Located in Hershey, PA, Hersheypark is more than a sweet spot to enjoy the hometown of the Hershey kiss—it is a 300 acre leisure park containing 12 roller coasters, a water park, five theaters, two ice rinks, a 16,000 capacity outdoor stadium/concert venue, ZooAmerica—North American Wildlife Park, and Hershey’s Chocolate World—a visitor’s center open to the public, which contains multiple food and retail shops.
The park opened in 1907 and continues to expand. There are currently 185 full-time employees, and during operating/high season that number increases significantly to over 3,000 full-, part-time, and seasonal workers.
With a park of this magnitude and the variety of signage required throughout, supporting an in-house digital sign shop makes sense.
Versatile In-House Printing
A variety of signs are used throughout Hersheypark and the in-house sign shop handles this with two Gerber Scientific Products, Inc. EDGE thermal printers and two wide format devices—a 60-inch Mutoh America, Inc. Falcon Outdoor II and a 64-inch Epson Stylus Pro GS6000. “These printers provide the speed and versatility we need to meet and keep up with job requests in a timely manner,” states Mike Landis, sign shop foreman, Hershey Entertainment.
Versatility is key when producing signs for different purposes. “Our shop produces signs for rides, safety, food stands, restaurants, entertainment venues, and special promotions,” explains Landis. The media must also be versatile and is dependent upon the location and desired look. “We utilize many different substrates to create our signs such as vinyl banner, film, illuminated material, and rigid substrates including metal, wood, and plastic.”
The ability to print in house saves time and allows the park to better control the entire process from design to installation. Employees work together to complete jobs on site and do not have to rely on a middleman.
As opposed to an outside printer, employees are also directly familiar with the park and able to gauge the specifications and challenges that might be associated with installation. However, even in-house shops must realize their limitations. “We occasionally outsource for specialty work for which we are not equipped; or if we are overloaded with work, we may have to rely on some backup,” says Landis.
Catering to Change
The necessary longevity of amusement park signs varies and is dependent on the purpose. “Some signs are created for short-term use, such as for a particular event that lasts only a couple days,” explains Landis. “Many signs are created for a park season, which is approximately three months. Change is the only constant here,” he adds.
Hersheypark has four seasonal operating times—Spring, regular/Summer, Halloween, and Candylane in the Winter. With this much sign rotation, long-term durability is not a main concern, however general protection against the elements is essential.
Outdoor park signage must withstand heavy foot traffic, human interaction, harsh weather conditions, and defacement and chemicals from vandalism. According to Landis, advancements in solvent inks help improve the quality and durability of outdoor signs. “The Gerber EDGE printers use foils to produce thermal prints and the Mutoh and Epson printers use solvent inks. These give our signs longer outdoor life. Our more permanent signs should last five years. We could probably make them last a bit longer, but they are often changed sooner due to a location or name alteration,” he says.
Laminates and clear coats are also helpful when preserving signs. “We use automotive clear coat—typically found on vehicles to protect a basecoat color—on some signs, which helps protect against weathering and vandalism problems,” adds Landis.
Signs on the Fly
Purpose, longevity, and deadlines play a large part in determining how a print job is completed. Special park promotions are an example of a typical job request with a tight turnaround. “I recently received a request around 10:00 a.m. on Friday for a new food stand selling hot chocolate that was opening the same day at 5:00 p.m.,” says Landis. “We had to design the sign, print it, and apply the print to a substrate in little time.”
Under a strict deadline, Landis and his team opted to use one-fourth Alumalite—an aluminum composite panel—for its lightness and rigidity. They printed on the Epson Stylus Pro GS6000 using Oracal USA vinyl in time for the carpenters to get it installed before leaving for the day. The sign measured 24 inches high by 102 inches wide and was completed in about five hours.
Flexible and capable in-house sign shops are instrumental in keeping up with the ever-changing signage throughout large amusement parks. Typical challenges such as versatility, durability, and tight turnaround expectations persist whether signs are printed in house or outsourced, however on-site management ensures better control of the entire process.