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Design Goes to Great Lengths

Straightforward Solutions for Print Providers

By Melissa Donovan

The process of creating a large format graphic, whether it be a vehicle or building wrap; banner, floor, or point of purchase graphic, includes the design. Intuitive features such as image enlargement, color management, three-dimensional (3D) prototyping, and the addition of crop marks lead the way in reinvented solutions.


Vendors savvy to the wants and needs of a large format designer identify with eliminating workflow complexities, from beginning to end. Leveraging what they know about all that goes into crafting the front end of a project, design software vendors have now translated similar features to be used in the back end, directly before print.


This is ideal for many print providers who may not design a graphic from scratch, but receive a finished graphic or multiple graphics through an advertising or design agency. Acknowledging the challenges of trying to fix an image or spending time returning it, design software updates cater to those searching for a complete workflow solution.


Updates on the Fly

We surveyed design software vendors on recent product updates and enhancements targeted toward the large format designer.


Adobe Systems Incorporated’s Illustrator CS5 recently added the ability to create art in perspective. Designers are able to build perspective grids and move objects onto them, or create new objects that automatically snap to the grid. This allows end users to mock up large scale print work and get a true idea of how it will appear in its final environment. The visualization of trade show displays, banners, building wraps, and retail are all a reality with this new feature.


CADlink Technology Corporation’s SignLab Version 9 is an all-inclusive design and RIP software package. The front end of the solution supports the design of bitmap and vector graphics and integration with the back end makes it compatible with a multitude of wide format printers. SignLab is ideal for the graphic arts because many of the features can be completed during or after the design stage—even close to pre-production. Key features include automatic cut lines with registration marks to simplify a printer’s workflow.


Corel Corporation’s CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X5 offers support for page sizes up to 150x150 feet and a new color management engine provides ideal color matching. Corel PowerTRACE is a bitmap to vector tracing engine useful in wide and grand format design. Also, CorelDRAW allows users to reset resolution in raster objects designed for large format output where high resolution isn’t a necessity. The tool allows file sizes to stay at a minimum.


EskoArtwork offers software that manages design to print to cut. ArtiosCAD structural design software is targeted toward display and package applications. Tools in the program offer structural design, product development, virtual prototyping, and manufacturing. A new feature, Tab & Slot, helps users quickly assemble point of purchase (POP) displays. EskoArtwork also offers the i-cut Suite, pre-production software that caters to preflighting PDFs, preparing graphics, and creating layouts.


SA International, Inc.’s Flex 10 FAMILY of design products offer five solutions for a range of designing professionals—FlexiSIGN-PRO, FlexiEXPERT, FlexiSIGN, FlexiLETTER, and FlexiDESIGNER. FlexiSIGN-PRO, the company’s flagship product, offers a complete set of RIP, design, cut, and print tools for maximum productivity. A new feature in this updated version of the Flexi portfolio includes contour cut nesting in Production Manager. This tool allows users to add jobs with multiple contour paths from third party applications to increase productivity and eliminate extra steps.


Quark Inc. released QuarkXPress 9 in April 2011. The newest version of the company’s desktop publishing software reaches out to multi-channel marketers looking to add eReader, tablet, and smartphone marketing to the print mix. The Blio eReader is a multi-platform application that presents eBooks to mirror printed versions. eBooks built with this tool can host interactive elements. Also, App Studio allows QuarkXPress designers to create content for Apple iPads.


Pitching the Product

Multiple design software options can be confusing. Each product promotes benefits catered to a specific user—carrying features that make it stand out from its competition.


“Designers working in wide and grand format recognize the advantages of working in vector over raster or image-based formats. Vector art produces clean, sharp lines to any size. With vector graphics, you can create a design for something as small as a postage stamp and then scale it up to a billboard without loss of quality,” explains Brenda Sutherland, Adobe Illustrator product manager, Adobe. For users focused on re-sizing to grand images, a vector-based program is ideal.


According to Michael Chramtchenko, director of marketing, CADlink, SignLab’s ability to support a print or print-and-cut workflow through the additional RIP makes it enticing for wide and grand format designers. “Other software products rely on a transfer of files—exporting—from the design package and importing the completed file into a third party RIP. This causes issues ranging from slight changes within the design element to possible color shifts,” he continues.


If real-life mock ups are a point of interest, EskoArtwork’s products are an important consideration. “3D projects offer a new world of possibilities for print buyers and help the print provider differentiate from competitors with creativity. The ability to produce unique, wide format projects offers higher margins,” says Bill Hartman, VP marketing, sign and display solutions, EskoArtwork.


Evolving Software

Vendors listen to customers, constructing programs to fit their lifestyle. Over the years, software has evolved into multi-faceted solutions that offer much more than traditional layouts, fonts, and graphics.


For example, color management is a hot topic. To eliminate waste, it is essential that designers hit the desired color the first time. “With continued evolution in the design and output industries, expectations are higher in terms of color management. Digital printing has also put more importance on getting the colors right the first time,” shares John Falsetto, senior product manager, CorelDRAW, Corel.


Understanding the special nuances of designing for large format are also addressed. “The biggest change in design has been that artwork can no longer be created with a specific format or medium in mind. Whether a designer is creating artwork for brand identity or advertising, chances are high that the artwork will be outputted to various formats. With the growth in wide/grand format printing, the ability to scale designs for large format output is essential,” adds Sutherland.


Tying along with that is workflow, which CADlink is a large proponent of. “Understanding the inclusion of vector and bitmap design tools commonly used in wide format graphics alongside pre-production tools all in a single package has been the key driving factor in our product development,” shares Chramtchenko.


Customers want real-life mock ups of applications before they come into fruition. 3D software is finding a home in the design space as well. “As structure in wide format POP has become more important, so has the sophistication of structural software. Working with 3D models, users can design with finished lines, add graphics, and wrap them around to see how they fit. This also includes the ability to rotate the design for a full 360 degree view,” explains Hartman. 


Add-On Aids

Sometimes software needs a little help from a plug-in tool. Whether it is to enlarge an image or aid in pre-production, many of these products are available for designers to complement existing solutions—primarily software from Adobe.


Alien Skin Software, LLC’s Blow Up 2 is an Adobe Photoshop plug-in that sharply enlarges graphics using an algorithm that converts pixels to a vector representation. Using Blow Up translates to the reduction of complications in the design process. Calculations involving dpi, aspect ratio, and cropping are all done in the program. The newest version of Blow Up now resizes up to the limit of Adobe Photoshop’s dimensions, which is 300,000 pixels.


Alien Skin recently announced a revised version of the Snap Art 3 plug-in this June. The artistic natural media’s interface is completely redesigned for ease of use. All presets are in one location for easy browsing and the preview feature provides quicker feedback. The program allows designers to mimic human techniques such as oil paint, watercolor, pencil sketch, and crayon on a basic photograph. Adobe Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, and Photoshop Lightroom are compatible with Snap Art 3.


BenVista Ltd.’s PhotoZoom Pro 4 is an image enlargement plug-in that creates files up to one million by one million pixels using its S-Spline interpolation technology. Users working within PhotoZoom have the ability to batch process, utilize a flexible interface, and play with a range of other fine tuning tools. Also, creating S-Spline presets allows designers to save settings for later. New to the software is a feature for reducing jpeg artifacts and noise. PhotoZoom works independently from software products or plugs in to Adobe Photoshop or Corel PaintShop Photo Pro.


ONYX Graphics, Inc. recently released the ONYX SmartApps Sign&Banner Plug-in, designed for wide format sign and banner creators using Adobe Illustrator. The tool allows designers to reduce preparation time and eliminate mistakes normally found in finishing. In Adobe Illustrator, with the plug-in, users can prepare grommet marks, bleeds, and folds.


“The print bleed feature of the plug-in is of particular value to wide format designers. Without it, duplicate or mirror bleeds are timely when added to a completed design. With SmartApps, print bleeds are prepared automatically,” explains Dean Derhak, marketing director, ONYX.


Museum Designs

Belle & Wissell, Co. is one design studio comfortable with the use of design software. The Seattle, WA-based company creates content-rich media projects for a wide variety of museums, media companies, and retail brands. About 20 percent of its applications designed in the last year involved large format.


According to Thomas Ryun, senior designer, Belle & Wissell, Adobe’s design software is an industry standard. “All of the vendors we work with support it and are familiar with the various file types,” he adds. The design firm recently utilized Adobe InDesign CS5 to create a multi-media exhibition for the Experience Music Project (EMP) museum located in Seattle, WA.


Belle & Wissell designed both the exhibit graphics and interactive components for Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses; which can be viewed at the museum until April 2013. Surface graphics include large-scale photographic reproductions of images from photographers Charles Peterson and Alice Wheeler.


The exhibition opened on April 16, 2011. Belle & Wissell began work on the graphics a full year and a half prior to the opening. A collaborative effort, Jacob McMurrary, senior curator, EMP and Ken Burns, exhibit designer, Wondermine, played pivotal roles in the creation and installation. The design firm utilized Adobe InDesign CS5 to work with the high-resolution photography both quickly and efficiently.


Seattle, WA-based Rainier Industries, Ltd. and Image Mill Inc. located in Monroe, WA, printed the exhibit and entry mural applications, respectively. The Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses exhibit graphics were digitally printed on vinyl and the entry mural was digitally printed on a tensile fabric stretched over a custom framing system.


As visitors enter the Nirvana exhibit, from the ticketing desk up the stairs to the entrance, they first witness a two story photomural of musician Kurt Cobain crowd surfacing at the Commodore Ballroom; which was taken by Peterson.

“The goal was to create a dramatic entry to the exhibit and provide a framework for future exhibitions to use the space in a similar matter,” explains Ryun.


Great Lengths

The design community has no shortage of options when it comes to software. Recent enhancements and updates stay the pace with large format designer’s wants and needs. Addressing ease-of-use, new products welcome integrated RIP solutions for a streamed workflow, color management tools to ensure designers get it right the first time, 3D prototyping abilities to appeal to the customer, and enlargement tools—found in both native products and plug-ins—to provide clear, crisp designs.  


Sep2011, Digital Output

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