By Olivia Cahoon
Direct to substrate printing on traditional and untraditional rigid media is possible thanks to wide format flatbed printers. With the ability to handle a variety of materials, these devices allow print service providers (PSPs) to create unique printed products.
Above: Beeline and Blue worked with a swissQprint Nyala flatbed to create 569 square feet of printed material for the Pork Producers’ pork tent at the annual Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, IA.
Beeline and Blue
Established in 1958 as Des Moines Blue Print, Co., Beeline and Blue started with two owners in Des Moines, IA. It grew from a two-room blueprint operation consisting of 230 square feet of workspace to a profitable print business.
According to the company, it now operates as the largest graphics provider in IA and one of the largest in the Midwest. With 31 employees, Beeline and Blue continues to provide architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industries with blueprints, large and small format printing, and online digital services.
From a 17,000 square foot facility, the PSP specializes in digitizing and printing fine art, building point of sale displays, wrapping delivery vehicles, covering buildings, and providing point of purchase retail signage and environmental graphics. Through its trusted partners it also provides outdoor channel signage for rebranding companies throughout the Midwest.
Beeline and Blue serves a variety of industries including agri-business, associations, corporate communications, design professionals, event coordinators, and manufacturing. Its clientele includes national corporations such as DuPont, John Deere, Meredith Corporation, and several noted museums in many states. It offers products like banners, booklets, brochures, flyers, posters, trade show displays, vehicle decals, wallcoverings, and yard signs.
Enter Digital Technology
The PSP’s first digital device, other than cutsheet printers, was a Versatec electrostatic printer to print mylar and vellum originals to make blueprints. Next came plain paper copier/printers to produce digital blueprints. “As the AEC industry started designing on computers rather than drafting tables, we needed to print digitally,” admits Steven Strooh, VP, Beeline and Blue.
Beeline and Blue’s first digital inkjet wide format printer was an Encad. The PSP also used an analog camera to make full photographic prints from originals—like maps and magazines—and digitally print. However, Strooh says clients quickly demanded less expensive large format graphics on a variety of media from poster paper to vinyl banners.
As the company expanded its services, it added to its arsenal of digital printers. Today, Beeline and Blue uses a swissQprint Nyala; HP Inc. Latex 260 and 360 for posters; HP Latex 3500 for banners, wallcoverings, mesh, perforated window media, and canvas wraps; and the Canon U.S.A., Inc. imagePROGRAF PRO-2000, PRO-4000, and iPF9400 for paper and canvas fine art production.
Its software consists of Onyx Graphics, Inc. workflow and most recently solutions from Caldera. Digital finishing equipment found in house includes an Esko Kongsberg i-XL 60×120-inch cutting table with roll option and a VersaCoater XL liquid coating machine from Advanced Print & Finishing Technologies.
For flatbed printing, Beeline and Blue employs the swissQprint Nyala flatbed press including roll adapter, white ink, and varnish capabilities. The device features a 10.5×5.25-foot print bed and prints up to 2,217 square feet per hour (sf/h).
According to Strooh, the Nyala is an operationally efficient flatbed printer that requires very little daily maintenance—less than ten minutes—and it’s capable of printing 100 precut 18×24-inch two-sided realtor signs in 150 minutes or 40 an hour in quality mode.
Beeline and Blue often uses its Nyala press for window graphics that require white ink and for displays on styrene, PVC, gatorfoam, foam core, acrylic, and lexan in a variety of thicknesses—from 0.2 to two inches. Other compatible applications are primarily interior and exterior décor as well as museum and retail displays.
Currently, 26 percent of the PSP’s output is printed on the Nyala flatbed press. It allows the company to improve production and throughput so much that Strooh says Beeline and Blue can expand its flatbed printing by nearly 30 percent without overtaxing production.
With a flatbed printer like the Nyala, PSPs like Beeline and Blue experience a variety of benefits including speed and efficiency when printing. Despite this, challenges can still occur regarding media adhesion, color consistency, constant maintenance, media waste due to printer malfunction and equipment costs, and lack of operational efficiency due to maintenance or failures. “Speed can also be an issue when quality printing is required—no swath banding,” adds Strooh.
To overcome these challenges, the company uses reliable equipment that requires a minimal amount of daily maintenance, no annual service contracts, quality speeds at 1,100 sf/h with no swath banding even in solid pastel colors like blue and purple, seamless print recovery resulting in no wasted substrates, and versatile software that doesn’t require reverting to the RIP to crop, flip, or add layers like white or varnish.
In 2018, J Sayles Design Co.—a long-term customer of 30 years—approached Beeline and Blue regarding the Pork Producers’ pork tent at the annual Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. J Sayles Design is a visual communications firm.
The firm’s client, the Iowa Pork Producers, considered updating its old fairgrounds building for the 2018 Iowa State Fair. According to Strooh, Sayles persuaded the client to dress up the façade and fences with punchy, colorful graphics.
For the signage, Beeline and Blue selected ten millimeter (mm) coroplast, three mm aluminum composite material, and lexan faces for exterior light boxes. The graphics were printed on the swissQprint Nyala. “The ink set used by the Nyala includes a very bright yellow and produced the best representation of the designer’s colors,” admits Strooh.
Beeline and Blue finished the graphics with the VersaCoater XL five-foot wide liquid coater and a scratch- and graffiti-resistant gloss coating. Strooh says the gloss coating not only provides durable protection but further enhances the color saturation and punch off the Nyala.
Specific shapes were cut using the Esko Kongsberg i-XL. “The speed and accuracy of the digital router helped get this project out in time with no ink cracking along the cutting edge,” adds Strooh.
Because the state fair lasted ten days, the coroplast installation needed to be durable and withstand nearly 1.3 million visitors. The signs were attached to PVC fence with two-inch heavy-duty Velcro on existing PVC fence rails—allowing them to be removed and stored for next year’s show.
Challenges occurred during installation due to irregular lengths and thicknesses. To combat this, the fence post installation required a lot of measuring and efficient media use. Individual pieces were paneled to accommodate the design specifics. The fence posts and rails were properly secured with spacers due to varying thicknesses.
From art submittal to installation, the PSP completed the job in one week. The final graphics consisted of 30 pieces of ten mm coroplast, four pieces of four mm coroplast, and two pieces of lexan faces for a grand total of 569 square feet of printed material.
J Sayles Design was happy with the completed graphics. “Their client was impressed with how we achieved the result of improving from a well-worn appearance to a vibrant and attractive display,” offers Strooh. The colors in the light box’s lexan face were also bright and colorful at night when the sign was rear lit.
Beeline and Blue operates its swissQprint Nyala flatbed press for a variety of jobs like the Iowa Pork Producer’s fair building project. As technology advances, Strooh sees wide format flatbed presses improving with new trends such as multiple layer relief printing for artistic effects and practical purposes like braille, vacuum forming with UV ink, and improvements to speed and quality.
Nov2018, Digital Output