Stand Out with Specialty Media

The increase in capabilities in the wide-format printing industry is growing at an exponential rate. Along with the improvements in digital technology and capabilities comes the trend of using new and, sometimes, unusual specialty media. Customers are beginning to expect and demand more new and unusual products in order to stand out from their competitors, which allows PSPs to come up with innovative methods and exciting opportunities to produce eye-catching pieces as well as highly effective marketing products. There may be instances in which a PSP is called upon to use creative abilities and, with a little help from manufacturers and industry experts, produce something that may have never beenseen before in a specific market.

WFI looked at various applications and specialty media items that may be used by a PSP to entice new clients and to give value added services that will increase and grow the business.


Specialty Media—a Definition

At one time, specialty media may have meant something as simple as recycled paper, but in today’s market it means almost anything.

Jim Halloran, Lintec director of sales and marketing offered a simple explanation: “Specialty media is something that is not PVC based. Not all are PVC based, but it is common, easy to use, and cheap.”

Halloran continued: “Specialty media is such a broad term it all boils down to the application. I think we’re going to get better at manufacturing more environmentally friendly materials. Things that will be less cumbersome on a landfill.”

Rick Nerenhausen, director of training for Lexjet said: “Traditionally, specialty media has meant graphic films—backlit, POP, tradeshows, wall and window graphics, and floor and carpet graphics—outside the typical production media, like vinyl and paper. With direct print UV-curable technologies, specialty substrates could be just about anything, from metals to bamboo.”


Choosing Specialty Media

While it is challenging and exciting to print on specialty media and to create a unique product, it is imperative to know how to select the appropriate media for the job. It is also vital to understand how the PSP’s capabilities match the media and if the printing process is at all feasible.

Regarding choosing the correct specialty media, Teresa Skinner is the marketing coordinator for Aurora Specialty Textiles Group, Inc. said, “It depends on the application and the requirements for the application. You have to consider where it is going to be used and for how long?”

The PSP needs to be aware of the clients’ intentions. “It’s all going to come down to the end use. They all have to line up together, really,” Halloran said, going on to say that the PSP needs only to use one simple formula: Equipment + materials = end use application.

Barry Budwit is a 30 year industry veteran who currently serves as the Graphics Business Unit Manager for xpedx. When it comes to giving advice on choosing specialty media, Budwhit recommends that the PSP should ask a lot of questions.

“For PSPs to be successful, they need to tune in with their clients’ applications. Is it an indoor application? Is it an outdoor application? What would the viewing distances be as it relates to the graphic or the imagery that they’re printing? What type of printer the PSP is going to be using? There is aqueous, solvent, UV, and latex as ink technologies and print technologies. So that would be a factor. Also the duration of the campaign or the printed piece.”

Budwhit continued: “If its indoor, it depends on the lighting conditions as far as opacity goes; if it’s outdoor, it depends on the weather conditions and such. Is it prone to high wind, sunlight? All of these are factors in which substrate to choose.”

A PSP must also consider the client’s budget and if the specialty media is something that the client is willing to pay for or can afford:

“Clearly understanding what your clients’ budget and tolerances are. A PSP can sell material, depending on the substrate, anywhere from $6 to $25 per square foot. So it’s about understanding their clients’ expectations and environments and so forth. Those are all critical factors in choosing the right thing.”

Nerenhausen advised that the specialty media must pass certain tests to ensure that it is the right product for the job. “It must be compatible with the ink you’re using, so always test any specialty substrate before going into production.”

Halloran concurs that PSPs should consider the end use application and to be aware of “any testing that has been done that can minimize the risk to all parties.”

When discussing what qualities should be considered when selecting specialty media, Jeff Stadelman, technical marketing manager of MACtac Graphic Products recommends that the PSP asks certain questions: “The media is really dictated by the application requirements. I think to choose the right media you’ve got to understand the application first so you have to ask all of those questions up front—what’s it going to look like when it’s done? And then you can go back to your favorite vendor or tech marketing guy and ask those specific questions—what do you have that will do this? It’s all about asking the questions about the specifics of the job and understanding what equipment you have to produce that job.”

Stadelman continued: “Is there a profile available for your printer in that specialty media? Is that media available in your region? The one big thing that many people gloss over—what is the expertise or the requirement of the installer? If it’s a specialty media it usually has some specialty installation instructions—does your installer have the ability or not? But it all reflects still on you and your product in the end.”


Need to Know

There are specific things that every PSP should know before embarking on a new course using specialty media. Advice from a supplier should always be sought as well as tips and techniques from industry experts.

Halloran started with the need to know the basics. “Specialty media does exist. You should insist upon testing a small amount for your given application. You should ask all of your vendors—not just the media, but the ink and hardware vendor, what things you need to know that you don’t know. It’s the things you don’t think to ask that will kill you.”

Halloran went on to say that one should be well informed before beginning to use specialty media. “You can’t test for every condition, so you have to work with your hardware, ink, and media manufacturers to make sure you head the right way. It’s got to be ready, aim, fire—not ready, fire, aim.”

Halloran continued, “It costs more. The day they don’t cost a lot more is the day when things are going to change a lot.”

PSPs should also be aware of the type of products that are on the market. “We constantly look for things that are not commodity. We make optically clear polyester, we make textured polyester, and now we make an outdoor weatherable polyester. The outdoor durable polyester window film that we make can be put over tinted glass.” Halloran added: “We’re really the only company in the wide-format imaging media space that does all that.”

When asked what PSPs need to know about specialty media, Teresa Skinner joked: “They need to know our phone number!” Skinner went on to say that the PSP “needs to understand and find the right media for the printer and ink combination that they’re using. It depends on the type of print technology that’s employed.

Skinner also reiterated that it is important to work as a team with vendors. “Get a good relationship with a vendor so that you get good quality and make sure that your product shows up the way you want it to, reliability so that they give you good customer service, that they have the ability to provide the special sizes that you need. Availability—make sure that they can get you the materials you need for the long run. Proper planning is key to that.”

Stadelman stated: “There is media available for nearly every application out there. Everybody has media that meets a certain niche.”

As far as offering advice goes, Stadelman added: “Consult your favorite manufacturer to make sure you’re getting the right media for that job. And then if you need even more details, consult your favorite tech marketing guy. Not about what is the media, but how do you print it, how do you install it, and what are the other requirements? There’s plenty of help out there on how to find the right media. There’s a lot of information out there to help them make the right choice, but they have to look for it.”

Barry Budwhit urged PSPs to understand the difference between specialty substrates and staple products. It is also vital to consider price points for exotic substrates as well as availability and the fact that many specialty media products are non-returnable.

“In my experience, typically print service providers receive from their clients very little—from a relative perspective—time frame to stock and complete the campaign,” Budwhit said. “Not many print service providers keep inventory in anticipation of those things coming in, so their reliance is on their inventory service suppliers. A print service provider really needs to focus on the expectations of their customer.”

Budwhit drives home the point of considering price when choosing a specialty media. “Largely the pricing and quoting process within this space are not based on a square foot basis; they are based on the cost of material.”

In order to be successful, PSPs should take into account special costs from the media all the way through the printing process. Although it varies, “Ink and media can represent typically about 20 percent of the final cost of the campaign.”



Stadelman gave insight into up and coming trends in the specialty media market:

“I think there are a lot of people that are investigating new and exciting technologies, new and exciting applications for not just the same old graphics any more. There’s a lot of new stuff coming out a lot of new unique applications coming out. It’s how the manufacturers are separating themselves now a little bit these days.”

MACtac has new offerings in the specialty media arena. “We’ve got nine new products this year. We had 20 new, unique products last year. It’s not the same old general purpose signage. There are a lot of new, unique things that are really helping the shops out there actually come up with some new ideas too, new ways of making money and ways of separating themselves from each other also.”