3D printing, production times and protecting the environment - EN looks to the future of the graphics sector with four signage and printing suppliers.
As an industry we’d be lost without the signage and graphics sector. Quite literally.
New technology has meant that the capabilities of professionals working in the sector have grown exponentially in recent years.
“As the times move forward, more and more jobs can be produced digitally,” explains William Perton, project manager at Perton Signs. “Consequently production times plummet and output is constantly increasing.”
“The fact that printing is no longer confined to two dimensions is hugely exciting,” adds Simon Clifton, MD of Full Circle Events. “While we’re yet to see a significant impact of such innovations in the events world, brand owners will continue to strive to create visual impact and it’s certain that 3D printing will become increasingly prevalent.”
While 3D printing (which still seems a bit like science fiction to EN) is becoming an affordable reality for brands looking to make an impact, it’s far from the only technological advance that’s shaking up the signage and graphics sector.
The speed, scale and quality made possible by digital printing has meant that companies working in the sector can offer increasingly ambitious graphics to their clients.
“We have different machines that do different jobs, providing more flexibility than ever before. This is demonstrated just by the various inks we use and their applications: water-based aqueous (e.g. roller banners), solvent and ECO Solvent (e.g. self-adhesive vinyl), latex (e.g. PVC and fabric), UV curable, direct to board, water-based dye for fabrics, and many more,” James Winzar, MD of Insite Graphics tells EN.
Rising to the challenge
Often the only constraint on what can be achieved with modern digital print is, unsurprisingly, budget.
“Budget is directly proportional to what an organiser deems as their priority, an event that looks stunning or bottom line,” explains Winzar. “It’s often a compromise that doesn’t let us show what we’re actually capable of.”
Alongside advances in printing, there has been an ongoing effort to reduce the impact the sector has on the environment.
“We do what we can but I wish we could all do more,” says Perton. “This industry produces masses of material for events that last mere hours or days, and then after the event all this material is next to worthless and inevitably in someone’s way.”
“Waste is now a major theme across the industry,” explains Winzar. “In the last five years it has become increasingly significant, and many venues have been charging for waste disposal. All of the events on which we work expect us to collect and dispose of the material we have supplied to them, whereas five years ago we could leave it at the show and it would be dealt with as part of the overall show waste.”
A number of venues charge exhibitors and contractors for the disposal of waste in an effort to prevent fly tipping and encourage responsible waste management during and after events.
“I think it speaks volumes to the continued challenges regarding the widespread adoption of sustainable practices that we’re still answering this,” Clifton adds. “Our business is similar to most in so far as it’s a constant narrative across everything we do, whether that be investment in LED lighting, recyclable floorcoverings, or sustainably sourced and disposed substrates for graphics.”
The role of signage providers during exhibitions can vary widely, depending on what services each company offers to clients.
“Ideally we print all of the show and exhibitor graphics before the event, and we would normally deliver and install them on site,” Winzar tells EN.
“We’re often required to work around what has already been built, so flexibility is very important. We need to be able to work around all the other contractors during the build up - because graphics are often the finishing touch of any build - and we’re often the last contractors to finish.”
“We can provide support staff for the duration of the exhibition or event,” adds Shane McGaw, digital marketing manager at ExhibitHire. “We will return to perform our breakdown once alerted from our client, and we also offer storage solutions for the next exhibition.”
With many exhibitors embracing the latest technology in order to stand out from the crowd, printed media is no longer the only option or stand design.
“The move towards digital media to carry messaging will only continue to grow, however printed media still represents a powerful vehicle through which to carry a brand messaging, particularly large formats,” argues Clifton. “What is apparent is that many brands within the B2B and B2C exhibitions environment are using printed media as an alternative to traditional build techniques. I’ve seen incredible uses of fabric graphic treatments to create mood and depict motion in ways that isn’t possible with less flexible materials.”
The majority of clients come to signage and graphics professionals with a preconceived notion of what design they want printed, whether it’s a logo or pre-agreed image for a specific event. There are often, however, chances for in-house designers to flex their creative muscles.
“Most of our clients send us ideas, images or sketches, and we then create graphics based on the brief and the substrate to be used,” explains McGaw.
“At the opposite ends of the spectrum, we have 10 per cent of clients that supply us with brand guidelines and 10 per cent of clients who aren’t interested in design, they just want a logo on a page,” adds Winzar. “We are highly proactive, we try to keep continuity with what the client’s website looks like, looking at how the show is represented online, and trying to replicate this in the graphics produced.”
As the sector continues to evolve, signage and graphics professionals will be able to offer even more flexible and ambitious results to clients. With the development of 3D printing, the landscape of exhibitions may be in for a significant aesthetic shift, though how much impact it will have is hard to predict.
What is clear is that, despite the increasing popularity of digital media, printed media still holds an important place in our industry (not that we’re biased).