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Business of Distinction

Finishing Streamlines and Distinguishes Leaders

By Gretchen A. Peck

The International Sign Association (ISA) conducted a survey at the organization’s 2012 ISA Sign Expo, polling more than 200 sign industry players, including equipment manufacturers, print service suppliers, end users, and other stakeholders.


Not only did the survey—2012 State of the Industry Survey Results—reveal positive news about the last year, but the data also hinted at encouraging news for the future.


Looking back, 27 percent of the respondents reported that their businesses had grown by more than 20 percent in the previous six months. Looking ahead, approximately 60 percent of the respondents are planning new equipment investments in the coming year. A considerable 79 percent predicted growth through 2013 that would be dependent upon new digital printing technologies.


Though indicators bode well for large format digital print, the challenge print suppliers continue to face is how to distinguish their businesses from competitors. That may mean making new investments in digital print engines; or it may require taking a hard look at finishing—labor-intensive processes like cutting and routing—leveraging hardware and software, and turning competitors into customers. The following print providers are embracing digital finishing.


All About the Image

PCI Graphics of Rockville, MD entered the business of digital printing early on. It was a natural evolution, according to John Ohanian, director of sales, PCI, who notes that the company began as a photo lab under the direction of owner Bob Green. Then, it was known as Photo Communications, Inc., but as film gave way to digital, “we witnessed that industry dying.”


Though the technology changed, the company's mission didn’t. It’s still about producing the best possible images and graphics for customers. PCI aggressively invested in digital print and finishing equipment to produce the diverse array of print it’s known for today—trade show and exhibit displays, banners, vehicle graphics, photographic and fine art prints, and indoor and outdoor signs.


The pressroom floor is outfitted with roll-fed, flatbed, and hybrid digital printers. A 3.2-meter Hewlett-Packard (HP) Scitex XL1500 is invaluable for mesh banners and a variety of large vinyl products that customers may order, according to Ohanian. Two roll-fed Roland DGA Corporation printers—a 70-inch machine and a 54-inch printer/cutter—manage the smaller format vinyl work.


A four- by eight-foot fixed Acuity flatbed from Fujifilm North America Corporation handles rigid jobs exclusively, while the newest addition to the shop floor—an HP Scitex FB700 hybrid printer—multitasks by handling both flexible and rigid media. PCI chose the HP Scitex FB700 for two notable reasons, according to Ohanian. “One was white ink. We didn’t have white ink capability prior to that. Another is the ability to run 96 inches wide by any length. That machine is fantastic for us.” Jobs are run on the printer regularly.


Two roll-fed printers from Epson—a 44- and a 60-inch—complete the roster. A Miller Weldmaster Corporation finisher is invaluable for the high volume of banners PCI produces.


“We produce a lot of vinyl banners, and we can finish them very efficiently with a welder,” explains Ohanian.


Each of these technologies was selected to enable PCI to branch out to offer a broader spectrum of large format print applications. The same can be said for the company’s Océ North America ProCut Display Graphics Cutter, chosen to help the print business flourish where competitors fall short.


“We don’t have a lot of competition in this area,” says Ohanian of PCI’s finishing capabilities.


The Océ ProCut enables PCI to cut and/or rout flexible and rigid media. Even simple cuts and trims are made less laborious with the system, not to mention complex contour cuts. It is the product of a partnership between Océ and Zünd, and comprises of a table, workflow software, an optical registration system, and modular tool system. A router, kiss-cutting tool, drag knife, and oscillating knife come standard.


“That was a little bit of a cart-before-the-horse move for us,” recalls Ohanian. “We didn’t have constant requests, but we felt that we could do some creative things with it.”


Besides flexing those creative muscles in familiar categories of print, having the ability to trim, cut, and rout virtually any media allows PCI to explore an entirely new specialty—short-run packaging. The application is sparking certain customers’ interests and now the print provider is equipped to offer such a service.


The Day-to-Day Dynamic

FUSE, based in Ronkonkoma, NY, is best known for its trade show and exhibit graphics. But a calculated investment in equipment enabled the company to broaden its print offerings into unfamiliar territory. However its experience and knowledge quickly made them experts.


“We’re a visual communications company, as opposed to a large format printer. We work with a lot of marketing companies, a lot of advertising agencies,” explains Mike Benti, co-owner, FUSE. “Besides what we get from our clients, we also get print jobs from our clients’ clients.”


“I don’t think we’ve ever done the same job twice, in 40 something years,” marvels Benti. “It’s like reinventing the wheel every time. But we like that, because it makes every day exciting.”


Having equipment that supports the dynamic nature of the workload is paramount for the appropriately named company. Nearly a decade ago FUSE installed a Roland SOLJET PRO II SC-540 EX digital printer/cutter, and it’s been cranking out exhibit components, vehicle graphics, point of purchase displays, and the like ever since. Benti refers to it as the company’s workhorse.


As a print-to-cut solution, the SOLJET automates—quickens and perfects—cutting, and this has been a game changer for Dynamic Display.


The versatility of its media selection is broadened. “We print and cut scrim vinyl, adhesive vinyl, window cling, canvas—basically everything—on this machine,” explains Benti.


“Recently, we had a client who needed some vehicle graphics. He was on a tight budget, and it was a small car,” recalls Benti. FUSE worked with the customer to cost out a vehicle wrap versus some smaller contour-cut decal graphics.


“His logo was a globe, and it had a banner running across it. The company’s tagline was below it. It was very detailed, and if cut it by hand, it would be very time consuming. Plus, you could cut around the globe and be a half-inch away from the graphic on the top edge, but by the time you’re around to the bottom, you’re three quarters of an inch away. By hand, you just don’t have the consistency,” explains Benti.


“With the Roland we designed the cut lines in Adobe Illustrator around the artwork. The print file was sent first with crop marks. Once the print was done, we took it to the laminator. After, it went back to the Roland along with the cut-line file,” he adds.


Benti is quick to note that lamination isn’t always necessary, especially if the print isn’t destined for outdoors or needs particular UV protection. Typically, the print-to-cut process is seamless—and that matters to turnaround, scheduling, the bottom line, and customers. “It prints and cuts, and it’s done,” exclaims Benti regarding the Roland device.


Epic Creations

The anchor hardware at Menomonee Falls, WI-based Epic Color multitasks as a printer and cutter.


“We originally bought a Roland SOLJET PRO III XC-540 digital printer/cutter to branch out into outdoor signs, vehicle wraps, and banners,” recalls Dan Schmidt, GM, Epic Color. “It turned out to be such a great printer that we moved all of our color work onto it.”


Epic Color recently partnered with CYD Design of Milwaukee, WI to create wall murals and a large mobile for the Ozaukee Humane Society’s lobby. Mimicking the animal characters depicted in the wall murals, animal figures were printed on polypropylene and contour cut on the Roland device. The cut graphics were then reverse mounted and sandwiched between two sheets of Plexiglas.


“The SOLJET’s print-to-cut feature allowed us to easily create innovative solutions to complement the designer’s vision,” concludes Schmidt.


Be Something Special

Staring at the downward slope of 2012—and looking ahead to a new year—tends to stoke the embers of resolution. Leverage digital finishing to broaden reach, expand services, and distinguish from competition.

The print providers profiled in this article did just that. Whether instituting robust routers or quick and efficient cutters each type of device offers print service providers a range of versatility. 

Sep2012, Digital Output

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