By Melissa Donovan
Innovation is at the heart of the graphic arts and we should look no further than the print providers themselves for leading the charge. Resourceful business owners are everywhere and it’s no surprise that many of them leverage digital printing’s advantages with textiles for their own means.
Above: bFIVE40 was tasked by CEG to create pop-up inflatables with custom dye-sub graphics, custom press kits, brand collateral, signage, and swag for an event to promote John Cena’s audiobook release, 64th Man, on Audible.
When we think of digitally printed textiles, applications like soft signage and more recently, apparel, fashion, and furnishings come to mind. However, there is so much more digitally printed fabric can be used for and one savvy woman-owned business realized and capitalized on it.
bFIVE40 of Little River, SC launched roughly three or four years ago with one product—an eco-smart, popup inflatable punching bag with a stretch fabric cover. Referred to as Bonk Fit, the company outsourced manufacturing of the product to focus on growing sales.
Soon after, it received requests to produce inflatable punching bags with custom graphics. Notably, the folks at 20th Century Fox wanted a Bonk Fit for its Ferdinand the Bull movie premiere; and soon after Captain Morgan reached out looking for an inflatable punching bag for a national bar crawl promotion.
These two high-profile projects influenced the next steps of Donna Brin, founder and managing member, bFIVE40. “I saw our future as an innovator of advertising products.” As a result, the company invested in a 7,000 square foot production facility in 2018. While it began with just two employees it now staffs a team of seven.
Since the introduction of Bonk Fit, bFIVE40 has added to its product portfolio. It specializes in sustainable signage, environmental graphics, custom apparel, and swag for customers worldwide. Its website promotes the company as a supplier of “digital print solutions for modern brands.”
A digital printer and fabricator, bFIVE40’s production facility houses dye-sublimation (dye-sub) and latex printing technology, a heat press, digital cutters, and automated sewing machines. It works with an extensive collection of specialty textiles, including REPREVE recycled polyester, stretch blends, and non-woven.
Focused on sustainability, bFIVE40 partners with Unifi, a supplier of recycled fibers, to bring its corporate clients eco-friendly options with certified ecological impact reporting. It completes work for architects on corporate interior designs including environmental graphics and silicone edge graphics.
bFIVE40 is passionate about purpose and empowerment. Not only does it source sustainable materials for its digital printing projects, it also works closely with the Horry County School District to donate its printed paper for reuse in classrooms.
In the Shop
When bFIVE40 opened its production facility in 2018, it purchased two machines instrumental to its printing operation—the HP Inc. Latex 500 and Mimaki USA, Inc. TS300P-1800. “Digital print is great because of its versatility, resolution, and long-lasting applications,” notes Brin.
The HP Latex 500 Printer Series is compromised of the HP Latex 560 and HP Latex 570. Both offer printing speeds of up to 248 square feet per hour (sf/h) at up to a 64-inch roll width. The HP Latex 560 works with HP 831 775 milliliter latex ink cartridges, running double-sided printing and using an ink collector. The HP Latex 570 runs on HP 871 three liter latex ink cartridges. Both devices print to banner material, self-adhesive vinyl, film, paper, wallcovering media, canvas, synthetics, fabric, and mesh.
The Mimaki TS300P-1800 dye-sub pinter is used for printing on thin transfer media. It offers a maximum productivity of 1,238 sf/h. Mimaki dye-sub inks are available in four-, six-, and eight-color configurations, including fluorescent pink and yellow.
bFIVE40 complements its digital printers with a roll-to-roll heat press from Practix Manufacturing LLC, Graphtec America, Inc. CE6000 digital cutters, and Juki Corporation sewing devices. Brin says of the heat press, “it is an excellent machine, easy to use and excellent customer service,” and about the cutters, “they perform cleanly and consistently.”
As previously mentioned, the company sources a number of fabrics including polyester, stretch blends, athletic performance, and non-woven—most of which are made up of recycled content. For other graphics projects it uses window cling materials, vinyl adhesives, and textured media.
Its first product, Bonk Fit, is still going strong. The inflatable punching bags are made for all types of customers—from businesses to consumers. A form-fitting fabric is placed over the top of a polyurethane inflatable. Completely manufactured in the U.S. in run quantities as low as one, it is available in three sizes—1.5, three, and five feet.
The fabric cover or skin is printed using the Mimaki TS300P-1800 dye-sub printer. With plans to transition to a REPREVE fabric later this year, current skins are made up of a 100 percent polyester jersey knit lightweight fabric, which feels like a workout shirt, according to Brin.
Anything is possible graphic-wise, a picture of a grandchild, a holiday theme, sports team logos, or company branding. Machine washable, the skin is easy to clean and can be removed to make the inflatable punching bag’s graphic interchangeable between multiple skins.
Bonk Fit is the ideal application for a digital print workflow. “Digital printing enables us tremendous flexibility on design and the ultra-high resolution quality big brands require. We actually started out screenprinting Bonk Fit, which was not workable, having to house different color SKUs, screen costs, color limitations, and lack of resolution. Digital printing was a no brainer,” shares Brin.
The 64th Man
Recently, bFIVE40 was tasked by creative agency Civic Entertainment Group (CEG) to produce digitally printed product for the promotion of John Cena’s audiobook release, 64th Man, on Audible. The job consisted of popup inflatables with custom dye-sub graphics, custom press kits, brand collateral, signage, and swag for an event.
CEG and bFIVE40 collaborated to create all of the graphics and streamline the proofing process between both Audible and John Cena. The final designs were approved with only five working days prior to the launch.
Coordinating between production of Bonk Fit and the other assets was a challenge. For example, the press kits were sent out to marketing/public relations firms all over Los Angeles, CA and New York, NY. Each kit included a custom inflatable, electric pump, full-color informational brochure, and lanyard attachment with a quick response code to reveal an excerpt from the book.
Brand collateral, signage, swag, and Bonk Fit were also sent to Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA for a Philadelphia Eagles football game, where an event promoting the book launch took place.
The entire process took six weeks, including initial planning to revisions, final print and finishing, deliveries, and execution. The inflatable skins were printed on the Mimaki TS300P-1800 dye-sub printer, while the HP Latex device was used for the rest of the graphics.
CEG was very happy with the entire process from creating the designs to production and final fulfillment. “Donna and the team at bFIVE40 gave us step-by-step guidance and support throughout the entire project. They streamlined production and fulfillment to ensure we met our deadlines. You can tell they take pride in their work and are committed to their clients. The products were all great quality from the printing to the stitching,” notes Sami Pastron, representative, CEG.
Brin herself even went out to the creative agency’s offices in NY to deliver 75 units of inflatables, helping to load every one from a U-Haul driven up from SC. “We bring such a unique and creative spin to advertising campaigns, creating a seamless client experience,” she notes.
Due to the coronavirus crisis, bFIVE40 pivoted to produce branded fabric face wear, barrier masks, and buffs with full coverage four-color print using its Mimaki dye-sub machines.
“With Covid-19, our business came to a halt. So I transformed our print, cut, and sew operation to produce reusable fabric masks and safety graphics for today’s brands,” shares Brin.
The company tripled its staff and purchased additional equipment with contracts to produce over 150,000 branded masks and graphics for energy companies, hotel and resorts, and food and beverage businesses.
The company hopes to continue influencing the way consumers engage and interact with advertising thanks to unique products like Bonk Fit. Its business mission is summed up in the meaning of its name. “There are 360 degrees in a circle, a flat two-dimensional shape. At 540 degrees, an object breaks the plane and becomes three dimensional. At bFIVE40, we are changing the way people see brands by adding depth—the kind of depth this world needs to see,” explains Brin.
Its origins in creating the customized inflatable punching bag Bonk Fit led it to ramp up from outsourcing manufacturing to bringing all of its production in house. Digital printing technologies and complementing finishing techniques made this possible. bFIVE40 is positioned to bring modern brands custom product solutions for advertising and promotion.
Aug2020, Digital Output