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Digital Printing

Are You (Digitally) Experienced?

Larry analyzes the impact of digital technology on the average vinyl shop

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The advent of the digital era promised us a "paperless office." The truth, however, is that we use more paper than ever, because the digital technology to decorate paper has evolved. Printers and ink are the norm, and software and digital art resources are available in seeming overabundance. White is easily the most commonly sold paper color, because the color conversion of white paper minimizes or eliminates the need for pre-colored paper. This will someday hold true for vinyl’s digital conversion. White vinyl, stronger inks One of the first effects on vinyl’s short-term use will be more conversion of white vinyl. Clear vinyl works well with backlighting and decorating glass, while silver is used when creating a metallic element. The need for other colors will diminish as digital output becomes more weather- and UV-resistant. Today’s digital-conversion technology is, for the most part, centered around inks with short-term lifespans. The media available consists of short-term calendered vinyls. Lamination and clearcoating are clearly needed to protect and extend the life of prints using inks that can’t take the punishment. This will change with the use of more durable pigmented inks, which are standard in the screenprinting industry. Printers that use stronger, solvent-based inks — and therefore can print directly on high-performing vinyls — have recently hit the market. Machines that directly print onto banners and rigid substrates will also be in demand. Shops will increase their use of white banners and rigid substrates, with direct printing reducing white vinyl’s usage. Printers using longer-lasting inks will probably require a ventilation and filtration system. Sublimation processes can produce much of what the market demands, but the technology requires specially coated media, heat presses and processors, which increase cost. Standing out As pigmented-ink printer technology expands, and competition for media, ink and equipment sales increases, costs will continue to drop. Digital printing eliminates laborious weeding processes, which saves labor costs. Historically, technological advances have decreased costs for hardware, software and memory. Barriers to entering the sign and graphics industry will fall, and pressures for competitive prices on finished products will increase. The ability to market your services successfully will be essential. Communicating value and benefit will produce more profit than the printing process itself. Many new vinyl designers lack the skills we take for granted. Weeding, cutting/plotting and installing individually cut graphics will seem useless to many as they churn out directly printed banners, sign boards and vinyl panels. Paint and airbrushes are simply two more icons on the software tool menu. Got skills? You can’t mindlessly churn out digital art. You must capture or create it. Those who possess the right software, including conversion software for file sharing, plus skills to use them, will be the leaders of the sign industry’s next generation. Do you know how to use PhotoShop? Can you make it "sing," or merely hum? Do GIF, TIF, JPEG and other digital-file formats make you scream or smile? Is a drop-down menu something you reach for at your favorite restaurant, or your ally on the computer screen? Do you think PMS can be treated with medication? Are you in touch with the terminology of contemporary signmaking, or are you hanging onto the past with a death grip? To a twentysomething in the digital-art world, a mahl stick is a Jedi tool. It’s okay to value the past, but we must live and work in the present, and subsequently prepare for the future. Our new hires must possess skills we should (but may not) have, and they must have more aspirations than a cashier at McDonald’s

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