Blue Sky Graphics’ journey into the world of marine graphics began like many others. The Fort Worth, TX print service provider (PSP) was already wrapping vehicles when it realized it was missing the boat on this niche market. "We decided to give it a shot and procured a boat to play around with and test it out," says Skip Madara, founder, Blue Sky Graphics.
After an initial test run, Madara was confident enough to bring his creation to a local fishing and outdoors show in 2007, purchasing a small ten- by 20-foot booth. "There were two other graphics companies at the show and they laughed us out of the building. It was embarrassing," he admits with a fond laugh. The wrap Blue Sky displayed was more suitable for a land vehicle, he recalls. "It had seams, which we thought was a good way to preserve materials."
Madara and his staff honed their skills, returning to the show the following year in a larger 20x40-foot booth and in 2009 upgraded to an even more spacious 20x50-foot exhibit. No one is laughing now. "Everyone at the show knows us, and those two companies who mocked us have gone under."
Simple trial and error was key to broadening Blue Sky’s wrap business from land to sea. Since entering the market a little over two years ago, boat and marine graphics grew to become roughly 40 percent of Blue Sky’s business. The firm wraps anything that goes into the water. "We do 42-foot mountain boats and jet skis," but the big fish is the bass fishing boat market, explains Madara. "Bass fishermen are the biggest niche out there."
Among Blue Sky’s customers is a pair of ESPN Bass Master Boat Tour winners. The bass fishermen community is tight. "They talk. If you don’t get their boat right you’ll have unhappy fishermen on your hands and you’ll be finished," shares Madara. The flip side to this chatty circle is that positive words spread equally fast, delivering fresh new business to the fortunate print provider who can reel them in.
The company, which employs four people, uses a 54-inch SOLJET PRO III XC-540 from Roland DGA Corporation along with MPI 1005 Easy Apply and a gloss overlaminate from Avery Graphics. The wideness of the Roland printer helps Blue Sky wrap the hood of the boat with a single piece of media, while it was the media’s ease-of-install that attracted Madara to the Avery product.
"Generally the most important thing to wrapping boats is sealing bottom edges—you have to heat them aggressively to get that seal. It has to be a completely smooth transition from the bottom of the boat to the graphic," he advises.
"Bass fisherman are tough on their boats, they just beat them up," observes Madara. Floating logs and jagged rocks present a perpetual tear hazard. The goal in any installation is to secure the graphic firmly enough that it can adhere to the hull in the case of a rip or tear. "We warranty the installation for a year and we rely on the manufacturer to warranty for any fading."
The other key, says Madara, is the artwork. "You need years of design knowledge and all the tools that go with it." Typically customers only have a vague sense of what they want and rely on Blue Sky to bring that concept to concrete reality, he notes.
Read more able boat wraps in the April issue of Digital Output.
Click here to read Part 1 of this exclusive online series, Watch the Warranty.