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Grand Ambition

Grand Format Printers Seize the Opportunity in a Hot Outdoor Ad Market

By Thomas Franklin

While some traditional print advertising media tremble at the rise of the Internet, one advertising medium appears positively jubilant—outdoor.

"It is the second fastest growing form of advertising behind the Internet," says Stephen Freitas, CMO, Outdoor Advertising Association of America, Inc. (OAAA). In terms of revenue, the industry grew eight percent in 2006 and OAAA estimates that outdoor advertising will be a $10 billion business within the next five years.

Within this market, grand format output—95 inches and greater—is playing a much larger role, no pun intended. Outdoor advertisers are increasingly aware of the new technologies that make wraps and large displays possible, Freitas says.

Why do advertisers brave the big outdoors? As Clear Channel Outdoor president Paul Meyer observes in a published interview, "there is no mute button, no off switch" to outdoor ads. While new technologies like TiVo and satellite radio have helped consumers wall themselves off from advertisers, the only way to avoid outdoor grand format signage is to close your eyes.

Brands choose to leverage grand format output for a variety of reasons, often as simple and as obvious as making a big impression. "Target [Corporation] has no stores in Manhattan, yet they have a huge sign in Times Square," Freitas says.

"Advertising is a crowded market with a lot of visual noise. Going big is one way advertisers can really separate themselves from the crowd," says Vincent Gonzaga, owner, Uno Digital Screen Press, LTD.

The outdoor market for wide format prints is worth roughly $12 billion world wide, according to the research firm I.T. Strategies. Building wraps account for six percent while billboards account for 13 percent of worldwide revenues. In the U.S., billboards still account for the largest chunk of outdoor signage—64 percent, according to OAAA. Wraps fall into alternative outdoor and comprise the second largest slice at 17 percent, followed by transit applications at 12 percent.

"The biggest trend I’ve seen in grand format is the emergence of UV inks," says Liz Ziepniewski-Logue, senior consultant, I.T. Strategies. Some applications, such as billboards, are well served by solvent technology and will likely remain so, she adds. "The billboard market has grown in the number of pieces produced, but the dollars have been flat." In a volume-driven market, lower cost printing solutions will remain viable, she adds.

"The great demand in grand format is coming from fleet graphics and from point-of-purchase," says Ziki Kuly, director of marketing for HP’s digital inkjet business. "These are high margins applications and our customers are pushing to do them, unlike billboards that are low margin. Customers who are not doing billboards now, don’t wish to start," he adds.

"In the grand format market, we see the greatest demand coming from the vehicle wrap business, says Brian McLeod, VP, corporate marketing, Roland DGA, Corp.

McLeod credits the popularity of vehicle wraps on a business’ desire to differentiate themselves by wrapping their vehicle fleet for added market exposure. Also, "the decreasing cost of grand format printing technology is translating into more affordable vehicle wraps."

Building wraps are also growing in both popularity and visibility, but future success will hinge on new construction, Ziepniewski-Logue says.

"We know our customers are doing about 10,000 square feet a month," says Bruce Butler, director of marketing, MacDermid ColorSpan. "That’s a large number. They could be billing between $40,000 and $50,000 per month."

"We’ve had four to five years in a row of good sales," says Scott Segen, CEO of Philadelphia, PA-based Burton Imaging Group. "The industry trend is upward but we’ve been very aggressive in how we produce and promote. Out-of-home advertising is very cost effective. The whole out-of-home market is booming."

The resolution gains in printers have also allowed grand format output to migrate down to "pedestrian level," states Tom Trutna, owner, Eagan, MN-based Big Ink Display Graphics.

Gonzaga agrees. "Improved technology is what’s driving this growth. The majority of today’s grand format printers are capable of producing prints at high speed and at high resolution. These two factors allow us to be competitive in the grand format digital printing arena. Clients are also becoming more aware of the types of printing technologies available," he says. "They realize most big prints can now be done in a single panel or with minimal tiling."

"It is becoming more common to see high-impact, billboard-size banners at retail locations, sporting events, museums, and other public venues, says McLeod. "An increasing number of shops are sublimating fabrics and meshes using grand format technology as well."

"Architectural and interior design applications on a wide variety of rigid and rolled substrates—including textiles—are dominating in the grand format arena, says Richard Codos, executive director, North American Development, Leggett & Platt Digital Technologies, Inc. As the market heats up, "successful grand format service providers are looking for niche and specialty applications," Codos states. One avenue is digital printing on non-traditional substrates, such as dye printing on textiles, he adds.

Numero Uno
"Our niche is retail," says Vincent Gonzaga, co-owner of Richmond, Canada-based Uno Digital Screen Press, LTD. The company has been a family-owned business since 2000, with over thirty years of combined experience in advertising and large format printing between the the co-owners Vincent and Mario Gonzaga.

"We deal directly with agencies, which we like because they know how to design large format graphics," Gonzaga says.

Uno purchased a Roland 104-inch AdvancedJET AJ-1000 in August 2006 for its robust media handling, Gonzaga says. They have since used it to produce a 1,200-square-foot exterior banner for a retail furniture chain undergoing a renovation. The graphic, printed on Ultraflex mesh vinyl, was used to cover the store’s two large front windows to disguise the internal construction. Uno scanned images of the furniture and scaled it up to the proper dimensions and performed the installation themselves.

"We provide the permitting for our clients, one less thing for them to worry about," Gonzaga adds.

"At least in our region, the real estate boom is fueling demand for big outdoor advertising. This market is expected to stay hopping in the next two to three years," he says. What’s more, Vancouver is the site for the 2010 Winter Olympics. "Between now and then, we will see a wide range of signage, indoor and outdoor, promoting this huge event," he says.

With the purchase of the printer under his belt, Gonzaga says he will study the costs of bringing finishing in-house. "Once we know what kind of volume we’ll be getting with the Roland, we’ll make our decision. Getting the equipment is the easy part, it’s finding the manpower that’s the trick," he observes.

Burton Dials Nokia
Burton Imaging Group is used to large projects—large in every sense of the word. The firm recently completed a mammoth, multi-state outdoor advertising project for Grey Advertising in NY on behalf of Nokia. The project—which included bus and building wraps, and a host of smaller signage—accounted for over 400,000 square feet in total, Segen says. Among the prominent NY landmarks tackled were Madison Square Garden and LaGuardia Airport.

The entire project was produced in three weeks. The wraps were printed with Scitex Vision XL Jets—now HP Scitex—on Cooley flex vinyl and assembled in their facility with a Forsstrom RF welder. The larger graphics were shipped, in one piece, to a variety of major metropolitan areas around the country where third-party contractors installed them. The NY buses were wrapped in Burton’s facilities.

One of the greatest challenges inherent in building wraps in particular, is the environment. "No wall is exactly the same" so how you approach a project will change from job to job, Segen says.

"It was an enormous challenge turning the Nokia project around so quickly," Segen states, adding that the company and its 50-person staff have become accustomed to working "virtually around the clock."

The company has three Scitex XL Jets and a Turbojet, among a raft of other equipment. They plan on purchasing another Turbojet when they move into a larger, 60,000-square-foot facility over the summer, Segen adds. "We can’t get enough of them."

Big Ink Thinks Big
When Tom Trutna purchased Big Ink Display Graphics in 1999, it was originally the last remnant of a retail sign franchise. After failing to gain traction with a number of retail sign shops, the old owners consolidated operations into a single shop to focus on cut vinyl and routed letters, purchasing their first digital printer—an Encad—in 1993, Trutna says.

"I saw a lot of opportunity to move the business toward a more professional platform," Trutna states. The company had been selling grand format output for several years, but would outsource the printing. In February 2004, the company purchased a Jeti from Gandinnovations to bring that work in-house. "Our philosophy was to be fast-followers, we could have jumped into this sooner but we waited until the price point and the quality clicked," continues Trutna.

The company’s fortuitous purchase of a design firm gave them access to the industrial sewers necessary to stitch wide format graphics together. "It was about the only thing we retained from the takeover. When you can bring that in-house it’s a huge advantage," Trutna says. "It’s much more efficient." In fact, the combo of the new technology and the business processes Trutna put in place have boosted the business. "Two years ago we had 16 people, today we have 18, but we’re doing four times the print volume."

The company put its new technology to work for Nike Bauer—the ice-skate arm of the well known sneaker brand. Big Ink produced a 96x96-inch floor graphic to adorn the entry to the National Sports Center in Blaine, MN. "Most people think of floor graphics as some small strip in the candy aisle, but you’re only limited by your creativity," Trutna says.

The floor graphic, printed on Neschen floor media, was output in two panels and shipped out of state, where it was assembled by a third party. The graphics were printed so the design would overlap. It is slated to be trampled on for the entirety of the hockey season.

Looking Before Leaping
"Research is the key to making an informed decision when considering a grand format printer," Gonzaga says. "It took us six months to study the market and to determine what type of grand format printing technology was the right fit for our business," he says. "This market is not too competitive yet but it’s going to get there. Just like computers, newer technology will drive the prices of these printers down even more allowing more print providers to compete," he adds.

"The market is very competitive," says Cory Brock, director of marketing, Gandinnovations. "Every shop seeks that project that can take them to the next level and make them a bigger player. Like doing something for an NFL team or having a huge banner printed for Times Square. Most of the time a grand format printer can take them to that level."

That was certainly the case for Tom Trutna of Big Ink. His firm produced an enormous graphic for the NCAA Final Four and has since seen requests for large sports-related projects jump. "Once you do one and gain that experience, it opens doors," he says.

Support is also critical, Segen states. "The support we get from HP is key for our business."

Of course, most grand format printer owners don’t exclusively print mammoth graphics. Many do large format work in multiples for cost savings and efficiency. "A large percent of what we do is not larger than 60 inches wide, but we load them up and crank out," Trutna adds. That capability "has gotten us into other markets that we could never touch before."

While the market is growing, a grand format printer is a considerable investment, according to manufacturers and experienced grand format shops. Many caution to make room for the machine—in both your budget and floor space.

Mar2007, Digital Output

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