Brand Building

Three shops transform ordinary buildings into works of art, head-turning ads and school spirit generators.
Dodge-Chrome’s mural depicting life in Baltimore masks a parking garage. Photo by Sam Kittner.

When I joined the signage and graphics industry a few years ago, I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I was immediately overwhelmed by the scope of the market – you mean, basically anything can be wrapped in vinyl? 

As I immersed myself in the world of print, one application immediately drew my attention and helped me to grasp just what digital printing can produce: building wraps. Everyone’s seen a huge graphic on the side of a building. I know I had admired my fair share, even before “printhead” and “out-of-home advertising” were part of my vocabulary. Now I find myself not just admiring a wrap, but wondering how many panels were printed and what installation was like. Here, we have three print service providers happy to detail their larger-than-life building wrap jobs.

CONSTRUCTING A NARRATIVE

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. The three R’s many of us learned and recited in our youth are helpful not only in small-scale sustainability efforts, but also as inspiration for larger urban planning operations. Why tear down and rebuild a structure when you could renovate and reuse it? A Bank of America operations center turned luxury apartment complex in downtown Baltimore serves as a shining example of reuse redevelopment.

After a full gut of the interiors down to the structure and a complete re-skin of the building by Hord Coplan Macht architects, the 225 North Calvert Street apartment building offers 348 modern rental units; a rooftop terrace complete with a pool, a fireplace and a bar; a 5,600-sq.-ft. health club; and more than 400 parking spaces above and below ground. The complex was designed to attract young professionals, but its location on a dark, less-than-colorful corner of Calvert Street posed a problem. The building developer, Monument Realty, called upon Baltimore-based Ashton Design and Silver Spring, MD-based PSP Dodge-Chrome Inc. to liven up the corner with a five-story mural concealing the parking garage.

Dodge-Chrome’s mural depicting life in Baltimore masks a parking garage.
Dodge-Chrome’s mural depicting life in Baltimore masks a parking garage. Photo by Ron Solomon.

Tasked with appealing to a young adult audience with a Baltimore-themed narrative, Ashton Design crafted artwork that’s “a composite scene of individuals posing with Baltimore landmarks,” said Jeremy Hoffman, Ashton Design senior designer/director. The mural is a contemporary take on “painted screens” – “a unique Baltimore folk art tradition of painting ‘scenes’ on rowhouse window screens,” explained Hoffman. Once the design was approved, Dodge-Chrome got to work printing the 17,206-sq.-ft. graphic in 22 panels, which took approximately 80 hours – five business days running two shifts. Because the client wanted to avoid installing mechanical ventilation, Dodge-Chrome used Cooley CoolMesh 8-oz. woven vinyl mesh, which has a 65/35 material/airflow ratio for natural ventilation. The shop imaged the vinyl mesh with an EFI VUTEk GS5000r.

Dodge-Chrome custom-engineered and fabricated an aluminum sub-frame that was installed directly on the face of the complex due to the size and age of the building, said Cris McCarthy, vice president of sales, Dodge-Chrome. The shop dedicated 14 days to installing the sub-frame hardware and vinyl mesh graphics, with four to five workers onsite most days. The end result was a striking graphic that depicts a narrative of life in Baltimore and effortlessly blends in with the pops of color throughout the top floors of the apartment building.

RISE TO THE TOP

In Las Vegas, you really don’t exist if you’re not constantly vying for the attention of more than 42 million annual visitors. From old-school, flashing neon signs high in the sky to traveling digital billboards on the Strip, tourists and locals alike are constantly bombarded with signage and graphics coaxing them to visit this casino, check out that show or try out a brand new eatery. Breaking through the noise requires a mix of determination, skill and luck – or maybe it all just comes down to size.

James Swanson, principal at Screaming Images, is the go-to building wrap guy in Las Vegas. After more than 16 years in California, Swanson relocated to the entertainment capital of the world in 2005. Housed in an 18,000-sq.-ft. facility, Screaming Images has 34 employees running two shifts, six days a week – often outputting and installing massive building wraps for some of the largest structures in the city. The shop scored a contract as the primary vendor for MGM Resorts, regularly wrapping the MGM Grand hotel, which soon garnered the attention of other resorts around town – Tropicana, the D and the Waldorf Astoria, to name a few. “Whenever building wraps come up, people just call me,” Swanson said. “We haven’t wrapped all the buildings out here, but I would say if you had to add up all the square feet, we’ve got the majority.”

Screaming Images has the know-how for building wraps of any duration. “We treat our building wraps that will be up for two weeks the same way we treat a building wrap that they want up for two years,” Swanson said. All Screaming Images wraps are output onto premium-quality material using UV ink to combat the desert heat and sunshine, and long-term graphics are given a year warranty, though a fair amount survive far longer. A perfect example is Tropicana’s wrap promoting its Robert Irvine’s Public House restaurant. “It was supposed to be up for a year, but it’s been up for probably closer to a year and a half now. And we keep maintaining it,” Swanson said. “When it gets really windy out here sometimes, some of the panels will flop loose and we do repairs.” 

Screaming Images’ massive wraps on MGM Grand can be seen from across Las Vegas.
Screaming Images’ massive wraps on MGM Grand can be seen from across Las Vegas.

Why pay to keep a building wrap in tip-top shape past its warranty? Maintaining a wrap is often more cost effective than tearing down and installing a new one. And, “It’s so visible from anywhere in the city,” Swanson said. Having the same wrap up for an extended amount of time builds brand awareness more than a blank building does. A recent install for Topgolf at MGM Grand even serves as wayfinding signage, beckoning people to the resort’s high-tech driving range. “If people who come from out of town don’t know where the Topgolf is, between billboards and that building wrap, they’ve got a bunch of landmarks” leading them in the right direction, Swanson said.

Screaming Images printed the 3,600-sq.-ft. wrap onto FLEXcon SEETHRU-SIGN Clear Flex 70/30 perforated window film using the shop’s EFI VUTEk GS5000r wide-format printer and Genuine EFI inks. Installation in the Nevada elements can be tricky: The Topgolf wrap ran into some challenges due to high winds, delaying work for two days. Once installers could safely traverse the building, it took two more days for a pair of Hangtime Installers (Las Vegas) contractors to wrap the building while rappelling with ropes. And Screaming Images adds another impressive building wrap to its repertoire, front and center against a back-drop of the shop’s previous work. How’s that for a portfolio?

EYE OF THE TIGER

“I love sports,” said Ty Gipson, owner of Waterboy Graphics. “I would go to athletic stadiums and facilities and see these graphics and think, ‘I wonder who does this?’” Gipson launched a Georgetown, TX-based large-format graphics provider in 2006 and found a niche in school and athletic-facility branding with Waterboy Graphics in 2015. 

Today, Waterboy Graphics is a national provider of wide-format visuals that boost school spirit, from primary schools to universities. With thousands of installs now under its belt, Waterboy’s goal is simple: to transform schools and athletic facilities into places that students want to be, and can be proud of. And if a school has a graphics department, Waterboy encourages students to work with the shop’s designers to create the imagery for their school. “It makes it even more special when they see stuff that they worked on in their own schools,” Gipson said.

Partnerships with shops around the country and brands like Under Armour and Nike have helped Waterboy expand its reach beyond its home state. One such partnership with Lifetouch, a school photography company, led to a job at Kiser Middle School in Greensboro, NC. Kiser was looking to add culture and excitement to the aesthetic of their building, said Kristi Kirkland, Waterboy Graphics’ project coordinator. Design posed a few hurdles. 

Who’s got spirit? The students at Kiser Middle School, thanks to a school makeover by Waterboy Graphics.
Who’s got spirit? The students at Kiser Middle School, thanks to a school makeover by Waterboy Graphics.

“The biggest design challenge to anything like this is achieving balance with message and spacing the letters and logos across all of the breaks between windows,” explained Betsy LeClair, Waterboy’s creative director. Plus, the school’s lower windows had to remain clear and the transition from solid vinyl to perforated vinyl needed to look seamless while allowing enough light inside.

Keeping all this in mind, designer Eric Dufeau crafted graphics spanning the length of 33 windows that include Kiser’s tiger mascot and school colors. The shop printed roughly 490 sq. ft. of Solvex 70/30 Perforated Vinyl and 3M Scotchcal Graphic Film with Comply Adhesive IJ40C-10R (finished with 3M Scotchcal Matte Overlaminate 8520) using a Roland SOLJET Pro III XC-540. Two installers wrapped the school over the course of two days. The final product is a pretty sweet welcome to school for students as they get off the buses and start their days. After all, “It’s not just about us doing a print job and getting a check,” Gipson said. “It’s trying to do the right thing to help people along the way.”

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Signs of the Times January 2019

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