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Productivity, Quality, and Versatility

Hardware to Power Vehicle Graphic Creation

By Cassandara Carnes

Vehicle wraps are complex to master, but profitable to those that offer them. The discussion of vehicle graphics often centers around specialized media and installation techniques. However, hardware is equally important. Many shops rely on one line of devices to efficiently support a wide range of services. Media compatibility, productivity, durability, and quality are general considerations when choosing a printer. The wish list often varies by primary applications and a shop’s preferences.


The print service provider (PSP) population is comprised of shops that provide a variety of skill sets, equipment portfolios, and service offerings. Widely made up of small businesses, the needs of each shop vary. Vehicle wraps are an attractive service, as they serve an expanding audience. As advancements in hardware, ink sets, and media continue, the allure grows for customers and providers alike.


“Everyone has a need for vehicle wraps,” shares Dustin MacMillan, GM, Cowan Imaging Group. He explains the cost benefit of vehicle advertising. “You own a vehicle, and a wrap depends on how much you want to wrap and how much art you put into it. But, for argument’s sake, let’s say the cost of a wrap is $3,000. If you break this down over 36 months, the cost for your own mobile billboard is under $85 a month. It sells itself,” he says.


Defining Characteristics

There is no concrete way to generalize PSPs; they differ in a variety of manners, including experience level, equipment type, business model, square footage, and number of employees. Customer expectations vary further. It’s hard to determine the best overall ink set, media type, or printer for the creation of vehicle wraps. When it comes to hardware, many search with a list of top considerations, ranging from cost, output quality, productivity, and versatility.


Print width is a defining specification. Beginning at 24 inches, wide format printers can produce output well over 100 inches wide. Depending on the vehicle, wraps differ in width and are often restricted by media measurements. Additionally, vehicle wraps are often installed in panels, which enable smaller print widths without seams. Printers featuring print widths upwards of 54 inches usually meet the necessary requirements for vehicle wraps.


Methods of vehicle graphic production have evolved, considering their popularity only dates back a decade. Traditionally, vehicle wraps were created using digital electrostatic printers that provide images at resolutions up to 600 dpi at 1,600 square feet per hour. The industry soon began to favor solvent devices that offer low costs and outdoor durability. However, solvent inks are aggressive and harmful to the environment. Turnaround times are hindered as the technology requires 24 hours to outgas before output is ready to be laminated and installed.


In addition, solvent, eco-solvent, latex, and UV-curable printers are commonly used for vehicle graphics. With continual advancements to these technologies, the “green” factor comes into play for eco-conscious PSPs and their clients. However, the environment is not yet a fundamental selling point when PSPs look for a new printer. Although many are aware of the solvent alternatives and admit client interest, cost is still prohibitive to adoption. To be fully recyclable, graphics must be created with strict media and ink guidelines. Less aggressive technologies provide benefits beyond green, such as operator safety and faster drying times, in the case of UV, which aid in their acceptance.


Quality Matters

A vehicle wrap is not only a traveling billboard; it showcases a PSP’s talents. Therefore, quality concerns are key when shopping for a device well suited to manufacture vehicle graphics. “The wow factor is critical in a competitive market where marketing dollars are tight,” says Daryl Schelin, owner/manager, Biz-Goods. With that precise thought in mind, many PSPs prioritize their search by favoring devices that meet scrupulous quality guidelines.


AmeriStamp Sign-A-Rama opened in 1957 as a rubber stamp manufacturing company based in Evansville, IN. In the 1980s the family-run shop realized the needs of its customers were changing. Walter and wife Debbie Valiant began adding new services, built an 8,500 square foot production facility and showroom, and joined the Sign-A-Rama franchise.


About ten years ago the shop added vehicle wraps to its service offerings. They had the capability and saw the potential to help clients further market and brand their businesses. A Mimaki USA, Inc. JV3-250SPF enables them to print on material as wide as 96 inches and a Mimaki JV33 handles material up to 54 inches. Both printers are solvent.


“When we purchased the devices it was not primarily for the purpose of vehicle wraps, but we are happy with the decision. The high-quality printing and resolution of these printers give us the capability to offer our customers more,” says Debbie Valiant, VP, AmeriStamp. She notes quality of print, vivid color, size, and speed as top considerations when on the market for a new printer. The print quality of the Mimaki devices stood out, along with a bulk ink system that allows them to run through the night.


Quality is also a number one consideration for Sean Tomlin, president, Designer Wraps. The Millville, NJ-based shop is located 40 minutes from historic Philadelphia, PA. A majority of the shop’s work is wide format, and 90 percent of that is dedicated to vehicle wraps. Established in 2006, the shop saw the growth potential of this application.


Designer Wraps’ printer choice was directly related to the large portion of its business dedicated to vehicle wraps. The shop settled on a Mutoh America, Inc. ValueJet 1614-64" with eco-solvent inks. Mutoh uses wave technology to limit banding, a feature that stood out to the shop.


Setting standards is important to new businesses. Las Vegas, NV-based Biz-Goods opened in October of 2009, in the midst of an economic downturn. Hard times didn’t stop Schelin from making it work. As other PSPs failed or struggled to survive, Schelin knew he needed a printer that offered a winning combination of distinguished quality and versatility.


The company didn’t offer vehicle wraps initially. In the beginning, the PSP launched its flagship TexBright adhesive fabric. “The vibrancy, resolution, and versatility of TexBright products made such an impact that people starting asking if we would do other specialty products, including vehicle wraps,” says Schelin.


The company uses an Epson Stylus Pro GS6000 eight-color solvent printer, which features a maximum print width of 64 inches. “The printer offers such a great color gamut that the vibrancy and resolution of the output can’t be beat,” he adds. “The color is so consistent and accurate that I can add additional printers as I need them, without accumulating debt, to keep up with demand.”


With the print quality under control, the company looked for a new competitive edge. “I knew that no other equipment could produce a better quality wrap, so I took the next step and hooked up with some of the leading installers in the country. You can have the best looking print in the world, but it is the final product that sells your company,” says Schelin.


Powerful Productivity

For CGS Imaging, productivity was a primary consideration when searching for a new wide format printer. Founded in 2003, the shop is a premier supplier of vehicle wraps, banners, displays, and event graphics. “We’ve been involved with vehicle wraps from the beginning,” says Chuck Stranc, president, CGS Imaging. The Maumee, OH-based PSP runs everything from roll-to-roll and flatbed to solvent and UV printers. Its equipment list is largely made up of Hewlett-Packard (HP) Scitex equipment. “We’ve recently added the HP Designjet L65500 with latex ink,” says Stranc. The eco-friendly device now produces most of the shop’s vehicle wrap business.


Stranc’s experience in vehicle wraps helps him appreciate the latest products. “The technology for digital wraps has evolved over a short lifespan. It’s almost measured in dog years,” he jokes.


When shopping for a new press, CGS was on the market for a high-speed, roll-to-roll printer to replace some if its smaller UV and solvent devices. The company was introduced to HP Latex Ink technology and immediately jumped on board. To CGS, the technology incorporated all of the benefits of solvent, but without the drawbacks. “It hadn’t really been tested in the marketplace at the time, but we thought it would be a good move for us,” explains Stranc.


Business owners are concerned with productivity; CGS is no exception. The company is tasked with churning out vehicle wraps for its racing customers in one to two days. “With latex we can turn around the product without failing,” he adds.


Maverick Innovations/Extreme Graphics of Tampa, FL celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2010. Evolving from a marketing strategy that primarily serviced point of purchase (POP) graphics; they now offer exterior signage, wide format printing, dimensional routing, and vehicle wraps. “With over ten years of evolution and experimentation, Extreme Graphics has morphed into a wide format boutique sign shop specializing in wraps,” says Mike Postill, VP, Maverick Innovations Dba. Extreme Graphics.


Seven years ago, a client requested a wrap and the shop complied, producing it with a Gerber Scientific Products, Inc. EDGE. “It was slow, painful, and a money loser, but in the end it looked awesome for our first try. We immediately purchased an Encad VinylJet 36 and were in the wrap business,” shares Postill.


Within six months, the shop outgrew the printer and purchased its first Mimaki. The company needed a significant boost in throughput capacity, specifically to help with the production of its wrap and POP applications. Today, among its lineup of equipment, Extreme Graphics utilizes a Mimaki JV3-160SP, 130SP2, and 130SO2 for vehicle wrap production. Products are finished using the GBC Falcon 3064WF laminator.


Making the most out of printer investment correlates to its versatility. For Sunrise Signs, this trait was high on the priority list when it selected a Roland DGA Corporation VersaCAMM VP-540 eco-solvent printer. Founded in 2007 by Adam Sokoloff and partner Elspeth Misiaszek, the shop is based in West Deptford, NJ. 80 percent of the PSP’s business is wide format, 50 to 60 represents vehicle wraps. Misiaszek says they ventured into vehicle wraps due to customer demand. They offer all aspects of the service, including design, printing, and installation.


Since versatility was important to the decision, the Roland was not specifically selected to create vehicle wraps, but for its ability to produce a range of applications, such as posters, banners, murals, and trade show displays.


The Perfect Storm

Quality, reliability, and productivity are important for many PSPs in the market for a new digital printer to produce vehicle graphics and other wide format applications. The right match lies in the preference of the shop and its customers.


Sign-A-Rama Redding, a PSP based in Redding, CA, balances a mix of service offerings. When shopping for printers, they look for the right combination of quality, reliability, speed, and versatility. Originally established in 2003; current owners John and Ashly Robbins purchased the shop in 2005. Since then, it formed a stellar reputation and continues to grow and gain local market share. Most of its business is concentrated to wide format with a little under 20 percent of it dedicated to vehicle wraps.


The shop employs an HP Designjet L25500 printer with latex inks. The printer is dedicated to the creation of wraps, fabric, digital vinyl, and backlit films. John Robbins, owner, Sign-A-Rama Redding, says they needed a device for all of its print purposes. “We knew a purchase of this kind would bring diversity and profitability to our business,” he explains, stating that quality, reliability, and speed were top priorities in the decision.


The shop also utilizes a Roland SOLJET PRO II SC-545EX printer/cutter, a Roland SOLJET PRO III XJ-640, and a Colorspan 72UVX.


Cowan also offers a number of applications, from fleet graphics to POP, outdoor advertising, billboards, banners, and building wraps. Headquartered in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, the PSP has three additional locations throughout the country in Saskatoon, Calgary, and Toronto. Established in 1945, the company took on digital services in 2003, and has produced vehicle wraps since the late 1990s.


With vast experience and a number of offerings, Cowan depends on a variety of devices. The shop relies heavily on HP and Agfa Graphics digital wide format printers for its vehicle wrap business. “We don’t have all of our eggs in one basket. The choice is really about the ability to rely on the machines. That’s why we house an array of them. Each manufacturer has its strengths in different areas, and we want to recognize those and employ the correct machines and give our customers the best product,” says MacMillan.


The Cost Equation

When choosing any piece of equipment, the total cost of ownership is top of mind. To generate a faster return on investment, a printer must be able to operate for multiple shifts, supporting a range of applications.


The price of consumables make up a large part of the operational cost. Postill says it only uses exclusive OEM inks for its Mimaki devices. “It is in our experience that the savings from using non-OEM products is offset by increased maintenance costs on the equipment.”


He notes that proper and frequent cleaning with the combination of OEM products has greatly extended the life of Extreme Graphics’ printers. “I can’t express how important selecting a quality distributor with properly trained technicians can greatly decrease printer operating expenses,” adds Postill.


CGS is satisfied with the cost/quality ratio of the HP Designjet L65500 latex printer. “With solvent, there are a couple of different technologies, including industrial high-speed equipment and eco-solvent devices. We find this product falls in between,” explains Stranc. “It is more cost effective than the standard eco-solvent printers and the print quality is much higher than high-speed industrial solvent output.”


Choices, Choices, Choices

When in the market for a new device, the first rule of thumb is to consider client needs. Shops with a high demand for vehicle wraps have a set list of considerations, which often include quality and turnaround capability.


Those with a mix of service offerings may opt for versatility over production speeds in order to provide a broader range of services. Width is important, but the scope is broad. Anything over 54 inches enables efficient vehicle graphic creation in many cases.


The search for hardware often requires a balance of priorities. The deciding factors change based on the needs and preferences of a shop.


Mar2011, Digital Output

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