Pimp My Print?

Freedom of expression is more mobile than ever. I’m talking about print, not 3G and 4G mobile phone networks. Today’s print travels on four (and sometimes 18) wheels as ad agencies have given the outdoor medium another chance, wrapping vehicles to help client messages move and rise above the clutter of fixed printed and e-billboards that tend to blend in with the urban landscape. And evolving digital printing technologies are allowing more commercial printers to get into large-format graphics and vehicle wraps.

Some large-format (LF) printers refer to this service as “Mobile Marketing Graphics,” but whatever you call it, attention-grabbing graphics on cars, trucks, buses, vans, RVs and trailers is a booming medium. Statistics show that eight out of 10 Americans walk in a town, city or downtown area an average of six miles per week. Pedestrian and automotive traffic represents a significant reach opportunity for advertisers. The Traffic Audit Bureau for Media Measurement (www.tabonline.com) reports that vehicle advertising can generate from 30,000 to 70,000 sightings per day, while an Arbitron Outdoor Study stated that an intra-city vehicle with graphics generates more than 16 million impressions in one year.

Mobile also is one of the most cost-effective forms of out-of-home advertising, lower than billboards in high-traffic areas: An ad client might pay as much as $45,000 for a billboard on say, California’s Santa Monica (405) Freeway, but a truck with a wrap costs maybe $10,000 for the same time span, according to TAB. Fact is, as custom decked-out cars, trucks and buses increase, the number of billboards is decreasing as major cities clamp down on new billboard approvals.

Some 75 percent of people develop an impression of a company and its products by its vehicles, said Arbitron, and 30 percent of people would base a buying decision by graphics seen on a vehicle. More than nine out of 10 people notice words and pictures when displayed on 40×12-foot trucks, added the American Trucking Association. Further proof that mobile print works: Some advertisers pay regular consumers hundreds of dollars per month to wrap their cars and simply drive—to work, to the store, to the kids’ soccer practice.

‘Rap City’ for Wide Format

In September at PRINT 09’s Wide Format Pavilion, Chicago show-goers could actually participate in a hands-on, do-it-yourself demonstration area. Called Rap City, the dynamic environment offered attendees the opportunity to learn best practices for printing and installing vehicle wraps, window graphics and wall coverings. But unlike most workshops of this nature, which typically feature professional installers or exhibit pre-wrapped vehicles in static displays, Rap City invited show-goers to do the actual wrapping. Industry expert David King of MarketKing LLC, a dynamic and tell-it-like-it-is speaker, led two sessions each day, sharing time- and money-saving tips he learned the hard way, working with vehicle wraps and other oversized installations.

“Vehicle wraps, window graphics and wallscapes are now some of the most popular and exciting ways for organizations to market themselves,” said Ralph Nappi, president of the Graphic Arts Show Company (GASC). “However, successfully offering services in the wide format area has been a challenge for many graphic communications providers in this economic environment. How do you, for example, effectively work a flat, two-dimensional substrate around subtle vehicle contours without compromising image integrity?” Rap City was sponsored by GBC laminators, Mimaki printers, U.S.A and Oracal, U.S.A., which manufactures pressure-sensitive adhesive vinyl films for signage applications.

Also in the PRINT show’s Wide Format Pavilion and recently at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show in Las Vegas, Mutoh America sponsored vehicle wrap demonstrations hosted by Justin Pate, a top installer, and Todd LaBrie, president of Carwraps Inc. Crowds anxiously filled the aisles and surrounded the booths to learn about techniques that generate profits. Carwraps, which is powered exclusively by Mutoh printers and inks, is a privately held firm headquartered in Southern California with installation services in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Chicago. Carwraps also has an extensive sales affiliate network with locations in nearly every major American city.

At the PRINT show, Mutoh showcased its ValueJet product line, printing rich solid colors, including the 1614 “Wrapper’s Choice” model and the new 1618A printer with patented Intelligent Interweave Printing Technique (i2), yielding impeccable quality that virtually eliminates banding. Interested printers can sign up for Mutoh’s upcoming “Hands-On” School of Wrap, Dec. 1-3 in Lexington, Ky., and Dec. 9-11 in Denison, Texas, by registering online at www.mutohcarwraps.com ($995 per person). A free Wrapper’s Starter Kit is included ($185 value). Mutoh’s Vehicle Wrap Video Training is available online at www.carwraps.net, starting at $49.95 with unlimited access.

Economic Repercussions

For many LF printers, the lagging U.S. economy has taken its toll on the fleet graphics business. Take Point Imaging, for example: The 65-employee firm serves the Chicago-area market from a 65,000-square-foot facility in Hobart, near Gary, in northwest Indiana. Point got its start nearly 20 years ago as a sign shop with plotters and ready-to-apply (RTA) vinyl. As printing technology became more digitized, Point adapted, eventually purchasing a high-speed HP Scitex TurboJet 8300 four years ago. At one time, vehicle wraps accounted for some 20 percent of the company’s business, reported marketing director Marco Perez.

It added full graphic design services and was producing printed graphics on 3M brand adhesive vinyls for mid-sized fleets of between 10 and 40 vehicles, including grocery chain Whole Foods Market’s semi-trailers. But the tide turned about two years ago. “Now, fleet graphics represents under 5 percent” of Point Imaging’s $10 million in annual sales, said Perez. That’s a steep drop, he noted, adding that “it’s a very price-driven market right now.”

Point Imaging has made a conscious decision to focus on retail and events graphics. This past April, it went greener by adding an HP Scitex XP 5300, a 16.6-foot-wide UV cured digital printer that does not emit volatile organic compounds.

Perez noted that the lion’s share of the fleet imaging business still goes to screen printing firms such as mega player Signature Graphics, based in nearby Porter, Ind., which uses a combination of digital and screen print technologies. The now 23-year-old company, purchased by Omnicom Group from investment firm the Jordan Company (TJC) in 2007, is the largest fleet media provider in the United States. It covers service vehicles, straight trucks, beverage trucks, step vans, trailers and tankers on local and national levels, offering turnkey services including design, manufacturing, fulfillment, customer support and installation.

Noticed in South Florida

In the Southeast, LF printer Giant Imaging is a branch of one of the largest sign manufacturers in south Florida. Founded in 1981, the firm has mastered the technical skills necessary in substrates and inks for wide-format print applications. Today, the company has 40,000 square feet of manufacturing space capable of generating 1,960 square feet of graphics per hour with resolutions up to 1440 dpi. It specializes in grand-format printing for indoor and outdoor applications, such as vehicle wraps/graphics, lobby murals, posters, floor graphics, banners, building wraps, wallscapes, billboards, stage backdrops, job-site billboards, light boxes, dimensional signage, exhibit displays, banner stands and trade show graphics.

Utilizing a super-wide EFI/VUTEk UltraVu 3360, Giant’s 35 employees produce seamless images with large, 10-foot output widths. For grander graphics, such as outdoor banners, they seam together the 125-inch sections.

Along with indoor and outdoor signage, POP displays and large posters, most of Giant’s vehicle graphics are printed on the super-wide UltraVu printer, installed seven years ago, and some are printed on a 60-inch Mimaki JV3-160/CG-160 FX solvent-based inkjet plotter installed in 2007. The latter machine uses four heads to print on inexpensive untreated media at twice the speed of its predecessor model: up to 422 sq. ft. per hour at 360×360 dpi (4×2) and photo quality print modes up to 1440×1440 dpi. It includes an option for four-color (two sets of CMYK) or six-color printing (CMYKLcLm) for greater color versatility. The manufacturer’s solvent cleaning solution lets printers switch between solvent ink and Mimaki’s mild solvent 2 ink.

Giant Imaging runs 3M inks and materials to produce a variety of graphics. The 3M Matched Component System Warranty—one of the strongest in the graphics industry—is available for electrostatic, piezo inkjet and thermal inkjet printing devices, including HP and VUTEk’s. 3M graphics can withstand harsh outdoor conditions while maintaining excellent image quality. For fleet applications, the 3M promise (in the unlikely event of a graphics failure) covers the cost of removing the failed graphic and the remanufacture and reapplication of the replacement graphic. For all other applications, 3M covers up to twice the material value plus up to an additional 20 percent to help cover additional costs.

Certified Installers

The finishing side of the fleet graphics process is tightly integrated to the creative and printing processes. These usually are electronically linked and, when possible, drive digital cutters to slice precisely tailored components for vehicle wraps from the printed material. Typically, the process begins with a digital template. The Digital Auto Library in Greely, Ontario, which Giant Imaging uses, stores more than 41,000 for just about every car sold in North America. Windows, which must be transparent to passengers, require a different material or printing density than the body of the vehicle. Once the job is printed and laminated, a companion file can drive a digital trimming device to create the component elements for a wrap, although not all projects go this route. Regardless, some parts of the application will require hand cutting—a task relegated to an installer. Certification is available from firms such as Lowen Certified, Hutchinson, Kan., which launched a new program this past spring.

Based near Chicago, contributing editor Mark Vruno is a business writer who has reported on the commercial print industry for more than 20 years. Most recently, he was executive editor of Graphic Arts Monthly magazine. E-mail him at markvmail@comcast.net.

How It’s Done

In addition to the sun’s damaging UV rays, the indoor-outdoor transition for vehicle graphics needs to account for other weather—wind, dust, precipitation—not to mention 70-mph speeds for cars and trucks zooming down highways. Polyester laminate developments have lead to new types of vinyls specifically for wraps, such as those that feature air channels to prevent bubbles and microscopic glass beads that prevent the adhesive from taking hold until squeegeed down. This feature allows the material to be lifted and reapplied as needed during the wrapping process, without compromising the longevity of the wrap.

Form-fitting templates are used to design car/bus/truck wraps, shaping them around the entire vehicle. Side window graphics are typically perforated so that it is still possible for passengers to look outside. A wrap must often be divided into a number of smaller pieces to appropriately cover any movable panels on the vehicle, such as doors, fuel tank cover and trunk openings.

Washing windows with solvent glass cleaner (e.g., Windex) prior to application is not recommended because solvent can affect the adhesive on perforated vinyl film causing it to not adhere properly to the glass, resulting in image distortion. For more information, visit www.signindustry.com.

Car-Wrap DVD

A DVD from Hexis features the latest techniques and demonstrations and shows a full vehicle wrap with all steps from preparing the tools to the finishing touch of the completed wrap. In just over 30 minutes, installers or those interested in getting into the vehicle wrapping business learn which points need particular care. The most difficult areas are given special attention with valuable advice on the latest technological advances, tips and tricks to achieve high-quality wrap projects, so even experienced wrappers can benefit from fresh ideas.

Hexis manufactures a full line of graphic vinyl and digital printing media used for sign making and vehicle markings. Hexis USA is based in Corona, Calif., with manufacturing headquarters in Frontignan, near Montpellier, France, and subsidiaries in Germany and Italy. For more information, visit www.hexisgroup.com.