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Studies In Grand Format

The Art of Delivering Oversized Images

By Mike Antoniak

Grand format systems give suppliers of digital output a lucrative service opportunity to explore and exploit, delivering oversized prints, showcasing what’s achievable with digital print technology.

Each grand format project can also be a proving ground for these digital print providers, as they meet the multiple challenges of creating and installing attention-grabbing graphics, on an extremely large scale.

For those who master the tasks involved, each successfully completed project can attract new clients for grand imaging services. As the following case studies should demonstrate, however, delivering the promise of grand format requires highly specialized skills, expertise, and equipment. For those who possess that combination of tools, skills, and savvy, grand format can be a service which promotes itself with digital graphics that are hard to miss.

Dress-up Headquarters
Years ago, there were two choices for creating murals for interior installations—hire an artist to design and create a one of a kind painting; or pay for expensive photo enlargements, composites, mounting, and installation.

With the capabilities of today’s grand format digital print systems, however, wall-sized murals are now an affordable solution for anyone eager to brighten up interior wall space with colorful graphics.

After Unified Consulting Engineers & Architects renovated its offices, executives wanted something a little more exciting than the drab interior which defines most conference rooms. The company turned to Digital Color Graphics (DCG) for advice on ways they might dress up the upper third of two 12 x 24-foot walls.

"They knew of our work as a digital shop and the signs we’d done around town," says Rob McBride, DCG VP and GM. Following initial conversations with the client, he conducted a site evaluation to see where the image would be installed, and discussed what kind of time constraints the job carried. "Then we sat down to talk with them about their options, and what kind of quality we could provide," he recalls.

Out of those conversations, Unified Consulting Engineers & Architects opted for a pair of wall murals highlighting the company’s history and achievements with digital composites of successful projects. McBride’s staff conferred with the staff designer at Unified Consulting as she created an Adobe Photoshop composite of eight pictures from the company’s archives for each mural. When her work was done, she handed DCG the 600MB files for printing.

The plan was to print each mural as a series of seven strips which would be tiled together during installation to build each 4 x 24-foot image. All prints would be rendered with the Mimaki JV3160 printer on Avery pressure-sensitive vinyl at 125 dpi. Before final printing, though, McBride took a 4 x 8-foot sample tile of each image to the site for proofing.

"We’ve found that a lot of times if people are looking at something at 125 dpi on the desktop, face to face, they think the quality is not good enough. But put it up on the wall, and they can see the image where it’s going to be installed. Then they realize the same quality they may not think is good enough up close is actually what they are looking for."

Once approved, it took approximately three and a half hours to print the seven tile sections for each mural. Working on scaffolds, DCG’s two-man installation team took less than a day for the installation.

Even so, the project could have gone quicker. "The biggest problem we encountered in the entire job actually came during installation," relates McBride. "They discovered the building and the wall were not square."

Fortunately, the image had been designed for full bleed, so careful trimming mitigated what could have been a more vexing problem. "One of the challenges to a project like this is to make sure you have enough overlap," to give installers some flexibility, he points out.

Once the installation was complete, there was no evidence of the challenge. "When the clients saw the murals they were ecstatic with the results," McBride happily reports.

Grand Stadium
What constitutes a grand format project? Whether you measure by the size of the print, the overall scope of the job, or the length required to complete it, Mark Gray and his staff at Precision Signworks have met the challenge.

In fact, two different projects installed at the same venue showcase the range of grand format applications, and his company’s capabilities. Gray started Precision Signworks as a one-man shop literally working out of his garage printing digital vinyl banners in 1993. As demand for large format digital printing grew, he continually re-invested in and expanded the company and the scope of its services.

Today, the company has a staff of 30, and employs 11 different print systems to provide clients locally and nationally with large and grand format solutions. "We do a lot of fleet graphics, trade show graphics, and event graphics," says Gray. "99 percent of work we do is digital, and today more than half of it is from out of state."

Because of the range of large format capabilities he can offer, his company has gained a reputation as a local preferred provider of digital signage. So, when the Corvette division of General Motors planned to host the 50th anniversary celebration of the Corvette at Nashville’s Adelphia Coliseum in 2002, they contacted Precision Signworks to transform the football stadium into a celebration of one of American’s favorite sports cars.

"This was a big job any way you look at it," shares Gray. "Two years in advance, we started planning for the event." It was a tall order for hundreds of prints: signs to direct attendees around the stadium; large scale graphics capturing the history of the Corvette in photos and vintage advertising for a walk-through museum; a stage backdrop; and walls of banners to cover anything in the stadium to suggest anything but a showcase for the Corvette, including the scoreboard.

Working with archival photos of every Corvette model as well as vintage ads, Gray’s four-man design team prepared the files for printing. The largest interior signs for the traffic and walk-through museum were rendered with Océ Arizona 180s. For the largest prints—80 x 120-foot banners—the Scitex GrandJet, now a product of Hewlett-Packard Corporation, was employed.

"For three months prior to the event, we were printing around the clock," recalls Gray. Grand format banners for the walk-through museum were printed on cotton poplin while the largest banners, to cover the scoreboard, were printed on vinyl mesh.

"Mesh is a very forgiving material," notes Gray. "Even though the GrandJet can print at higher resolution, we printed at only 30 to 35 dpi and the images looked fine."

Everything was in place in time for the event. "The biggest challenge can be coordinating the project in general," he says. "If you’re not prepared to deal with everything involved in a project like this, it can be a logistical nightmare."

Successfully pulled off, though, grand format projects can be an especially powerful form of advertising for the service provider.

After seeing how his company had personalized one of the hospitality suites in the stadium with a football-themed mural, members of the Tennessee Titan organization contacted him for a much more ambitious project.

"They were concerned that when fans walk into the stadium and look up there’s four floors of nothing that says football," he says. "They had seen what had been done in other stadiums, and how teams had used that space to tell their story. They wanted us to come up with something to get the fans excited about the team and the game."

The project entailed expansive images for installation on walls and balconies surrounding the entranceways to the stadium. One wall measured 10 x 80 feet, and a wrap-around balcony measured 6 x 285 feet.

Working with archival photos, Gray and his designers worked up a series of oversized photo murals in Photoshop to highlight the team’s history since relocating to Nashville from Houston in 1997. One entire mural tells the story of the team’s 1999 season and dramatic loss in the Super Bowl.

Another print highlights the best action shots of individual plays and players throughout the franchise history. "We printed all the individual images in sepia tone, but we break out one player in each shot in color," says Gray.

The Océ Arizona 600 was used to print most of the project on 3M Control-Tac at resolutions ranging from 75 to 100 dpi. "They were looking for images that would last at least five years, and I chose material I knew could exceed what they were asking for," says Gray. Painters were also consulted to find out what was used to cover the concrete walls, and what materials would adhere best to it.

Because of the team’s schedule, and other uses of the stadium, installation was staggered in four phases with the goal of having everything in place before the end of the 2005 season.

When Titan’s fans step inside the Coliseum, there’s no doubt where they are and why they are there. "The whole place screams football now," reports Gray.

Complete Wrap
Ask Joseph Correia of Color Express, Woburn, MA, to define his role, and you get the sense that the most accurate job description for him might be a producer of the grandest of grand format images, building wraps.

"A lot of people won’t go near a building wrap project because there’s too much involved," he says. "They have no idea what it takes or how to get it done. But this is what I do, I solve these problems all day, and can customize a building with a wrap to make the site whatever you want it to be."

One of his wraps captured the attention of executives at CBT/Childs Berman Tseckares, architects of Northpoint, a commercial/residential real estate development in Cambridge, MA.

When they turned to Correia, their project was a work in progress in varied stages of construction. "They asked me all about the other installation—what we did, how it was printed, what was involved in the installation," he shares. Satisfied with his responses, they presented him with their challenge—to completely wrap the building housing sales/construction offices for Northpoint to make the entire site more inviting.

The building itself was 19 feet tall, and with a perimeter of 172 feet. Their goal was to completely wrap the building in a way that it could disappear into the landscape, and make the entire site seem less barren. After much consultation, CBT officials decided an oversized image of grass encircling the structure would achieve the desired effect. While staff at CBT worked on creating the image for the wrap, Correia consulted with his print provider, Eli Luria of Grand Image, about the project.

"Because of the size of the job and the complexity of the installation, we were consulted during the early stages of this project," shares Luria. "We’ve worked together on a number of these installations and know what works and what doesn’t work."

"One of the key considerations," he continues, "is that you never design for a project this large based on the exact measurements of the installation. You have to design with some tolerance built into the image."

Correia advised CBT’s designer on what he needed in the image file to achieve the desired effect. "A lot of times, high resolution isn’t required for a building wrap because it’s not going to be seen close-up," he says. "But for the quality they wanted, I knew we needed 300 dpi." The job file was created in Photoshop, replicating the same image of grass several times for a single seamless mural.

The 500MB file was delivered to Luria at Grand Image for printing. "All we do here is print, we have no salesforce of our own," says Luria. "We function as the production facility for our customers on special projects like this."

This job was printed with the VUTEk 5300. Prints were rendered at the presses’ maximum width of 16 feet on vinyl scrim banner for each side of the building. The largest print measured 16 x 65-feet. "The 5300 always prints at 300 dpi but we RIPped the file at 150 dpi," for faster printing without sacrificing quality in the oversized print, according to Luria.

Once printing was done, the project was handed back to Correia. "The real challenging part of any building wrap is the installation," he notes. "Once you’ve worked around the heating ducts, doorways, gutters, and downspouts, the most difficult part is getting the entire image wrinkle-free. You want everything taut, with very little stress."

He supervised Color Express’ four-man installation crew in construction of the framework to hold the image, and the installation. They did a masterful job. The image held up without a stretch or tear when 80 mph winds tore though the area.

As satisfying as that is, the real reward for a grand format service producer like Correia, and his clients, comes in seeing how a wrap can transform a building and its surroundings. "It’s an exciting and rewarding thing to step back and see," he sums up, proudly.

Satisfying Service
There are numerous lucrative opportunities when it comes to grand format services. And an equal amount of challenges when considering the installation process. But for those who possess the right skills and have the right staff and equipment, grand format can mean unmatched profit and success.

 Mar2006, Digital Output

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