Page 1

Tips & advice for your Shop


Clear Wrap enhancements

Nu mb er 212

Sponsored by Howard Industries

GoinG Green

Number 212 | february 2013


S ig n Bu i l d er i l luStr ated

Ka-Boom! Making CustoM signs >>> Business Management >>> Digital Sign Investment >>> Large Format

febru ary 20 13

Photography by Greg Gorman Š 2012


SOLVENT PRINTING HAS NEVER BEEN SMARTER Introducing the SureColor® S-Series. With the all-new SureColor S-Series line of printers, Epson is ushering in a new era of performance, quality and reliability. Developed for high-performance printing and a low cost of ownership, this all-new suite of solvent printers delivers print speeds that are the fastest in their class and image quality that’s unmatched in the industry, at an unprecedented price. And, with three unique 64" models to choose from, including the SureColor S30670, there’s an S-Series printer that’s right for your business. Learn more about the way solvent printing should be at

SureColor S30670


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SureColor S50670


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*MSRP, before rebates. Please check with an EPSON Professional Imaging Authorized Reseller for actual price as dealer prices may vary. EPSON and SureColor are registered trademarks and EPSON Exceed Your Vision is a registered logomark of Seiko Epson Corporation. All other product and brand names are trademarks and/or registered trademarks of their respective companies. Epson disclaims any and all rights in these marks. Copyright 2012 Epson America, Inc.

Powered by with

February 2013


26 26

The Atomic Tattoo Sign BY JEFF WOOTEN

Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb sign.

32 39

The Real Cost of Digital Signage BY JONATHAN BRAWN

Integrating digital signs into your offerings.

It’s Clear to Wrap BY JEFF WOOTEN

Let’s see-through an example of a non-typical wrap.

Sign Builder Illustrated (Print ISSN 895-0555, Digital ISSN 2161-4709) (USPS#0015-805) (Canada Post Cust. #7204564) (Bluechip Int’l, Po Box 25542, London, ON N6C 6B2, Agreement # 41094515) is published monthly by Simmons-Boardman Publ. Corp, 55 Broad Street, 26th Floor, New York, NY 10004. Printed in the U.S.A. Periodicals postage paid at New York, NY and Additional mailing offices. Pricing, Qualified individual working in the sign industry may request a free subscription. Non-qualified subscriptions printed or digital version: 1 year US $105.00; foreign $197.00; foreign, air mail $297.00. 2 years US $149.00; foreign $267.00; foreign, air mail $497.00. BOTH Print & Digital Versions: 1 year US $158.00; foreign $296.00; foreign, air mail $396.00. 2 years US $224.00; foreign $400.00; foreign, air mail $600.00. Single copies are $36.00 ea. Subscriptions must be paid for in U.S. funds only. Copyright © Simmons-Boardman Publishing Corporation 2013. All rights reserved. Contents may not be


Sign Builder Illustrated // February 2013

32 46

A Guide to Green Printing BY ASHLEY BRAY

The path to leaving a smaller carbon footprint. Plus, more “green” tips for your shop.


“Support” and Demand BY JEFF WOOTEN

A behind-the-scenes look at a successful franchise shop. Plus, ADA design guidelines!

reproduced without permission. For reprint information contact: Arthur Sutley, Publisher 212-620-7247 or For Subscriptions, & address changes, please call (800) 895-4389, (402) 346-4740, Fax (402) 346-3670, e-mail or write to: Sign Builder Illustrated, Simmons-Boardman Publ. Corp, PO Box 10, Omaha, NE 68101-0010. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Sign Builder Illustrated, PO Box 10, Omaha, NE 68101-0010. Instructional information provided in this magazine should only be performed by skilled crafts people with the proper equipment. The publisher and authors of information provided herein advise all readers to exercise care when engaging in any of the how-to activities published in the magazine. Further, the publisher and authors assume no liability for damages or injuries resulting from projects contained herein.

Advanced Optics


Proprietary Module Encapsulation


How-To Columns


Comparing the Before and After


FEBRUARY 2013 February 21-23: The 2013 Graphics of the Americas event will take place at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. (

The Non-“Typical” Channel Letter

16 Comparing the Before and After BY MARK ROBERTS

Things to do “before” you come up with a good “after” sign.


The Non-“Typical” Channel Letter


Redefine standard with custom channel letters.


February 26-28: The tenth annual Digital Signage Expo® 2013, co-located with the Interactive Technology Expo and Digital Content Show, is scheduled for the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas. (

On-premise Signs and Free Speech


Understanding what the courts have to say about on-premise sign content.

Departments 6





Sign Show


SBI Marketplace


Shop Talk

Editor Jeff Wooten plants some seeds about what it means to be “green” in this month’s issue.



Clear Wrap Enhancements

NU MB ER 21 2


Tips & Advice for Your Shop


Ka-Boom! MAKING CUSTOM SIGNS >>> Business Management >>> Digital Sign Investment >>> Large Format

F E BRU A RY 20 13


March 1-2: The Mid South Sign Association’s “New Ideas, New Possibilities” Conference will be conducted at Signs First in Jackson, Mississippi. (www.

The latest news from around the industry.

The newest products and services from sign manufacturers.

Advertisements and announcements from the sign trade. HOW-TO

MARCH 2013

Ashley Bray races to the conclusion that running a sign shop is a combination of creativity and project management.

On the Cover A colorful custom sign for an Atomic Tattoo shop makes quite an impact in this photo by Blackout Signs & Metalworks of San Marcos, Texas.

Sign Builder Illustrated // February 2013

March 26: The IPAF Summit access industry conference is being held at the Hilton Miami Downtown Hotel in Miami, Florida. (

APRIL 2013 aPrIL 3-6: The 2013 ISA International Sign Expo will take place at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. (


by jeff wooten

February 2013, Vol. 27, No. 212 Sign Builder Illustrated (ISSN 0895-0555) print, (ISSN 2161-0709) digital is published by Simmons-Boardman Publishing Corporation

Green Acres is the Place to Be

executive offices

President and Chairman Arthur J. McGinnis, Jr. Publisher Arthur J. sutley

Tips for going green all over your shop.

55 Broad Street, 26th floor New York, NY 10004 212/620-7247; fax: 212/633-1863 editorial editor

Jeff Wooten

323 Clifton Street, Suite #7 Greenville, NC 27858 252/355-5806; fax: 252/355-5690 associate editor


or the past couple of early-year issues, we’ve always liked to take a special look at environmental friendliness and green practices not only out at the job site, but also in the sign shop and its inventory. And this year will be no different. On page 46, we have the article “A Guide to Green Printing” by Ashley Bray that is intended to help you better leave a smaller carbon footprint. Not only will you get an overview of what terms like “carbon footprint,” “sustainability,” and “greenwashing” mean when it comes to printing, but you’ll also find in this story other green ideas and statistics intended to help your shop become more efficient. According to research conducted on behalf of EcoPrint 2012 and in a white paper written by PMC and sponsored by INX Digital: “Many smaller printers are being discouraged from taking the first steps to sustainability because of the perceived cost of adopting standards and the difficulty in determining why and how to make that first leap towards, for them at least, a very high bar.” Are you in this same boat? If so, I’d like to use my forum here to add a few more pieces of advice about this subject. An EPA report indicates that each person created over four pounds of waste every day in 2010. According to Greenstar Recycling (, by recycling just two pounds daily, we could reduce this waste by 50 percent. To increase employee engagement in recycling, the organization suggests: Give your employees a defined role in new programs; set company-wide or departmental goals; and place bins in high-traffic areas near trash cans (which creates opportuni-


Ashley Bray

ties for action without adding steps to existing routines and processes). To become a sustainable printer, Marcia Y. Kinter, vice president of Government & Business Information, at the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA) suggests the following: Develop a Sustainability Policy. “This becomes your public voice regarding what you want to do at your facility,” she stresses. “Include information regarding specific programs and projects you plan to undertake in the coming year. If you plan to increase your recycling efforts, let everyone know! And let everyone know that you are in compliance with your environmental and safety and health obligations.” Recognize that becoming a “green” printer is about more than your substrates! “Many believe that if they move to printing on the newly offered sustainable substrates that they are now sustainable,” she says. “But sustainable business practices wield a larger brush. “You need to take a look at your total operation (including societal impacts), if you are truly interested in becoming a more sustainable business operation. It is a great first step to investigate and use alternative substrates, but it is not the only decision you should make!” Ensure that you are in compliance with your environmental, safety, and health regulations. Many printers do not realize that sustainability begins where compliance ends. If you have a Safety and Health Committee at your shop, Kinter suggests to consider expanding it to include sustainability initiatives. “Employees are a great source of information—and often a great source of creativity— when it comes to developing and implementing these new programs,” she says.

Sign Builder Illustrated // February 2013

55 Broad Street, 26th Floor New York, NY 10004 401/722-5919; fax: 212/633-1863 contributing writers

Mike Adams, Butch “superfrog” Anton, Mike Antoniak, Jonathan Brawn, richard Crawford, Jim hingst, Peter Perszyk, Mark roberts, lori shridhare, randy Wright art

Corporate Art Director Wendy Williams Associate Art Director Phil Desiere production

Corporate Production Director Mary Conyers circulation

Circulation Director Maureen Cooney advertising sales east coast regional sales director

Jeff sutley 212/620-7233; fax: 212/633-1863 west & midwest regional sales manager

Kim noa

212/620-7221; fax: 212/633-1863

For reprint information contact Arthur J. Sutley 55 Broad St, 26th Floor New York, NY 10004 212/620-7247; fax: 212/633-1863 Circulation Dept. 800/895-4389


Signs Now Goes “All32in17” for a Plymouth, Michigan—When Simon and Gretchen Nussbaum, co-owners of full-service Signs Now South Elgin ( in Elgin, Illinois, were approached last year by St. Charles Toyota to donate a vehicle wrap for use in the “All32in17 Ultimate Football Journey for Wounded Warriors,” they jumped at the chance to be a part of such a special project. The father-and-son team of Craig and Matt Steichen created “All32in17” as a unique way to honor the nation’s military heroes. This project traveled across the country over seventeen weeks (the length of the National Football League's regular season) taking two different local Wounded Warrior Veterans to each of the NFL’s thirty-two stadiums for a home game. As part of the project, the Steichens planned to drive to at least ten of the stadiums and worked with St. Charles Toyota for a donation of the use of a 2012 Toyota Sienna. St. Charles Toyota Business Development and Marketing Manager Keith Lanzara then contacted Signs Now to see if they would be interested in donating the wrap materials and installation. “Without hesitation, Simon agreed and wanted to be part of it,” explained Lanzara. “The vehicle wrap looked amazing! Since partnering with Signs Now, they now handle all of our dealerships’ projects as well.” “I was excited to do the project because I felt like our soldiers coming home weren’t getting a lot of visibility,” remarked Simon. “Anything we could do


Sign Builder Illustrated // February 2013

all photos courtesy of signs now south elgin.

Special Project

Roland Race Experience Winner

photo courtesy of roland dga.

to help the cause was well worth it. After considering what our troops put on the line, a little time and money on our part was inconsequential. “Everyone at our facility really put the extra effort into producing a great vehicle wrap.” Signs Now South Elgin handled 100 percent of the wrap design in-house, including finding source images to use for the background and for the football. They finalized it using Pro Vehicle Outline software and output the wrap via their Mutoh VJ-1324 fifty-four-inch eco-solvent printer onto 3M™ Controltac™ Graphic Film with Comply™ v3 Adhesive IJ-180cv3-10 and 3M 8518 Premium Glossy 2-mil Cast Overlaminate. They performed the dry install in their shop's 2,500-square foot vehicle bay over two days ( just in time for the opening of training camps last summer). “This Toyota vehicle was a little more difficult to do than you’d think just by looking at it. It has all these trim lines on it, not like a panel van,” says Nussbaum.

Irvine, California—Not many people get to rub elbows with star drivers like Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton and watch Sprint Cup Series action from the best seats in the house at Charlotte Motor Speedway. However Mark Caron (pictured, far right, with Harvick) and his wife Tera (also pictured, with Roland's Jim Day) experienced this after winning the Roland Race Experience Challenge. Caron, owner of Payson, Utahbased MHC Sign and Design, won the contest when his testimonial was judged “most compelling” of all entries submitted at Roland DGA’s Restyling “Born to Wrap” Facebook page. In addition to this all-expenses paid trip to North Carolina, the couple also received a VIP tour of the Richard Childress Racing team graphics facility, which uses several Roland eco-solvent large format printers for its wraps ( “We've always been huge NASCAR fans, but we never thought we’d have a chance to actually attend the races in Charlotte, let alone meet some of the world’s top pros,” said Caron.

February 2013 // Sign Builder Illustrated


Dispatches +

photo (below) courtesy of orbus exhibit & display group.

Bolingbrook, Illinois—The Orbus Exhibit & Display Group (www. announces that its newest facility in Las Vegas, Nevada achieved ISO 14001 environmental management certification. ISO audits are conducted to verify Orbus’ commitment to meeting its goals to protect the environment and minimize its environmental impact. The ISO 14001:2004 standard is primarily concerned with the approach of environmental management, which provides guidance for an organization to prevent pollution, enhance positive effects on the environment caused by business activities, and achieve continual improvement of environmental performance. Orbus Las Vegas also passed the first stage of audits for the ISO 9001:2008 manufacturing process certification, which sets out the criteria for a quality management and manufacturing system to ensure that an organization’s products and services consistently meet its client’s requirements and that it constantly improves.


photo courtesy of flexcon.

Orbus Facility Goes Green

Wrapping Trains for

A Fantasy Experience Chicago, Illinois—Last fall, adhesive coating and laminating manufacturer FLEXcon ( was selected by DAXAM, Inc., to help produce graphics for Operation North Pole, a public charity event that took place in Chicago on November 17. Operation North Pole gave seventy-five local families with children suffering from life-threatening illnesses a fun-filled start to the holiday season with the fantasy experience of traveling to the North Pole via Metra’s Union Pacific Northwest line. The event included an array of activities, and all families received gifts upon departure. The train cars were wrapped by DAXAM, Inc., with seasonal graphics designed by Saatchi & Saatchi X using FLEXcon’s BUSart™ Air Egress and SEETHRU-SIGN® White/Black Flex 2 products that had been donated. “We [were] thrilled to be celebrating our fourth year of Operation North Pole, and thanks to the generosity of our sponsors, partners, and volunteers, we [served] twice as many families as last year, having raised enough money to charter three double-decker trains for the entire day,” said Tim Crossin, co-founder of Operation North Pole. “This fantasy experience [was] extended through the entire holiday season, as the trains [were also]

Sign Builder Illustrated // February 2013

used by park districts throughout the city to provide their own unique polar experiences.” “Planning and executing Operation North Pole is no small task, especially on a larger scale,” said Wojtek Drobek, vice president of DAXAM, Inc. “We selected FLEXcon for the superior image quality delivered by their BUSart Air Egress and SEETHRU-SIGN lines, as well as the products’ ease of handling during installation and clean removability following the conclusion of short-term projects.” FLEXcon’s BUSart Air Egress product with air egress release liner technology is designed for short-term, large format graphics on simple or compound curved surfaces. Its aggressive removable adhesive is designed to remove cleanly from a variety of surfaces. SEETHRU-SIGN White/Black Flex 2 (STSWBF2) perforated window film was used on the windows of the car. It provides optical clarity for see-thru viewing from the inside out and graphics visibility when viewing from the outside looking in. “We [were] honored to work closely with such an impressive group of charitable organizations that are enabling Operation North Pole to bring joy to families who battle emotional and financial troubles all year long,” said Mike Chevalier, new business development manager, FLEXcon.

SignSHOW A D H E S I V E S / TA P E S Main Tape’s New PreView Plus GXF100 Goes Beyond the Traditional Main Tape Company, a manufacturer of protective film products for use in the metal, graphics, and construction industries, has created PreView Plus GXF100 Clear Transfer Tape. The see-through, medium-tack transfer film can cover even the most complicated designs. The PreView Plus GXF100 Clear Transfer Tape lays flat, is low in static, offers consistent performance, and releases no adhesive residue. This cost-effective, new tape is suitable for both wet or dry applications. 800/526-TAPE;

ARCHITECTURAL SIGNAGE Outwater Introduces its Faux Wood Beams Recreate the rustic look of authentic, aged, hand-hewn oak beams with water-based finished and unfinished highdensity polyurethane Faux Wood Beams from Outwater Plastics Industries, Inc. + Architectural Products by Outwater, LLC. Outwater’s hollowed Faux Wood Beams are not only lightweight and sturdy, but they are easy to install on virtually any type of surface. Users can affix the beams via countersunk nails or screws to nailing blocks or wood planks, which serve both as a point of attachment as well as an installation guide or template. The Faux Wood Beams are stocked in four different collections in eleven assorted styles. They can be tooled and refinished like true wood beams; in addition, they are dimensionally stable, impervious to moisture and insects, and suitable for indoor or outdoor use. 800/631-8375;

B A N N E R S /M AT E R I A L S / E Q U I PM E N T Flying a Free Flag Can Lead to Increased Business Custom Banner is offering sign shops a free “Open Flag” for a limited time. Shops can choose from four style options, and Custom Banner only asks that a shop purchase an aluminum, non-furling flagpole and mounting bracket for thirtytwo dollars. The flags also include a free fabric “rider” that hangs from the bottom of the flag, which can be changed in less than a minute and allows businesses to continuously promote products and services as well as to align themselves with their community. Displaying and offering these custom open flags and riders has resulted in increased sales for sign shops. Each custom open flag is cut at a 45-degree angle, which allows the flag and rider to be viewed whether or not the wind is blowing, significantly increasing its promotional value. There are many custom riders that a shop can offer customers—including “Open Weekends” and “Sale Today!” varieties.

CHANNEL LETTERS GSG Offers Channel Letter Coils For channel letter jobs, Graphic Solutions Group (GSG) offers several types of coil manufactured by Wrisco. These coils are available in painted, mill, and anodized and come slit and recoiled in any color or finish in gauges of 9.3, 8.3, 5.3, and 3.3 inches. Standard stock coil includes white, black (matte or gloss), and bronze; and all channel letter coil is PVC masked. Other colors include super bright white, blue, Chevron blue, red, and mill finish. The coil works with all computerized channel letter machinery and enables users to save time and labor by using only what is needed and getting it slit to the perfect width. Matching painted pop rivets to finish the letters are also available. 800/366-1776;

fASTEN ERS/GRoMMETS Draper Grommets Stocked in Eight Popular Colors A full line of #12 drapery and curtain grommets has been introduced by ClipsShop #12 Grommet Sets include a grommet and washer each made from quality materials and supplied in eight popular colors—antique brass, brass, satin brass, black oxide, copper oxide, nickel, satin nickel, and gun metal. These grommets are totally compatible with the Rowley® hand tool and bench press and the ClipsShop® CSBUR-1 press, which generate a high mechanical impact for attaching these one-and-a-half-inch metal grommets. Suitable for manufacturers of awnings, tents, and related products, ClipsShop #12 Grommet Sets are packaged in bags of twenty-five sets and one hundred sets for each of the eight colors. Free samples are available upon request. 508/821-4800;


Sign Builder Illustrated // February 2013

SignSHOW L A M I N AT I N G E Q U I PM E N T/ S U P P L I E S Finish Graphics Fit for Royalty Thanks to New Royal Finishing Equipment from DaVinci DaVinci Technologies has announced the availability of its new Royal Sovereign Laminators and Royal Sovereign Trimmers. The Royal Sovereign Laminators have the capability of laminating both hot and cold film types and accommodate an assortment of film variations and sizes. The Royal Sovereign Trimmers will save users and their team valuable time and effort by offering extremely smooth and clean cuts. These machines work on a large variety of substrates, including posters, signs, and other laminated materials.

LED MoDULES/TUBES/STRIPS LEDs Can “Trace” Any Letter Shape or Direction with Bitro’s TRACER™ Series Bitro Group introduces the new TRACER™ Series, a linear flexible lighting system. The exclusive flexible and bendable tape-type LED modules are bendable both vertically and horizontally without excessively straining the circuit. The system offers a tremendous amount of freedom and flexibility in laying out LEDs in continuous lines for extremely narrow channel letters and letters with profiles as low as one-inch deep. TRACER is offered in red, green, blue, two colors of whites, and full RGB with strict rank control. The strip can be cut every three LEDs and is ideal for indoor lowprofile channel letter illuminations and window signs. Soldering is necessary for making electrical connections. 201/641-1004;

Think latex. Think textile. Think signage. Think new opportunities. „ „ „


Ideal for soft signage – Mimaki’s JV400LX prints directly on textile. Lower power consumption. No degassing required. Ventilation-free operation. ATL








© 2013 Mimaki USA, Inc.

JV400LX_TexH_SBI0213.indd 1 14 MimakiSign Builder Illustrated // February 2013

1/14/13 10:45 AM

S I G N B L A N K S / PA N E L S / S U B ST R AT E S Direct Color Systems® Releases InkMark UV Coated Plastics and Metals for UV LED Inkjet Printers Direct Color Systems® (DCS) has expanded its line of InkMark™ pre-coated substrates with options that are compatible with the company’s compact UV LED printers and inks. InkMark UV Metals are coated aluminum substrates available in white, brushed platinum, silver, and gold finishes. Meanwhile InkMark UV Coated Plastics are available in a variety of color combinations and two base plastic resins: DR Acrylic and ABS Plastic. DR Acrylic is ideal for exterior applications and can be laser cut, cut with rotating carbide, sawed, drilled, or bent with heat. ABS Plastic can be profiled with rotating carbide, scored, cut with shears, or bent with heat, with no predrilling required. While both InkMark UV metal and plastic substrates can be used on any UV flatbed printer, they are optimized to accept DCS’s UV LED inks without the use of any chemical wipe or adhesion promoter—allowing users to more easily and more economically create durable images with a greater resistance to scratches, chipping, delamination, and many perfumes and solvents. 860/829-2244;

W I D E f o R M AT I N K /M E D I A / S U P P L I E S Tackle Longer Production Runs with LexJet’s Sunset Canvas LexJet offers new Sunset Production Matte Canvas, an economical yet high-quality inkjet-printable canvas for longer production runs with consistent quality. The bright-white, water-resistant, 100-percent polyester matte canvas has the look and feel of a traditional 2-over-1 weave for all types of art and décor applications. It is designed to work with Sunset Gloss Coating and Sunset Satin Coating (either sprayed or rolled on), and it is compatible with the latest aqueous printer and ink set technologies from Canon, Epson, and HP. The material is available in sixty-foot roll lengths and twenty-four-, thirty-six-, forty-four-, and sixty-inch widths. 800/453-9538;

Tri-Mod LED Backlighting Panels


• A great way to backlight your graphics, posters and promotional messages • Evenly illuminates without any hot spots • Just 1/16” thick • Less than 1” of installation depth required • Panels are pre-wired and simply clip together

• 6 panel sizes enable endless configurations • Dimmable • Energy efficient • virtually shatterproof fiberglass construction ated for 50,000 hours • rated usage with minimal to no light degradation


Slotted Standoffs

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finishes Polished Chrome Available: matt Chrome

Black nickel Brushed Brass

Can Be Mounted Vertically or Horizontally

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Barrel Lengths from 1/2” – 6” Diameters from 1/2” – 1-1/2”

FrEE 1,000 Page catalog!

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f 1” Diameter Barrel Unbeatable 3/4” Diameter Tamper Proo Part # Length Price Barrel stDE-3224-* 3/4” $1.60 ea. Part # Length Price stDE-3232-* 1” $2.02 ea. stD-24243/4” $6.55 ea. stDE-3248-* 1-1/2” $2.22 ea. stD-2432- * 1” $6.85 ea. stDE-3264- * 2” $2.42 ea. stD-2448- * 1-1/2” $7.60 ea. stDE-3296- * 3” $2.92 ea. stD-24128-** 4” $10.25 ea. stDE-32128-* 4” $3.33 ea. stDE-32192- * 6” $4.00 ea.

Serving the Industry Since 1972

f PrEMIUM Tamper Proo aLUMInUM SErIES IES Ideal for the 5/8” Diameter Barrel Outdoors Part # Length Price stDA-2020- * 5/8” $1.94 ea. stDA-2032- * 1” $2.26 ea. stDA-2048- * 1-1/2” $2.73 ea. stDA-2064- * 2” $3.26 ea. stDA-2096- * 3” $3.94 ea. stDA-20128-* 4” $4.15 ea.

Plastics Industries, Inc. New Jersey • ArizoNA


February 2013 // Sign Builder Illustrated



By Mark roBerts


Comparing the Before and after

Things to do “before” you come up with a good “after” sign.




look forward to my job every day. I talk to some interesting people, and I get to ask and answer my clients about the ideal sign that will work for them right now. Having thirtytwo years of sign-making experience under my belt, I’ve seen some spectacular signs, graphics, and commercial vehicle lettering. Still the challenges remain. How will this project become my best ever? The easiest way I know to stay sharp and creative is to see a graphics challenge and work hard to command that challenge into a great, effective sign. Sometimes that challenge means working on sign projects that are designed to replace an older sign. Years of rain, snow, wind, and hot summers can zap the life out of a sign before one knows it. Soon what was once an effective advertising creation is now a mere shadow of itself—wasting away its last days. This month, I’ll show the dramatic difference between the “before” and the “after” states of signage with similar messages at a nearby dry ice plant. For this project, I had to keep in mind: Signs that advertise have to shout! to be seen because of the small space in the time it takes the viewer to read and assimilate the information. Most new versions of these types of signs will feature different sentence structures—perhaps even some graphic breaks and contrasting

Sign Builder Illustrated // February 2013

1 colors. Creating impressions after viewing the message is what the advertiser dreams about. My first assignment here was to remove the existing decals from the doors of the ice plant’s eighteen-wheeler cabs and replace them with newer versions. As you can see, these decals had been through their fair share of wear-and-tear (Photo 1). The company originally told me that they wanted copy-only decals that were “more to the point.” However for years, this dry ice company had used a ’60s-style cartoon penguin as its advertising mascot (Photo 2). Dry ice. Penguin. My imagination had taken off! I touched up this classic “cool” bird design on



US LED was a proud participant in the 2012 Formula Expo held in Austin, TX. Working with Godstone Ranch and The American Heart Association, US LED provided 80 bright white L-Grid 2’x2’ fixtures to create an impressive 40’x8’ display wall behind the Godstone Ranch Ferrari. Seen by over 20,000 people throughout the weekend, the L-Grid wall illuminated a larger-than-life rendering of the Circuit of America creating an awe-inspiring draw to the Expo.

135 lumens per foot High brightness

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By adding a touched-up


version of the dry ice plant’s classic penguin mascot to its new signage, what was once a draband-dull text-only sign suddenly becomes fresh, exciting, and memorable.


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Sign Builder Illustrated // February 2013


my computer (Photo 3) and added it to the final sign design for the vehicle decals (Photo 4). Meanwhile the 4-by-10-foot aluminum sign on the front of the dry ice plant’s building was also beginning to show its age (Photo 5). My proposal called for a new, slightly larger (4-by12-foot), pan-formed aluminum sign here with one cool exception—thanks to the extra room, this new penguin would appear on the sign face too (Photo 6). The penguin adds advertising value to a once drab and not very exciting sign. Most of our aluminum sign retrofits are pan-formed aluminum. This process creates an extremely durable pan face, which is riveted over horizontal aluminum angle sections. After both pans were riveted into place, I then riveted the four fillers around the entire perimeter of the sign to seal the structure. This keeps the birds out and adds years to the lifespan of the sign. This dry ice company also had a double-sided street sign mounted to two steel poles. It featured the same copy as the flat, mounted building sign, so I suggested adding the penguin mascot to both sides of this sign too (Photo 7). Having a graphic element breaks up the monotony of the text-only sign while creating a more lasting memory for the viewer (as stated earlier). Selling your signs in a set like this is quite easy if you stress the importance of advertising continuity. Having all sign faces look similar creates a systematic approach to brand identification and awareness. Aluminum signs are almost maintenance-free, but they do need attention about once or twice a year. Power washing and a good scrubbing with a pole brush will add years to the life of these signs. One of the best benefits for selling sign retrofits is the amount of viable prospects that are in your own market. Drive around and count the number of these types of signs. Chances are you’ll find a few dozen that could use a helping hand to regain their glory and advertising prowess. They’re ripe for the picking. To me, being content means being complacent. So why not stretch our imagination and creativity? Mark Roberts is the owner of The InterSign Group ( in Houston, Texas.

Decorating Polycarbonate Sign Faces


n our December 2012 issue, we covered how sign makers can sell, fabricate, and install polycarbonate in sign face applications (“Getting Durable with Polycarbonates”). “Typically polycarbonate sheet products (thicker gauge) are used in areas where rigidity and impact are important,” explains Gary DiFazio, marketing and graphics manager at Piedmont Plastics ( “Thinner films though may be used for countless graphic applications.” According to Bill Uline, general manager of Faces® (signfaces. com), polycarbonate sheet material can be shaped through routing, cutting, and heat-bending tools. “Be sure to use the proper type of cutting blade and check for sharpness,” he says. For installation, “Pressure-sensitives can provide the proper adhesion necessary for labels, while PC overlaminating films offer durability and anti-glare qualities for valued graphics,” says DiFazio. “And UV-laminating polycarbonates allow graphics to be utilized in outdoor applications where other plastics fail.” There’s actually a lot of design freedom available with polycarbonates. “Various textures help designers achieve a wide array of looks. Our own LEXAN™ sheet is easily thermoformed for quick, easy sign construction and its light weight makes installation easy too,” says Mark Troszak, image market leader-Polymershapes at SABIC (

One popular form of polycarbonate sign manufacture is thermoforming. This is where the plastic sheet is preheated to the desired forming temperature (approximately 360°F for polycarbonate), allowing the sheet to become pliable enough so that when the plastic is lowered over the part and vacuumapplied, it will conform to the shape of the part. Jeff Hester, segment manager-New Business Development at Bayer MaterialScience (, says the key is that the polycarbonate needs to be completely dry prior to forming. “Due to its higher heat deflection temperature, you have to heat the sheet to a level that would create the moisture in the sheet to react. If the sheet isn’t dry beforehand, this could cause bubbles or blistering.” But what about decorating polycarbonate sheet—for use either as vacuum-formed pan-face signage, signage panels, or outdoor directories? The good news is you can decorate polycarbonate faces many different ways—vinyl application, first- and secondsurface painting, etc. “It can be cut and spray painted and screen process printed,” says Troszak. “Colors, tints, textures, and grades produced with tight shrinkage tolerances are all available as well, to broaden design and decoration options.” DiFazio adds, “You can also print directly onto the face of the material using UV and latex flatbed printers.” —Jeff Wooten

LEDs look much better in uniform. Makrolon® LD polycarbonate sheets deliver uniform light diffusion for today’s LED signage. They feature an advanced light diffusion technology that provides excellent light uniformity. LED hot spots and shadowing are eliminated in flat or formed applications. Makrolon LD is available in a range of standard sign colors and can be custom matched to industry colors. Don’t limit your design flexibility with LEDs. Makrolon LD delivers now. Call 800-254-1707 for samples or visit to locate your local, authorized distributor.

February 2013 // Sign Builder Illustrated



B y M i k e A dA M s


The Non-“Typical” Channel Letter Redefine standard with custom channel letters.



ust what is the “typical” channel letter? Synonyms of “typical” include: normal, ordinary, unexceptional, common, conventional, stock, standard, average, etc. Of course, no one wants to be called “average!” We generally like to think of ourselves as above-average. Yet most sign makers passively accept this “typical” label every time they get into a competitive bidding situation. The competitive bid assumes that the item produced is of “standard quality.” Whether you or your competitor produces it, either product will be indistinguishable from the other. This particular mindset leads to what I like to deem “commodity pricing.” (Note: Commodity products are products that offer little or no perceived differences between competitive offerings and are easily interchangeable.) All things being equal, it makes sense for the sign buyer to shop for the lowest price. But in my opinion, this way of thinking is flawed, because all things are not equal. Although many standards are used in sign making, a “typical” or “standard” channel letter does not exist. Every channel letter is a customdesigned sign. Every manufacturer is different. Sign makers use different software, equipment, processes, materials, supplies, and personnel. This makes every sign a custom product. But the premise of commodity pricing ig-

Sign Builder Illustrated // February 2013

nores these realities and assumes that signs produced by differing companies would work equally well. Sign makers who accept this way of thinking have to lower prices even more, in order to keep customers. The solution to this problem is value-added products! Within the marketplace, there is room for those manufacturers who choose to provide products that are “typical” and those who choose to innovate. There will always be those customers who choose to purchase average signage and those who choose to purchase exceptional signage. It is the responsibility of sign makers to convey to their customers the differences inherent in those products. When retailers and other signage buyers begin to see the benefits of exceptional signage, they often choose to purchase the value-added signage, even though it is usually more expensive. This applies to channel letters and all types of dimensional and fabricated letters and logos. If each sign is a custom-designed product, it is necessary to explore the needs of each application with each customer and to develop a variety of processes and procedures to meet each of these needs. Superior signs add value by giving the customer better than the “status quo.” One thing is clear: If you want to move away from commodity pricing, you must move away from the traditional production of channel let-



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ters. Instead you have to create new types of signage that solve problems and create unique solutions for your customers. The value-added manufacturer must also invest in software and equipment that will enable the organization to produce signage that is genuinely superior. One colleague who owns a value-added sign company recently shared with me the challenge he received from one of his customers. This particular customer needed a set of fabricated letters with a small serif. The design offered challeng-

es in the fabrication as well as the lighting of the sign. In consulting with his wholesaler, he was informed that the smallest serif the wholesaler’s equipment would produce was 1-1/2-inch between bends. While this distance would be easier to light, it would significantly change the font used and the original design of the sign. My colleague felt this was not an acceptable solution and decided he needed to find a way the font could be fabricated with a 5/8-inch distance between bends

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on the serif. This would allow space for lighting, while maintaining the artistic integrity of the original design. Finding this solution was the act of a true valueadded sign maker. One way sign makers can move away from commodity pricing of channel letters is through broaching. Broaching is a machining process that uses a toothed tool (called a broach) to remove material. The process is used to cut keyways or slots in motor shafts, for example. In the sign industry, broaching is commonly used to assist in the production of some types of dimensional or architectural fabricated letters. Most fabricators using this technique are doing it by hand and are more likely to use the terms “scoring” or “grooving” the material. The material is then bent to the shape of the letter, using these broached lines as the bending points for the sharp bends. Broaching offers many advantages. For example, you can achieve sharper corners; with these sharper corners, you can actually form shapes that cannot be formed any other way. As long as these bends are broached, they can be left partially open and closed with bare hands later in the fabrication process (allowing for bends to be placed very close together). Most sign makers get requests from time to time for fabricated dimensional or architectural letters and logos. If the requirements of the design can be met with stock letters, many sign makers simply order the letters fabricated in standard fonts from a wholesale supplier. If the design calls for a custom logo or nonstandard fonts, having someone fabricate these for you can take quite a while and can be costly. However custom-fabricated dimensional letters offer the advantage of breaking free of the commodity pricing downward spiral. Most customers with these requirements are willing to pay a fair price for the value received. Of course, to achieve the sharp bends and small distances between bends, broaching is necessary. Many of these fabricated dimensional letters—whether stainless, brass, bronze, copper, anodized aluminum, or painted metal—are made using very shallow

turns. (Note: One-inch-deep returns are common.) The versatility to work with shallower returns also lends itself well to introducing products that are new and innovative to the market. The logos in the photos pictured left were bent using 1-inch-deep, .040-inchthick aluminum. The bent shapes were placed on paper with a release coating and a white acrylic resin with hardener was poured into the shape like a mold. LEDs were then imbedded into the


t is possible to combat the perception that “all sign makers are the same.” But it takes a commitment to invest in the following: u State-of-the-art precision equipment; u Innovative new materials and processes; u Extensive knowledge base; u Proprietary processes; u Proprietary production methods; u People with unique abilities; u Superior customer service; u Effective marketing communications; and u Outstanding quality assurance.

resin. After hardening, the release paper was removed from what then became the face of the logo and the colored LEDs were lighted. If an edge-lit effect is desired, the aluminum can be sprayed with a release agent and removed after the acrylic cures. Mike Adams is president of Adams Technologies, Inc. (www.letterbender. com) in Boulder, Colorado.

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February 2013 // Sign Builder Illustrated



By RichaRd cRawFoRd



SignS and Free Speech

Understand what the courts have to say about onpremise sign content.



frequent challenge that individuals in the on-premise sign industry face is understanding exactly how the First Amendment can affect and limit the regulation of signs. This challenge is amplified because sign regulations are often found in the Zoning section of a local Code Book or under Land Use regulations, which implies that the regulations contained on signs are merely standard garden-variety regulations (lot width, building setbacks, building height limits, permitted uses on a lot, etc.). In reality, nothing could actually be further from the truth. However, at the same time, we all want bright lines. We want to clearly know what the First Amendment protects in regard to on-premise signs...and what it does not. Some issues related to on-premise signage and the First Amendment are fairly clear: Can a town regulate sign size? Can a town regulate the number of signs? Can a town regulate sign height? However other issues are not entirely clear: u Can a town prohibit the display of a large inflatable rat that is being used in conjunction

Sign Builder Illustrated // February 2013

with labor bargaining activity? u Can a homeowner paint large messages and bright colors on a residential home if neighbors object? u Can other flags be banned if the U.S. flag or state flag is permitted? The First Amendment, contained in the Bill of Rights (1791), says that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.” What that means exactly—and what it means in regard to expression and speech contained on signs—is determined by the courts. Unfortunately some questions pertaining to on-premise signs have not been definitively determined by the courts. And when decisions have been made, the courts do not always agree. One thing is clear today: the U.S. Supreme Court has held that with “commercial speech, such as price advertising, freedom of speech protections apply just as they would to noncommercial speech. Even speech that is sold for profit or involves financial solicitations is protected.” (Virginia Pharmacy Bd. v. Virginia Consumer Council 425 U.S. 748 (1976)) A new resource is available to sign compa-

nies wishing to better understand onpremise signs and the First Amendment: Free Speech Law for On Premise Signs by Professor Daniel R. Mandelker, Stamper Professor of Law at Washington University in St. Louis. Professor Mandelker is a respected legal scholar, author, and lecturer on Land Use law and signs issues. The publication was released in August 2012 by Professor Mandelker and the United States Sign Council and is available in print form and via free download at the USSC Web site ( This handbook discusses case law as it relates to free speech and on-premise

signs and/or how case law can affect onpremise sign regulation. Numerous cases are discussed in the handbook, and more are noted in the footnotes. In reviewing the new handbook, one should be mindful that the case law on on-premise signs is the case law. There are negative and contrary decisions out there that could impact the ability of a sign owner to install an on-premise sign and/or convey speech or a message. By understanding these cases (and the individual facts in each situation), sign companies can be better served and more informed. We in the industry gain nothing by ignoring certain decisions or wishing that they did not exist. Some of these negative decisions are poorly reasoned and ignore important First Amendment principles, so it is best to be informed on these cases for any future applications. Here are some conclusions one can draw upon review of the new handbook: u Most, if not all, local sign codes probably have some constitutional deficiencies or provisions that may be constitutionally suspect.

u Generally courts seem to give municipalities latitude when they create content-neutral “time, place, and manner” sign regulations. This does not mean that anything-goes in regard to onpremise sign regulation; instead commercial speech should be regulated in a content-neutral fashion. On-premise signs are entitled to greater protection than the protection afforded to mere economic regulations. u When municipalities attempt to control the content on an on-premise sign, these regulations are held to a higher level of review (strict scrutiny) and are often over-turned. u Billboard cases (cases involving off-premise signs) make bad law for on-premise signs. u Outright bans on signs can be problematic for a municipality. u Constitutional questions can arise when municipalities attempt to regulate or prohibit: colors; logos; freestanding signs; lighting; EMCs; flags; price signs; murals; neon; and residential “for sale” signs. u Non-commercial speech is afforded greater protection vs. commercial speech by the courts, and municipalities should take care in crafting sign code provisions that do not discriminate between the two or favor commercial speech over non-commercial speech. As Professor Mandelker states, “First Amendment law is complex, and court decisions often conflict; free speech law is not precise, and judgment is required to decide what case law principles are relevant, and how they should be applied.” When sign companies manufacture and install an on-premise sign, they rarely think about the First Amendment. But First Amendment law governs how a local municipality can regulate the sign that is manufactured and installed—and thereby can affect the success of our industry as a whole. Richard Crawford is legislative consultant with the United States Sign Council (USSC). For more information, visit

February 2013 // Sign Builder Illustrated




Sign Builder Illustrated // February 2013

////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// Custom Sign / By Jeff Wooten


Atomic Tattoo Sign Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb Sign.



tomic Tattoo is a family-owned shop with many locations around the Austin, Texas area. Due to its success, Owner Larry Edwards recently decided to open a new store at a strip mall located in a secluded area off the highway. Since this is a potential “blink-and-you-couldmiss-it” setup, Edwards knew he was going to need big, bright signage that would “pop” and catch the attention of drivers going past at speeds up to seventy-five miles per hour. So he turned to Jay Gordon, owner and founder of Blackout Signs & Metalworks (www. in nearby San Marcos, Texas, to make this vision a reality. His only request: He did not want a plain, flat sign. “Plain” is the last adjective one would use to describe Blackout Signs. Gordon’s shop specializes in designing, building, and installing creative, custom signs and sculptures (“weird stuff,” as Gordon describes it) that’s pretty attractive

February 2013 // Sign Builder Illustrated


to architects and designers—just the kind of signage that this tattoo shop would need. (Note: Gordon’s work on flashing, illuminated channel letters for the Perry’s Tent area at the Lollapalooza music festival was featured in our November 2011 issue, “Rock Star Letters”). In addition to Gordon, his wife Darcy Hanna works at the shop (as do sometimes his son Blaze and daughter Ruby), as well as fabricators Zach Forester and Jonathan Whittaker and painter Shay Miller. You won’t find any CNC routers or design software at Blackout Signs. Instead Gordon and his team craft and build everything by hand—using tools like grinders, jigsaws, and welders. “Our clients have been seeing the stuff we’re doing and, because of this, they’re letting us push boundaries a little more,” he says. Since Edwards was a long-time tattoo artist, Gordon thought it was important to include him in the design process as well, so they ended up bouncing design ideas backand-forth. Edwards initially provided some handdrawn sketches on notebook paper. This allowed Gordon to see where he was coming from and to help refine it. “I also had to keep in mind how everything would go together, how we could build it, and how it would look up on his roof,” he says. The icons Gordon noticed were the atomic bombs and the mushroom cloud, so his inspiration turned toward classic carnival rides with their colorful neon, bright bulbs, and bold colors. “We knew we were going to need bright primary colors and cotton candy-pink,” comments Gordon. Gordon had one request for Edwards: “Just trust us.” And he did. Blackout Signs had plenty of freedom on color selection. In fact, the final colors used in the sign evolved in Gordon’s mind as the project progressed. “I hate designing everything to the absolute end on paper, because so many things change,” he says. “It’s when I see [the sign] physically standing before me in the shop that it starts talking to me.” In fact, Gordon laughs that no computers were harmed in the making of this sign! He loves designing signs by hand and avoids computers as much as possible. (Note: Gordon admits he has seen people do some amazing work on the computer, but it’s just not his style). “The only computer work on our end involved emailing scanned sketches back-and-forth,” he says. Blackout Signs scaled up the finished 28

Sign Builder Illustrated // February 2013









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art onto full-size paper patterns. These patterns were then transferred to the sheets of aluminum with carbon paper, with adjustments made along the way. Gordon’s shop built all the frames, faces, and returns for this sign out of aluminum. This would make it more resistant to rust. “It also made it lighter, allowing us to move it around the shop more easily,” he adds. The bombs and the custom “Atomic Tattoo” name were fabricated as fourinch-deep, open-face channel letters. The


bombs employ blue-green, yellow, and white neon. “The light stays in the can and doesn’t bleed over onto the rest of the sign,” says Gordon. And although the neon used inside the “Atomic Tattoo” letters is orange, Gordon painted their cans yellow. “This way, we were able to get some amazing color blends,” he explains. “Having an orange can with orange neon would’ve been a wasted opportunity to do something cool.” The sign was constructed into separate

Sign Builder Illustrated // February 2013

pieces to be later attached out at the job site. Probably the most time-consuming element of the project involved breaking apart the pieces of the sign during fabrication to make sure they would still all fit together once out in the field. The consensus for the mushroom cloud was that a majestic, purple, cotton candyish blend would work best, so Shay Miller painted this portion using 1-Shot and T.J. Ronan paints. She applied a matte finish to the cloud (so that it would soak up the light and enhance its glow) and painted inside the bombs and the channel letters with a high-gloss (to complement the reflection). For the “Perry’s Tent” open-face channel letter sign Gordon created for the Lollapalooza festival last year, he used classic 11W incandescent bulbs with each letter on its own circuit. Gordon used this same technique for the mushroom cloud, but to add more excitement (and even more color) to the sign design, he wired the bulbs in a four-circuit sequence this time. Gordon has boxes of these sign bulbs in many different colors lying around his shop. So he installed the old-style “snap in” sockets into the stem of the mushroom cloud and inserted a mix of clear, white, yellow, red, and orange bulbs that are sequenced to chase and blow upward into a v-pattern. “I love the way the neon plays off these bulbs and how you can see those little filaments burning and flickering,” he says. “It’s a cool blending of light styles.” In addition to the neon inside the sign cans, the words “Tattoo Piercing Since 1992” were also bent using different colors of neon. For all his neon glass-bending work, Gordon turns to Kirk Tunningley of Big Dog Neon ( in nearby Lockhart, Texas. “He’s able to decipher our chicken scratch patterns and designs,” laughs Gordon. “We’ll trade beers and go over all these ‘cryptic’ paper patterns with him and try to best show where all the neon starts and stops are. “He’s told us we give him the worst patterns possible, which we don’t do on purpose (sorry, Kirk!), but he’s just got one of those intrinsic feels on how to make stuff look amazing.” A couple of weeks later, Tunningley returned with a truck-full of glass—an adventure in itself. Gordon alerted the shop that they were on “lock down” mode until the glass had been installed to the sign. All

the shop dogs were put on leashes and employees were told to be very careful when walking by this glass on the table. “I reminded everyone that there was a lot of time and money [here],” he remarks. But let’s back up a bit though. Before designing anything, Gordon first visited the new location to pull measurements on the building. Not only did this help him determine what he could build also how to install it safely and securely. Since the roof slopes at a pretty steep angle, Gordon knew he’d also have to build some custom brackets for the sign. So he crafted four 2-by-2-by-3/8 angle iron brackets that are attached behind the sign and mounted to the roof diagonally. “All the penetrations were sealed with roofing seal,” he says. “There are also a couple of backing braces off the top of the mushroom cloud going down. We made those out of angle iron as well.” Earlier we told you that lighter weight aluminum was used to fabricate the sign. This material was instrumental in installing the sign as well. Blackout Signs is a small shop lacking any hoists or forklifts.

“Weight is a big issue for us because everything in the shop is moved by manpower,” explains Gordon. “We rarely put steel inside a sign for the frame. I’d estimate the finished sign weighs only 400 pounds.” Two transformers powering the sign were placed at its top and two more at its bottom. “In fact, I think the transformers probably weighed more than the sign,” laughs Gordon. To transport the sign out to the installation site, Gordon wrapped it in blankets and Styrofoam™ and placed it on his sixteen-foot-long trailer. “We’re not a big company, so if we break something, we have to take care of it,” says Gordon, “so it was a real slow drive. I checked my rearview mirror quite a lot. The three-man installation team used a JLG man lift to put the sign up on the roof. “I figured it would be a little easier to install in two pieces,” explains Gordon. “We bolted the top mushroom

cloud part onto the bottom part just above the lettering.” This was a dream job for Gordon (pictured, above left), who’s always been a big fan of how tattoo shops are artist-driven and use lots of color. (Note: Jay also loves color! And tattoos!) Edwards (pictured, above right) was also ecstatic about the sign. “He’s already talked about maybe doing some more [work] with us,” says Gordon.

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February 2013 // Sign Builder Illustrated


The Real Cost of Digital Signage Integrating digital signs into your offerings.


Sign Builder Illustrated // February 2013

all photos courtesy of dIgItal sIgnage expo.

Digital Signage / By Jonathan Brawn /////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////



ertainly the static sign universe is thriving and creating a huge business that allows numerous companies to prosper. But in a day and age when the average person spends approximately eight hours looking at a display—in multiple formats from television and computers to smartphones and tablets—we cannot ignore the demand for integrating technology into every aspect of our lives. We, as humans, are evolving how we want to consume information. We want instant access to information provided to us in multiple media formats—but at our control. We want to manage and interact with that information flow—but utilizing only the information relevant to us personally. With this revolution in technology changing our lives from work to home, smart signage, in the form of dynamic digital signage, is a natural fit. The digital signage

February 2013 // Sign Builder Illustrated


market presents a new frontier for many companies, one that is growing at a significant rate (even with the still-challenging economy we face today). Industry analysts state that the digital signage market is growing at a staggering 20 percent or more per year, and we can anticipate $7 billion (yes, with a B!) in sales during 2013. This makes for a tempting target, as we all want to help our respective businesses grow and prosper. Digital signage can represent a path to profit growth, but it does pose some unique challenges. For example, while customers are starting to ask for and demand the benefits of digital signage, the cost is still high to deploy, and we need to explain why digital signage is going to cost what it does. There’s a greater purpose than simply justifying the cost as an explanation of where each dollar goes however. If we want to sell digital signage to a customer, the job is not just to explain what their investment is going to provide.We also need to show what the actual realized return on that investment may be and what really defines the cost of a signage system when you factor that into the equation. In my opinion, the focus on developing a digital signage prospect should be on education, preparation, and planning. education. The first piece of advice I would offer to someone getting into digital signage as a beginner is to get educated! I don’t care how much you know about IT, AV, or traditional signage— this is a new animal that combines parts of all three of those competencies into a new kind of solution. The first thing to do would be to get 34

Sign Builder Illustrated // February 2013


the lay of the land. Attend a related sign in the same application…at first. It would be simple to define the istradeshow and check out what’s available. Take the Digital Signage Expo in sue of cost as an itemized list: “The flat Las Vegas at the end of February, for ex- panel costs $800, a mount is $200, the ample. The entire digital signage indus- player PC is $900, and the software is try will attend, since it’s the largest show $500, meaning $2,400 per screen.” But of its type. This represents a great way to honestly, what have we just explained? meet the players and attend some of the We have indeed shown them the price of the system but not its true cost. excellent educational seminars. In order to give clients the real cost, Meanwhile the Digital Signage Experts Group offers the industry’s only wouldn’t we have to explain what they’re certification program on digital signage. really going to get out of the system? The classes are offered online and live at Doesn’t that mitigate the dollars spent the Digital Signage Expo. These courses on the price by a return on the investare full-day dives into the industry and ment? I would say definitely so, and we provide the initial knowledge to get have to take that into account. Of course, started. One thing you should take home this means we must be able to help defrom the Expo (and hopefully a DSEG fine that return in order to successfully course) is that this whole concept is not demonstrate this to the customer. Return on investment is always a hot only about the technology but also what topic when discussing company purthe technology really can provide. preparation. When selling a digital chasing. If the solution has a higher price signage system to a prospective cus- than the problem is costing, well that tomer, we all know they are sooner or probably means no sale. If the problem later going to demand, “But what will it costs more than the price of the solution, cost?” This is not an easy question to an- now we’re talking! The benefits of a digital signage sysswer because the cost is going to appear tem that has 1been properly designed can to be highGreenerBullseye compared toSignBuilder using a static ad Jan2013 FINAL.pdf 1/4/13 12:35 PM

outweigh the apparent high cost per display to deploy it. Everyone always immediately considers ad-based revenue, and that definitely has its place. In certain applications, such as retail, QSR, or hospitality, ad-based revenue is a natural fit and can definitely mitigate some of the expense of purchasing the signage system. In some cases, these revenues (if the venue fits and the audience is there, demonstrable through metrics) can actually make the system turn a profit. This is not every system, and digital signage has the potential to go beyond simple advertising signage. The return on investment may realize itself as an overall sales lift, due to more information and brand awareness. What about when the signage isn’t going into a sales-based application—such as in a doctor’s waiting room or a school? Here we have to discuss soft return on hard dollars spent. This is truly a return on objective and not a strict return on investment in terms of dollars. But these things can deliver enhanced experiences, better repeat business, improved tenancy, and increased attendance, which are defi-









February 2013 // Sign Builder Illustrated


s u sta i n a b i l i t y

The smart phone revolution shows how digital sign content can be approached today.

nitely all positive results and solid goals. planning. In order to articulate these returns and define for the customer what the actual “cost” of the system will be when price is mitigated by return, we need to be able to assist them in defining the system clearly. This is why I say technology is not the primary focus in designing and presenting a digital signage system. We have to define what the customer is looking to get out of the system: If they are approaching you asking for a proposal, make sure to review in detail what they expect it to do, what it’ll be judged on, and what kinds of results they’re looking for. If you are approaching them, make sure to think outside-the-box and point them to the many types of returns they can expect to see: Lower costs due to reduced print material. Better deployment of information with less labor hours. Increase in sales lift or return customers. Reduced perceived wait times. Each of these benefits should be taken as a “reduction” in the system cost. Objective is key, and the return has to be considered to truly define the cost of a system. The customers are out there, and with a little research, some careful partnerships, and an understanding of how to define the benefits in a way that explains the cost, anyone can use digital sign systems as a form of business growth. It won’t solve every problem, but it can add a nice uptick to your bottom line and give you a new avenue that you may not be working in today.

About Jonathan Brawn Jonathan Brawn, CTS, ISF, ISF-C, DSCE, is a principal of Brawn Consulting, an audiovisual consulting, educational development, and marketing firm, based in Vista, California and a founding member of The Digital Signage Experts Group. Brawn will also be a Digital Signage Expo 2013 speaker in the February 26 pre-show DSEG and DSDE Certification programs, as well as a member of the DSE Advisory Board Consultant’s Council. For more information about this event, visit 36

Sign Builder Illustrated // February 2013

An Easier Way to get Your Message Across Advertise In

Contact Jeff Sutley (East Coast) at or 212-620-7233 or Kim Noa (West, Central U.S.) at or 212-620-7221 Follow Us On: Sign Builder Illustrated @SBIMag SBIMag

In Print, In Person and Online Log on to

Large Format / By Jeff Wooten /////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

It’s Clear to Wrap! T

hermal King Glass is a family-run, fullservice glass shop located in Victoria, British Columbia. Their slogan is “We See It Through,” and one could say that this motto also recently played a significant role in the first-ever wrap of their metallic silver Honda Element shop vehicle. You see, what makes this vehicle’s look unique is that it has been wrapped with clear materials—which ensures that its metallic silvers and blues stand out even more than usual. Add in some chrome accents and lettering (as well as a few other choice design “elements”), and you have a vehicle wrap that not

February 2013 // Sign Builder Illustrated

all photos courtesy of the sign pad.

Let’s see through an example of a non-typical wrap.


Since the clear media is not repositionable, installers used Rapid Tac application fluid to allow for working time with the vinyl.

To create the lettering, a combination of cut vinyl and Chrome Mirror vinyl was used.


Sign Builder Illustrated // February 2013

only perfectly reflects the client but also enhances the already spotless reputation of the sign shop that provided it.

The Crystal-Clear Design The sign shop responsible for this clever automotive solution is The Sign Pad (, a relatively new small business that’s also located in Victoria. This start-up company specializes in vehicle wraps and various forms of rigid signage (see sidebar on page 43). When the owners of Thermal King Glass came to The Sign Pad, they didn’t have a specific vision for the wrap— only a strict, set budget. Their brand (logo, color scheme, etc.) had already been long established, so for The Sign Pad, it was just a matter here of making certain that they incorporated these pre-existing elements into the wrap design. “They basically let us know what information they wanted on it—their logo, their phone number, their Web site address, etc.,” says Greg Warren, owner of The Sign Pad, “and we took it from there.” The Sign Pad thought that, for a glass company, the wrap should be related to something “transparent,” so to them, a “clear” wrap solution seemed very fitting here. For this Thermal King Glass wrap, Warren credits the stunning, “clearcut” result achieved here to the open atmosphere that’s encouraged in his shop. “In my experience at other signs shops, the design and creative teams often have very little opportunity to collaborate with the actual installers,” he says. “But on this project, our head installer, Nick Patterson, and our lead graphic designer, Jen Dunstan, worked together early on.” Dunstan originally designed the gradient in the wrap as fading from printed blue to printed grey but asked Patterson about his preference for paneling the vehicle. “He raised the possibility of using the car’s painted natural grey metallic finish instead of printing out this color onto vinyl,” says Warren. “He had used this technique before on flat applications where he was applying vinyl to the faces of backlit signs.” The shop worked up the design using Adobe® Photoshop® and Illustrator®








February 2013 // Sign Builder Illustrated


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and enthusiastically showed this proof (as well as a small printed example of how the effect would look) to the client. “They commented about noticing how excited we were about this ‘unique’ idea, which also helped sell them on the concept,” says Warren.

Sign Builder Illustrated // February 2013

The clear vehicle wrap was printed out using the shop’s eco-solvent Mimaki printer at a single overpass on 2-mil clear cast 3M™ IJ3650-114 vinyl and then over-laminated with the 3M™ 8518 Gloss Overlam (2-mil). “Because we wrapped it with clear material, you get the awesome metallic silver of the paint job showing through on the vehicle,” says Warren. “It fades from a nice metallic blue all the way to the base metallic silver.” (Note: Cut vinyl was used for the words “Thermal” and “Glass” on the doors, and Chrome Mirror vinyl was employed for “King.”) For installation, The Sign Pad used a lot of Rapid Tac and blowtorches. “Unlike traditional wrap films that contain air egress and repositionable adhesives, no such product exists when it comes to printable and wrappable clear vinyl,” says Warren. “Rapid Tac allowed us a reasonable amount of working time with the vinyl.” Patterson first positioned the graphics where he wanted them and then removed the entire backer. “Then we sprayed the graphic and the vehicle with a lot of Rapid Tac,” says Warren. “This let us ‘reposition’ the graphic without compromising the adhesive.” The Sign Pad put down as much of the graphic as they could and then let it dry overnight, meaning the edges and the trim would wait until the following day. “This left the adhesive with enough grip to do all of the edge finishing work; otherwise it would’ve just curled back,” says Warren. They repeated this process for all sides of the Honda Element. (Note: The installer wrapped the front fender with the clear vinyl and left the hood untouched.) “Then we applied all the rest of the lettering (such as the chrome bits),” says Warren. The Sign Pad was very happy with how everything turned out on this project. “And obviously, the customer was just as thrilled,” says Warren.

about the Sign Pad


wner Greg Warren started up The Sign Pad just a little over a year ago. Toward the latter stages of his time working in the sign industry for ten years prior, he had grown tired of seeing the unimaginative offerings being output by other local sign shops. Knowing he could bring some extra-special creativity to the table, he decided it was time to venture out on his own. And it’s actually been an amazing year of growth at this new business. When The Sign Pad started, there were just two people involved (and this figure included Warren himself). Today they have expanded to six employees. Warren credits the reputation his shop is earning with their work for attracting the type of talent necessary to succeed. “Our wrap installer had been wrapping vehicles full-time at one of our local competitors for six years before he decided to join us instead,” says Warren. “He saw the type of work we were producing and wanted to continue to build on his skills. “And the same backstory goes for our designer as well.” Warren thinks of The Sign Pad as a “young” company, which means they’ve embraced more-modern methods of marketing themselves. The overwhelmingly positive customer feedback affirms they’re on the right track here.

For instance, their showroom is well laid out and follows their branding, their color schemes, etc. “Think of our shop’s appearance as to when you walk into an Apple store—only we’re using this clean, streamlined design with a sign business in mind,” says Warren. The Sign Pad has also embraced online marketing, spending considerable time implementing social media strategies and making sure that they rank high for their core business products (vehicle wraps) on search engines like Google™. “Ten years ago, people were fighting for the biggest ad placement in the Yellow Pages®,” says Warren. “However this mindset has now transitioned to the Web. “Clients will pre-qualify you as a business before calling you simply by judging how your Web site looks.” The Sign Pad also uploaded a behind-thescenes YouTube video ( that not only illustrates how they put their projects together but also demonstrates their attention to detail. They feel this exposure has given them a head’s up over their competitors in the area who are still resisting online marketing. “We have gained clients that had been using other local shops simply because they loved the way we were marketing ourselves online and figured that they would give us a shot,” says Warren.

February 2013 // Sign Builder Illustrated


Your Direct Source for Sign Information 3 Easy Steps

Receive vital product and service information from manufacturers and distributors by completing the adjacent card or visiting

1. Choose up to 10 categories of interest and check off on card. 2. Select up to 28 suppliers and record InfoDirect # on card. 3. Mail card to start getting info!

InfoDirect #

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36




3M Commercial Graphics . . . . . . . 47 Ability Plastics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55 Advance Corp . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57 Agilight . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Alpina Manufacturing . . . . . . . . . . 58 Alpina Manufacturing . . . . . . . . . . 58 A .R .K . Ramos . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58 Arris Signs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41 Bayer MaterialScience . . . . . . . . . 19 Bitro Group, Inc . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21 CAO Group, Inc . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Car Top Signs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59 Clearpath/Rowmark Inc . . . . . . . . . 53 Clearpath/Rowmark Inc . . . . . . . . . 25 CLN Of South Florida, Inc . . . . . . . . 42 Duxbury Systems, Inc . . . . . . . . . . 58 Epson . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . C2 Epson . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 FASTSIGNS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43 Gemini, Inc . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 Graphic House . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58 Gravotech . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41 Gyford Standoff Systems . . . . . . . 36 Hartlauer Bits, Inc . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58 International Sign Association . . . 29 Kern Electronics & Lasers, Inc . . . . 48 L&L Industries . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59 Magnum Magnetics . . . . . . . . . . . . 31 Mimaki USA . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 Mimaki USA . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58 Oracal USA . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . C4 Orbus Inc . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59 Orbus Inc . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59 Ornamental Post Panel & Traffic . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58 Outwater Plastics Industries, Inc . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 Principal LED . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13

InfoDirect # Company


InfoDirect #

38 Roland DGA Group . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49


39 Sign365 .com . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5


40 Sign America . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30


41 Sign Bracket Store By


42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50

Sign Builder Illustrated // February 2013


Companies in the Sign Show

37 Rochester Magnet Company . . . . . 51

Hooks and Lattice . . . . . . . . . . . 23 SloanLED . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38 Small Balls . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58 Southern Stud Weld . . . . . . . . . . . 56 Syntech Of Burlington, Inc . . . . . . . 54 Trim-Lok, Inc . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42 Trotec Laser . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22 Ultraflex Systems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35 US LED . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 Vycom . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11


55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62

Bitro Group . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 Canon . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 Custom Banner . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 DaVinci Technologies . . . . . . . . . . 14 Direct Color Systems . . . . . . . . . . 15 Epson . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 Graphic Solutions Group . . . . . . . . 12 HP . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 LexJet . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 Main Tape Company . . . . . . . . . . . 12 METALgrommets .com . . . . . . . . . . 12 Outwater Plastics Industries . . . . 12

Looking to catch some more business? 89% of our surveyed readers have contacted an advertiser after seeing their ad in Sign Builder Illustrated.*

See what they have to say: “I use Sign Builder Illustrated as a purchasing tool constantly!” “Sign Builder is our first choice for finding new products and services to offer to our clients.” “I use Sign Builder Illustrated as a continual reference for suppliers and products.” “Sign Builder is a great source for new vendors and opportunities to expand my product line.” *According to the 2009 Readership Survey of our July issue.

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Environmental / By Ashley BrAy/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

a guide to

Green Printing The path to leaving a smaller carbon footprint.



he move to a more sustainable process has affected all areas of the sign industry, including digital printing. Sign Builder Illustrated recently interviewed Paul Willems, CEO of ILFORD (www.ilford. com) and an ambassador of EcoPrint (an event focused on sustainable print production), about what it really means to be green. Greenwashing To figure out what green is, it may be easier to first determine what it isn’t. Greenwashing is a term shops may have heard before. “Greenwashing refers to sustainability claims made through marketing communications activity,


Sign Builder Illustrated // February 2013

Green stats: siGn shop

Top Sustainable Practices being implemented include: • Manufacturing –


51% • Energy Conservation – 50% • Raw Materials – 47% • End of Life Product Programs –

—2010 ISA Sustainability Survey

which are not substantiated in the real world,” says Willems. “For example, this could refer to a product or service whose environmental credentials are widely proclaimed but, in actual fact, are quite tenuous. “Conversely, this could also apply to


a product or service that has genuine environmental benefits but does not serve its purpose in terms of productivity or quality.” On a positive note, greenwashing practices seem to be on a decline in the print industry. But that doesn’t mean

Sign Builder Illustrated // February 2013 October 2012

that changes aren’t still needed. For starters, a more holistic approach to sustainability would be beneficial. “As with most industries, commercial printing, by its very nature, affects the environment, and this can only be overcome if all players at each step of the

product lifecycle work together,” says Willems.

Sustainability So what makes something truly green? “A sustainable product or service is something that is safe and non-detrimental to the planet. Many different companies are now looking carefully at the processes involved in their business activity in order to determine and improve levels of sustainability,” says Willems. When discussing sustainability, we are also looking at the use of the Earth’s natural resources, which we are currently using 50 percent more of than the Earth can actually provide. “Commercial printing for the graphic arts and the sign-and-display market is often singled out for criticism on account of the short lifespan of products and perceived high waste levels; however there is not one single or simple change that would enable the printing industry to become truly sustainable,” says Willems. “Changes need to happen on many different levels throughout the product lifecycle.”

Green ideas: sustainability

“INVESTIGATE ENERGY REDUCTION OPTIONS. Believe it or not, simply installing motioncontrolled lights and turning off lights at night can not only save money but decrease your environmental footprint. Conduct an energy audit to see what options are available to you.”

Solutions & Action Despite criticism, the printing industry has made progress on the sustainability front. Manufacturers are creating more sustainable substrates and inks, and they are certifying the sustainable sources of their raw materials. “For example, any

Marcia Y. Kinter, Vice President, Government & Business Information, SGIA

brand claiming to have an environmental policy needs to be able to show responsibility in their sourcing of raw materials, so buying printed materials made with FSC®- and PEFC-certified substrates will be a helpful and straightforward way to demonstrate this,” says Willems.

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February 2013 // Sign Builder Illustrated


An Eco-friendly Wrap with

No CompromISE

any of us have come to associate “green” products with compromise. We get a product that is more environmentally friendly, but in return, we sacrifice attributes like ease of use or longevity. This is not always the case, though, and the new 3M™ Envision™ Wrap Films are a prime example. This line of products has impressive green attributes—for example, it is non-polyvinyl chloride, has no added chlorine or other halogens during manufacturing, and is phthalate-free. It also uses less solvent and is made in part with bio-based materials. All of these factors help it contribute to LEED® credits when it is used for refurbishment applications. Best of all, this sustainability edge requires no compromise in performance. In fact, 3M™ Envision™ Print Wrap Film 480Cv3 and 3M™ Envision™ Gloss Wrap Overlaminate 8548G are highly versatile and highly conformable, meaning they go down—and stay down—on flat or complex shapes and can be used on vehicles, textured walls, boats, and more. They are compatible with latex, UV, and some solvent inkjet inks, as well as UV and solvent screen printing inks. Among the performance improvements offered by these films is their easy installation in extreme temperatures. In hot weather, the film does not get too soft or stretch out of control; in cold weather, it does not become brittle. I have personally observed this feature of these films while installing graphics on a ticket booth at a baseball diamond (pictured, above). This particular installation was completed outdoors on a very-hot day. The booth had one side facing the sun while the other side was in the shade,


Sign Builder Illustrated // February 2013

allowing for simple comparison. With 3M Envision Print Wrap Film 480Cv3, the stretching stayed predictable in the sun. Because of this, we were able to easily move and reposition the film without overstretching it. I have also used this film on several textured wall applications, all of which came out with excellent results. After I used the film for an installation at an athletic trainer’s office, this group of trainers was taken aback by the results. They actually had to walk up and touch it because they were certain that I had painted the graphics onto the wall instead. The release paper comes off quickly, and the film goes onto the wall easily. For outdoor applications (like the press box ticket booth mentioned earlier), the film’s durability helps keep it looking great in the long term. It offers protection against UV rays and high temperatures, and installers should feel confident that it will stand up to the elements. —Brian Fowler Brian Fowler is owner of SPX Sports (www.spxsports. com) in Mankato, Minnesota.



Sustainability is also starting to make a difference at the product’s end-of-life with improved recycling systems. Initiatives like the Cradle to Cradle CertifiedCM Product Standard are helping to tie in all of these practices in order to create a complete cycle of sustainability. The certification looks at a product’s lifecycle and its total effects on the environment based on five categories: renewable energy, clean water, material health, social responsibility, and material reutilization. Some larger companies have even developed their own in-house standards for ensuring that the lifecycle of a product is sustainable. “For me, the next thing that needs to happen is to be able to tie all of these elements together within a framework, which would act as a guide for sustainable printing,” says Willems. “A crucial part of this would be to provide brand owners and print service providers with impartial, independent, and clear advice.” Providing education is essential, as many companies run up against roadblocks in the form of the disconnect that exists between

the brand managers who want to offer green products and the purchase managers who are hung up on the price tag. Educating brand managers on the actual cost and brand benefits is a way to start bridging the gap. “A thorough commitment to the environment throughout the whole supply chain is a powerful way to stand out as a progressive company,” says Willems.

Of course, if laws were put in place regulating sustainability, there would be more incentives for companies, as well. “In the long term, it would be helpful to see more legislation holding companies to account for the environmental credentials of their entire supply chain,” says Willems. “Purchase managers would therefore be incentivized to facilitate the responsible sourcing of print.”

Green stats: PrintinG

• 77 percent of print respondents took the green route because it was a basic principle of company strategy and good business sense. • 63 percent were convinced that a green strategy would create savings. • 22 percent went green because of customer requests. —EcoPrint 2012 research in a white paper written by PMC and sponsored by INX Digital

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February 2013 // Sign Builder Illustrated


Franchise / By Jeff WooteN///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

”Support”-and-Demand A behind-the-scenes look at a successful franchise shop.


Sign Builder Illustrated // February 2013

all photos courtesy of fastsigns erie.


ign makers looking to start up their own business or revitalize an already-existing establishment sometimes join a franchise network to help them do so. Although there isn’t complete independence, sign professionals can take assurance in a support system that’s designed to help them in many different ways— marketing, management, production, etc. While the franchise life isn’t necessarily for everyone, let’s take a look at how one long-time sign shop owner successfully made the transition. Al’s Sign Service in Erie, Pennsylvania had been in business since 1940. Dan Stutzman and his wife Naomi were the fourth set of owners. Although the shop had a good client base, they only had a few employees, no Internet presence, and no effective marketing. They were relying on already-existing instead of up-and-coming (in terms of clients and technologies).

During the redesign, Stutzman organized his lobby showroom presentation to be more inviting for his customers. The Stutzmans knew they didn’t have the resources to take Al’s Sign Service to the next level, so six years ago, they made the decision to convert the business into FASTSIGNS® Erie (www.fastsigns. com/514). Stutzman already had experience building illuminated sign cabinets and installing channel letters, but as part of the FASTSIGNS family, Stutzman and his team are able to work on a wide variety

of projects (such as vinyl wraps and wallcoverings). Today Stutzman’s store has expanded to nine employees and boasts a professional-looking Web site.

The Conversion Decision Since Al’s Sign Service had been a respected name in the community that had been in business in the same downtown area for over seventy-two years, Stutzman

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was concerned with how his loyal customers were going to react to this professional decision. “But we tripled our business the first year after converting,” he says. After signing the agreement with FASTSIGNS® International, Inc., it took about four months to make the change-over. One thing Stutzman had to undertake during this timeframe was the required décor specs for his store—the front counters, carpeting,

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Sign Builder Illustrated // February 2013

As a FASTSIGNS franchise, Dan Stutzman has been able to take on more projects, including ADA signage. wood flooring, colors of the walls, etc. Stutzman also took this opportunity to double the size of his showroom. “We never really had a clear direction as to our shop’s theme. I didn’t have good samples on the walls,” he says. “Organization was also a problem. Customers coming in would either have to walk around a sign that was waiting to go out the door or step over three or four rolls

of vinyl that UPS had just dropped off.” Now there’s a shipping and receiving area out of the customers’ view, and the showroom is always presentable. Stutzman finds that both his existing and new customers have been responsive to this cleaned-up look. “You can tell when they walk into our showroom and look around that they’re done shopping,” he says. “I believe they see a professional

presentation and think they would like their business to look just as well. It’s then just a matter of helping them decide how we’re going to make their sign.” Stutzman credits the smooth transition to the behind-the-scenes support from FASTSIGNS corporate, including during the showroom remodel. Stutzman supplied the new dimensions to their onstaff architect, who laid out the floor plan.

February 2013 // Sign Builder Illustrated


Supporting a Business Speaking of support, Stutzman notes other programs that are available. For starters, he mentions franchisee partners in similar markets around the country being paired together into “Board Groups” where they can visit each others’ FASTSIGNS center for roundtable discussions or confer on the phone and learn about each other’s business plans, fabrication techniques, and employee management. “When somebody else is looking at your business, you start looking at it through their eyes as well,” he says. “You can see the good and the bad and gain ideas on how to make adjustments where needed.” (Note: In addition to consulting with his Franchise Business Consultant for financial analysis on a regular basis, Stutzman can also call any FASTSIGNS owner in the network—from their top-performing store to a store that’s only a couple of miles down the road—and get their point of view.) Being part of a franchise has allowed Stutzman to improve his direct marketing and go out and get the customers he wants and needs. After making the changeover, FASTSIGNS corporate sent out a press release announcing the conversion to the local newspaper and established a monthly marketing program for his center. Today Stutzman has three “Visual Communication Consultants” (as their outside sales people are called) onstaff. They’re out trying to find new clients and reconnect with existing ones. Thanks to the marketing and prospecting directed from FASTSIGNS corporate, Stutzman sits down every month with them to set sales goals. Using the sales meeting guidelines established by FASTSIGNS, the team can decide what customers they would like to develop. From an owner’s standpoint, Stutzman finds that a major contributor to having a successful business is being able to get your sales people excited about a technology or a technique. “You can’t always sell customers what you want to sell them. You have to make certain that you meet their needs,” he says. “But when you can bring them an idea you’re excited about, and they begin to see the value in thinking ‘outside the box,’ you’re just that much more valuable to them as a consultant.” Stutzman also credits being part of FASTSIGNS’s 2012 MetamorphoSIGN Contest as helping to attract new jobs. franchise


Sign Builder Illustrated // February 2013

continues on page 59

ADA Designs: To the Letter

photo courtesy of fastsigns erie.


lmost two years after the Standards for Accessible Design (SAD) went into effect (and one year for those set in the 2012 guidelines), sign professionals are expanding their creative reach even further as they continue to work with the updates and learn about the new products available in response. Regarding new things to know, Jessica Heldman-Beck, marketing manager for Rowmark (, mentions that while raised copy and Braille are not required on overhead or directional signage, for other signage applications, Braille must now be domeshaped and never flat or square. Hank McMahon, president of, adds, “While the number of ADA-compliant fonts was reduced substantially and the rules for Braille replacement were tightened, some of the biggest changes relate to visual characters, which are usually not raised and do not require a Braille descriptor. “The ratio of letter thickness to spacing is a major issue, along with the letter height of visual characters, which is now a minimum of 0.625-inch.” McMahon points out that once you get past the new letter height minimum, the rules governing visual characters are “arcane” and “math intensive.” “Character proportions shall be selected from fonts where the width of the uppercase ‘O’ is 55

percent minimum and 110 percent maximum of the height of the uppercase letter ‘I,’” says McMahon. “In addition, the stroke thickness of the uppercase letter ‘I’ shall be 10 percent minimum and 30 percent maximum of the height of the character. “This new rule applies to signs that give direction to or information about the interior spaces of a site or its facilities. This rule affects practically all of the non-raised character/Braille signs in a building.” HeldmanBeck adds, “Spacing requirements dictate 1/8inch between letters, regardless of character height.” When refreshing ADA signage for a client, remember that, when it comes to the sign characters, Sans Serif is the font type to use. Heldman-Beck further offers: + “For permanent room signs, tactile characters must be upper case, a minimum of 5/8inch in height, and no higher than two inches.” + “For directional signage, character height (upper and lower case) must be appropriate for the viewing distance.” + “For pictograms, the background field must be at least six inches. And if text is going to be incorporated, it must be placed directly below the symbol and not within the field.” —Lori Shridhare

February 2013 // Sign Builder Illustrated


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Sign Builder Illustrated // February 2013



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The contest was open to stores and companies in need of new signage and graphics, and individual FASTSIGNS centers encouraged customers to enter. Web site voting determined the winner. The Erie shop was able to get twenty existing and potential clients to enter. Not only did one of Stutzman’s clients (Conneaut Lake Park) win the $10,000 grand prize, but most of the other companies that had entered ended up ordering a sign from his FASTSIGNS center. “It got them excited about the prospect of a new sign and helped them raise their business awareness to their customers,” he says, noting that local TV and newspaper stories added valuable free advertising. (Note: To read more benefits, view this article on

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Al’s Sign Service started back in 1940 with hand lettering as their main staple. Today Stutzman’s shop has evolved past the sets of brushes or late-model trucks of yesteryear. Their production equipment repertoire now includes an HP 8000 solvent printer, a sixty-inch Mimaki plotter, a VUTEk QS2000 UV hybrid flatbed printer, and three routers (including a Zünd flatbed digital die cutter and a Vision Engraving & Routing Systems router they use for custom ADA signs). They also recently acquired an Accu-Bend channel letter bender to help them even more. Stutzman credits the router with helping them establish themselves in the ADA market. When starting out, they farmed out this work to third-party companies, but after visiting one of the larger ADA-producing FASTSIGNS in the network (in Louisville, Kentucky), Stutzman decided to purchase the router needed to have better control of the production process. Of all the equipment his shop has ever bought, he credits his ADA router as the one that paid for itself the quickest. “Our return-on-investment was three months, thanks to all the work we were able to do with it,” he says. “My salespeople were excited about being able to produce ADA signage in house, so they’re enthusiastic about marketing it.” But producing ADA signage is a commitment and does require knowing the regulations. (Note: See sidebar

on page 57.) Stutzman’s son Levi is in charge of that department and has had some very challenging projects come his way. Even with its strict regulations, Stutzman has noticed that people are doing really creative things with ADA these days. He says his shop was recently involved in a very nice ADA job from a design standpoint. (Note: See photo on page 55.) “It was for a resort, and it involved matching what the architect had called for,” says Dan Stutzman. “We used a combination of a solid-surface material and a decorated acrylic from Envel Design. It had a beautiful pattern cast right into the acrylic. We did a solid bronze trim for these pieces, and they were spectacular-looking.” “The designers and architects on those types of jobs really go for the ‘wow’ factor. It made for a stunning finished product,” adds Levi Stutzman.

Nothing to Fear? “When it came to joining a franchise, we initially had some of the same fears that other veteran shop owners have—the idea of having to pay royalties and to have to answer to someone else. But you really are free to buy whatever materials, products, or equipment you want or market yourselves however you want,” admits Naomi Stutzman, noting they’ve also done radio and TV advertising on their own. “We think of corporate more as a support tool. “If you want their advice on what to buy or offer, then they’re there for you.” Naomi equates paying royalties to paying for a gym membership. “If you pay the gym membership every month but never go and work out, you’re not going to feel any results from it,” she says. “But instead of a gym membership, I’m paying for a support team of over one hundred sign professionals.” Dan Stutzman also points out that negotiated discounts from participating sign suppliers can help offset the 6 percent royalty fee. The buying power of the entire network has led to some price points not available to independent shops. Since converting, FASTSIGNS Erie has grown every year. “We have been writing a business plan for four years, and it has helped us stay on track,” says Dan. “It’s amazing how many times we were able to meet our goal.”

February 2013 // Sign Builder Illustrated



By Ashley BrAy

Business Management: Kustom Signs

Jaylon Crump:

Leading the Race


Creativity and software prove to be a winning pair. 60

With the template completed, Kustom Signs switched over to design. The car included a number of graphic elements—logos, text, colors, and more. Finalizing the look and placement was a bit of a challenge, but the Flexi software aided the shop as it designed (even allowing for the addition of fluorescent inlays). “On this wrap, the customer was really particular about it,” says Crump. “It was a big deal for him and us too because our name was on it. So we went all out and spent some time to make it right.” Kustom Signs printed the graphics onto Oracal 3551RA vinyl using a Mutoh ValueJet printer. The installation only took about three hours. “The sides were designed to be installed in one piece, and the nose was a single piece as well,” says Crump. “Everything was prepared, cut, and ready before the installation.” The benefit of wrapping a racecar rather than painting it is that repairs—and they will be needed—are a lot easier. “The way we do it, if he goes and dents the nose or dents the quarter panel, we can just print that one section,” says Crump. “We’re not going to have to do the whole side or the whole wrap over.”

all Photos courtesy of kustom signs.

unning a sign shop is as much about creativity as it is project management, and Kustom Signs in Texarkana, Texas has found a winning combination of both. Established in 1996, Kustom Signs is a graphics shop that specializes in signage and automotive graphics. Right from the start, the shop knew it would need software to help manage workflow. On a referral from a supplier, the shop bought SA International’s (SAi) Flexi software and has been using it ever since. “I have used Flexi for more than sixteen years, and this software is designed to do anything from build a template, design artwork, and add color to RIP, and print,” says Jaylon Crump, owner of Kustom Signs. (Note: The shop currently uses Flexi 10.5.) Kustom Signs recently employed Flexi 10.5 on a late-model racecar wrap that was displayed at the recent IMIS Motorsports Tradeshow in Indianapolis, Indiana. They started the project by taking measurements of the car. “We build our own templates, because all those cars are different,” says Crump. “We go and spend time to get the right measurements and then come back [to the shop] and build a template.”

The wrapped racecar was seen by over 25,000 people at the IMIS Motorsports Tradeshow in Indianapolis.

Sign Builder Illustrated // February 2013

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Sign Builder Illustrated February 2013  

The February 2013 issue features stories on green printing, channel letters, digital signage, vehicle wraps, sign franchises, and more

Sign Builder Illustrated February 2013  

The February 2013 issue features stories on green printing, channel letters, digital signage, vehicle wraps, sign franchises, and more