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Stealing the Show

Award-Winning Rigid Substrate Output

By Amber E. Watson

There is no denying that printing on rigid substrates such as tile, wood, glass, veneer, and metal comes with its own set of challenges. Print service providers (PSPs) successfully offering these unique media options enjoy additional business in a niche market.


Portland Color, a large format digital printer with a 26,000 square foot production facility in Portland, ME and a showroom in New York, NY, experiences these benefits firsthand. In business since 1977, the company is in its fourth year of offering rigid substrate printing to clients. They have worked through the challenges associated with this form of output and aligned themselves with strategic partners and customers, producing an impressive portfolio of products along the way.


Firm Output

With roots in the photolab industry, Portland Color currently offers a range of services, including large format sustainable printing, collaborative design, and program management for retailers, architects, events, exhibits, and museums. They do it all with a diligent staff of 26 people.  


Since the company specializes in graphics for retail environments, it makes sense they would embrace rigid substrate printing, which allows them to create eye-catching panels for retail and museum displays. Thirty percent of the shop’s overall output is rigid substrates and common applications include wayfinding signage, architectural graphic panels, backlit panels, retail window graphics, exhibits, outdoor signage, and displays.


According to Steve Kinney, VP of sales and marketing, Portland Color, the most challenging aspect of rigid substrate printing is adhesion of ink to surfaces. Another common problem is the ink chipping while the printed board is cut.


Utilizing the Hewlett-Packard (HP) Scitex FB6100 UV flatbed printer and Océ North America’s Arizona 550 GT printer for rigid work, Portland Color commonly prints on gatorfoam, sintra, komatex, styrene, plexiglas, falconboard from Pregis Corporation, and cardstock.


Stiff Competition

With Portland Color’s strong reputation, sustainable practices, and variety of print offerings, it is not surprising they form strategic business partnerships with retailers, corporations such as Google, and companies such as Fleetwood Fixtures, whom they partnered with for the March 2011 GlobalShop trade show of retail design in Las Vegas, NV.


Fleetwood Fixtures, a Leesport, PA-based company, provides custom fixtures and furnishing to facilities worldwide. As a company offering custom fixtures; design; client services; logistics; installation; warehousing and inventory; and building brand identity for flagship retail spaces, renovating existing stores, or rebranding, Fleetwood seemed a perfectly matched partnership for Portland Color. They also share a commitment to sustainable practices. Fleetwood is a Green Plus Certified company, continuously searching for innovative materials and methodologies to help meet its clients’ “green” goals and LEED certification needs.


“Portland Color collaborated with Fleetwood to design and produce its award-winning booth at the show,” says Kinney.  “Based on the concept of a house of cards, the 40x80-foot booth was built around a tiered wall of direct-printed wood panels. The business goal was to present a retail display product idea that was modular, flexible, easy to assemble or change, and modestly priced.”


The Fleetwood booth, which showcased rich textures, props, and graphics from around the world stacked on top of each other, was so eye catching that it won best in show at GlobalShop. Kinney explains that 90 percent of the display was direct-to-substrate rigid board. “Using the HP Scitex FB6100, we printed to a variety of plywood materials, ranging from tough construction-grade CDX to very refined veneers like bamboo, cherry, and white oak,” he shares.


Branching Out

While rigid substrate printing can be costly, printing directly onto the media saves money as well as time. Challenges such as ink adhesion and finishing methods should be given extra care to avoid costly mistakes.


As Portland Color illustrates, PSPs offering a variety of rigid substrate material expand business and appeal to clients looking for unique output. The capability to print on a variety of materials, such as woods, acrylic, glass, and veneer produces impressive results—and can even win awards.


Nov2011, Digital Output

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