How Print Providers Navigate Their Media Options
by Thomas Franklin
Part 4 of a 4-part exclusive online series
Behind every buying decision swirls a complex mix of motivators—price, relationships, hands-on experience, and perceptions. More often than not, all four coalesce.
For print providers, high performance media is not enough—it needs to be available on a timely basis, reasonably priced, and backed with quality support.
Signs By Tomorrow owner Jim Hare switched to digital printing three years ago with the purchase of a Mimaki JV3. Since then, "every year we do less cut vinyl and more digital." He sources his media primarily from Arlon, alongside 3M and Avery. "I go way back with Arlon, I’ve had a long relationship with them," Hare says.
Arlon’s cast laminates allow Hare to do a "a lot of vehicle wraps" and full color site signs for auto-malls and the local AAA baseball team.
Hare is leveraging his close relationship with the company to overcome color management challenges, he adds.
Hare has done plenty of experimenting, testing out media for a variety of applications and mixing and matching where appropriate.
"I’m doing more testing than ever, we’re looking for niche applications to make us more competitive," he says. Though, he adds, "we don’t do a lot of re-evaluating for our standard vinyl."
While the firm is enjoying double digit growth and "doing more work than ever" Hare wants to push the firm into better margin work as more competitors adopt digital. That, and "the price of doing business in CA is high," he sighs.
Jon Ninmer, graphics supervisor, Derse Exhibits, uses LexJet’s satin paper and TD film for its tradeshow and exhibit printing business, in addition to media from Charrette, a division of Pitman, and glossy vinyl and mirrored backlit from InteliCoat Technologies.
Before considering new materials, Ninmer says he puts it and the supplier "through their paces. I get quotes, evaluate the costs, and see how quickly my orders can be turned around. That’s a measure of whether they take you seriously. I don’t want to get lost in the shuffle." The material is also tested extensively he says.
"I see if they stand behind their materials," Ninmer adds. He says that he has had calls from LexJet warning him of a batch of media that may have had an issue before the company had a chance to use it. That proactive and communicative posture is crucial, he states. "Communication is the key."
Derse has just brought solvent in-house as well and will continue to closely study its performance. "It was driven by cost," Ninmer says. The company is using solvent to print on adhesive-backed vinyl for window films on buses and for exhibit displays.
"The amount of media available for solvent has increased quite a bit since we first considered the technology two years ago," Ninmer notes. He adds that he finally added solvent because of speed and comparable print quality to his existing aqueous machines—HP 5000s, among others.
Any printer, ink, and media technology "has got to be perfect, there is pressure on us to get the best results," Ninmer says. When anything new is added to the mix, "I can’t be offering less quality than before, I can only improve."
For Derse, canned profiles are insufficient to its color-matching needs. "They’re good enough to get you started, but we find it’s better to build your own. That way you account for your environment."
Philip Sheesley, owner of Haverhill, MA-based Image Express made the jump into wide format printing in 1996 when he realized the slide imaging business was collapsing in the wake of PowerPoint. The firm now boasts three 60-inch printers from HP and a 64-inch Seiko ColorPainter 640, with the solvent being the most recent addition.
The firm specializes in tradeshow graphics and event signage for corporate accounts. The challenge for Image Express, Sheesley states, was finding a media that could boast the color gamut of a dye ink using pigment technology for its longer life. The solution, he notes, was a line of Océ’s perfect print media recommended by his supplier which allows him to enjoy the longevity of pigments without sacrificing the color.
"It lets us get more ink onto the paper and get closer to the color gamut we need," Sheesley says. "There were photobase papers and microporous papers but that didn’t give us the kind of saturation we needed with our print heads."
He adds that he is also a "big microporous user as well." Sheesley notes that after some experimenting, they had "tamed the beast" and found an ink setting on his HP printer that produced excellent results on Océ’s microporous papers with no banding.
On the solvent side, Sheesley says he was impressed—"shocked"—by the quality of the output they were able to achieve. "We were using a rather mild ink-set, not eco-solvent, but not the most aggressive ink. It rivals my dye aqueous inkjet."
He is now printing more scrim vinyl banners and vehicle wraps, thanks to the solvent. Sheesley says that he was looking at the increasing range of specialty media to feed his solvent machine.