It’s not so much Hotlanta as Humidlanta, and although the SGIA Expo officially opens on Wednesday, Tuesday saw a full slate of programs that ran the gamut from the highly technical (the Printed Electronics Symposium), to the specialized (the vehicle wrapping hands-on workshop), to the very basic (Wide-Format 101).

Wide-Format 101

The Tuesday afternoon “Wide-Format 101” sessions were subtitled “Four Steps to Profitability,” and indeed provided a broad overview of four discrete aspects of the wide-format printing business. The majority—at least 75%—of the 150 or so attendees were already doing some kind of wide-format printing, although the bulk of them had been doing it for less than a year.

SGIA’s Dan Marx offered an “Introduction to Wide-Format Printing,” offering a rundown of the various printers, ink technologies, products and applications, and other bits of advice for newbies. Top growth application for wide-format are indoor wall graphics, window displays, building wraps, and floor graphics. Ultimately, he said, it’s about using the new technologies to differentiate your business, identifying what he referred to as “the three pillars of differentiation”: specialty inks (white, clears, metallics, etc.), specialty media (paper, rigid substrates, pressure-sensitive materials, and so on), and specialty finishing (laminating, mounting, grommeting, cutting and routing, sewing and seaming, et al.).

Ultimately, prospective equipment buyers wandering the show floor should focus on five critical considerations about printing equipment:

  • How easy is it to run?
  • What do you need it to print on?
  • What size do you need it print?
  • How fast do you need it to print?
  • What is the total cost of ownership?

Jim Raffel, CEO of Color Metrix Technologies spoke about one of the perennial issues of any type of printing: color management. Throwing in a little color theory and human biology (this writer’s inner nerd was intrigued by such tangential facts such as that 1% of women are color blind, compared to about 8% of men and that men lose the ability to perceive the color yellow as they age, while women do not). He also spoke about the challenges of Pantone colors in wide-format (which is an issue inherent to most digital printing, large or small), and how media and other factors all affect how a given color can appear to a given viewer. Raffel talked about color profiling, how to create color profiles, and why it is better to create custom profiles rather than use “canned” profiles. He also discussed G7 certification and why it is not necessarily a sales advantage, but an operational advantage. “You’re not doing it to say you’re G7-certified,” he said. “You’re doing it to make money.”

David Goettner, an industry consultant who first started hand painting signs in the 1970s, gave a colorful presentation about the perils and pitfalls of finishing techniques, with an emphasis on laminating. He presented a series of images showing what the young folks would call “signage fails”—how inattention, as well as lack of intimate knowledge of materials, machinery, and even basic physics can doom a graphics project. Then there is common sense. (“The important thing when producing window graphics is, is the window tinted?” If so, the graphic will not be visible from the outside. “You can’t outthink stupid.”) He then posed the question, “Is a floor graphic a product or an application?” The latter, because “an application is an opportunity to create a unique product.”

The key, he concluded, is to take into account all the display conditions when choosing the materials to use for a given job. “It’s about product knowledge,” he said.

Finally, David King of Market King and a long time wide-format printer looked at all the aspects of the economics of wide-format printing, from what the minimum cost to set to shop would be (about $60,000 to get into the business, including essential equipment and people), what the minimum amount of space would be (1,000 to 1,500 square feet), what the proper role of sales people should be, and virtually every other aspect of running the business. It all comes down to numbers. “This business is all about statistics,” he said, from knowing how many linear feet your printer can produce in a given unit of time (a key to knowing what the maximum volume you can run through your shop), to materials costs, to knowing how to price it. “Get a grip on your business and know how much things cost and how long they take,” he said.

He also identified the role of salespeople, and how to pay them (he prefers to pay a low base salary to keep them “hungry” for commissions). He also stressed that “marketing is crucial. It paves the way for sales.”

King was very no nonsense, and looked with a skeptical eye at some of the supposed truisms, such as the notion that general commercial printers should expand into wide-format by starting with their own customers. “Sure, let them be your guinea pigs,” he said. “Then you risk losing their other business.”

It was a day of valuable advice for anyone looking to get into wide-format printing—and also opened the eyes of a lot of folks who had been doing it for years. (Full disclosure: the Wide-Format 101 event was moderated by Richard Romano.)

Printed Electronics Symposium

The 2015 SGIA Printed Electronic Symposium filled a large room in the giant Atlanta World Congress Center with academics, suppliers, scientists, and interested parties eager to hear about the latest developments in this exciting and evolving technology. Moderator Neil Bolding of MacDermid Autotype introduced a lively group of speakers who covered everything from RFID, to membrane switches, to flexible displays, to antennas, to integrated electronics.

Craig Armiento of Raytheon UMass LowellResearch Institute got the symposium off to a great start by describing industry/academia/government partnerships that have helped to fund and direct printed electronics research and application.

Traditional printed circuit boards are produced with subtractive processes, while printed electronics apply an additive process. Even though we have evolved over a decade of development, the industry still has not gotten the cost and complexity of production down to reasonable levels.

An interesting area has been that of stretchable electronic inks which will open markets for “wearables” and other new products.

Screen printing is still the primary production method with aerosol inkjet being applied in some labs. There are now published standards for printed electronics with many proposed standards in the pipeline. Combined with new testing methods, printed electronics is poised for accelerated development.

Every speaker noted that the combination of printed electronics with 3D Printing has significant potential.

The Expo itself officially opens on Wednesday.