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Great outdoors

Nigel Spicer, general manager of Cactus Imaging, says UV is the standout technology for billboard printing, as well as some developments in latex. It’s a major transition from solvent printing, driven by demand for speedier and more environmentally kind processes.

The 18-year-old Silverwater, Sydney-based company was founded in New Zealand by Spicer’s father, Warwick and partner Keith Ferrell. It has operated in Australia since 1996 and is now part of the Opus Print Group. It runs an HP Scitex stable, and recently added an HP XP5300 Revolution, a jumbo printer capable of printing 300m2 of billboard surface. The newcomer joins three Expedios, a 2700, and a TurboJet. The firm collaborates with HP to perfect its equipment to requirements, says Spicer. Sharing the floor is an in-house developed BlueStreak roll-to-roll UV, a retrofit of a NUR, with muscle to pump out higher volumes at speed.

“Much work is now at 5m, with little under 3.2m, and to 360x360dpi quality,” says Spicer. With vendors coaxing large-format printers to kit out in 5m-wide UV for as little as $60,000 to $70,000, he sees HP offering value for money in terms of ruggedness and quality. And it is not all about printing. Having the finishing gear to weld sub-sections and edge properly is crucial.

Digital print has revolutionised billboards, says Spicer, giving agencies unprecedented flexibility in the duration of campaigns, and the ability to promote to niche segments. PVC vinyl-printed skins are vibrant and robust and can be relocated, a far cry from screen-printed single-use paper billboards that were pasted over. “It gives advertisers more bang for their buck – but not so good for us, as they don’t need to produce nearly as many new boards every month.”

Some vinyls enable duplex mirror imaging with backlighting for more dramatic results up close and at night, and agencies are keen to buy both sides of the screen for this nocturnal “wow factor”, says Spicer. Cactus offers a green alternative with almost half the PVC.

Cactus does it all in-house, from pre-press to finishing. Installation is the only phase beyond its bailiwick, as media site owners contract their own installers. “Installation of billboards is an art,” says Spicer. “They’re specialist teams and daredevils in the way they swing around. Good luck to them!”

The Outdoor Media Association reports that the first quarter of 2011 was the out-of-home industry’s fifth consecutive growth period, posting a 5.5% increase in revenue. Q1 net revenue was $112m, compared with $106 million in 2010. Spicer believes Australia’s outdoor media dodged the GFC by downshifting from luxury products to “sweets ‘n’ treats”.

That’s positive news to a fiercely competitive sector of outdoor print production, with players such as APN Outdoor’s GSP Print subsidiary, MMT, Omnigraphics, Aussie Signs and Cactus all vying for a slice of the pie.

What’s in-store

Peak Digital is a five-year-old wide-format outfit at Seaford in Melbourne’s south-east. The talk among its eight staff harks back to the old days of screen-printing, which is where most cut their teeth. Managing director Andrew Robertson was apprenticed as a screen printer.

Point-of-sale (POS) graphics for retail today are limited only by creatives’ imaginative skills, he says – posters, window signage, floor graphics, shelf strippings, wobblers, wall graphics, even wallpaper.

Robertson sees the explosion of retail signage as a great fit for digital printing. The company has two HP flatbeds, an FB700 UV and an L65500 latex printer, and eco-solvent machines. A broad mix is necessary, he says, as customers – print managers, agencies and offset trade clients – prefer to deal with a single business.

Retail corporates are spec’ing work with the environment in mind these days, which is where the HP latex aqueous technology comes in, Robertson tells ProPrint. The new FB700, purchased from CPI Graphics in November last year, has helped expand Peak’s trade client list, as it can print POS displays with fine text and white ink, formerly printed on Peak’s screen machines or sent out. Its screen kit includes a 60x40in clamshell printer, now reserved for specialities such as metallics, still foreign to most digitals.

Robertson says runs are shorter to match today’s speedier campaign cycles, but more significantly, retailers are demanding site-specific graphics. “Instead of, say, 500 items, the order might be for 10-by-50 store-specific items.”

Capital investment in servicing the shopping sector is considerable. “It’s expensive to do it properly; you’re looking in the realm of hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he says. Entry-level roll-to-roll machines, which some businesses see as their ticket in, do not pack the requisite speed. Then there’s the budget for warehousing, logistics, delivery and fit-out. “Today’s clients expect you to be able to do a store pack-out.”

Unlike billboard printing, which is dominated by a relatively small circle of high-profile printers, retail POS printing has many small fish circling a large pond, with downward margins and high cost pressures.

Add to that the loss of chains like Colorado and Borders, and a cautious post-GFC shopping mindset. The Westpac-Melbourne Institute Index of Consumer Sentiment indicates a 7.2% drop in expectations for the economy over the next five years. Consumers are likely to continue shopping selectively, fearing a second serve of economic gloom.

So while Robertson regards Peak Digital as more than a match for its POS competitors, it uses its screen credentials to maintain contacts in exhibition/industrial graphics, developing a niche apart from the hurly-burly of retail.

Streetscape pitches

Ads on the street are growing in leaps and bounds. External building walls, bus shelters, phone booths and park benches, even litterbins, are canvasses for creatives on Adshel or JCDecaux contracts. Street sell is now a key component for these two agencies, which between them hold the lion’s share of street furniture advertising in Australia.

Street furnishings provide revenue to councils. Sydney’s Leichhardt has derived more than $1.2m from its 20-year contract with JCDecaux, and that excludes cleaning and maintenance, not paid by the council. Given this win-win value, it is likely we will see a lot more promotional material adorning the built environment in coming years.

Locally owned Omnigraphics began in Australia in 2001, part of a worldwide printing brand. Headquartered in Melbourne, with a sales office in Sydney and representation nationally, the 45-staff firm began in grand-format billboards, but has embraced other segments.

Global branding and experience are assets that the local Omnigraphics outfit can leverage in developing street furniture, says sales director Nathan Sable. Its printing showcases utilities, vehicle manufacturers, grocery chains and real estate companies – brands such as Energy Australia, Hyundai, National Foods and real

An HP TurboJet prints much of the company’s streetscape graphics, and Omnigraphics recently added an HP Scitex FB7500 digital press. Both are volume, high-resolution UVs capable of timely turnarounds.

“We have more than one type of digital machine to cater for the street furniture market, as avoiding redundancy is paramount. The printers we use are high-resolution, UV machines capable of turning around large volumes efficiently,” says Sable.

Omnigraphics thoroughly evaluates machinery before buying. “We offer envi-ronmentally friendly materials to clients, including recyclable and biodegradable substrates. When shipping, we use recyclable material wherever possible.”

Sable believes substantial investments have to be made to enter this market, as well as re-investing regularly in new machinery. “Work can be generated from media owners, advertising agencies, print brokers and direct clients.”

With installations that have large non-print components (frames, mounts, glass plating, LED, 3D, wiring), Omnigraphics outsources distribution and installation. “We sub-contract to third parties where necessary, however, each of these external suppliers is heavily scrutinised.”

Moving messages

Turning vehicle fleets into promotional mobile billboards is a trend among corporates, especially in service industries. The most effective visuals are vibrant and straightforward, easily viewed in traffic, says vehicle wrapper Mark Van Dam, a Gold Coast contractor who has wrapped car and truck fleets of companies as diverse as Tip Top, Norco, Dairy Farmers, Domino’s Pizza and Metricon Homes.

Logos and messages hugging the bodywork reinforce mindshare, adding information like a phone number. Market research indicates that yields from vehicle wraps outpace Yellow Pages.

Installing wraps in nearly all states and territories, and in Malaysia, Singapore and California, Van Dam has seen them prosper, defying the downturn.

This year’s Queensland floods didn’t dampen uptake for long. This is despite numerous setbacks, such as the fact that wraps of vehicles too large for indoors had to be postponed, not to mention floodwaters inundating Brisbane screen and digital substrates supplier, Queensland Decal, which is a source of quality Avery and 3M stock.

The skill sets for vehicle wraps are high and evolving. Van Dam, who also trains installers, has attracted new customers by repairing messes left behind by low-skilled ‘cowboys’ using cheap substrates.

Much of his work is printed at Brisbane wide-format house Colorcorp, using UV solvent and eco-solvent, and also the newer HP latex technology to print direct to vinyl. The company, based in the suburb of Stafford, is believed to be the biggest screen and large-format printer in the state. It also runs dye sublimation inkjet, while the lynchpin of the whole operation is a five-colour Thieme line. General manager Brad Wruck calls it the “Rolls-Royce” of screen presses. Some jobs are printed on a 3M Scotchprint device, then transferred to vinyl electrostatically and laminated – an older process.

Vehicle wraps are a minefield of potential pitfalls for the unseasoned. Van Dam says that common missteps include: poor surface preparation; not giving material enough time to de-gas after solvent printing, which makes it harder to install and more likely to lift; working in cold weather or temperature drops, which reduce the glue’s adherence; or poor handling of vinyls, which can leave permanent fingerprints. After application, the wrap has to be heated to the substrate manufacturer’s specs to set it, and relax tensions that cause stretching and tearing.

“I train installers by initially getting them to make mistakes and see what the consequences look like. It helps them visualise how to avoid that when they’re doing jobs for clients,” he says.

Corporates tend to keep wraps for
the duration of the vehicle, typically three-to-five years, then trade in and come back for a new wrap. Fleet management companies can maintain liveries on fleets for their large clients.

Van Dam says that in terms of price, the larger the number of vehicles with an identical wrap, the more cost effective. One-offs can take up to three days, while individual vehicles in a bulk wrap job can take as little as six hours because the processes become familiar.

He sees a bright future for vehicle printing. Porsche leads the way in Europe in integrating printed body enhancements – logos and decals – on its assembly lines, and after-market demand from enthusiasts is growing.

Out in the field, Van Dam finds camaraderie among elite Australian wrappers. “We help one another in busy periods. There’s an overall shortage of installers, so there’s no cut-throat competitiveness.”

Oddball specialties

During last year’s FIFA World Cup, a replica of a World Cup-approved soccer ball appeared at Crown Towers on Melbourne’s Southbank skyline. (This Adidas promotion was run by ProPrint’s fellow Haymarket Media title, FourFourTwo.) The winner of the competition lived inside the fitted-out
ball for five weeks, Big Brother-style, watching every game, and being watched by the passing parade.

It fell to Melbourne specialty wrapper Fleeting Image to print the vinyl strips that carried the Adidas promotional message and wrap them around the gigantic fibreglass orb mounted on a six-metre steel base. Due to time strictures, the wrap had to be done in 90km per hour gusts and rain at 5am. Like the proverbial paper-hanger in a gale, the Fleeting Image crew was kept busy, to say the least.

Managing director John Evans says it showed the capabilities of his small outfit, based in Braeside. The 30-year-old company has a team of eight highly skilled printer-wrappers.

“There was a wealth of experience in tackling such a weird shape. In several meetings, we were trying to determine how exactly we would approach this. You don’t wrap a six-metre fibreglass sphere every day of your life. We divided it into three triangular sections and printed each section of the triangle in one long strip and applied each triangle separately, trying to account for the curvature of the ball in making it all line up. The pattern of the ball was such that a mismatch would be barely noticeable, which gave us some freedom. As we traveled around the ball, we found little ways of doing it easier.”

Evans credits his HP Designjet L25500 latex printer, which eliminates time lags caused by curing UV. The water-based technology skips that typical 48-hour curing phase, shortening the process. “If a strip was damaged or was the wrong size, we could go straight upstairs and print another one, and within half an hour, we’d have an over-laminated print ready.”

Fleeting Image has also used the L25500 to print vinyl strips to wrap a six-metre enclosed trailer promoting Trojan handtools to the public and to retailers. On board is a 55-inch TV screen for demonstrating the tools in employee training sessions at Bunnings stores. Attached to the roof of the Triton is a nine-metre high, 10-metre long Trojan horse, inflatable like a jumping castle, which Fleeting Image ordered from a South African manufacturer. The
trailer was wrapped in images of tools. The horse was wrapped in vinyls printed with a timber grain to give it a ‘wooden horse’ appearance, using artwork by Fleeting Image.

The company has a Roland DG to repair UV previously output from that device, as colour matching across technologies is tricky, says Evans. “We also keep it for profile cuts, decals and stickers.”

Evans started as an apprentice signwriter, winning a vehicle-wrap design contest for Triple M radio in 1991. It opened doors, paving the way for Racepaint, an allied company. While vehicle wraps are a steady earner, the weird and wonderful add icing to the cake.

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