Marketers utilize large format graphics for high-impact branding and messaging. When installed on buildings, these graphics transform everyday cityscapes into billboards that truly generate attention. In addition to their use as an advertising medium, large format graphics are strategically placed over building construction sites or bland slabs of brick to beautify and distract from unsightly works in progress.
However, with big graphics comes big responsibility. In addition to flawless and efficient print production, print service providers (PSPs) that make the move into graphics of building-size proportions must also consider the role of installer, marketing liaison, and city and state ordinance expert.
The ability to access industrial equipment is essential when it comes to installation. Those not equipped or up for the task of installing graphics on high rises should consider partnering with professionals. It is often the PSPs reputation on the line, so diligent research is critical if a shop is leaning towards outsourcing.
The ability to properly manage client expectations is also important. In addition to direct customer service, many PSPs facilitate prominent brand campaigns through advertising agencies. Further, clients look to their PSP as a trusted source for the best ink and media selection for the job. Therefore, to ensure a successful building wrap installation, project managers must be able to articulately communicate critical information, such as longevity requirements, turnaround expectations, and installation challenges with clients and agencies and vice versa.
The following two print providers are familiar with producing building graphics for a range of clientele. While they admit to everyday challenges, they feel that it is an application worth the trouble.
Now that’s an Idea
Building wraps is big business; and an application only some have the opportunity to master. Established in 1990, Bigidea forged its way into the niche. The company, located in Hollywood, FL, began as a large format printing shop and expanded into digital wide format printing after opening its second location in 2002. Initially, the shop gained experience manufacturing large channel letters. In time, satisfied customers started inquiring if it was possible to wrap their buildings as well, and the shop obliged. Today, building wraps make up about 20 percent of Bigidea’s business.
Printing to the scale of a building is no easy feat. It requires high-grade materials because customers expect them to be durable and last a long time. For this type of massive graphic, the company uses eight-pass high-grade solvent ink and 3M Commercial Graphics media. It outputs using a Mimaki USA, Inc. JV33 printer. Additional tools include torches and heat guns, long-reach cranes, scaffolding, and protective gear for installation.
Construction developers, real estate firms, building owners, and advertising agencies are common building graphics customers. With the capability to design, produce, make, and install any sign, Bigidea is at an advantage when it comes to meeting new customer demands. For building wraps, John Rodriguez, owner/president, Bigidea, notes that the project starts with determining what it is the customer is trying to achieve and what they expect from them as a print provider. “This step may be prolonged by the customer if they are not sure what type of overall look they want to project,” says Rodriguez.
Once a design is completed, a proof is sent to the client for sign off to ensure the print is exactly what the customer wants and expects. Building wraps are output in panels and, dependent on the area to be covered, can take several days to print and laminate, suggests Rodriguez.
After printing, 24 hours passes before lamination to ensure ink is fully dried. Then, it is time for install. This step can be challenging as it requires acquiring city permits and heavy machinery—including cranes, lifts, and scaffolding. In addition to acquiring all of the paperwork and equipment, installers need to worry about roof access, and overcoming any fears of heights.
Despite the challenges, Rodriguez admits that high profit margins and the satisfaction of seeing a completed project in his city streets makes it worth the effort.
The company recently created a building wrap for first-time client, Staples, Inc. The store had a bare area adjacent to its front entrance that needed to be wrapped. The challenge—the wrap needed to be turned around in under ten days. Additionally, an existing channel letter sign had to be removed prior to installation and put back up upon completion of the project.
Consisting of the entire store front, the design was provided by the client, but all other components, including materials and installation aids, were provided by Bigidea. It was printed onto high-grade 3M media, which Rodriguez says guarantees durability and longevity. These features are especially important in the harsh weather of South FL.
It is a long-term graphic, and Rodriguez estimates it will stay up for ten years. The job was completed in seven days, coming in under the ten day deadline. Four days were dedicated to printing and lamination, while the remaining three covered the installation. During installation, the store was in operation, which meant installers faced constant traffic from customers. “We had to create a barricaded passing area to funnel clients away from the installation sites. At times, we even had to stop operating to allow them easy access to and from the building,” explains Rodriguez. “We were in constant communication with the store manager to coordinate passage through the front doors. Additionally, the design had to be precisely matched to intersecting walls, making it a technically challenging project,” he adds.
Rodriguez offers that all installations provide something to learn from. This includes faster techniques, dealing with outside challenges, and other tidbits of information that can only be gathered via hands-on education.
“Overall, this was a nice project to work on, despite its obstacles,” says Rodriguez. “The three-dimensional beach design is portrayed beautifully and is one of the best looking building wraps we were involved in,” he admits.
Established in 1940, Vincent Printing, Inc. is a premiere printer for the retail and out-of-home (OOH) advertising industry. The company is based in Chattanooga, TN and began a transition from screenprinted paper posters to digitally printing paper posters in 1995.
In 2001, the PSP started to evolve into the superwide format space and has grown since. “We entered this market through long standing relationships with outdoor companies, buying services, and installers,” says Mark Chesnutt, president, Vincent Printing.
Today, the shop offers a wide array of wide format products, including billboards, transit signage, banners, fleet graphics, retail and point of purchase, finishing, and art reproductions. A full spectrum of finishing services, including sewing, grommeting, laminating, and die cutting is also on the menu. A range of output equipment from Hewlett-Packard (HP), including the HP Scitex XL1500, XP5300, TJ8300, TJ8600, and FB6100 Industrial Printers and Presses is found in the production area. The shop is 100 percent digital.
During its transition into superwide OOH work, Vincent Printing began offering building wraps as a service. For this, it utilizes the HP Scitex XP5300 with HP UV-curable Ink, textile mesh, and a variety of hot air welders, webbing, and grommet machines. The printer is designed for high-speed production environments, featuring robust media loading and collecting features, as well as a heavy-duty frame.
While the company outputs approximately one to two building wraps a month, it maintains working relationships with advertising agencies, installers, and outdoor companies for design and installation.
It accepts files in almost all standard graphics formats, preferably in native page layout applications with high-resolution photos and type and vector-based logos. In regard to preflight and proofing, the shop sends out PDFs for content and placement and then press proofs on the substrate for color on large building wraps. After production and finishing the product is usually palletized and shipped freight.
The PSP recently created building graphics for InterContinental Hotels in association with the Atlanta, GA-based marketing firm, Creaxion. Vincent Printing produced graphics for an entire building and finished the areas around the windows in three markets—San Francisco, CA, Chicago, IL, and New York, NY.
The goal was to raise awareness of the hotels in the U.S. with a single message. Creaxion worked with outdoor advertising companies in each market to facilitate the installations. More than 1,700 creative elements were designed, produced, and installed. The turnaround requirement was one week. Chesnutt reports the application is intended to stay up for one year. Installation of the job was outsourced.
As a result of the campaign, the InterContinental Hotels brand received coast to coast exposure. Additionally, Chesnutt says the reaction from hotel operators and employees was overwhelmingly positive. The job served as a launch pad for ongoing marketing efforts.
By offering building wraps, Vincent Printing provides clients with brand consistency along all product categories, output under one roof. “The challenges in printing and finishing building wraps are inherent to all types of superwide output,” suggests Chesnutt. These include tile alignment, color consistency, and the overall durability of the finished product.
Building Graphic Success
Grand-scale graphics such as building wraps enable PSPs to move beyond commodity items. However, taking on such an application offering takes dedication and skill. Those up to the challenge must consider a variety of factors before diving in.
Both Bigidea and Vincent Printing entered the scene from other avenues of wide format printing. Despite the challenges along the way, they are adamant that it is worth it in the end.