. “In February 2008, Young took his position at the helm of Unleashed Displays, based in Minneapolis, MN.
Unleashed Displays produces a variety of large scale graphics. “There’s nothing standard about this business,” he notes. “We do a mix of posters on SBS Board and images printed on self-adhesive vinyl. We print on styrene, Sintra, and corrugate. It runs the gamut. We’ve done packaging mock-ups standees, floor graphics, ceiling danglers, lobby graphics, and trade show graphics,” recounts Young.
The business relies on an EFI VUTEk QS2000 and Hewlett-Packard’s (HP) Designjet Z6100 printer. “The QS gives us the ability to be flexible and move from rolls to sheets. The HP Designjet Z6100 comes into play when we print at a high resolutions, because the printer allows us to run 1,200x1,200 dpi,” he says.
“For finishing, we mount and laminate with a Seal laminator,” remarks Young. For cutting the company owns an EskoArtwork Kongsberg i-XL24 equipped with i-cut technology. “It’s an amazing machine; the i-cut software does unbelievable stuff. We’ve gone from square to round cutting images or trimming standees printed on corrugated material. It’s a painless process to create the cut files during preparation,” he marvels.
The Kongsberg technology pulls double duty on occasion. When the workload permits, Unleashed Displays is able to take on cutting work outsourced from other local businesses.
“You’re really not a player if you don’t have finishing capabilities,” asserts Young. “You have to be willing and able to invest in new technologies. If you don’t remain current, you’ll fade away.”
Cutting that Counts
It’s often in great times of strife that the best print businesses continue to thrive. Traditionally, suppliers quick to adapt and invest in technological improvements—within their means—come out on top. As it becomes increasingly vital for PSPs to capture new clients and inflate profit margins, digital finishing technologies will be the key to success.
PSPs continue to add revolutionary finishing devices to their shops. The three businesses mentioned here are examples of what finishing can do for a company’s bottom line if instituted correctly. Luckily, there are many finishing solutions available. Standalone and print-and-cut devices both have their downsides and advantages. However, a PSP can only truly gauge the benefits of one over the other by conducting quality research and taking the leap to institute a solution in their shop.