By Cassandra Balentine
In addition to popular wide format graphic applications printed to pressure-sensitive media, such as window graphics, vehicle wraps, and wallcoverings—smaller items, like decals, labels, and stickers, are appealing products used to bring in new revenue opportunities.
With a wide format printer and cutter—or an integrated printer/cutter—small runs are produced in multiple-up formats. Additionally, high-end dedicated digital label presses provide a solution if a consistent amount of work warrants the investment.
Print service providers (PSPs) of all specialties are taking on label production. In this piece we profile a t-shirt and trophy provider that finds success with decal, label, and sticker offerings; a university that utilizes its wide format device to educate—and serve the community—on a range of printed applications, including labels; and one shop that focuses on label applications with dedicated label presses.
Recognizing and investing in applications to complement existing operations is essential to the success of Thunderbird Trophies. In business since 1963, Joey Garza is a second-generation owner of the company, a position held for the past eight years. Today, the company’s business is about a 50/50 split between graphics and engraving.
The Phoenix, AZ-based shop offers a variety of services, including screenprinted t-shirts, engraved trophies, wide format graphics, and labels, decals, and stickers. Garza explains that he comes from a screenprinting background. After awhile, he noticed a demand for trophies.
In 2006, the opportunity to acquire an existing trophy business presented itself. Thunderbird Trophies was purchased—and the name was kept to capitalize on the company’s existing base—creating a business that offered screenprinting and trophy production.
In 2011, the demand for printed work—such as banners and decals—warranted the purchase of a wide format device. “We started testing the market and right off the bat we started selling decals,” says Garza. The push to purchase a printer came after one of its t-shirt customers requested 10,000 stickers. To produce that many, the shop bought a device in house and the job paid for the investment.
Today, a large part of the company’s business is printed pressure-sensitive output. Garza estimates that it produces anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 decals a week. A typical run is about 200 to 300 pieces, a minimum run is 100, and some jobs extend into the thousands. Customers vary, from schools looking for car window decals to microbreweries with label orders in the low hundreds.
Thunderbird Trophies uses a Mutoh America, Inc. ValueJet 1204 48-inch eco-solvent printer to produce labels, decals, and stickers, in addition to wide format work such as banners, floor graphics, and window graphics. The decision to purchase the Mutoh was at first driven by price, but Garza was won over by the quality and service. In addition to exceptional quality, he notes that the service is second to none. “I’ve never had a problem I couldn’t fix over the phone.”
The printer’s versatility puts the shop at an advantage. “We run everything from 13 oz. banners to photos on canvas,” adds Garza.
For finishing, a Mutoh plotter/cutter is used. With a barcode system, the printer prints registration marks, which are automatically picked up by the cutter. A few lamination methods are utilized when necessary. Garza says that while most economy decals aren’t laminated, for any application with a chance of exposure to scratching—like decals for a surfboard the company recently produced—lamination is recommended.
In terms of design, Garza shares that many of its customers have an idea of what they want. If not, the design team is there to help. The staff is equipped to guide customers through the process of determining the best graphics and fonts for the promotion of their brand.
“We’ve had a lot of positive feedback during our evolution into digital print from a trophy shop,” explains Garza. Aside from offering athletic department trophies, t-shirts, and labels, a range of complementary products are available that point customers back to Thunderbird Trophies.
Custom water bottle labels represent a popular application. The shop produces the graphic, which adhere onto to existing labels. “We have orders from customers like a local booster club looking to sell the label to a real estate company for an upcoming event. They order 500 to 1,000. The average water bottle is only .10 cents, and a decal runs about .35 cents, that’s affordable and effective advertising,” concludes Garza.
A Lesson in Labels
Wide format printers offer versatility, a feature necessary in print as well as educational environments. California Polytechnic (Cal Poly) State University’s Graphic Communication Department offers a curriculum leading to a Bachelor of Science degree that Colleen L. Twomey, assistant professor, Graphic Communication Department, Cal Poly, describes as a discipline that is both an art and a science. “It appeals to students with an interest in creativity, science, technology, and management,” she notes.
Twomey explains that the field of graphic communications represents a large profession, which embraces change and requires those pursuing graphic communications careers to learn new and diverse skills.
“Graphic communications includes electronic and traditional printing, publishing, packaging, digital imaging, computer graphics, Web site development, digital photography, production, management, and distribution of advertising, marketing, Web sites, books, magazines, newspapers, catalogs, and packages,” she explains.
The university is known for its “learning by doing” pedagogy. Students are tasked with applying the skills learned in lab environments and encouraged to think critically about the concepts. Cal Poly’s Graphic Communication Department has more than 30,000 square feet of lab space where students run equipment based on class projects and orders from the department’s campus-based, student-run print shop.
Through the University Graphic Systems student-run print shop, labels, stickers, and decals—among other applications—are offered to on and off campus clientele. Within the operation, students design, prepare, estimate, print, and code Web sites for the community at large.
To create a range of applications, the department operates a variety of printing and finishing equipment, including the Roland DGA Corporation VersaUV LEC 30-inch inkjet printer/cutter. “We use the Roland mostly for package prototyping,” says Twomey. “Students are given assignments to redesign packaging for various products and the VersaUV LEC prints stand-up pouches, stickers, labels, cartons, and e-flute corrugated packaging,” she explains.
The university brought the Roland into the department in 2011 to promote high-quality packaging and specialty printing technology. “Students that use the printer experience printing with the effects of gloss and white on a variety of substrate materials,” adds Twomey.
In addition to the Roland, students run applications on offset, flexographic, gravure, and traditional digital production machines.
Students recently employed the VersaUV LEC to create output to participate in the Phoenix Challenge, a flexography packaging competition. This year, a Cal Poly team won first place for its redesign of a winery’s products. The Roland proofed concept artwork on a clear label before final output on a production flexographic press.
Typical jobs on the Roland VersaUV LEC include one-offs and multiple-up work, but in runs fewer than 100. For output over 100, work goes to production machines. The typical workflow includes file preparation, PDF preflight, PDF output, color management—if needed, and print output.
“Wide format enables students to understand the integration of how variable data, conventional production print, and prototyping come into play. For specialty printing applications—such as packaging—the Roland provides amazing print quality that the students get excited about,” says Twomey.
One of the biggest challenges is understanding how to use appropriate swatches and cut/crease lines to ensure a successful print. “How to add sufficient space for the substrate; and dealing with very impatient students that want the prints immediately,” she continues. “Other than that, students have really done some amazing things.”
Set It and Forget It
In addition to wide format label production, dedicated digital label presses are an option if a print provider has the volume to keep a label press running consistently. Customer demand plays a roll in dictating whether this is the most appropriate investment.
Established in 2006, Logo Label Printing is a Durham, NC-based provider of label output. David Grossman, COO and Tim Oates, CEO, Logo Label, explain that the company started as a result of poor experiences as label customers. “We felt that the printers we were dealing with had little regard to the expediency that was required for the industry that we were in, the custom label bottled water industry, along with the quality of service that we felt was lacking.”
The company staffs 12 employees, with positions ranging from graphic and prepress to equipment operators, shipping, and administrative support. The company ships its labels worldwide, and serves all types of clients—from airlines to zoos. “Literally a to z,” quip Grossman and Oates.
“Our foundation is built on providing the highest quality labels, at the most economical level and fastest turnaround. In addition, we are a full-service company that provides graphic design support for clients that are starting from scratch.”
Logo Label started its business with a Hewlett-Packard (HP) HP Indigo WS2000 and has since expanded its portfolio. The company is 100 percent digital and operates three label presses, including the EFI Jetrion 4000 and 4830, as well as an HP Indigo WS4600.
Run lengths vary from as small as 250 to as large as 250,000. “We would guess that currently, our average run is about seven to ten thousand labels. But, normally we print very small runs for specialty water bottles, wines for weddings, and other unique events,” say Grossman and Oates.
The company considered the EFI Jetrion 4000 when it was initially introduced, but found there to be issues with the availability of substrates that printed well without the need to pre-treat in house. It waited and once there was a ready source of substrates, purchased its first Jetrion—the 4000. Logo Label then purchased a second Jetrion, the 4830, because it needed a solution that could print white quickly and economically.
The addition of the EFI Jetrion 4000 proved to be a good move for Logo Label. “It increased our business by almost 25 percent in the first year that it was on our floor. We are now getting production runs that we seriously never dreamed we would be doing,” admit Grossman and Oates.
The longer production runs enable the print provider to reduce overall costs of finishing and manpower, along with the leverage to negotiate substrate pricing.
Further, the addition of the EFI Jetrion 4830 enabled the company to tap into new markets, offering clear and foil labels that require white ink. “The white on the Jetrion is much denser, so we are producing a much higher quality,” they say. However, the HP Indigo offers two-sided printing. It is also used for certain graphics that inkjet technology is not able to match.
Logo Label’s dedication to speed and quality is a winning match for its business. By strategically investing in technologies that offer more value and efficiency to their operations, the company continues to grow its business.
“We are happy to say that the Jetrion printers have more than doubled our business in the past two years. The reasons include long, uninterrupted print runs at competitive costs. Startup on these presses is fast—usually less than 15 minutes. Color control is reliable from day to day, week to week, and month to month,” explain Grossman and Oates. “Our favorite saying around here when it comes to the Jetrion printers is set it and forget it.”
As highlighted by the above PSPs, label applications provide a wealth of possibilities. As the trend towards shorter print orders continues, those that offer custom applications in small runs for an affordable price are in a great position to generate revenue across a variety of markets.
Oct2014, Digital Output