Does Your Vinyl Printing Flow Where You Want It To Go?

Print shops are cashing in on the vinyl boom, but not without overcoming myriad challenges. There’s the limited color gamut of inksets and the color matching obstacles that may result. There’s the choice between coated and uncoated media and its response to ink. There are incompatible file types that can cause snags in the workflow. Don’t forget about the tight deadlines and the occasional unforeseen problem.

The good news for digital print shops is this: sign making software can take some of the X factor out of the print-to-vinyl equation. Software vendors continue to innovate with new iterations ­ and even entirely new programs ­ aimed at streamlining the printing process onto vinyl. Under the umbrella of printing workflow software, you can find a software solution to meet the challenges of daily production.

“Software seems like an afterthought when you are buying a printer. You can easily spend $250,000 on a printer and forget about the software that runs it,” says Mike Chramtchenko, director of marketing for Ottawa, Ontario-based CADLink Technology, makers of Digital Factory printing workflow software. “But successful vinyl prints depend on having the right software.”

Help! Incompatible Files! 
The right sign making software can help you avoid a major headache known as file incompatibility. Compatibility between Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator and other design programs is a challenge that can sideline your shop before you ever begin the print process.

You’ve probably experienced the dilemma. Some of your clients use Adobe Photoshop for everything they do. Other clients are sold on Adobe Illustrator as their design program of choice. Still others may use Adobe InDesign, QuarkXpress or some other program you rarely work with. That could lead to EPS files, AI files, JPEG files, TIFF, JDF files or any one of scores of other file types.

Here’s the headache in the making: In order to print the client’s award-winning design on vinyl, the file’s data format has to be compatible with your printing equipment. That sometimes requires the printer’s import-expert filter to translate from one version of a format type, such as EPS or AI, to another. That hasn’t always been a smooth process, but some informal industry standards and new iterations of sign making software are tackling the challenge.

“EPS and AI files seem to have chronic problems when you upgrade from one version to another,” says Jim Fasset, president of San Marcos, Calif.-based Aries Graphics International, makers of Sign Wizard software. “These issues used to force agencies to keep upgrading from one iteration to the next. Adobe’s PDF file format is a great answer to that challenge.”

Designers can covert all types of files to PDF, including Photoshop files, Word Documents and even web pages. These are some of the reasons there is a move in the sign software industry toward accommodating PDF import and export formats, according to Fasset. In fact, he adds, it’s rapidly becoming the standard because it offers more compact files. Instead of burning the file on a CD and shipping it to the customer or waiting for him to pick it up, the files can usually be e-mailed. The PDF format also

Facing the Vinyl
File incompatibility is just where the digital printing challenges begin, however. Once you get a handle on compatibility, you move on to color matching and cost cutting, according to Daniel Barefoot, president of Burbank, Calif.-based Graphics One, an online store for large format printing solutions in over 100 countries. One way to cut costs is to use color profiling software so you can match the colors your customer requires without having to repeatedly reprint.

If you want Coca-Cola red, for example, you need to have the right combination of ink and media that makes for a match. A spectrophotometer, software that allows you to measure colors to create the right blend, is vital to that process. That measurement is called the IC profile. But it doesn’t end there. You also need an IC-Compliant rip software package for processing.

“If you are imaging a truck side you have to make sure your red is correct when it prints to vinyl,” Barefoot says. “That’s a different process than if you are trying to print the same red onto fabric. The IC profile is extremely important to measure the media and ink combinations.”

Barefoot recommends Wasatch Computer Technology’s SoftRIP for large format digital inkjet printers. The printer is just a “dumb machine that dots the media,” he says, it’s the software that makes the process intelligent. Wasatch’s software drives up to four printers at one time. Barefoot says the software’s ability to manage the file processing for the printers saves the digital print shop time and money.

Printing on Que
Greater automation abilities are also finding their way into sign making software to address the need for output quality, speed and minimizing wastes. New products let you RIP up to three devices at the same time and print to as few or as many printers as you need to in order to meet your production deadlines. You can output to any device, from printers to cutters, to thermal to hybrids. Built-in ques let the digital print shop prioritize the order in which the files print.

“Let’s say you are printing on a Roland and half the print jobs are going on to vinyl and the other half are going to photo gloss paper,” Chramtchenko says. “Digital Factory lets you set up a que for each different type of media, then drag all the appropriate jobs on each que. If you want to run the photo gloss batch first, you can do that. If you want to run the vinyl first you can do that.”

Since vinyl is almost always printed and cut, having a built-in cutting engine and RIP in your sign making software is a real requirement. Bundling those elements into one workflow production software package makes the process seamless because you only have to give the printer a single command rather than manning each piece of individual software manually.

Thinking out of the box
Third-party sign industry software manufacturers are surely thinking out of the box when it comes to making printing to vinyl ­ and other substrates ­ easier. New tools in their packages continually add increases in time savings to your shops workflow, variable data elements, faster engines and on and on. Not to mention that the most current versions will give you the best import of other file formats from other softwares, which by itself may save a lot of time. So don’t lag behind the curve too far with the intent to save money, while costing yourself a lot of time.

All real factors to keep you thinking about the business plan for your company and how to optimize your plan to best benefit your long-term goals. It always looks easy from the outside, but objectively looking at the details on the inside is what separates the successes from the failures. Keep thinking and keep moving forward.

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