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Pulling Back the Wrap

Part One: The basics for getting started in the building wraps business

by Thomas Franklin

Building wraps are universally recognized attention grabbers, attracting passersby to their enormous facades with an almost magnetic intensity. But pedestrians aren’t the only ones noticing, many sign shops and digital service bureaus are eyeing up the mega-graphics as a means to reap mega-profits. For all the excitement surrounding building wraps, they’re not an endeavor to be embarked upon lightly, service providers say.

Neither the hardware nor the consumables for producing wraps are cheap, and the additional manpower for installation or sub-contracting costs further add to expenses.

Even before equipment considerations, there is a simple and often intractable issue of how much physical space you can devote to the production and assembly of building wraps. Hobart, Indiana-based Point Imaging could not assemble or inspect their final grand format graphics in-house in its old 6,000 square foot facility, says assistant marketing manager, Marco Perez. In its new 33,000 square foot facility, Point is able to weld and lay the work out to inspect it for drop-outs and proof the work before it goes out the door.

"The new space has really helped us improve our quality control," notes Perez. Given that many building wraps sport truly towering dimensions, space is a premium.

On the hardware end, only grand format printers designed to tackle mesh are really efficient and will minimize the assembly work, says Josh Bevans, chief technology officer of Utah-based dtpExpress. You can expect to pay over $200,000 for the printer alone.

"Mesh is a tricky material to print on, so you have to be really careful in your choice of printer," explains Bevans. The ink will pass through the material so it needs to be backed or the printer needs specialized receptacles—mesh kits—to collect the ink. These kits are usually available as optional accessories, which further add to the printer’s cost.

The mesh itself is expensive, a roll could cost between $500 and $1,000. "You have to be realistic about the costs," says Bevans. "It took us six months to use our first roll of mesh. Now I have $25,000 worth in my shop. It takes time to ramp up profitability."

Since building wraps are printed in panels, assembly is another factor. Assembling the wrap entails the use of a welder and industrial sewing machines. dtpExpress uses two sewing machines from Consolidated Sewing Machines, while Point Imaging uses the Triad welder from Sinclair.

Perhaps the most daunting factor, at least to those of us who are disinclined to climb scaffolding, is the installation. dtpExpress operates in Utah and, "has no shortages of mountain climbers," says Bevans, who are willing to scale buildings and hang the wrap. "Heck, I’d do it myself."

Both dtpExpress and Point Imaging have installation teams, but will often rent specialized equipment for specific jobs. Hanging a wrap typically requires grommets, cable, reinforced webbing, and, perhaps most of important, a little cooperation from Mother Nature.

"You have to have calm wind and pray not to have any large wind storms," notes Brandon O'Brien,  solution consultant, Point Imaging.

This is the first part of our exclusive editorial series on building wraps. Look for more coverage in the coming weeks and a full article in our July 2006 print issue of Digital Output magazine.

Apr2006Q, Digital Output

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