Walking the show floor at last week’s International Sign Association (ISA) Sign Expo in Orlando, Fla., it struck me how many things other than signs were on display. Case in point: T-shirt and apparel printing. At a sign show? But upon reflection, it made perfect sense, especially when one sign shop owner happened to mention that “T-shirts are 90 percent of our business.”

Chalk it up to the versatility of the hardware. The same machine that can print signs and banners can now also print a variety of other things and the opportunities for success today are in offering as broad a range of products as possible. This gives print service providers the ability to produce as many elements of an overall campaign as possible. This is why it makes perfect sense that ISA announced last week that next year’s Vegas Sign Expo will be colocated with the CPP (Collaboration in Packaging Production) Expo. Do signs and packaging go together? If we are talking about retail and POP signage—which a lot of people are—then signage and packaging are two items that fall under the category of “brand management.” And thus why the diversification of products is important: if a shop can capture as much of a clients overall business as possible, it broadens and strengths the relationship. It also makes that client much less likely to go elsewhere.

It seems that every show recap we do lately identifies record-breaking attendance, but the final figure for this year’s Sign Expo was 20,044, the largest in a decade—and the largest ever in Orlando. As I remarked after last year’s show, it’s a testament to the growing prominence of the Sign Expo that more and more vendors are using it to announce and launch new products, or at the very least debut new products to the North American market.

Roland, for example, debuted its new TrueVIS line of eco-solvent printers/cutters at FESPA Amsterdam last month, and showed the initial models—the 64-inch VG-640 and 54-inch VG-540—for the first time in North America in Orlando. The TrueVIS series is designed to replace the VersaCamm, and features all new printheads (FlexFire) and inks. Roland was also debuting a larger (30-inch) version of its VersaUV benchtop UV printer designed to print on three-dimensional objects for the fast-growing ad specialties and tchotchke market.

Epson had debuted its 64-inch SureColor P20000 fine-art photographic printer back in January at the West Coast Art and Frame show, and has since expanded the P-series with the 44-inch high-production SureColor P10000 targeted toward the upscale retail display graphics and fine-art photography printing communities. Epson was also showing the recently launched models in its S-series solvent printer line, the SC-40600, SC-60600, and “flagship” SC-80600. These are 64-inch roll-to-roll printers targeted toward the signage, vehicle graphics, and fine-art reproduction markets. Across the booth. Epson was also demonstrating dye-sublimation T-shirt printing with its F-series dye-sublimation printer and Insta’s Model 1020 Large Format Dual-Platen Shuttle Heat Press.

EFI had also launched a spate of new products at FESPA, and they were making their North American debut at the Sign Expo, including the 3.2-meter EFI VUTEk LX3 Pro hybrid roll/flatbed LED inkjet printer, the EFI Quantum LXr LED roll-to-roll printer, and the EFI VUTEk FabriVU 340 3.4-meter disperse dye-sublimation printer, among the first fruits of EFI’s Reggiani acquisition.

Agfa was showcasing some new features of its recently launched Jeti Tauro and Jeti Mira flatbed UV printers, such as an autoboard feeder for the 2.5-meter Tauro and a new roll-to-roll option for the 2.7-meter Mira.

Mimaki introduced its 54-inch TS30-1300 entry-level dye-sublimation printer, which joins Mimaki’s growing dye-sub portfolio. Mimaki also announced and was showing the UJV55-320 superwide-format (128-inch) UV-LED roll-to-roll printer, featuring seven colors including white.

In HP’s booth, it was Latex Latex Latex, with the full gamut of its Latex family, from the entry level Latex 110, to the low-volume Latex 300 series devices, all the way up to the high-volume industrial-scale Latex 3100 and 3500 printers.

It is also worth mentioning the ISA Innovation Awards winners, companies that are not household names ’round these parts but perhaps should be: 

  • First Place: Spike by ikeGPS is essentially a laser measurement tool that can be used in any number of industries, but in terms of signage, “allows sign and graphics professionals to measure signs by capturing the width, height and area of a space just by taking a photo from a smartphone or tablet.”
  • Second Place: Etulipa Carbon, an electronic Changeable Copy Board (eCCB), a reflective digital outdoor digital display based on electrowetting technology that produces pixels using colored oils rather than points of light. It can perhaps be best thought of as a type of electronic paper like the electrophoretic displays used in ebook readers like the original Amazon Kindle.
  • Third Place: Adams Tech’s LetterForm, a new way of creating channel letters. Part of the Trimless line, the new LetterForm channel letter fabrication techniques are designed to run on Adams’ Super ChannelBender and Eco ChannelBender machines, support more flexible designs than traditional channel letter fabrication methods, and can come prepainted.
  • Honorable Mentions: Clear Focus Imaging’s 24-Vue Interior/Exterior Two Way Vision Film; MONTI Tools Inc.’s Vinyl Zapper, an accessory for the company’s Metal Blaster hardware that removes vinyl, adhesive residues, reflecting foils, stickers, pin-stripes and double-sided adhesive tape from acrylic paints on metal surfaces; and Roland DGA’s Roland VersaUV LEJ-640FT flatbed UV printer.

You can see from these six products that “signage” can encompass a wide variety of different things.

The ISA Sign Expo 2017 heads back west to the Mandalay Bay Resort and Convention Center in Las Vegas April 19–22, 2017.