2019 ISA Sign Expo in Review

New products, trends and other takeaways from Vegas.
International Sign Association

The International Sign Association’s (ISA; Alexandria, VA) 2019 International Sign Expo recently took place over a four-day stretch at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas. Signs of the Times exhibited at the show under parent company ST Media Group International, hosting the annual Sign Invitational for the first time. Nearly 1,000 visitors to the Signs booth voted Mo Flint of Atomic Barn Studios and Dan Sawatzky of Imagination Corp. as the winners.

As for the other happenings around the Sign Expo, here are thoughts and observations from the staff of Signs of the Times.

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There was plenty of news from the digital printing realm of the sign industry, with soft signage, remote control capabilities and widening of applications among the major trends discussed.

*HP debuted its HP Stitch S Series of digital textile printers, with the company touting its dye sublimation print machines’ built-in spectrophotometer, which powers Stitch’s color-matching. During a booth tour, an HP spokesperson relayed that their customers have told them that color repeatability is the “most important thing” they desire. This heavy investment by HP into Stitch falls in lock step with the ever-growing soft signage market.

David Prezzano, Vice President & General Manager, Graphics Solutions Business, Americas, said HP sees the signmaking industry moving from plastics to textiles, and said that with the increased focus on sustainability, that customers prefer not to deal as much with solvents. With the tight labor market, remote-control operation is key, with customers also wanting to print at night, unattended.

*EFI’s major trends were printing on a broader range of applications, automation and integration, and total cost of ownership, with increased interest in single-pass printing also surfacing. EFI Vice President of Marketing Ken Hanulec said to expect expanded wide-format offerings from EFI in the fall, and also that soft signage is one of the industry’s fastest-growing markets. What do customers consistently tell EFI that they want? Lower costs, a wider application base, and 24/7 printer capabilities, per Hanulec. “We’re always trying to help family owned business by lowering their costs,” he said.

*Signs of the Times was on hand for the US launch of Massivit 3D’s new 1800 Pro 3D Printer at Pictographics, a print shop not far off the Vegas Strip. Massivit President for North America Kevin Sykes highlighted the 1800’s patented Variable Resolution technology, which allows operators to change the machine’s print mode on the fly. Sykes also noted the 1800’s remote control mobile terminal, saying “this is a big deal for a lot of customers.” Massivit’s presentation stated that 60% of the 1800’s applications would come from three areas: soft signage, 3D molds and channel letters.

Signs of the Times/ST Media Group International’s ISA booth played host to the 2019 Sign Invitational, as well as Big Picture’s inaugural Best of Wide Format Awards.
Signs of the Times/ST Media Group International’s ISA booth played host to the 2019 Sign Invitational, as well as Big Picture’s inaugural Best of Wide Format Awards.

*Agfa Graphics showcased two of its popular inkjet machines, the Anapurna FB2540i LED and the Anapurna H3200i LED, and provided a demonstration of its PrintTune software. A wide range of applications were on display in their exhibit, too. “We like to show what you can do with the equipment – you’re only limited by your imagination,” said Deborah Hutcheson, Director of Marketing, North America.

*Epson has partnered with Graphtec America and Onyx Graphics to release three new signage bundles: the SureColor S40600 Print Cut Edition, SureColor S60600 Print Cut Edition, and SureColor S80600 Print Cut Edition. The SureColor S-Series Print and Cut models include a Graphtec America FC8600-130 cutter. The SureColor S40600 and SureColor S60600 ONYX GamaPrint bundles comprise ONYX CUT-Server. ONYX Thrive will be included in the SureColor S80600 Print Cut Edition.

*Vycom Plastics displayed its entire Celtec line, including the thicker-gauge material. Its parent company has just opened a new recycling facility in Wilmington, OH, too. – Associate Editor Grant Freking

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*Mimaki USA announced a strategic partnership with Gravograph, part of the Gravotech Group, a manufacturer of engraving, cutting and marking equipment for CNC rotary milling/engraving machines and laser systems. The partnership allows Mimaki USA to distribute Gravotech’s products, including mechanical and laser engravers as well as engraving materials, throughout the US, which the company plans to offer in several new bundles with its own products. Mimaki also announced the forthcoming release of their new JFX200-2513 EX UV-LED flatbed printer, which will be available in the summer. Among other features, this model has a 2.5D print function, compatible with RasterLink6 Plus software, which can create dimensional textured graphics up to 0.5 mm in height.

*Watchfire Signs demonstrated its content management software, including the newest version of the company’s cloud-based Ignite OPx and the recently introduced Ignite Sports. The cloud-based software allows for remote and immediate programming of all locations of a customer’s electronic displays, versus programming them individually. Ignite Sports manages all facets of sports scoring and entertainment. The company also debuted its new high-resolution 8mm outdoor display, made for locations with significant pedestrian traffic, or roads with busy intersections or traffic congestion. Finally, Watchfire is also supplying the replacement modules for the Fremont Street experience, with all eight sections scheduled to be completed in time for New Year’s Eve 2019.

*3A Composites exhibited their new DISPA display board, made 100% of paper and fully recyclable. The material can bend and cut cleanly and be formed into POP displays as well as other dimensional patterns.

The main entrance to the show.
The main entrance to the show.

*Ultraflex demonstrated their new Floorscapes floor media, a 70-mil, 65-oz. durable clear vinyl media for venues of all sorts. The key is that the ink is printed below the clear protective layer, which greatly extends the graphic.

*Plaskolite had two interesting new products on display. The company’s OPTIX L-Series Black/White 2028 cast acrylic looks black in daylight and can be illuminated to white at night for both indoor and outdoor applications. Also on display was OPTIX-EL Edge Lit, a continuous cast acrylic sheet for framed signage, displays and lighting fixtures. By incorporating reflective tape and white backing behind the image, users can direct light from standoffs forward for illumination.

*SA International (SAi) announced its latest flagship software product, Flexi 19, which features a 64-bit RIP, ruler, and a new “Find My Font” feature, which uses an image of a font to identify the font from thousands in a library. This software is compatible with the company’s Box & Display, which includes its own library of display and box templates. – Managing Editor Mark Kissling

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*Industry experts Justin Pate (Amsterdam) and John Duever (Vinyl Images; Fenton, MO) presented the Business Boot Camp for Wrap Professionals by Avery Dennison. The pair focused on business basics for wrap shop owners, condensing what is normally a two-day program into one. Top takeaways? The wrap market is increasingly crowded, highly skilled installers are next to impossible to find and retain, and clients are increasingly squeezing schedules by dropping off cars late, dripping wet from the car wash (or filthy), or not showing up at all. Ironically, despite increasingly sophisticated adhesive vinyls, Pate advised keeping decals among wrap offerings. In full wraps, he sometimes leaves wheel wells and recessed areas unwrapped, incorporating the vehicle paint color into his designs. This has two benefits: an upcharge for custom design work and a decreased failure rate.

*Wrap industry challenges also call for a higher level of financial planning, which means 50% deposits before printing, kill fees in every contract and late fees for slow drop-offs. Duever even recommended employment contracts with non-compete clauses, though these tend to be difficult to enforce. Perhaps more useful are clauses related to installer training. Duever has a one-year clock that starts running when he pays hotel, airfare and entrance fees for an employee’s wrap training. If that person leaves within a year, they’re free to go – as long as they reimburse those travel and registration fees.

*Interestingly, some of the biggest news at ISA Sign Expo came from the show organizers themselves, as ISA President/CEO Lori Anderson announced that the 2020 show will be co-located with the Impressions Expo (formerly the Imprinted Sportswear Show). With little overlap between the two shows, it will be interesting to see if this increases textile printing presence at ISA, a trend sure to happen even without the co-location as major print manufacturers increasingly invest in this space.

*Overall, suppliers and manufacturers seemed to have found new energy for basics. Of five new machines at the show, Roland’s  TrueVIS™ VG2 series eco-solvent wide-format printer/cutters stole the spotlight, highlighting a bread-and-butter machine for everyday signmakers, which we hadn’t seen from the company in recent years when focuses had been shifted to machines for the dental industry, for example. There’s also increased interest from Roland into entering the textile space (a new fabric printer is coming this summer), which is timely given the explosion of interest into textile printing in recent years.

*Similarly, Computerized Cutters launched its tabletop Accu-Bend Freedom channel letter bender, which creates letters in the same sizes as its larger models, albeit at a slightly slower rate, but has a surprisingly small footprint. It’s also made in the US, a proud part of Computerized Cutters’ culture. 

*Router/cutter companies like Zund and AXYZ are looking for improvements in efficiency and accuracy. As a Zund spokesperson pointed out, what difference does a fast router make if set-up takes hours? To wit, the company now has an overhead camera available for all its machines. And they’re planning for partner with local nonprofits to donate outputs from future shows – a trend we applaud. AXYZ was displaying its new Infinite 5010 router. It’s an update from the AXYZ Series and is designed for all production needs from a one-off to high-volume work.

*ONYX was in similar form, previewing the as-yet-unreleased ONYX 19 that the company says will quadruple RIP speeds and offer improved step and repeat performance for textiles. The company is maintaining its focus on color management, too, with improved (and increasingly automated) color management across devices, as well as iccMAX v.5 profiles. – Editor-in-Chief Robin Donovan

Signs of the Times July 2019

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