How five companies are making their mark.
By Jake Widman
Prototypes for consumer goods
In the practiced words of Rex Jobe, chairman and CEO, The Color Place (www.thecolorplace.com), his Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX company is a "digital manufacturer of graphics, using a cross-section of production methods" including grand-format printers, photographic techniques, and others. "Our clientele ranges from consumer-product companies to retailers," Jobe continues. "We do signs, banners, vehicle graphics"-the company has even done wraps for bass boats.
"I started The Color Place 35 years ago as a traditional color lab," Jobe recalls. "We figured out about 10 years ago that the photo business was going to end and film was going to go away."
"When the direct-to-substrate presses came out around ’01," he continues, "we knew it was a direction we wanted to go. We’d been putting together some products by making photo prints and laminating them to a substrate, for P-O-P and so on. We’d also had a couple of situations where we’d done packaging by hand. When we bought our digital router, packaging software came with it. So we told clients, ‘We have this new capability now-if you need custom packages, let us know.’"
"Most of what we do is prototype work for sales-promotion agencies working with large consumer-product companies," Jobe continues. "We get digital files that are all already laid out. We might consult with our clients on how their job might best be done or how to plan it, but they do the design." The files could be produced in any common design software, from Illustrator to XPress to Adobe InDesign. "We have to be knowledgeable about all of them," says Jobe.
The prototypes are mainly printed on the company’s Inca Eagle H and its EFI Vutek QS2000 direct-to-substrate presses using UV inks. After coming out of the presses, the sheets are put through a digital die cutter running the box-making software that came with the MGE router. The system has enabled The Color Place to make at least one all-metal box and a couple of all-plastic ones. "We can print on just about anything these days," says Jobe.
Tackling the creative short run
"We’ve been in the service printing business for 20 years," says Errol Doris, Jr., assistant general manager for Digital POP Solutions (www.digi-pops.com) in Bellwood, IL. "As technology changed, we changed with it. In 1991 or ‘92, we were using airbrush printers." Now, the company’s primary machine is an HP Scitex FB6700 flatbed digital printer, which they use to print on "pretty much anything that’s rigid," says Doris. "We run a lot of Sintra and other foam board, and the majority of our work is on corrugated sheets and Coroplast."
"We do a lot of display and P-O-P work," says Doris, "but we do packaging as well. We’ll do boxes, displays, headers. It’s all digitally die-cut, so there’s no tooling costs. As long as it’s 3-D, we can do it."
The files come to Doris from the product manufacturers in a variety of formats, such as PDFs and TIFFs. "But I prefer to get my files in Illustrator format," says Doris. "It makes for a crisp printout." Digital POP then uses Esko Graphics’ ArtiosCAD software to set up the box structure and cutting pattern. Scitex’s proprietary RIP handles the color-management tasks, he says.
Digital POP’s packaging jobs represent several different parts of the market. For instance, for a company that needs a product sample, "It’s not always cost-effective to run out samples with traditional methods. We get a lot of work from those people," says Doris. Other jobs are bigger: "A lot of our stuff gets placed at stores like Best Buy or Wal-Mart. They’re big chains, and they might take 500 of something and put one in each store as a test." And some jobs weren’t even theirs to start with: "We also do a lot of makeup work," recounts Doris. "People run 3000 of a job that they really needed 3500 of-they come to us, and we run the extra 500."
The packaging work has proven a boon to Digital POP in other ways, too. "It can throw you into other parts of the business as well, because there are so many different people you deal with. It really helps you to break out."
Jake Widman is a freelance writer based in San Francisco, CA.