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Grand Format Innovations

Standing Out in a Crowd

Part 1 of 4

By Thomas Franklin

Brand managers are continually pressured to achieve maximum efficiency with advertising budgets. For signage to deliver, it needs to be creative and innovative.

While vinyl banners remain a grand format mainstay, the harmonic convergence between hardware, software, media, and the creative hands of the print service provider (PSP) ultimately drives innovative signage.

"Our customers continuously impress me with the original applications they design and produce," says Ziki Kuly, director, North America large format industrial division, Hewlett-Packard (HP).

The Growing Outdoor Market
Innovation comes in all shapes and sizes, but as is frequently the case with the growing outdoor market—bigger is better.

"I’ve seen customers produce everything from huge bus, building, and train wraps to the largest billboard in the world for a range of clients including stock car race tracks, professional sport arenas, worldwide non-profit organizations, and Fortune 500 corporations," shares Kuly.

A brand, like a celebrity, needs to be seen to be validated and the more unique the location, the more eyes it attracts, explains Gary C. Schellerer Jr., VP, operations, Bloomingdale Signs by Tomorrow. "A lot of the films and new materials are providing us with more unique methods of installation," says Schellerer. He points to 3M’s rough surface vinyl as an example. "You can apply graphics to brick and concrete with their roller device—it creates a texture that makes it looks like it’s painted. That allows us to be more creative."

The out of home advertising market continues to perform well despite a soft economy, says Chuck Stranc, owner, CGS Imaging located in Maumee, OH. Grand format event signage isn’t new, Stranc shares, but the creative options made possible by new technology available to PSPs is, and it’s getting noticed. "We really have a lot more opportunities now."

"HP sees a great opportunity for growth in the outdoor signage market, which includes billboards, bus wraps, and signage on bus stops and in subway stations," Kuly seconds. "Outdoor advertising is one of the few forms of traditional advertising still seeing growth."

"Recently, we found that our end users are doing a lot of work beyond traditional banner applications," explains Andrew Oransky, director, product management, Roland DGA Corporation. The economy, he notes, plays a large part in driving creative signage.

"The most successful PSPs are continuing to grow by innovating," observes Oransky. "It’s no secret that prices on staple sign applications like banners and real estate signs are under pressure. However, we’re still seeing a lot of growth from printers able to identify niches where they offer increased value." Window dressings, inflatable displays, awnings, tents, canopies, even umbrellas are rolling off grand format machines, he adds.

Green Graphics
But innovation isn’t just in the look of a graphic—it can also be in the process. Indeed, several vendors point to a change in production. Environmentally conscious brands—and their agencies—are increasingly receptive to "green" graphics, says Tom Riley, VP, marketing, Gandinnovations. That, in turn, drives demand for UV-curable inks and biodegradable media. "We’re noticing more UV products sold because of the environmental issue, especially in CA. A lot more customers are using UV digital printers," notes Riley.

The next push in innovation will come in the form of green inks, predicts Randy Rickert, GM, Mutoh America, Inc. "The marketplace is driving that revolution," he says, pointing to Wal-Mart and Starbucks as two high-profile brands demanding more environmentally sustainable signage solutions from suppliers.

Oransky agrees, pointing to the growing use of fabrics in grand format. "We are seeing more demand for fabric printing, either for banners or specialty applications. Fabric is growing for a number of reasons. In many cases, it is because customers seek a green solution, and fabric production, processing, and disposal is friendlier to the environment than PVC," says Oransky. Fabric is also lighter and won’t crease—so it’s easier to ship, handle, and install, he adds.

Graphics become larger as printers become more efficient—productivity is essential to innovation. "As technology allows customers to print on a wider range of substrates with high quality and durability, customers will continue to expand their offerings and provide additional solutions to clients," says Kuly. "Customers will continue to push the boundaries as the technology permits." Complicated applications will certainly become the norm in the next few years as long as PSPs continue to invent and excel.

Next week, CGS Imaging in Maumee, OH shares its experience with an application that left them in the middle of nowhere.

Jul2008, Digital Output

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