Grand format output typically consists of projects such as billboards and large banners. These devices—at 95 inches or wider—are available in roll-to-roll, flatbed, and hybrid units. Increasingly, jobs printed with grand format printers include fine art, photography, window graphics, fleet graphics, point of purchase displays, and other innovative projects.
Print shops are no longer limited by low resolution or slow speeds. Advancements in image quality and production rates change the landscape. Other notable achievements include white and metallic inks, double-sided printing, and little to no volatile organic compounds.
Burgers and Job Promotion
Paris Signs, founded in 1991, is based in Huntington, WV and specializes in electric sign manufacturing and installation. About 50 percent of the signs produced incorporate digitally printed grand format applications for projects such as sign faces, banners, and vehicle wraps.
The shop services hospitals, universities, banks, and city public transportation departments with projects ranging from traditional monuments to carved and neon signs, channel letters, wraps, and banners. “Throughout the years, the company expanded its size and the line of products and services offered to keep up with increasing client demand. We now produce illuminated signs, channel letters, digital displays, and large and grand format applications,” notes Dan Kramerick, production manager, Paris Signs.
Paris Signs’ 14,000 square foot manufacturing facility handles production on a grand scale and is outfitted with advanced equipment. Printers include Mimaki USA, Inc.’s JV33-260 solvent/aqueous grand format printer—launched in February 2009. The 103-inch machine features Mimaki’s Auto Media Feeder and bulk ink supply system. Paris Signs also uses an EFI VUTEk PressVu 200/600 UV flatbed, EFI VUTEk 5330 solvent printer, a Gerber Scientific Products, Inc. Solara ionX large format flatbed, and a Mimaki JV3-160. In addition, the shop is able to install grand format projects with the aid of bucket trucks and cranes ranging in size from 41 to 85 feet from Elliott Equipment Company, Terex Corporation, and Wilkie Mfg., LLC.
Fast food chain Five Guys Burgers and Fries utilized Paris Signs to give locals a preview of their restaurant during the construction phase, using three ten- by ten-foot banners. Grand format was used in order to avoid seaming together smaller pieces. One challenge was ensuring that the colors were vibrant enough to stand out. To achieve this, the output was printed on the VUTEk PressVu 200/600 on banner material. Kramerick says the landlord of this site was pleased with the preview pieces and now uses the idea to advertise in other open spaces.
Another application, a bus wrap for Southwest Community Action Council, included a short turnaround—Paris Signs designed, printed, and installed in two days. The wrap promotes jobs for senior citizens using a 35-foot bus. Graphics were printed using the Mimaki JV3-160 on 3M Graphics Market Center’s Controltac Graphic Film with Comply Adhesive IJ180C and laminated with 3M’s Scotchcal Luster Overlaminate 8519.
“Every time we complete a bus wrap it is fun to see the finished result,” says Kramerick. “The customer was ecstatic and received many comments.”
Football, Eggs, and Shopping
Jared Smith’s career in printing began about 20 years ago with a job at Domino’s Pizza. He and his friend Lance Davis took their not-so-glamorous job of delivering pizza coupons, and transformed it into a coupon print and deliver business, then expanded into a diverse range of other printing services. Today, the Tempe, AZ-based company, bluemedia, is a highly successful print production house.
Their 30,00 square foot facility houses a 126-inch Hewlett-Packard (HP) Scitex XL1500, HP Designjet 10000s, HP Scitex TJ8300, and an HP Designjet 5000 printer. The company also has a newly purchased VUTEk PressVu 200/600 flatbed for direct-to-board work. Also in-house, a Graphtec America, Inc. plotter for cutting vinyl, Seal laminators, and Fotoba International cutter/trimmers. Their media of choice includes products from 3M, DreamScape, and KoroGraphics.
A qualified installer works within the shop, but sometimes bluemedia contracts installation work out. “You either apprentice for two years under someone that’s qualified, or bring a qualified person on board as a registered contractor,” explains Smith, president, bluemedia.
Recently, the NFL and EA Sports turned to bluemedia to help market the new Madden 10 video game at a celebrity flag football event in Malibu, CA. Grand format output, “allowed for amazing signage exposure for the day's sponsors, as well as deep recognition throughout television, video, and photo coverage,” says Darren Wilson, VP of marketing, bluemedia. The project included over 100 96-inch pedestrian barricade banners, 1,785 linear feet of 72-inch fence banners, 12 180x72-inch bleacher end cap banners, a 159x282-inch video board banner, and a 288x96-inch scoreboard banner.
The NFL-designed project was printed using the HP Scitex TJ8300 and HP Scitex XL1500 printers with HP solvent inks on Mehler Texnologies, Inc. 12-ounce mesh vinyl media. Finishing was completed with equipment from Miller Weldmaster Corporation.
Installation was a major challenge on this project, as it often is when dealing with prints of this scale. Smith says the biggest issue was installing the mesh onto the video board. “From the pictures supplied by the company that owns the video board, it appeared as if the eight support rods holding the unit up were at a low enough angle that we could just wrap the mesh banner around the poles,” says Wilson. The angle of the poles was actually closer to 45 degrees, which meant a revised installation technique.
Gray Goldfarb at the NFL and the bluemedia team needed to get creative. They attached Velcro to the entire outer frame of the video board. Then rolled up the banner vertically and attached it to the frame starting from left to right. At each of the eight beams they rolled the banner past, cut out a U shape in the banner, then attached the support pole to the unit.
Goldfarb and the NFL are extremely satisfied with the outcome of the project. “We have an awesome working relationship with the NFL and their partners. The league is well respected for creating, managing, and executed world-class events, and we’re proud to be a partner,” states Smith.
Clint Hickman, owner, Hickman Egg Ranch, called upon bluemedia to wrap ten blank semi-trailers with a clever design. The trailers support Hickman’s branding and teach consumers about healthy eating.
The HP Scitex TJ8300 allows bluemedia to print a city bus wrap in 20 minutes; translation—1,800 square feet per hour. It comes as no surprise that the Hickman wraps utilized the same printer with HP solvent inks on 3M Controltac Graphic Film with Comply v3 Adhesive IJ180Cv3 and laminated with 3M Scotchcal Gloss Overlaminate 8518. The shop was able to wrap two trailers per day, finishing in five days.
Design was a challenge, as the client gave bluemedia free reign. “Our relationship with Hickman Egg Ranch over the years has gained in trust to the point that the client gives us a directive of what they would like to showcase or achieve and allows us to develop traffic-stopping designs,” explains Wilson.
Macerich Scottsdale Fashion Square, located in Scottsdale, AZ, just completed renovations. Graphics from bluemedia kept the property looking sharp during the construction phase. “There’s not a better solution than grand format graphics for work still in progress. Nothing else makes properties look this polished,” states Wilson.
Eight barricades, varying in size—at an average of 360x180 inches, were wrapped in the shopping center. The project also featured a wall made up of 21 different 120x96-inch advertisements. Everything was printed with the HP Scitex TJ8300 and HP solvent ink on 3M Controltac Graphic Film with Comply Adhesive IJ180 with 3M Scotchcal Matte Overlaminate 8520.
The project’s turnaround time was tight. bluemedia contacted stores and advertisers for their creative or design requests. They pre-flighted and/or designed, printed, and installed everything in six days, at night.
Berry & Homer is a large format visual communications provider in Philadelphia, PA, in service since 1898. Their work with digital printing began in the early 1990’s and grew to include vehicle graphics, grand format printing, direct-to-board printing, and more. “The business keeps changing and we change with it,” states Joe Thompson III, president, Berry & Homer. Today, about 50 percent of the company’s work is grand format.
Berry & Homer uses a VUTEk 5330 eight-color printer, EFI VUTEk 3360 with Fusion kit for dye-sublimation and solvent printing, and EFI VUTEk QS2000, in addition to some smaller-width HP inkjet devices. The VUTEk devices were chosen for output quality, the high speed is an added bonus.
Berry & Homer specializes in building wraps. However the shops geographical location sometimes presents challenges. “In Philadelphia, building wraps are tough,” notes Thompson. “Since they are considered a historic city, Philadelphia doesn’t want a lot of graphics up. You’re only allowed to install building graphics if you own the building and are advertising what you do. You can’t just rent out the side of a building.”
Printing grand format work is easy; finishing is a challenge. You need a lot of space to lay out applications and finish them, and Berry & Homer has about 45,000 square feet to work with. Finishing devices include a ZŸnd America, Inc. router with EskoArtwork’s i-cut software.
The Wachovia Center in Philadelphia is home to the Flyers NHL and 76ers NBA teams. Roe Fabricators Inc. turned to Berry & Homer to print grand-scale signs promoting both teams and ticket sales. The signs capture drivers’ attention on the nearby highway. “The positioning on the side of the stadium offers drive-by access,” says Thompson.
The 50x50-foot signs were printed on Mehler Texnologies’ mesh material using the VUTEk 5330 printer. Finishing work included welding on the side and grommets. The client completed the installation, which included a cable system for hanging.
The Grand Format Scene
Customer budgets and other issues are challenging in grand format as with other print business. “Margins are squeezed, and people are definitely using graphics longer than they used to,” says Thompson. For the most part, though, the economy has not been too taxing. “We see the economy turning around. We’ve busier the last couple of months,” he adds.
Smith notes that some shops are undercutting bids to try and get work in, but they are also the shops that are out of business in six months.
Beyond finances, many grand format print providers face tight turnarounds. “It’s amazing. We’ve seen people wanting grand format turnarounds the same day,” says Thompson.
Grand format providers are doing their best to inform customers of their capabilities. Berry & Homer hosts “Lunch and Learn” events each month, where they educate customers about the type of work they produce. The company brings lunch to client sites, along with samples and printing suggestions. Thompson says the events are successful. “We show them our capabilities, take their ideas, and help them design products,” he says.
A grand format printer, its required space, finishing elements, consumables, and trained staff call for a grand investment. As these successful print providers prove, the projects and new business that come out of this collaboration are impressive.