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Change the Architectural Landscape

By Kim Crowley

It is true that digital signage, email campaigns, mobile quick response codes, and other online and electronic technologies are causing a big stir, but they fail to dwarf an eye-catching building wrap. The scale and impact of printed graphics gather maximum viewer attention and brand recognition.


The opportunity for print service providers (PSPs) producing building wraps is large. They bring PSPs top dollar from high-end retailers, entertainment, and real estate. About 20 percent of the output produced by both The National Print Group, Inc.’s (NPG) Las Vegas, NV plant and Kaysville, UT located Fusion Imaging is building wraps. This is fairly high considering the size and price of these large-scale applications.


About 80 percent of Parle Enterprises, Inc.’s large format revenues derive from building wraps. The company, based in Burlingame, CA, caters to a base that consists mainly of building owners and real estate managers.


“They generally purchase wraps to advertise a building’s features and benefits targeted for prospective tenants. We are repeatedly told it is the best advertising medium to get tenants into a building,” explains Mary Shulenberger, president/CEO, Parle.


Who’s Buying

Large corporations, cosmetics companies, retail stores, entertainment venues, and sports teams are potential building wrap customers. The wraps are used to generate brand recognition, launch products, and promote events. Scott McLean, CEO, DI Graphics, based in Wheat Ridge, CO, says typical customers are consumer product manufacturers looking for captive exposure to specific demographics.


Other businesses, such as hotels and retail shopping centers, invest in building wraps to help mask construction. They turn to digitally printed graphics to hide work in progress on new construction and historic refurbishment jobs. At press time, the Salem Witch Museum in Salem, MA, was in the heart of its busy October season. A shroud of black netting and a building wrap hid the exterior preservation work.


The museum depicts the victims of the 1692 witch trials. Preservation experts at Roger A. Tremblay Contractors, Inc. and master stonemason conservator Michael Drummond Davidson collaborated on an eight month project to preserve the stone, roof, and windows of the 165 year old former church. The oft-photographed building is still a welcome sight to locals and tourists, despite the repair work, thanks to a wrap produced by All Kinds of Signs in Peabody, MA.


“Wrapping the building in black mesh was done to contain dust and debris for the public’s safety. Due to these highly visible graphics, our visitation was not negatively affected during the conservation efforts,” shares Stacy Tilney, director of communications, Salem Witch Museum.


What It Takes

Building wraps are not for the inexperienced. They require a production environment equipped with tools and skills for tiling, printing, handling, and finishing; the intricacies of printing on mesh; managing permits; and supervising installation.


Days are rarely dull in a shop creating building wraps. Each job is different and demands close attention. “The great thing about building wraps is that every one of them is unique. None are the same size, use the same amount of ink or material, or are engineered the same way for installation,” states Jason Cardonick, president, Big Mountain Imaging. With 12 years of experience in the business, Big Mountain Imaging services customers across the country from production facilities in Philadelphia, PA, and Las Vegas, NV.


Building wraps are an investment. To warrant the expense, providers must work hard to sell wraps and support customers throughout the production process. “There is a tremendous value placed on client service in the consultation and fabrication phases of the project,” explains Cardonick. Approximately 15 percent of Big Mountain Imaging’s work volume is in building wraps and installation. The bulk are for casinos, ad agencies, and clients looking to enhance building façades.


Tools and Process

Building wraps necessitate a grand format digital printer, which runs from the tens- to the hundreds of thousands of dollars. These devices print on a large scale—sometimes over 200 inches wide.


Established over 50 years ago as a screen printing company, NPG is a full-service print provider that services in-store point of purchase as well as out-of-home advertisers, with manufacturing facilities in both Las Vegas, NV and Chattanooga, TN, as well as field sales offices throughout the U.S. NPG prints between 1,500 to 3,600 square feet per hour using one of its five-meter, eight color Hewlett-Packard Scitex XL1500 presses and proprietary inks and substrates.


NPG modifies its printers to work within their unique specifications. They use various manufacturers to develop substrates that meet their exacting specifications and requirements for durability and longevity. Work with a few ink manufacturers has led to development of inks that meet NPG’s specifications for outdoor longevity, color vibrancy, and color gamut. “It may cost more for these materials but it is worth it. We have equipment and trained individuals in house to test all substrates and inks against the perils of the outdoors—sun, wind, moisture, and temperatures,” states Doug Newson, president, NPG.


Although grand format devices produce large prints, sometimes printed output needs to be welded or sewn together. This makes finishing devices essential. “Building wraps can be as small as 500 square feet or as large as 115,000, like the project we completed earlier this year for the NBA All Star game in Dallas, TX,” says Newson.


He adds that large building wraps require piecing or welding, but very little sewing is done if any, because it punctures a substrate, which can lead to tearing. “Our vinyl and flex materials are double RF welded together. The pressure-sensitive materials are overlapped when installed but there is no sewing,” he explains.


Ample shop space is essential for housing a grand format printer and finishing equipment. The Rho 500R superwide five-meter UV roll-to-roll printer from Durst Image Technology US LLC used by Fusion Imaging, for example, requires approximately 43x33 feet of space. “We lay out the pieces here on our floor and mark them for alignment. Then the panels are stitched as per our engineered drawings,” says Wayne Boydstun, COO, Fusion Imaging. “Every banner is different depending on the size, attachment method, and duration of the project.”


Building wrap projects often use vinyl or mesh media that allows for visibility through windows and stands up against wind and other weather conditions.


Big Mountain Imaging uses media from 3M Graphics Market Center. They print on mesh with an EFI VUTEk 5330 printer and on window perforated film with adhesive back using an EFI VUTEk QS3200 printer. In both cases, INX Digital International Co. inks are used. Cardonick says the inks perform flawlessly and are without a question the most vibrant and consistent inks used. In regards to the printers, he believes they provide the best combination of quality and speed for building wrap production.


Parle works with an EFI VUTEk printer on mesh substrates from Verseidag seemee US Inc. “The substrate compacts a great color saturation for eye popping graphics. Since it is a mesh, it allows air to flow through. When installed correctly, the substrate stays put and doesn’t flop around in the wind,” shares Shulenberger.


A shop needs to plan ahead before diving into a building wrap. Big Mountain Imaging consults architects, engineers, and even consumable suppliers to discuss the best plan of attack for a particular project. It is also crucial to collect mandatory permissions from building owners, historical neighborhood groups, and government agencies before production begins.


Speed is a high priority for wrap buyers, although turnaround on a building wrap from job submission to installation is usually unique to each job. Time varies based on client demands, graphic size, building scale and architecture, weather conditions, permitting, and traffic issues. “Job production time varies based on the customer’s needs,” admits Boydstun.


Print time and consumable choice depend on size, selected resolution, and ink coverage. For example, Fusion Imaging recently printed a job with a solid black background. The 30 hour project utilized 50 liters of ink because of the solid black coverage and 25,000 square feet of media.


“Typical turnaround depends on square footage, but we recently completed a building wrap close to 4,000 square feet in a 16 hour time period, as installation was time sensitive,” says Cardonick.


Big Mountain Imaging’s printers are rated for high speeds, but the shop tends to run the machines slower to produce the best quality output, although there is a sacrifice involved. “We find that the extra time spent running the machine outweighs the negative of spending a little more money on ink. This helps us to achieve our number one goal, which is satisfied clients who will buy from us again and recommend us to colleagues,” he states.


Although building wraps are often seen from afar and often viewed while on the move, color accuracy, print quality, and resolution are still important. Correct color is essential, especially for brand owners and marketers creating a multi-channel campaign.


DI Graphics’ McLean says high-quality demands are, “based on customer expectations and in coordination with other components of a campaign.” The over 80 year old company specializes in marketing services, mobile direct response, and alternative outdoor media, with 15 percent of production being building wraps. DI Graphics manages the entire building wrap process, from print to install and removal. Most projects require a lead time of approximately seven days. They use 3M media and an EFI VUTEk 150 solvent printer and the EFI VUTEK PressVu 200/600 UV models.


Color matching is critical at the proofing stage. “You don’t want to realize you didn’t match the proof after you run 20,000 square feet of material and put it on a building 200 feet in the air,” says Cardonick. Big Mountain Imaging has stringent quality control systems in place, along with G7 certification to ensure color accuracy.


Newson agrees that color accuracy and high resolution are important. “Advances in technology during the past two decades played a significant role in large building wraps. Clients want products to look as good as possible. Some companies cheat by using lower resolution in the printing process, but it is obvious. Printing at higher resolution takes more time but the final product yields better results,” he states.


Most of NPG’s building wraps take up to five days to complete production once a proof is approved by the client. The graphics are then shipped to the installation site. Typically, one to three days later the wraps are installed.



Whether in-house or outsourced, certified and insured professionals must install a wrap. This ensures safety, compliance, and proper installation without wasting time or money.


Installation needs vary depending on the building. NPG’s Newson notes that some wraps require partial closures to parking lots or streets and as such can only be performed on certain days or hours. Building wraps covering a construction project may need to be applied around scaffolding so work may continue behind the scenes.


Weather and climate may also affect installation. “Wind, rain, and snow will impede an installation from occurring. Temperature extremes also play a factor—both cold and hot,” explains Newson. NPG is fully licensed, but also works with installation partners throughout the U.S.


Big Mountain Imaging prints and installs building wraps with its 3M certified and repel-trained teams on projects ranging from 1,200 to over 30,000 square feet. The company works with pieced sections of material that create ease of installation in the field. “On adhesive-backed products, we typically work with 48- to 54-inch wide panels, as is the accepted industry standard,” says Cardonick.


Fusion Imaging has an engineer and installation team on hand. They also contract some larger jobs out to a preferred group of contractors.


Considering the investment a corporation or event management company spends on a building wrap, it must look exceptional and survive long term. Some shops provide a guarantee on longevity and performance, often based on media warranties. For example, NPG offers a full one year warranty against fading, chipping, pealing, and cracking.


“We provide warranties for many of our jobs, especially if we handle the engineering and production of the complete job,” notes Boydstun. Fusion Imaging also provides other services such as weekly inspections and quarterly washings.


Building Benefits

Print providers unlock tremendous opportunity by expanding into building wraps. They profit by providing graphics that advertise, promote, and mask on a sky-high scale.


Shops with years of experience excel with building wraps. Grand format printers, media and ink, color management, and finishing devices; a strong sales force and a well-trained in-house print staff; a qualified installation team; and permissions all contribute to success.


The potential is as huge as the output and as NPG’s Newson notes, anyone can request a building wrap. He says that building wrap customers are, “any advertiser that wants to get their message out in a very big way.”


Dec2010, Digital Output

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