Magnetic and vinyl vehicle signage seems to be everywhere. But Typestries Sign & Design of Manahawkin, NJ, has been producing it since they opened for business in 1996. "Just starting out, we did mainly the lower cost type of jobs, which meant, ironically, making a lot of magnetic signs," explains owner Rick McDonough. Typestries, which he started with his wife Krissy, specializes in cut letter signs for buildings as well as flexible signs such as banners and automobile advertisements. "Ten years ago, our local economy was just starting to really kick and many of our clients simply did not have the budgets for more elaborate signs. Generally speaking, magnets can be made quickly, are reasonably priced, and are convenient for the client. They can use a personal vehicle for work and then remove the signs when they want, or use the signs on more than one vehicle."
McDonoughís first digital printer was a Gerber Edge, which he used for his cut vinyl magnet applications. Five years ago, he added his shopís first solvent printer, the Ocť Arizona 180, which he refers to as a monster. "It was all the rage at the time," he recalls. "We printed a lot of mags with that machine. We would print [on] Oracal 3651 vinyl and apply it directly to the magnetic sheeting." Although he still uses these machines, his magnetic workflow, which includes substrates from Magnum Magnetics, has evolved. He now uses a MacDermid ColorSpan 72UVR, which can print directly onto the magnetic material and a HP DesignJet 9000S, which prints onto vinyl that is then applied to the magnetics. "Which we use depends on the customer application and the quantity of signs weíre making. The ColorSpan is a versatile machine that prints on practically anything but does not have the image quality that the HP solvent machine can produce," McDonough notes.
An additional difference between them, he continues, is their printing head heights. "On flatbed and hybrid roll-to-roll machines [like the 72UVR], printing magnetic is really quite simple since we have the luxury of a large range of head height adjustment. This removes the thickness clearance issues and mitigates the chances of head strikes. When the head strikes the material it almost always clogs and can even be damaged beyond repair." Also, the ColorSpanís [72UVR] platen does not contain magnetically charged metal, so the substrate passes unhindered. "The solvent printers are a different animal. They often do not have very large head height ranges, as in the case of our HP 9000S. Iíve heard of people running mag through the HP and printing directly, but we have not had any success. Although we can get the heads to clear the .030 magnetic material, we experience feed issues because the platen and surrounding printer parts are ferrous material," McDonough adds.
Typestries has produced a wide range of magnetic signs, from typical door decals to oversized vehicle signs and even a car top application. "Until recently, itís been difficult to get any material wider than 24 inches. Well, we now have access to some really large magnetic material. In fact, itís so wide that we can make magnetic signs that are close to impractical," McDonough says. The shop made signs for a new local country radio station for the sides of a van. The signs each measured 40 inches tall and seven feet wide and needed two to three people to apply. "It makes a very effective and flexible solution to a vehicle advertising dilemmaóhow to advertise multiple things on one vehicle at different times," McDonough notes.
The car top design came from a cleaning services client. "They wanted a simple, lightweight, and relatively inexpensive sign that can be placed on top of the cars while they are inside the house cleaning. They did not want to use a job site sign due to the fact that they didnít want to ask each client for permission to put a sign in the yard. This is a perfect solution for this client and any client that uses personal vehicles, yet does not want the vehicles lettered permanently or magnetic signs on the car while itís in motion," states McDonough.
A recent custom partial wrap the shop produced was for a local Cingular Wireless dealer that wanted to promote the brand along with new product images. "This is an excellent example of the fact that you donít need to wrap an entire vehicle to gain incredible advertising value. A bit of pre-planning in the design stage allows the phones to be easily changed without disturbing the rest of the design, so when the next hot phones come out, they can easily be swapped out on the van without re-doing the entire job, saving the client time and money," says McDonough.
A Family Affair
Customer service is an essential business practice for McDonough, who recounts many stories of new clients who became friends. Indeed, his shop promotes a welcoming family atmosphere with his wife and business partner, Krissy, and their two golden retrievers greeting clients. "The employee thatís been with us the longest is actually Krissyís mother," he notes. "Itís sometimes tough to work with your mother-in-law, but itís worth it in the end. Right now, our office manager and production manager are a husband and wife team that I actually once worked for before they sold their business. Our designer is our managerís brother. Itís a real family atmosphere here and it helps us all succeed."
Unlike many sign shop owners, McDonough does not come from a printing family. Indeed, he holds a bachelorís degree in geosciences from Franklin & Marshall, a small liberal arts college in PA. "My summer job as an ocean lifeguard somehow morphed into graphic design, back when you were glad to even have a color monitor and color scanners were just coming out. We had a Mac IIsi and I designed and printed yearbooks, magazines, and all kinds of printed correspondence. In the early iteration of Typestries, I published a magazine called The College Shopper at a bunch of central-PA colleges. I read a ton about print design and really paid attention to good design. We got into signs specifically because I really enjoy making things as well as designing things. When I started making the signs for the businesses that I was doing design work for I began to realizeóhey, thereís a real niche here," states McDonough.
A few months before graduation, he and Krissy rented their first office space in Manahawkin, NJ which is located on Long Beach Island along the picturesque NJ shore. "We met here on Long Beach Island and both knew this was where we wanted to stay." They built their sign business from the ground up, expanding into a second location in nearby Ship Bottom, NJ, and now into a new division that focuses on digitally printed graphics for boats, which Krissy oversees.
They enjoy their business so much that they recently launched SignADay.com, a blog about sign making, life at the Jersey Shore, and the Typestries family. "I fell upon the blog written by J.D. Iles of Lincoln Sign in Lincoln, NH. I really enjoyed reading it, and thought Iíd like to do the same thing. Growing our business has had one drawbackóIím not as in touch with our clients as I once was or want to be. The blogís given me back my customer contact. I also try to mix in the personal side of our business. Our clients are after all dealing with us as people and not a company, so itís important to me to also include a bit of family stuff," McDonough adds. Perhaps most importantly, the blog has had a positive impact on business, as inquiries and referrals have increased along with Typestriesí search engine ranking.
"With the growth and progress of technology, practically anyone can make a sign. Weíre a bit different. We design and build signs and effective marketing tools. Coming into the sign business with a strong print background has always been one of our strong points. Although I donít get as much shop time as I once did, I still really enjoy making stuff and the challenges it presents. I had a professor at Franklin & Marshall tell me once that, ĎEverything in the world starts out as a line; itís what you do with that line that countsí," concludes McDonough.