Phoenix seems to be a microcosm of the new digital large format printing world. Here, the large format-equipped printing companies fit the typical model. Most have entered the so-called print world from outside of traditional print.
What is not typical is the large number of firms that have developed a vision based on finishing workflow from design to printer RIP to automatic cutter/router. Worldwide, we have found that roughly one in five large format printers develop this capability within the first year or two of the purchase of their printing equipment. In Phoenix, it looks like perhaps three out of eight have done so.
There are also a number of narrow format digital printers in the greater Phoenix area, none of them, to our knowledge, who have implemented a short run specialty graphics workflow.
The large and recent annual population growth in Phoenix, along with a great number of sports teams, golf courses, other venues, and new housing developments spurred by population growth has created more opportunity. This allows the city’s printers to take on new technology without the entrenched competition that resides in more mature markets.
A Phoenix Standout
The overview of Phoenix’s large format printers offers insight to national and international trends in this relatively new technology. We visited with Ron Clark, president, Ben Franklin Press, a traditional offset printer in Phoenix/ Tempe, AZ. We also met Dewey Johnson, marketing manager for the sister large format digital printing plant that they have dubbed Big Ben.
Walking through these two busy facilities in parallel plants, we learned that they are producing print for the same customer base. With sales approaching 7 million dollars, the digital and large format portion of business is now 25 percent of the total and growing.
Virtually every one of their long established customers buys both traditional offset and large format digital products. "It’s a lot easier to sell more to the same customers than try to get new ones," says Johnson. "That’s the story we wanted to tell."
The interesting thing is how soon Ben Franklin Press and Big Ben began their crossover to large format, and how few of their peers have even begun to think the same way. Although many offset printers now say that getting into large format is important to them, until very recently this meant solely using large format printers to proof large print signatures and perhaps a few posters, but not running a second business.
Two of the large national graphic arts distributors, Enovation Graphic Systems and Pitman Company, have recently decided to develop large format digital printing divisions to go after this marketplace. More interestingly, they want to branch out from their traditional, offset printer base to cover the full market and make this decision pay off. Cascades Resources is a similar print equipment distribution firm in Canada specializing in the flexo marketplace, which has also developed a new large format division within the past year.
Reinventing the Business
Ben Franklin Press was founded in 1956 as a traditional offset printer featuring classic offset printing, and growing by promoting good, honest printing. It’s motto is, "Produce High Quality Work, Deliver All Jobs on Time, and Fully Satisfy the Customer."
Over ten years ago, the company saw the emerging need to help their customers on a much grander scale. In 1995, they were the first firm in Phoenix to employ both a large format digital inkjet printer and a RF welding machine. And they haven’t stopped yet—continually increasing their equipment complement to achieve all their customer requests. In the digital shop, their current capacity includes six large format units plus a laminator and an 80-foot-long welder. Over 4.5 million dollars in equipment has been added to this facility over the last five years, culminating in a recent purchase of a multi-material cutter/router, which adds another dimension to the products they can offer to customers.
Ben Franklin’s customer base has grown from the Phoenix area to worldwide, while still maintaining the qualities of a small, family-owned company. Their broad spectrum of customers includes the Arizona Cardinals, Diamondbacks, and Coyotes; ING Bank; Intel; the Fiesta Bowl; and a number of casinos.
While visiting the plant, we were able to see just how well Ben Franklin has met its customer’s changing needs. In the offset area, we saw program game books for the Phoenix Coyotes being printed in the large quantities needed to be sold at home games. In the large format area, they were printing new posters that will hang in the Coyotes’ home arena.
The offset plant looks like almost any other that we’ve ever visited. There is busy prepress/proofing activity and the usual CtP equipment from Agfa and Fuji. There are four presses, printing two- to four- to six-color jobs on a Heidelberg two-color GTO Perfecta, a Komori five-color, a Mitsubishi four-color, and a Ryobi four-color with in line aqueous coater and refrigerated inking system. An integrated bindery handles large runs of magazines with no problem, using a combination of cutters, folders, saddle stitchers, hole punch, and shrink wrapping systems.
Overall, Clark is proud to be able to assist any client with whatever print job they need. Anything in the realm of traditional offset from data sheets, to pamphlets, to magazines, and long run posters is possible through their full-service bindery with finishing equipment galore. Beyond large format signs, they can now also provide high-resolution tradeshow displays, vehicle wraps, billboard campaigns, and arena wraps.
Some of their specific projects include interior and exterior wall murals, aluminum face signage, flexface billboards, arena backlits, sponsorship banners, outfield pad graphics, window displays, semi and fleet wraps, floor graphics, tradeshow displays, carpet, POP, construction fencing, die cut casino signs, foam-board cut outs, easel signs, flags, wallpaper, and photo backdrops.
According to Johnson, Big Ben is proud to promote a whole new dimension for Ben Franklin Press’ customers through their major investment in large format printing and finishing. "We have expanded with new machinery now allowing us to print up to 10 x 6 feet on any board stock with bright four-color UV inks. Foam, plastics, acrylics, even plywood, are now possible. Bring us your colorful ideas for our new direct flatbed printing and we’ll print directly to the substrate of your choice. Take it another step and go beyond rectangles with our new automatic digital router, capable of complex die-cuts, trimming, and perimeter cuts that match your design. The router’s vision capabilities allow us to perform precise trim cuts of almost all substrates from wood, foam, and plastic to cardboard, decal, and paper stock. This adds a different dimension to the advertisement printed on the flatbed."
While looking at some of the new finishing capabilities, Clark and Johnson proudly showed off a marketing piece they’ve developed—a small corrugated box with handles and the Ben Franklin Press message in register to the box’s shape. Inside is a printed cardboard puzzle that is accurately cut with their new digital finishing system.
Understandably, Clark and Johnson are proud of what they’ve accomplished at Ben Franklin Press and Big Ben. They are proof that offset printers can make a go in the new world of digital large format print. If others follow in their footsteps, they will have the sufficient resources and customer base to give those who have entered the market before them a run for their money.