By Cassandra Balentine
Digitally printed soft signage offers high-quality output as well as a light, portable solution ideal for retail applications including banners and backlit displays.
Headquartered in Long Lake, MN, ZON Retail Environments is a growing company strengthened by several acquisitions throughout the years. Specializing in soft graphics, its focus on fabrics comes in part from its acquisition of Wicklund Design in 2013, a company with more than 30 years of dye-sublimation (dye-sub) experience.
Today, ZON occupies a 55,000 square foot facility and employs about a dozen employees. Previously known as Presentations Plus International, the company launched a rebrand last year to reintroduce themselves as a business-to-consumer (B2C) company that directly targets brands. In addition to its digital print services, its focus expands to offer an end-to-end retail experience where graphics play an integral, but auxiliary part of the overall customer experience.
ZON’s core service offerings span five distinct segments, retail store design, project engineering, rapid prototyping, value engineering, and graphic design. The graphics business specializes in double-sided fabric banners, fabric light boxes, dye-sub printing, and silicone edge graphics (SEG).
The shop employs multiple Mutoh America, Inc. digital printing solutions as well as a number of heat transfer presses that enable them to produce output up to 100 inches wide. ZON currently houses a total of four wide format dye-sub printers and one latex device.
The company primarily services customers within the U.S., but does some business-to-business work with major brands with an international presence.
A primary advantage ZON offers its customers is color management expertise. It is one of a few G7 master qualified facilities dedicated to digital dye-sub fabric printing.
Bruce Compton, print development manager, ZON, is a G7 expert certified in the field of color management, process, and quality control for proofing and printing equipment. With his guidance, every fabric utilized by the company comes into G7 compliance. “This means if we are dealing with other G7 print shops, we can produce a common visual appearance between their work and ours. It ensures our color is consistent across all printing materials and devices.”
Compton says color management is a priority for ZON because it is a true test of any printer. “The G7 color method provides a consistent, measurable way to ensure common visual appearance with other printed materials.”
In addition to color management, software gives ZON an advantage. The company recently invested in automation software from Tucanna, Inc. to further excel. With Tucanna’s tFlow solution, the team speeds time to press, gets proofs out to clients, and ensures files are properly prepped and ready for production.
Another draw of ZON is its ability to produce high-volume, double-sided banners using a single piece of fabric with near-perfect registration.
The service provider produces double-sided fabric banners on a monthly basis for several different clients. Recently, a new customer, a luxury fashion brand, came to ZON looking for a sophisticated store window display that could be easily and frequently updated.
The team recommended its double-sided fabric banners for the job, and the client agreed, ordering more than 1,000 40×125-inch double-sided fabric banners with pole pockets printed via dye-sub.
The turnaround time for the first set was just ten days from creative submission.
In addition to its flagship double-sided banner work, ZON is well adept at creating other soft graphics applications, including light boxes and lit and unlit SEG systems.
Soft graphics are visually appealing. “Bigger luxury brands require a higher quality, and the aesthetics offered with fabric are more appealing compared to vinyl and other substrates. They offer a softer look, which is particularly important to fashion, beauty, and apparel brands,” adds Ben McCoy, marketing consultant, ZON.
Compton understands the importance of using the right fabric to achieve the best results. Currently, the shop is happy with its decision to utilize Top Value Fabrics’ backlit fabric. “They have a tight and consistent enough weave so washing out does not happen. I was getting a 25 to 30 percent increase in densities with the same ink load over anything else I had tested,” he says.
A high-end apparel and shoe brand recently came to ZON for 24 backlit displays supporting a new product launch. The ZON team went to work, creating the 4×6-foot fabric light boxes, which were comprised of dye-sub printed graphics, freestanding SEG frames, and LED light sheets.
Since SEG fabric light boxes are easy to update with new graphics on an as-needed basis, these light boxes are expected to be kept up year round.
McCoy suggests this type of application is the cornerstone of what the service provider offers. “SEG and fabric light boxes are all big components of what we do and are something we’re looking to do more of.”
Color management and dye-sub expertise sets ZON apart from its competition. As it continues to expand into the B2C space, these factors complement its overall retail solutions.
Aug2016, Digital Output