Three print innovators reveal their secrets

If the old ways aren’t working, you can either hunker down or branch out like these pioneers. From business models to weird and wonderful projects, ProPrint catches up with three original thinkers who have turned their dreams into realities.

Franchise friendly

When former Sydneysider David Foster joined the printing industry in 1991, it was to exit the corporate world. “I can’t remember why I chose printing – someone told me it was recession-proof,” he quips.

He was keen to become part of a franchise structure and had exploratory talks with Snap and Kwik Kopy, but decided instead to take a stake in a Wagga Wagga print business as a partnership with co-director Alan Dejong.

It proved enduring – the pair have been running Active Print & Design for the past 22 years, and have developed it into one of the most dynamic print operations in the Riverina – strategically located midway between Sydney and Melbourne, only two-and-a-half  hours by road to Canberra, and home to Charles Sturt University and an armed services base.

The company offers graphic design, offset and digital commercial print and a fledgling display printing division. Three years ago, it made a foray across the Victorian border with a satellite facility now operating in Wodonga.

But Active’s latest venture sees it revisiting the franchise concept – the company will open a Signarama digital signage printing outlet bolted onto its Wagga Wagga premises this month.

The strategy is to leverage the higher margins in display print, says David, and to meet growth expectations within 12 months. This should be achieved by introducing its core customer base of commercial print clients in both litho and digital, and a small but growing client list for its display work, to its franchised services. “We’re constantly getting requests for signage that we simply can’t do at the moment,” David says. When ProPrint spoke with David, the countdown was at six weeks and he was upbeat about embracing the new venture. Asked how he might crest a potential training curve, he says Active is already engaged in a small but growing parcel of display work such as banners and posters, and the collective expertise the company brings to the franchise venture is a plus.

“We’ve had digital for around 13 years and we’ve dabbled in wide format, so the transition for us will not be as dramatic as for someone who’s coming in raw. From a print point of view, it’s nothing new to us; from a finishing point of view, it is. With a printed product, you basically hand it over at the door but with a signage product there’s the installation,” he says.

Human resources for the Signarama outlet will initially be drawn from Active’s 14 staff, including one employee who will be solely assigned to the franchise, with team additions envisaged down the track. David also sees web ordering as a vital component and expects integrating with Signarama’s network will boost Active Print’s W2P acumen.

As for doing business in a franchise operation, he’s anticipating it with relish. Other franchisees within the Signarama network have spoken highly of the levels of support offered by its head office, he says.

In readiness for the Signarama launch in Wagga Wagga, David and Alan invested in an HP DesignJet LX26500 latex printer at PacPrint, and at the time of our interview, Active was busy reconfiguring its production floor to make room for the newcomer.

Active runs a Xerox 770, which provides it with 70ppm operation for coated and heavyweight stocks and a Konica Bizhub Pro C6500 for its commercial digital production. It has several offset machines: a five-colour Shinohara, two Ryobis, a two- and a four-colour, and a B&W Fuji Xerox press.

David believes the Australian print industry’s associations aren’t known for their networking of printers, nor do printers spend much time comparing notes. “It’s not a strength of the industry. So I’m looking forward to working in a franchise and having the opportunity of talking to like-minded people and swapping ideas – for technology and administration.”

Postcards from the edge

Behind New Zealander Matt Foster’s broad smile is a great sense of achievement. The seasoned screenprinter and his family have overcome some adversity in order to achieve technological excellence with a groundbreaking new screenprinting concept.

The multi-layered printing process, on both sides of glass-clear polycarbonate, creates a stunning stained glass effect. Arria Design Group’s paradigm shift in design and printing recently elevated the Auckland company to the pinnacle of recognition in the New Zealand printing industry, netting it the Supreme award in this year’s Pride-In-Print awards. The prize-winning product was a set of postcards promoting scenic Milford Sound, but Arria has since produced cards for the Australian market and for other countries.

Matt, who is the director of Arria’s print division, tells ProPrint the new process was the culmination of three years’ collaborative R&D within Arria, which was formed from two companies, Foster Screenprinting and Creative Juice, in 2009. Arria is a blend of three decades of Chris Hardy and Steve Dunlop’s graphic design skills and Matt’s 27 years as a screenprinter, an innings he began as a 15-year-old apprentice.

He emphasises the uniqueness of glass-clear polycarbonate, which is used to produce the striking postcards at Arria’s Auckland factory. “As an extruded product, it’s drawn from the liquid mix, much like glass, meaning it’s far smoother and has far fewer imperfections than materials such as PVC. Light shines through it and brightens the whole image.

“A lot of the emphasis is on the design side. We’ve spent a lot of time working together to design for manufacture, converting graphic images into a printable product for this particular screenprinting process, which has enabled us to produce this standard of work. It’s really more of an art form than a printing process.”

There has been much attention on priming the digital images used for the screenprinting. “It involves manual colour separation, with numerous layers of ink on both sides of glass-clear stock, enabling depth effects, shadowing, overglosses and different textures.

“A lot of the ink and the polycarbonate itself is specifically developed and manufactured for the product. It has to be durable, as the cards are written on, sent around the world, and go through a lot of machinery and handling. We put considerable time and attention into perfecting it and making it repeatable.”

The postcards technology initially evolved from R&D between Matt and a plastics company. This exacting process is performed in a cleanroom environment that took months to perfect, he says.

Interestingly, the cards are not produced for clients, rather it is Arria driving its own distribution and marketing. It has conducted campaigns in NZ, the UK, the US and Australia. It has produced cards showing the Sydney Opera House and Uluru, indigenous art and native wildlife. The imagery can be applied to an extensive range of products, including gift and custom cards, rulers and bookmarks.

Agents have been appointed in New York and London to negotiate with Kew Gardens, the National Gallery and the Empire State Building. “We’ve talked to people in the Bahamas,” says Matt. “They have 3.5 million tourists a year coming off cruise ships, many of whom want to buy souvenirs or cards. We’re developing a range for them but need to get ourselves with a major hotel chain there.”

For Chris Hardy and Steve Dunlop, the Creative Juice merger meant a new chapter after working with major brands. “The potential for this see-through range and the marketing possibilities have given us that new focus,” says Chris.

For Matt, his wife and business partner Adie, and their family, the transparent screenprinting process represents a new lease on life after their three-generation family screenprinting business (begun by his grandfather Ronald), and their home in Christchurch were devastated in the horrific 2011 earthquake.

Up north at the time, he recalls a nightmare plane and car trip home and the relief at finding his family safe, although the house was destroyed. “There was irreparable damage to houses, and we had massive liquefaction in our street.”

The quakes of 2010 and 2011 struck on the heels of the GFC. “During this period, we lived off the sales of personal items. I sold my toys – my motorbikes. We even stopped regular deliveries of milk and bought it when we needed it, just to make sure there was no money wasted. We also negotiated a rent holiday with the landlord to help cashflow.”

A decision was made for the family to return from Canterbury to Auckland where the company was based.

Matt says the glass-clear polycarbonate concept is a unique selling point for screenprinting and an effective response to inroads made by wide-format inkjet into traditional screenprinting markets. “Digital customers are coming back to screenprinting because of the quality.”

Right Royle treat

From the earliest days of his original company, Shannon Books, Cliff Royle – an aficionado of innovative finishing – has been a passionate technophile and experimenter.

The inventive Melburnian foresaw the potential of internet ordering models when they were still in their infancy, and his products dovetailed nicely with short, on-demand fulfillment: covers for photo books, which require flexible production and tight turnarounds, and the juvenile book market with its penchant for multimedia.

“Hybrid” is a big deal for Royle, managing director of his present company Roylebind, and his ability to place concept above form has taken him to new realms of inventiveness. Roylebind has become a developer of smart photobooks. Its latest innovation is a hybrid photobook that incorporates video on an integrated LCD screen.

Royle collaborated with visual effects artist Glenn Holbrook, who has worked on a number of Hollywood projects, including the Transformers movies and Where The Wild Things Are

What they came up with was not just a new idea for a photobook, but a whole new manufacturing process for photobooks.

After the concept wowed visitors at this year’s PacPrint, Royle told ProPrint: “The concept was to provide video on LCD as well as or incorporated into a photobook in a seamless, easy-to-use-and-enjoy product. We also wanted to provide premium presentation products for the corporate and event experience industry.

“Roylebind covers facilitate this with a unique patented binding technique. This allows photo pages to flow beautifully into an LCD video screen. Users can download and recharge the LCD by using the USB cable supplied with each book. The LCD cards are purchased from China and adapted to Roylebind photobooks.”

As Roylebind has only just launched the product, it is currently in discussions with various parties in Australia and overseas, including a photobook W2P provider, a potential US distributor, and Epson. “Some of Epson’s new technology is perfect for us and will help with the implementation of the process. Our photobook product created immense interest at PacPrint and we’re still distilling those inquiries.”

When ProPrint first visited Royle at the Shannon company at Bayswater in outer eastern Melbourne eight years ago, he was busy perfecting Roylebind, a process that applies the principles of perfect binding to hardcover books. Roylebind would eventually become the name of his company, which currently has well known industry figures Richard Rudzki and Trevor Hone as investment partners.

Case-bound covers usually begin as three separate pieces of mill board that are glued to paper materials or cloths. The book block is then combined with the cases by gluing to endpapers. All in all, it’s a multi-faceted process that was capable of being performed on only four dedicated case binding lines in Australia.

But Roylebind took a single light-gauge board, typically 360gsm, laminated on one side, and folded it into a cover block, just as rigid as a case cover, which attached without endpapers direct to the book block by gluing on the spine and side. It could be produced on a wide choice of modified perfect binding lines.

This landmark innovation reduced the costs of case binding by around half, opening book binding to specialties such as windows, pop-outs, sleeves, and hybrid products.

In Australia, where versatility beats the need for volume, “you can potentially switch your binding line between hard covers on Monday, soft covers on Tuesday, DVD cases inside books on Wednesday, chocolate boxes inside books on Thursday,” says Royle.

He later perfected another process which is an extension of the current technology that is set to revolutionise the manufacture of children’s pop-up board books.

Royle reflects: “Roylebind not only has  a culture or innovation, its primary function for the last seven years has been R&D. Basically, innovation keeps us ahead. We’re not locked into any current traditional methods of manufacturing, we’re a green-field technology, so we have the ability to move forward in any direction we please.

“R&D and the ability to think outside the square keeps us ahead of the heavyweights. That requires commitment, as well as constant and continuous thought patterns aimed at innovation.”

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