‘Living in the material world’ … where service wins over price
Applications, Ideas and Advice is the show theme for Sign & Digital UK 2017, and with good reason as the focus is very much now on output, applications and especially creativity.
If the focus is on output and applications then the creative element of the process of making signage is even more crucial than before. If you want to offer your customer the best display and signage work, then creating visual impact has to be paramount. Imagine a wall graphic or an exterior or interior fit-out without that creative edge and spark, it just isn’t going to work.
This brings me on to the need for quality in the creative brief, the products used and the level of work done. The stakes are high when signage projects are in the public eye. In our age of increasingly sophisticated computer and mobile technology, fast moving goods and services, growing social media networks and eye popping cinematic graphics, the requirements have been raised considerably when it comes to quality as well as visual impact.
As Sign & Digital UK continues to change and grow, we have seen an increase in material and substrates suppliers exhibiting at SDUK in recent times, and for the 2017 show the growing list includes APA Italy, Hexis UK, Soyang Europe, Neschen, Antalis, Spandex, Grafityp, Dorotape and many more. For visitors to the show this is good news as you can find many more new products as well as ideas to create new revenue streams. These suppliers are closely aligned with the creative process offering real ideas and advice on the many applications now available
The show website www.signanddigitaluk.com has full details of all the product categories and suppliers at the exhibition.
To tie in with this, we are also introducing a NEW Creative Theatre at the event. This brings the design and pre -press element of the market channel into play at the show. Topics in this new Theatre include digital advertising and signage, wall décor projects, materials for the future, the retail experience, colour management, vehicle livery and way finding case studies.
And now given this is an opinion piece, I thought I would raise the Price versus Service predicament.
In our material world price alone will not give you the result you want. If you are the client you have to insist on good service. There is no point getting the lowest price for the job and then complaining afterwards that the work is not at the quality you expect. It is often worth paying more to get that reliability and level of service from your suppliers. For Signmakers it is essential to sell your service along with the price. It is all too tempting to just lower your price to get the job.
Good service wins over price. If you want to build a long-term business relationship, focus on service. It will stand you in good stead.
Paint is so last year! A vehicle wrapper gets to grips with the OKI ColorPainter M-64s
Motorsports vehicle wrapping expert Jason Price is the lead creative designer at Jellyfish Design. With over 15 years experience in motorsports Price has printed and wrapped everything from a Honda Civic to a Le Mans prototype.
Jellyfish recently invested in an OKI ColorPainter M-64s and was approached by OKI to print and fit the unique vehicle wrap for the launch of its ‘Print My Ride’ campaign that was launched in partnership with Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship race team Motorbase Performance. Price describes the OKI ColorPainter as ‘sturdy, reliable, a great all rounder, and by far the best printer in its class’. “I call it my ‘Weapon of Mass Production’,” he enthuses. “It’s by far the fastest printer I have used to produce a full race wrap livery on. It’s not just devastatingly quick; it’s ridiculously quick!”
Here Price shares his opinion on using the top-of-the-range OKI ColorPainter W-64s for vehicle wrapping.
Having speed and quality is a must in our particular arena as we work a lot in the motorsport industry and having the ability to react quickly is essential. Using the OKI ColorPainter to print for vehicle wrapping elevates this printer to a whole different league as quality, speed and consistency are all available in abundance. Also, the machine's consistency of output is just as important if not top of the list. If we are to replace the graphics on the door of a race car after a first corner shunt in practice we need have the confidence that the colours are going to match - and with the OKI they certainly do.
We have the seven colour OKI ColorPainter M-64s, giving us one of the biggest colour gamuts of all wide format printers, and the tonal range has to be seen to be believed! I have pushed the printer by using some of the craziest artwork I could muster and it handled it all without even breaking a sweat. The light cyan, light magenta and grey allow the colours to have extra depth. Tones can be deep and rich, or subtle, but either way all are faithfully reproduced.
The ink usage is also less than other printers in its class but they stretch further with the material before 'ballooning or whiting' out. This affords you, the designer, to push the colours and design further than before, especially with deeper richer colours.
One thing that has blown us away is the ColorPainter's ability to lay deep colours down flawlessly, time after time. I have never come across a machine that can put a black down that actually looks like a black vinyl. There is no hint of banding whatsoever, even using a relatively high-speed print set-up.
This colour set-up, coupled with the variable dot size technology, is nothing short of exceptional and gives you the confidence to use the ColorPainter for jobs that previously would have caused issues. The variable dot size has been around for some time but the OKI has got it nailed!
With the vast array of materials on the market today, from papers and canvas to self adhesive vinyl, the ability to quickly get these printing at their best is a must. Loading in a material and picking a middle of the road profile to use with it is really not the best approach. This will not produce an output that shows the machines full printing capability.
With the ColorPainter, profiling a material could not be simpler. Using the VPM software, the ColorPainter will print a set of bands using each of the heads then scan and measure the print. It will then re-do the print and scan until the best setting has been achieved. It will do this automatically, but it is a pleasure to watch the machine in action (for all us print tech geeks anyway!). You can choose which level of quality to profile for each material, so you need to decide which quality levels you will use for each material, i.e. you wouldn't print a pvc banner using a 720 x 720 dpi 16 pass set-up, so there is no need to profile that in.
I did made the mistake of choosing some ‘all-for-one’ material to profile, and needless to say it took a while and quite a bit of material to profile them all! However, this whole process is so easy to do and over time you will build up a catalogue of materials which will print beautifully every time.
As a rule we use 3M IJ180 to do fully printed wraps. There are other equally good materials available but we like it and it works. It is an easy material to work with from print through to fit.
The ColorPainter is certainly built well, and is an imposing bit of equipment which instils a level of faith in its ability to work hard all day for you. This sturdiness is most definitely required when you have a full 50m x 1.6m roll of material to put on the back! The loading mechanism is a solid piece of engineering that gives the user the confidence that it can handle anything you can throw at it, and feeding the material in is also a breeze. Once fed-in and rolled back to straighten it up, OKI has provided a handy pinch roller locking handle at the rear - which in my opinion is a godsend - so you can pop round the front to set the edge guards in place.
Considering the blistering speed that the ColorPainter can throw print out, a decent take-up system is a must. And following the build quality of the rest of the machine, the take-up system is built equally as well. The ability to pull the entire take-up mechanism out, which is on heavy duty castors, is a great idea. It makes attaching the sheet to the take-up core a breeze, and you can manually control the initial few inches of take-up to ensure all is well. Then, push the whole mechanism back into place with a reassuring 'clunk', flick the drive switch and you are good to go.
I printed a full 30m of material for a vehicle wrap and the take-up didn't even break sweat - no straining or slipping drive motors. The ability to move the whole lot forwards when completed also makes taking the printed material off the take-up system a lot easier
Comparing the ColorPainter to other wide format printers is a tricky thing to do, especially as the ColorPainter has so much to offer and handles pretty much everything you can throw at it. If there is a downside I guess it would be the level of maintenance required, whether automated by the machine or a user-based requirement, but you also have to do this with any other wide format inkjet printer if you want it to print flawlessly for you day-in, day-out. I can’t stress how important this is for all wide format printers. Thinking 'I will clean it tomorrow' will only cause you problems from the outset and you will begin to have print issues. The best way to avoid this is to follow the manufacturers guidelines for daily and monthly cleaning.
To put it into simple terms, spending half an hour a day ensuring that all cleaning routines are followed will ensure that a full eight hours worth of solid printing will go without incident.
In my opinion all vehicle wrappers should take a look at this bit of kit from OKI. Since we have had the printer I can say it has certainly changed my perspective on printing full colour vibrant wraps for motorsports for the better.
Shaping Up – 3D printing’s proposition to the large format/sign & display sector
Unless you’ve been living on the moon for the last few years, it’s highly likely that the continued rise of 3D printing has not escaped your notice. Created around 30 years ago, the technology has gradually strengthened its foothold and is now widely used across a plethora of applications within industry sectors that include automotive, aerospace and medical.
Despite its popularity in such sectors, it’s fair to say that 3D printing has yet to make its mark on the graphic arts industry. However, if you are large format print business or sign & display operation, then the good news is that 3D printing opportunity might be within closer reach than you were aware. Moreover, just as it has proved already within the manufacturing world, 3D printing technology has the flexibility, speed and price point to unlock huge new creative opportunities and drive profitable growth for users in the graphic arts industry.
At Drupa, we unveiled our own solution for this market – the Massivit 1800 3D Printer – publicly for the first time. From our side, we believe that the Massivit 1800 3D Printer offers something different, something new for this sector. It enables the creation of vibrant, eye-catching, 3D printed sign and display projects beyond those that can be achieved with 2D large format printing solutions. With the capability to very quickly produce high quality 3D pieces up to 1.8m / 6ft high, we expect it to transform the way high-level marketing, advertising and themed projects are created.
At the heart of this is our new proprietary technology, GDP (Gel Dispensing Printing), which enables instant solidification of the printing material thus achieving very high-speed printing. Not only that, but the printer also utilises techniques that allow it to print non-vertical walls and ceilings, without the need to produce a solid object or build intensive support structure.
So, in printing less to achieve the same result, the Massivit 1800 is able to dramatically increase print speed, while also reducing material costs and product weight – pivotal for additional materials handling, transportation and storage benefits.
For the owners of large format print and sign businesses, 3D printing technology could be an enabler to unlocking the door to new business. The printing industry remains a difficult environment in which to operate and the need for higher impact output delivered faster and cheaper than the next provider will be a perpetual goal for those at the sharp-end. The ability to differentiate your offering and enhance your applications gamut to customers will always stand you in good stead in the quest to maintain customers and win new ones.
After all, it goes without saying that brand and marketing managers will always be seeking to maximise their budgets with as much wow factor as possible. The ability to offer attention-grabbing, added-value visual communications that better engage target audiences achieves this. Moreover, it makes engaging - and subsequently keeping - such customers much easier.
Of course, if you are a large format print provider currently weighing up the options for your next investment, your decision will be governed by your company’s own aspirations and strategic objectives. Many of you are likely to be already running successful, profitable companies, having perhaps found a ‘niche’ offering or a stable portfolio of clients. That said, leaving your comfort zone to explore and add new applications to your service capability and ‘futureproof’ business, is always healthy and can only help differentiate your offering retain your overall competitive edge.
And what of the future? I think that the way the technology has evolved generally in other sectors is probably a good barometer for where things might eventually be headed. I would, therefore, be surprised if in a few years, we were not seeing additional 3D applications that we have yet to even envisage. What’s more, these will likely be created with even higher speeds, greater build size and possibly extended material options that will take the large format/sign sector further still into uncharted territory.
VP Marketing & Business Development
Design Essentials – how the right design software can help improve production efficiencies and expand your service offering
If you are reading this as a large format print provider or sign making business, then the constant need to keep production costs low and increase turnaround times without compromising on quality will be all too familiar challenges. The curtain may still only be closing on another Drupa and it’s a safe bet that new large format hardware introductions will be grabbing the headlines. At the same time, it is worth remembering that ensuring an efficient end-to-end production workflow – supported by advanced software – will also go a long way to achieving the objectives outlined above.
This of course includes the front-end aspect of the job, even before it is sent to the printer. Indeed, via the right software solutions, enhancing efficiencies at the design stage can have a huge impact on the overall production time. In short, it can mean the difference between a job making it off the cutter, onto the van and en route to the customer – or a missed deadline and an angry customer.
When it comes to point-of-purchase (POP) display and box design software, there are a number of solutions available on the market. That said, it makes sense to check out the respective attributes of each should you be on the verge of your next investment.
Indeed, recent new introductions include those packages that tick even more boxes by enabling large format/sign & display businesses to expand their applications offering, increase revenues and sharpen their competitive edge.
So, having established that not all software is created equal, it’s worth being aware of some of the shortfalls in certain options out there. For example, is it compatible with all existing wide-format RIP software that drives flatbed printers and cutters? A number of design packages are either limited to specific cutting machines (which invariably include expensive implementation costs) or require costly additional shape libraries. These are also often only available on licence, but as a customer, you may also have to pay for an annual subscription, which adds to the expense.
Additional or unforeseen costs aside, you should also consider the varying performance capabilities of the respective design software solutions in line with your specific requirements.
For example, most designers would concur that an irksome and oft-faced problem is the issue of accurately visualising designs in 3D. Because of the difficulty in properly accounting for folding material thickness and folding behaviour, achieving accurate design using Adobe Illustrator or Corel is often time-consuming and invariably relies on trial and error during production.
The good news is that a quick review of the latest software options demonstrates that the foremost providers now offer solutions that address this via an animated 3D folding preview feature.
If you do happen to be assessing different options, then our own recently-introduced offering, SAi DisplayGenie, is well worth a look – especially if you are also seeking to extend your applications offering to customers.
This powerful, efficiency-enhancing software eliminates multiple steps to improve job creation efficiencies by simplifying the structural design of POP-display and box construction – all within one bundle.
This eliminates the need for any additional software plug-in to access the suite of design options; users simply access a library of popular folding POP display, ECMA and FEFCO box templates and select or adapt the shape or design that best suits the customer’s requirements. From there users can adapt the dimension, rotate it, include additional shelves and client logos and perfect the final design in as little as five minutes. This saves considerable design time that would have previously taken up to several hours.
Importantly, DisplayGenie also incorporates an integrated graphic and structural design with animated 3D folding preview, which also lets users view the layout/design in 3D on the box they have created. This clever tool helps maintain workflow efficiency by catching any mistakes before production, so if you’re a large format provider, this spells savings in both cost and time. This is also aided by the ability to export rotational package display or box designs as 3D PDF files for customer review or adjustment prior to production.
A fifth of the price of certain other packages on the market, this solution could, for many businesses, help unlock the door to quick, easily and cost-effective POP-display and box creation without the shackles of a long-term subscription contract.
As one would expect, it’s clear to see how accessing software in this way is proving increasingly popular. If you are large format or sign & display business, the freedom and capability to easily integrate one single all-embracing solution within your current workflow – without having to change your design, RIP or cutting software – is obviously highly attractive.
For those who already have design software, DisplayGenie offers a great foundation to create a wide array of displays that can be adapted to meet the customers’ exacting requirement, right down to the thickness of the board. These users can simply access the free and regularly updated library of POP display templates with the added option of continuing the design in Illustrator or utilising their existing RIP and cutting solution.
Naturally, it’s a likely objective of most large format print providers to grow business and increase revenues by extending one’s current applications offering. For those that already operate a flatbed printer, but might also be seeking to install a flatbed cutter, DisplayGenie’s ability to provide rapid, trouble-free creation of display and packaging products could hold the key to achieving these goals.
Technical Marketing Manager EMEA
The challenges facing digital printers in an ever-increasing competitive market place
To meet the demands of the modern customer, it is very important to have the traditional arguments of competitive price and high level quality as a given to even get a seat at the table but balancing these two elements is the major challenge in digital printing today.
Having been in business for over 45 years, Structure-flex earned its reputation as the UK’s premium curtain manufacturer by doing exactly that; keeping one eye on costs to remain competitive and the other on investing in the latest technology to keep our quality ahead of the competition.
Demands for product longevity are at an all-time high but, by using quality fabrics produced in the EU, we ensure our customers have consistent colour matches year on year and colour fading is kept to a minimum when in use, which can be a problem in our business sector.
Flexible inks specific to curtain side printing, as well as an additional machine applied protective liquid coating, provide a top coat for fully printed curtains. This enhances colours and makes the livery more resilient to general in-service wear and tear so that the fabric retains its vibrancy for longer.
Although these aspects increase the cost base, they are re-balanced by our manufacturing process and the service offered by our graphics department so customers get the best quality at competitive prices.
Service is becoming increasingly important. Designs are becoming more complex, as graphic designers and branding companies are given the challenge of getting the best from their client’s commercial fleet. Offering additional support like assisting with the technical aspects of livery design, and the associated pitfalls, all help to get to the end result with the minimum of design amendments.
The speed of supply is also very important to customers, even more so where the side curtains are being used as part of a time sensitive marketing campaign, so the quicker the visual layout is approved and revisions completed, the quicker the print and manufacture can begin.
Technology contributes to balancing the price versus quality equation and constant investment is necessary to be efficient which, in turn, helps to reduce costs and provide the best quality for modern use. For example, we are the only side curtain producer in the UK to have invested in 2 super wide format digital printers, with the total investment exceeding £700,000 over the last 4 years.
The primary concerns for considering this level of investment were: increasing demand, the desire to remain as responsive as possible, combined with the need for a contingency plan in the event of a breakdown, or routine maintenance, and we have never looked back.
Cutting corners in this industry, like many others, could potentially have safety concerns so printers need to consider the wider concerns of their clients. For example, reducing the quality of the raw materials or the construction design and methods in the supply of a curtain, could mean it fails to restrain the load in transport.
Aesthetically, poorly printed or fitted products are not desirable either. Incorrect measuring, poor manufacture, or printing on ‘draft mode’ type settings, will result in ‘banding’ or ‘pixilation’ and give an unsatisfactory result that could potentially damage the brand.
I would advise companies to look at their whole service on offer. When we work with a new client who experiences the more subjective aspects of our customer service for the first time, we find it adds real value and plays a big part in securing repeat business.
So, balancing quality and pricing is the best way to remain competitive. Once a company has weighed up our entire product capability and comprehensive service offer, while we may not necessarily be the cheapest on paper, the intangible elements of our service have proved to contribute sufficient additional value to make us a preferred choice on many occasions.