The Great White Way
Opportunities abound for shops with white-ink capabilities.
Should white ink be in your future? It’s a question more providers of wide-format digital services will need to entertain if they hope to remain competitive in years ahead. Early adopters of digital print systems with white-ink capabilities report growing interest in these services, whether or not their clients fully understand all that printing with white allows — particularly once they see examples.
Then they begin thinking in terms of the visual possibilities. Wide-format specialists routinely use terms like “...broadens our horizons....,” “... opens new doors...,” and “...allows new levels of creativity...” to describe the impact of printing with white ink on their business.
As evident in the range of brief project and company profiles that follow, these shops are employing white ink to deliver a range of digitally printed solutions that just weren’t possible before. Each job establishes new applications for the technology. After all, with white ink, any material, regardless of original hue — wood, stone, metal, film — can be transformed into a blank canvas for color digital printing.
Ultimate Image Printing: giant iPhones a home run
Visitors to Major League Baseballs’ 2010 All-Star Game Week FanFest festivities couldn’t miss the giant iPhones at the Anaheim Convention Center last summer. Impressive and lifelike as those giant smartphones were, they also served as a telling example of the advantages of printing with white ink.
“If we didn’t have white-ink capabilities, we wouldn’t have been able to make them look so real,” reports Hemal Ratanjee, owner of Ultimate Image Printing (ultimateimageprinting.com) in Costa Mesa, California. “When the client saw the final results, they were absolutely ecstatic.”
Ultimate Image’s Mimaki JF-1631 sheetfed UV press features white-ink printing and can handle media up to two-inches thick and offers maximum print resolution of 1200 dpi. Ultimate Imaging employs that, along with a pair of Seiko digital printers, to produce graphics for vehicle wraps, trade shows, retail accounts and area ad agencies. “We’re not a huge company, but we’re known for the quality and reliability of our work,” he says.
Referrals from satisfied clients helped garner an invite from Major League Baseball to submit what proved to be the winning bid to provide the digital graphics for the five-day Fanfest celebration. It was a showcase for all Ultimate Imaging can do: banners, signs, displays, floor graphics, daily event announcements – more than 20,000 square feet of digital prints.
The request for a pair of super-sized iPhones came relatively late in the game, so to speak. “This was not part of the original plans we discussed,” Ratanjee says. Chevrolet needed the iPhones to draw attention to a newly launched baseball app. “They came to us with this idea just a few days before the event started, and asked if we could do this too.”
He really couldn’t say no, and confidently agreed, well aware of what’s possible with his F1631 flatbed with white ink. “I didn’t want to print and then mount a graphic onto acrylic because it just wouldn’t look as realistic. If we didn’t have white ink, everything would be translucent, and the result wouldn’t really look like an iPhone.” he says. “Printing with white ink also gives us the ability to keep a portion of the graphic clear while the rest of it is opaque.”
That mattered in this case because their plans called for installing flatscreen monitors behind the panels to serve as the iPhone screen. As gamers sampled Chevy’s new baseball app at nearby stations, their game play would be channeled to those screens. To look convincing, the size of the displays meant the iPhones needed to measure almost a full 4 x 8 feet.
Working from designs created in Adobe Illustrator, Ratanjee printed the graphics directly to Plexiglass panels, on what would be the backside of the installed image. “To make the iPhone’s Home button look believable, we took the white ink and printed a white border, then overlaid it with a black gradient.”
As a finishing touch, the panels were trimmed and the corners rounded. “Everything, including the cutting, was cranked out in one day,” Ratanjee boasts. “It was a tough project, but it showed what we can do because of the equipment we have.
“White ink is something we don’t use much, but it’s one of those things that once you do have, you’re able to do some things that can’t be done by anyone else around.”
Matrix Imaging: targeting niches
“White ink is just something you now must have, in case a client asks about it,” says Brian Freije, president of Matrix Imaging (matriximaging.net) in Indianapolis. “And a lot do: They want to know if you have this capability, even if they don’t fully understand what it means, or how they will use it.”
Last March, Freije made a strategic investment in the Inca Onset S20 UV flatbed with white-ink capability. The flatbed prints directly to media up to two-inches thick and as large as 5 x 10 feet. The white-ink option now makes it possible for his shop to produce 4-color, no matter what the original color of the substrate.
“We’re now able to tell people if they want something on acrylic or glass in color we can do it,” says Freije, citing one of the most obvious advantages. “We can compete against screen printing for short runs up to 1000 pieces, and we can also do variable printing” on those longer runs.
In the year or so since installing the printer, Matrix has utilized white ink for lenticular printing, direct printing to acrylic and glass, and to produce custom carpeting. All work is done using Fujifilm Sericol inks.
Although awareness of white-ink printing is growin, demand is still limited, Freije notes. “Even with all the interest, only five to 10 percent of our work actually requires the white-ink capability. Some people are educated about what white ink means, but a lot still aren’t. It’s up to my salespeople now to explain to clients what can be done with white ink.”
At the same time, the company is doing its part to develop new markets for its white-ink capabilities. “We’re always trying to find little niches where we can offer something different, and we hope this will be one of them,” Freije explains.
One example of Matrix’s niches: Madd Mats, officially launched in January with its own website (matriximaging.net), which offers custom-printed floor and counter mats on a durable clear or translucent polyurethane material. Freije came across the substrate while wandering the aisles at the SGIA Expo. The bottom side is smooth while the top side is offered embossed with a diamond plate or coin pattern, or also smooth. Graphics or text are printed on the back side of each panel.
“For retail, Madd Mats can be used as welcome mats or counter mats,” he says. “They can also be used on a garage floor or for lining truck beds. We can even combine multiple prints in 5 x 10-foot sections to completely cover the floor in a store or a tradeshow booth as an alternative to carpet.” By adding white ink to the process, he says they can now print whatever message a client wants, in any color combination.
“With white, we can control colors much better when printing on any type of clear material than we could using four colors,” he adds.
That’s not to suggest printing with white is always an easy undertaking. “There are challenges,” Freije points out, regarding white-ink capabilities. “Basically, what we do is print an undercoat or overcoat of white and then print color. You have to set up different layers in the files because trapping can be an issue.”
City Graphics: white for Wa-Hoo
When a client inquired if it were possible to put up window graphics that would let the light in without being transparent, Mark Voorhees, general manager of City Graphics Designs (citygraphicsllc.net) in Fraser, Michigan, quickly said, “Yes!”
Just months ago the company purchased and installed the Roland VersaCamm VS-640 printer/cutter with metallic and white-ink printing features. “We really thought its ability to print with metallic inks would allow us to offer something no one else in our area has,” says Voorhees. “The white-ink capabilities just seemed like something extra.”
On this project, though, white ink offered the perfect answer. The owner of Wa-Hoo, a popular Asian eatery in downtown Detroit, planned to expand the restaurant into newly leased adjacent space. “While the work was going on, he wanted to cover the windows with graphics that would look the same, whether viewed from inside or outside’ reports Voorhees. “Before we had the VS-640, the only thing we could offer would have been window film.”
With white ink, he advised the client, passersby on the street would see the graphics, without seeing inside. “It doesn’t seem like printing with white ink should be such a big deal, but our options would have been limited if we could only print in color on clear media,” says Voorhees.
“White ink also allows us to achieve significantly deeper tones of colors, and lighter tones, as needed,” he adds. “It opens doors in what we can do, and the choices we can offer our clients.”
The project entailed a total of six windows, as much as 12-feet long x seven-feet high, for a total of 18 individual panels. “They brought us a rough layout of what they were looking for, super-imposed over photographs of the windows, and we collaborated for the final design.” says Voorhees. “The capabilities of the printer to print with white ink was a huge selling point on this job. The restaurant owner’s biggest concern was that light could come in from the outside, but that people couldn’t see the renovations taking place.”
Before the go-ahead for the full project, though, Voorhees had to design, print, and install two sample window panels to demonstrate that white-ink technology could deliver as promised. Those prints of the restaurant name and logo now adorn its entrance. All of the graphics developed by Voorhees have an Asian theme: Buddha, the Great Wall of China, dragons, fish, and statuary. Golden browns and bronze colors dominate.
“We used Roland’s eco-solvent CMYK inks with white, and the extra light cyan and magenta to get those colors,” says Voorhees. Most images were tiled from horizontal strips of Roland clear window film printed at the VersaCamm 640’s full 64-inch width. Installation of all six windows took about nine hours.
“We’re definitely breaking new ground in what we can do for our clients,” Voorhees says.
Photocenter Imaging: 60 years of thunder
With its reputation rooted in the photographic industry, Burbank, California-based Photocenter Imaging (photocenterimaging.com) has no room to compromise the image quality of its digital prints. The company invested in the white-ink-capable Océ Arizona 350 as the printer that would allow it to take its digital services in a new direction.
“We bought it for the size of the flatbed, its white-ink capabilities, and ability to print at 1440 dpi,” says executive vice president Boris Winogradow. “During holiday seasons in the past we were getting requests from customers asking if we could print on silver or gold,” he says. “Without white ink, we just couldn't deliver that photographic quality they expect from us.”
Since the company installed the Arizona in 2009, it has spawned an entirely new subset of specialty services. It’s been employed to produce P-O-P displays, limited runs of digital fine-art prints, lenticular prints, decals on a variety of media, even direct printing of graphics to candy tins. “The 350 has helped separate us from the pack, because we can achieve things others can’t,” says Winogradow,
“It’s really enhanced the range of services we can offer to our clients, and opened up our business,” agrees executive vice president for sales Ron DeJesus. “The registration is perfect, and we can print in all different shades of white while getting opacities from zero to 100 percent.”
Recently, the company was called on to put those capabilities to work for a special exhibit at Los Angeles’ Peterson Automotive Museum. Photocenter Imaging provided all the graphic support for a special exhibit “NHRA: Sixty Years of Thunder,” celebrating the best in dragsters, funny cars, and hot rods. The exhibit runs through May 2011.
The installation required a variety of visuals, many printed directly to colored acrylic and Plexiglas panels ranging from 10 x 14 to 30 x 40 inches. “It’s a good representation of what we can now achieve with white ink,” says Winogradow.
Some of the digitally printed panels accompanying the cars feature a ghosted image of the vehicle, others a combination of text and photos with frosted or ghosting effects. White ink “is giving designers an opportunity to take their visuals to a whole other level,” says Rick Bradford, sales executive for this project.
Winogradow notes designers are now seeking out the company because they’ve heard of or seen prints produced with white ink on different media. “Once they see the results, they tend to say ‘Wow!’ and start thinking about how they might use it,” he reports. “It’s enabling them to achieve some very artistic effects on a range of media they just couldn’t use before,” according to Winogradow.
These capabilities, borne of the Arizona’s white-ink option, have drawn such a positive response within the creative community that DeJesus expects the opportunities are only beginning to develop. “Demand for printing with white ink will only get bigger,” he predicts. “It’s the future of digital printing, and within the next five years something everyone will have to offer.”
Astek Inc.: custom wallcovering work
As a leading provider of specialty wall and interior coverings, Astek, Inc. (astekwallcovering.com) of Van Nuys, California, prides itself on continually providing clients with the latest, most creative solutions for transforming rooms and interiors into graphically stunning settings.
Today, that means offering its clients the white-ink option, and all that white ink allows. The company first added white-ink capabilities with the purchase of a Durst 600 Pictur flatbed in 2007. Demand for digital services quickly followed, prompting the company to add the Durst 320r roll-to-roll UV printer, then the Rho 800 high-speed UV flatbed. The company is currently considering adding a fourth Durst printer with this feature, and switching all of its Durst systems over to the latest HD white inks.
“White ink gives us the ability to print in full color on anything other than white media,” notes production manager Brian Preble. “We’re able to lay down a layer of white and use any media like it’s a clean sheet. The new HD inks will give us even brighter whites to work with.”
Astek has utilized white ink to treat a range of materials as if each were a fresh white canvas, primed for printing: MDF, plywood, wood, glass, steel, metals, static cling film, acetate, carpets and all types of vinyl.
“We do a lot of custom digital prints for walls,” he continues. “That can mean fine-art prints, wall murals, even scanning and recreating old wallpaper.” Astek’s expertise also reaches into the film industry, recreating the floors, walls, and ceilings which lend authenticity to popular movies like 2009’s Angels and Demons. “When you see all those marble floors in the film, that’s our work,” Preble points out.
“We’ve done our part to spread the word about what we can achieve with white ink. Designers of all types are starting to take advantage of it.”
He points to the custom wall mural the company produced in 2008 for the redesign of the Latin-themed Conga Room nightclub at LA Live as one example. “The designer wanted a gold and white wall mural in a pattern that complements the wood panels in the main room’s ceiling,” Preble recalls. The geometric honeycomb pattern was printed directly onto gold mylar film for a result he considers superior to what can be achieved with current metallic-ink technology.
“When you can print with white and then add other colors to silver, gold, or other metallic mylar film, it gives you that iridescent quality that I just haven’t seen yet with metallic inks,” Preble maintains.
On a more recent project, Astek was asked to print several thousand square feet of a gradient pattern of white dots for lobby panels in the Spin restaurant at the Las Vegas City Center. The clarity and quality of printing with white ink was just what the job required, according to Preble. “We printed the dot patterns on acetate, which was then laminated between a pair of glass panels,” he says. “Gradients can be tricky to print on some printers, but with our Durst 320 and its white-ink capabilities, it was no problem at all.”
Each new project seems to spawn demand for more white-ink services. “Right now, probably 50 percent of the digital work we do involves white ink in some way,” he estimates. “We’re able to say to our clients, ‘Whatever you want, we can make it for you.’”
G-Way Marketing Gymnasium: one-stop shopping
Wide-format printing has been a standard offering from G-Way Marketing Gymnasium (gwayonline.com) in Norwalk, Connecticut, since 1994. As full-service marketing solutions provider, the company offers a complete menu of traditional and digital print services – whatever clients require to get their message out and seen. “We’re like a Kinko’s on steroids,” says president David Cudiner.
When G-Way finally added a flatbed printer with the purchase of its new HP Scitex FB500 last year, he considered it primarily a cost-savings measure. The new printer allows G-Way to print directly to a variety of material up to 5 x 10 feet and 2.5-inches thick.
“As much as 25 percent of our business is in wide-format printing today,” Cudiner points out. “We bought this press to eliminate the need for mounting and finishing. With our flatbed, we’re now printing direct to all types of media.” He says the system is already paying for itself in eliminating all costs and labor associated with laminating, lower costs of ink, and increased efficiency.
But Cudiner and crew are just beginning to explore the benefits of another feature of the FB500: the ability to print with white ink. “Ninety-five percent of the work we do will not require white ink, unless it’s a specialty project,” he says. “But, I think we have to have that capability.”
He sees strong potential using the white feature for producing window graphics. “People want both sides of their window cling printed, so it can be seen inside and outside. We’ve got a lot of clients who are looking for a knockout white.”
G-Way also has experimented with using white ink for printing directly to ceramic tiles, printing on doors, producing comps on fluted cardboard, and printing photographs on black boards. And the shop is planning to use the system to print color graphics directly to hockey pucks.
As clients learn of G-Way’s white-ink capabilities, they’re exploring this option for their promotional needs. In one of the most recent tests, Cudiner printed an 18-inch knockout image of a new watch on a clear Dura vinyl, printing white behind 4-color, to highlight the graphic. “Our client wants to display the watch in a window at one of their stores as a test to see if it increases sales,” he reports.
Cudiner believes the ability to print with white, now possible on the FB500 flatbed, equips his company to better accommodate clients, whatever their requirements. “Our goal is to be that one-stop-shop, their complete solutions provider and problem solver,” he concludes. “We’ve got to have all the options. Now, being able to print with white ink gives us the ability to lock our clients in, for all their needs.”