Broad Horizons

A vehicle wrap, a storefront sign and a window graphic accentuate the scope of modern digital printing.
Fresh Ink Signs + Graphics designed, fabricated and installed this intricate wrap for Top Shelf Aquatics.

Amazingly, the calendar has already flipped to 2019. Good news: no more holiday shopping for 10 months or so. (I’m no Grinch, just a procrastinator). Bad news: time for those New Year’s resolutions. What’s on your list? Last year, I jotted down both practical (up my cooking acumen, decorate the walls of my apartment with pictures of family and friends) and existential (pursue life balance) goals, ultimately with varying levels of completion. Do you make New Year’s resolutions for yourself or your company?

Perhaps one of your business pursuits is (further) expansion into the vast realm of digital printing. According to our annual State of the Industry Report, 34% of respondents purchased a digital printer during the previous year. More new products and new developments are surely on the horizon – walking the halls at the 2018 SGIA Expo was another reminder of the constant innovation within the digital printing industry. Heck, since SGIA, more machines have made their worldwide debuts, including EFI’s Reggiani BOLT, a single-pass digital textile printer, and Fujifilm’s J Press 750S, in part designed for retail POP signage. 

Print continues to intersect with other industries, with the demand for shorter job times and standout work increasing. Competition is a healthy thing though, and continued entries into the industry by a new generation of both traditional and non-traditional signmakers – check out the forthcoming February issue for our second annual “Makers of Tomorrow” special section – promises to keep sign companies, print shops, manufacturers and customers alike on their creative toes.


When Top Shelf Aquatics, a saltwater aquarium store in Winter Park, FL, wanted a new wrap design for one of its vehicles, it reached out to a previous partner – Fresh Ink Signs + Graphics of nearby Orlando. After working with Fresh Ink a few years back on a Ford Econoline van wrap, Top Shelf desired a partial vehicle wrap this time around, a rolling aquarium that presented more than just words. Top Shelf and Fresh Ink – led by designer Christian Stanley – traded multiple proofs, said Fresh Ink general manager Gabriel Boy. “I learned a lot about fish from this project,” Boy said with a laugh. “The only problem was picking the right fish. But give [Top Shelf] credit; they made all the right calls.”

The final design is an intricate wrap that displays Top Shelf’s business basics (logo, website, phone number, services, social media account awareness) as well as the types of fish and sea anemones sold by Top Shelf. “You toe a line as a designer between your own input and giving the customer what they want,” said Stanley, who used Roland VersaWorks and Adobe Photoshop to design the wrap. “It was a little tricky getting that swoosh [on the top of the wrap] coming around and making it look seamless. I had to work some Photoshop magic.”

Once the design was finalized, Fresh Ink embarked on its typical three-day process to complete the project. “The first day is printing the wrap, which usually takes around 24 hours,” Boy said. “The next day is gassing out – airing out the ink, then lamination. The third day is wrapping.” Fresh Ink’s Roland VersaArt RE-640, a machine the com-pany acquired about six years ago, ably handled the printing. “We use it for everything that’s not cut vinyl,” Stanley said. “It’s very consistent – we know what we’re going to get out of it.” Fresh Ink printed on 3M IJ180Cv3 film and protected it with 3M Scotchcal Gloss Overlaminate 8518.

Fresh Ink employs 3M certified installers and it was up to Stanley to ensure installation wasn’t too complex because of the curve present along the top on both sides and the back of the vehicle. Stanley said he did his best to provide the installers with flexibility, noting the wrap “just doesn’t go up and down from the back; all three sides needed to correspond.” With this wrap successfully launched, Fresh Ink has already made plans to wrap a trailer for Top Shelf.


Salt City Signs produced a variety of signs for a nearby barbershop, including this storefront sign.
Salt City Signs produced a variety of signs for a nearby barbershop, including this storefront sign.

A longtime friendship recently led to some unexpected business for Salt City Signs (Syracuse, NY). Salt City Art Director Matt Wierbinski happened to be pals with a local barber who was opening up his own barbershop. In his spare time, Wierbinski – who has a degree in graphic design – created the logo for what became The Barber Shack. Eventually, a request for a storefront sign followed. “He wanted a vintage, neutral feel, so that’s why there’s black, white, tan and a hint of red [in the logo],” Wierbinski said.

Salt City printed the sign with their 64-in. Mutoh ValueJet 1624 on Arlon DPF 4600LX vinyl film. The sign was trimmed, laminated with Arlon Series 3420 overlaminate and mounted on a white 78 x 36-in. sheet of 3-mm-thick Omega-Bond aluminum composite panel. The final touch was a black aluminum sign frame. “We try to laminate whenever possible with a satin or luster laminate,” said Salt City President Andrew Kettell. “With this sign, it gives it less of a sheen. It complements the subtlety of the sign by not adding a high gloss to it.” Initially, guaranteeing the sign’s security above The Barber Shack’s entrance with tension clips was a little tricky. “The first time we went to carry it out, the panel almost fell out of the frame,” Kettell said. So, Salt City doubled up on clips and evenly placed them around the frame to make certain the frame and panel would stay secure. “It’s been sturdy ever since,” Kettell said, with Wierbinski adding, “We also fitted the frame with security hangers that make unintended removal difficult.”

Salt City also produced a desk decal and a price services sign for The Barber Shack. For the decal, Salt City printed the logo, then used SAi’s Flexi software to map a contour cut around it. After the logo dried, it was laminated (again with Arlon 3420) and contour cut with Salt City’s Graphtec FC8000-160 cutter/plotter. The services sign was printed and laminated in the same manner, but mounted on 3-mm-thick black Sintra board. Salt City expects more work from The Barber Shack in the future. “He’s always trying to make his shop more visually appealing,” Wierbinski said, “so when he has a project, he’ll definitely come to us.”


A Better Sign executed a tricky install of this detailed window graphic.
A Better Sign executed a tricky install of this detailed window graphic.

According to co-owner Luke Sellers, A Better Sign (Lawrenceville, GA) is split into two areas: an online presence where customers can custom order from a collection of 20-30 products, and an on-the-ground, local signshop presence. The latter completed a large window-graphic job for a Salvation Army center in northeast Atlanta. The project arrived via Luke’s father, who bought A Better Sign over 20 years ago and also used to head a local Salvation Army center. After the client and A Better Sign nailed down a holiday-themed design, the company’s Mimaki JV33 Eco-Solvent printer processed the Solvex 70/30 perforated window vinyl. “We have bought two of these machines. They’re workhorses,” Sellers said of his Mimakis. “We’re selling the one we bought in 2007 – it still works like the day we bought it.”

A Better Sign typically laminates similar graphics, but chose not to do so in this instance. “It’s a temporary holiday decoration and it’s under a covered awning, so there wasn’t much need,” said Sellers, before noting that “had it been hot out, we would’ve laminated it... because window perforation tends to stretch in the heat, especially in the sun.” As for installation, well, there’s sound rationale for Sellers referring to the process as both “laborious” and “tedious.” There were 28 – yes, 28 – individual window panels to apply. While on site, A Better Sign had to adjust for overlapping edges, which typically required a 1/8-in. trim around the windows. A variety of tools aided this very careful install: X-ACTO Knives, Sooper Edge Aluminum Rulers, Oshee Felt and Lidco Teflon squeegees, and a Master Appliance heat gun.

To make matters more complicated, many of the panels look similar, so A Better Sign had to be wary of applying a panel in the incorrect spot, which would have ruined proper application of this window graphic puzzle. “It’s kind of an art,” Sellers said. “It’s not like you measure it out and it’s perfect.” However, the graphic turned out as planned, and hopefully provided some uplifting holiday spirit for those in need.


Signs of the Times February 2020

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