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How technology makes signmaking accessible to franchisees

crop1By Lee Manevitch
When you think about all of the technological changes the world has witnessed over the last century, it is staggering to see how far we have come. Some of us still remember having to get up out of our chairs to change the TV channel, for example. Today’s generations are growing up with e-mail and smart phones, which have not only parlayed into personal communication benefits, but also vastly changed today’s business dynamics.

The sign industry, too, has experienced a revolution in technology, particularly in the past 30 years. Most signs were painted or engraved pieces of wood, up until the mid-1980s, when computers began to change everything.

The advent of personal computers (PCs) affected the landscape of the sign and graphics industry just as radically as any other. By making computational power accessible to the masses, they allowed—for the first time—anyone with some basic technical skills to make signs. Indeed, the industry’s overall focus began to shift from artistic to technical.

As a result, a small sign shop today is able to produce everything from banners, exhibits, window graphics and vehicle wraps to magnetic signs, dimensional letters, directional systems and accessibility signage, providing visual communications tools to businesses around the world

Cutting and printing
The first major change was the development of systems for computer-cutting vinyl decals. These allowed printed graphics to be precision-cut identically with every production run. And assuming the right type of vinyl was loaded into the plotter, they were produced with perfect colour every time.

Once PCs were firmly entrenched in offices, the sign industry experienced a second wave of change with a migration to digital printing technology. After a rough start with some very expensive systems and processes, solvent-based inkjet printing became a viable technology for producing signs, at a price the average sign shop could afford. In this way, signmakers were able to save on labour and materials, creating colourful graphics and getting them out the door to their clients faster than ever before.

crop2Digital printing became a standard technology for the sign industry and will remain so in the foreseeable future, but there have been variations on solvent-based systems as signmakers have looked for the next big thing. New advances tend to involve ultraviolet-curing (UV-curing) technology, for example, whereby graphics can be printed directly onto a rigid board.

With solvent-based systems, the workflow for rigid signage involved printing a decal first, then applying it to a board of appropriate size. While this was a far more effective way to produce signs than earlier methods of computer-cutting vinyl, it still was not very efficient. Direct printing with UV-curable inks saves on both labour and materials.

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