At a far distant corner of the SGIA Expo show floor was a large curtained-off alcove, difficult to miss as there was a guard watching over the entrance and conducting bag checks. This was the gallery of the SGIA’s Golden Image Award winners. If one really wanted to explore all the myriad possibilities of specialty graphics printing, this was definitely worth a visit. You’ll not find a more compelling showcase of not creative design and illustration, but creative printing and imaging.

The annual competition, says the awards Web site:

celebrates industry-leading excellence and covers almost every item, no matter how complex, created by specialty imaging. Hundreds of entries were evaluated by an elite team of imaging professionals, who awarded gold, silver and bronze ribbons to the best prints.

From fine art, to fleet graphics, to posters, to T shirts and other garments, to 3D objects and displays, to…well, just about anything you can think of—and a lot of things you’d never have thought of in a million years—the many winners in dozens of categories are a source of inspiration, as well as aspiration.

And no little perspiration, as a packed appointment schedule unfortunately allowed little time to dawdle. It was also worth noticing other attendees wandering through the Golden Image Awards gallery; it was rather like watching kids on Christmas morning. It’s too bad that photography was not allowed, but as the few photographic examples on the Golden Image Awards website indicate, some of these things have got to be seen live and in person.

Polar Expresses

In last week’s SGIA Expo recap, we looked at hardware, or, specifically, the machines—old and new—being used to print wide-format and specialty graphics. This week, we’ll look at a few other items that caught my attention.

There is a bar in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., called the Henry Street Taproom. Like many establishments of its kind, it has, high on the wall behind the bar, a large chalkboard that lists the featured beers of the day. When there are changes, the bartender or bar back has to clamber up onto a narrow counter and, balanced Wallenda-like, erase one item and write in a new one. A less cumbersome—and at-times less nerve-wracking—solution could perhaps be found in one of SGIA’s Product of the Year awards winners. Visual Magnetics won in the “Digital Inkjet Media–Films” category for its VM-CHALKboard PLUS substrate. It is a flexible, lightweight, magnetically-receptive film that can be preprinted on a wide-format printer and then written on using “liquid chalk,” which is kind of like a dry-erase marker. Like the company’s other magnetic substrates, it’s easy to swap out graphics or, in the case of chalkboard-based applications like the “dynamic beer menu, take down a panel, edit the liquid chalk-based text or art, and stick it back up on the wall. VM-CHALKboard PLUS can also be layered with additional magnetic-receptive graphics.

Visual Magnetics makes an ever-growing variety of magnetic-receptive materials that can be printed (on virtually any wide-format printer) and applied to surfaces to create various effects and overlays that can be replaced readily and “interactively”—kind of like large, magnetic Colorforms, for those old enough to remember such things.

Visual Magnetics has also partnered with some philanthropic organizations, and one in particular—which will appear as a featured video on WhatTheyThink, so watch out for it—is Fresh Artists. As your refrigerator may very well attest, kids love to make art. Unfortunately, when there are school budget cuts, art supplies and classes are usually the first things to go, especially in poorer schools, so Fresh Artists, a project conceived by Barbara Chandler Allen, raises money for school art supplies in a unique way. The kids donate their own art, which is reproduced on a wide-format printer on Visual Magnetics’ substrates. Businesses donate money for art supplies and, as thank you gifts, get wide-format prints of kids’ art to decorate their offices. The art is also accompanied with a small magnetic placard that, like in museums, offers a quick sketch (as it were) of the art and the artist. Another joint project between Fresh Artists and Visual Magnetics is the “Re-Fresh Art Library” in-room installations for long-term pediatric care. Also printed on swappable Visual Magnetics media, kids confined to hospital rooms or other facilities, can swap out the room art. Fresh Artists is a new approach to child philanthropy.

Back to the show…Magnetic substrates of all varieties are becoming increasingly popular for swappable, dynamic signage, POP displays, and décor. Magnum Magnetics was featuring a variety of products suited for multiple types of wide-format printers and analog presses. Magnum has a magnetic solution for virtually any kind of printer or application, be it digital, offset, UV flatbed, or what have you. Magnum’s substrates can either be pre- or postmagnetized, the latter requiring a magnetizing device to magnetize the material after printing, which helps reduce the problems that can arise from running a magnetic material through a largely metallic piece of printing equipment. This is the first year the company was showing its DigiMaxx wide (40 or 48 inches) magnetic material, the first super-wide magnetic material made in the USA. The DigiMaxx media is suitable for wide-format graphics, retail signage and displays, and more.

RIPing Yarns

Regardless of what device or substrate you are printing on, you need some kind of front end to optimize the image file. Front ends for wide-format need to do so much more than just RIP today.

Caldera was showing Version 10 of its flagship RIPing platform and imaging software, which boost speed and productivity, and boast a new interface and streamlined architecture that takes advantage of the latest version of the Adobe PDF Print Engine (APPE). Several years ago, Caldera was also the first to market with a “digital sign in a box” solution via its Variable Display, a combination of hardware (a media controller) and software that drives a video display enabling dynamic digital signage (DDS). Caldera has long been a proponent of combining printed and digital signage, and the Caldera booth—using a wine motif (naturellement; the company is based in France)—was showing how print and DDS can complement each other.

Color management has long been a gray area and to help continue to rectify that, GMG was showing ColorProof 5.6, the latest version of its award-winning proofing software. The major new feature: being able to account for papers using optical brighteners, which don’t conform to current proofing standards and can cause problems with color consistency. GMG ColorProof 5.6 provides new proof standards, full support of new M0/M1/M2 measuring conditions, and a new enhanced proof paper—GMG ProofPaper semimatte 250 OBA—to help generate an accurate proof-to-print match. The new version also improves integration with currently existing print production workflows, especially those used by multiple-site operations.

Onyx Graphics was showcasing its new Textile Edition software. Designed specifically for wide-format textile printing providers as an application-specific edition for Onyx RIPCenter, Onyx PosterShop, and Onyx ProductionHouse packages, as well as a module for Onyx Thrive software. The Textile Edition offers all the functionality of the company’s flagship Onyx 11 software (about which more below), such as Swatchbooks, sewing marks, disproportionate scaling, and Onyx Graphics’ proprietary color engine, as well as textile-specific features such as Step-and-Repeat, Colorways (i.e., quickly create patterns in multiple colors from a single file by selecting from a specified Swatchbooks color or manually selecting colors to produce unique patterns), and Ink Configuration Builder functions to increase the predictability of color textile output, reduce waste, and boost productivity.

Oynx was also showing version 11 (11.1, to be exact) of its front-end software for wide-format printing. Version 11 had added 21 enhancements to the Onyx software—and 11.1 adds six more—that simplify and streamline the production process. Onyx 11.1 is available for all of Onyx Graphics’ products, including Thrive workflow software and ProductionHouse, PosterShop, and RIPCenter RIP software.

Moving Forward

Brother Dan will be offering his summation of this year’s show in an upcoming feature—I should expect—and next year’s SGIA Expo will be held in Atlanta in early November. We may all have recovered from this one by then.