by Melissa Donovan
When the COVID-19 pandemic began in late Winter/early Spring of this year, print service providers (PSPs) were presented with a challenge. In most states—deemed an essential business—they were allowed to stay open, run their presses, and operate with a skeleton crew. However, the typical work requests didn’t come.
Above: Ludington, MI-based SafetyDecals.com creates floor signage applications related to COVID-19 that include wayfinding, floor markers, workplace safety signage, and business-to-customer messaging.
To make it worth keeping the lights on, print providers pivoted fast by offering services outside of their normal offerings to customers that weren’t their typical clientele. This includes hospitals, medical facilities, and pop-up centers that required personal protective equipment in addition to local community members looking to support graduating seniors and healthcare workers with yard signs.
While applications of this nature meant printers were running and employees were working, the demand for these requests started to wane. However, the term social distancing was introduced and with it the need for well-designed instructional signage.
Floor graphics went up overnight, acting as wayfinding signage, marking where and how to keep six feet apart. Lines of painters tape resembling arrows, handwritten signs applied to surfaces with masking tape, or even typed information on standard 8.5×11-inch paper applied to a traffic cone became effective communication.
Savvy PSPs immediately recognized the need for professional-looking—as well as safe to walk on—floor graphics. Initially requested and created for essential businesses like grocery stores, home improvement centers, and big box retailers, as more businesses open to the public, the need for informational floor graphic signage continues to arise—and doesn’t seem to be disappearing anytime soon.
Floor Graphics as a Lifeline
Ludington, MI-based SafetyDecals.com, a division of Tye’s Incorporated, is one PSP that was able to take its existing work and translate it to social distancing floor graphics. After the initial chaos of COVID-19, Nick Tykoski, owner/CEO, SafetyDecals.com, created artwork for several clients needing social distancing signage.
Tykoski then reached out to other customers whose businesses remained open. “We let them know that we had the ability to create these things for them. Many hadn’t even thought of it yet, despite the evidence that floor graphics are a new and exciting place for messaging,” he says.
Specific applications related to the pandemic include wayfinding, floor marker, workplace safety signage, and business-to-consumer messaging.
SafetyDecals.com’s website includes an online ordering store, so the next logical step to spread the word about these new floor graphic offerings was for Tykoski to post unbranded floor graphics and associated pieces to the site. This allowed the business’ ecommerce clients to easily purchase ready-made products.
The graphics can be ordered directly off the website, or interested customers can call or email SafetyDecals.com and the company will customize anything to the company’s brand. Custom services are offered both in shop and online.
Floor graphics are just one of the many applications SafetyDecals.com has offered since opening in 2009. It produces durable decals for machinery, vehicles, walls, floors, packaging, and heavy equipment out of one 3,200 square foot facility with 20 employees.
The company’s equipment lineup enables precision printing and cutting for any quantity, size, shape, and color. Printers include a CET Color flatbed, HP Inc. Scitex press, HP Latex 360, and HP Latex 570. Finishing equipment consists of an Epilog Laser cutter, two Summa America LLC cutters, and a Zund America, Inc. cutting machine.
Material from Mactac and ORAFOL Americas is favored for floor graphic applications. This includes both the base media as well as the laminate. ORAFOL is a close partner of SafetyDecals.com. “It offers materials with a variety of strengths depending on our clients’ uses and applications. An advantage of having a partner that works so closely with us is that we now have laminate options for these floor graphics,” explains Tykoski.
Offering floor graphics and other decals prior to COVID-19 was a big reason why the PSP easily transferred over to this new type of messaging. “Business changed for everybody and being an essential business ourselves, we remained open. Floor graphics and the COVID messaging are a big part of keeping our employees working and the supply lines open for our clients,” admits Tykoski.
A Role in the New Normal
Already printing floor graphics for its customers for a number of years, Phoenix, AZ-based Image Craft is another PSP that pivoted its focus once COVID-19 came on the scene. “As soon as news broke out about COVID-19 and the officials recommended that people stay six feet apart to avoid the virus, we immediately thought, we need floor graphics,” shares John Leos, GM, Image Craft.
The company—in business since 1979—reached out to its customers via email and shared designs that its graphic designers had created. It targeted existing clients ranging from restaurants, sports arenas, banks, and retail stores to dentists and veterinarians. Social media also helped spread the word.
First and foremost, Leos says the goal of these graphics was make to sure people were doing their part to stay safe. This was reflected in the pricing. Image Craft placed a very narrow margin on the COVID-19 floor graphic products to achieve its cost, but allow everyone to afford them.
Secondly, Image Craft wanted to be an easy source to procure the graphics, meaning customers could order and purchase without having to design them. The signage is already printed and ready to ship.
The PSP prints its floor graphics on an HP Latex 3600 printer using 3M Commercial Solutions 3M Controltac Print Film 40C. The 3M material is specifically used for its removability features. Finished prints are then laminated with Drytac Protac Emerytex PVC overlaminating film to decrease the risk of slipping.
A leader in large and grand format printing, the PSP’s 70,000 square foot facility remained open to produce floor graphics as well as ceiling signage, countertop signs, window clings, and banner stands related to COVID-19 messaging. This meant an array of items were offered to help everyone, depending on their needs and spacing requirements.
Offering social distancing signage during the height of the COVID-19 crisis enabled Image Craft to keep all 80 of its employees working without any layoffs. The team remained busy despite decreasing sales.
As non-essential businesses reopen across the country, Leos believes there will continue to be demand for COVID-19 related messaging. “Floor graphics for social distancing will be the new normal. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that cough and sneeze particles can travel a long way and social distancing will help avoid illness in the future.”
A Change in Direction
Based in North Billerica, MA DGI Invisuals started in 1995. The wide format division of its parent company, DGI Communications, it employs 50 of the 130 total employees and occupies a work area of 70,000 square feet. The PSP’s reach is nationwide with a focus in New England.
DGI offers a blend of high-end audio/visual and large format graphics. It provides all forms of communications, including design services; printing services—including UV, solvent, dye-sublimation (dye-sub), and latex; and full finishing—including routing, fixturing, and installation for a range of industries including corporate, retail, and education.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S., DGI found itself in a position to help its customers communicate safety and wayfinding messaging. The company immediately got to work making floor graphics, an application it has produced for 25 years.
“We began to focus on floor graphics right at the beginning of COVID-19, in particular because a large grocery chain reached out to us for help devising a method for directing traffic at their various locations,” recalls Glen Fairbanks, president, DGI Invisuals. “We started a dialogue to determine how best to lead people through a retail location and minimize path crossing and people bumping into each other.”
The resulting floor graphics were rolled out to over 100 locations.
The importance of floor surfaces during the crisis was quickly recognized. A highly visible application, these graphics help illustrate direction as well as act as social distancing guides.
While these graphics play an important role for properly and safely directing customers on where to walk and stand to avoid spreading the virus, they also present an opportunity to build a message, increase brand recognition, and elicit positivity. “We realized that more businesses—whether retail or corporate locations—will need to utilize their floor space for messaging beyond what they had done in the past,” comments Fairbanks.
DGI developed a guide to help customers understand what graphical elements are commonly used to slow the spread of coronavirus. “We utilize several design options and the messaging can be customized. The signage becomes an extension of their identity,” says Fairbanks.
To help market these services, the print provider used its sales team for direct outreach to its clients. It also leveraged social media, its web storefront, website, Google pay per click, and organizations and business groups to spread the word of its floor graphics and COVID-19 signage.
To produce floor graphics, DGI uses its full array of printers, including an HP Latex device, EFI VUTEk H3, Oki ColorPainter now available from Mimaki USA, Inc., and Océ Arizonas from Canon Solutions America. Its dye-sub machines are used to create fabric displays and dividers.
For media, Fairbanks says DGI has built a strong relationship with 3M Commercial Solutions, and for this project decided to use the company’s IJ40 with 8509 as the go-to product.
Focusing on floor graphics and other relevant signage during the COVID-19 lockdowns made an impact for DGI. “Our typical sales for this time of year were down over 50 percent. The floor graphic programs that we worked on did not bring us back to normal levels, but certainly helped create sales,” offers Fairbanks.
The response to businesses shutting down during the COVID-19 crisis was fear and worry and rightfully so. However, those lucky enough to be considered essential in the print space took advantage of the time and ramped up offerings to address new trends and demands in the marketplace. This includes messaging related to social distancing, specifically floor graphic signage.
“Floor graphics are here to stay. The advancing technology and products ensure that we can offer new and innovative solutions to clients. Signs and messaging will always be part of communication and the floor is just another place to display,” comments Tykoski.
As we adjust to a new normal with guidance from various authorities, floor graphic signage—as well as other applications—are a helpful method of communicating necessary public safety information. DO
Jul2020, Digital Output