How the newest digital printing technology is helping sign shops thrive

Newer digital printers offer faster print speeds and quicker drying times to help Westmount Signs efficiently produce large projects.

By Ginny Mumm

Tim Bezner, owner of Westmount Signs in Waterloo, Ont., is excited for the future of printing. Westmount has been around since 2004 and, even with the changes brought about by the pandemic, he notes, “I am still amazed by how many signs are going up all around us. The future looks bright for our industry.”

He has good reason to be optimistic. According to a recent report by Markets and Markets, the global large-format printer market is projected to grow from US$8.8 billion in 2021 to $11.4 billion in 2026. The forecasted increase is attributed in part to recent technological advances in digital printing equipment that are helping print shops meet increasing demands for advertising and décor. 

We spoke with Tim and with Amanda Juneau, co-owner of a small, but rapidly growing O’Hare Sign Company in Edmonton, Alta., about how advances in digital printing technology are helping their shops flourish, even in an uncertain economy.

How did you start your company?

Tim Bezner (TB): Westmount was founded as a partnership in 2004 in Waterloo, Ont., and in 2008, I bought out my partner. We started in a little 121-m² (1300-sf) shop in a strip mall beside a Jiffy Lube. We grew the business and, by 2008, we needed to expand to our current 595-m² (6400-sf) location. In 2018, we added a second location, moving our paper-based digital printing equipment into a 167-m² (1800-sf) space in Kitchener, Ont. As a natural add-on to our sign manufacturing, we purchased Dunbar Electric to add Westmount Electrical Services to our portfolio.

Amanda Juneau (AJ): O’Hare Sign began in 1983 when two friends got together to make portables. The business then branched into signmaking with hand-painted graphics and custom signage. My business partner, Darrell Hastey, had been with O’Hare for 23 years. He left for a few years and came back. I had been working at O’Hare for 10 years, and, in 2019, we decided to buy the business.

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Newer wide-format digital printers offer a wide colour gamut, enabling stunning colour prints like these.

Tell us about your shop today.

TB: We have 15 full-time employees in the sign and printing side of the business, as well as two employees with Westmount Electrical. Our original showroom has been absorbed by production space over the years and now hosts four workstations for our designers. The boardroom was also converted to a sales office. The Waterloo shop has three vehicle bays; however, we wrap oversized vehicles at the Kitchener location due to the larger bay size available in that building.

We keep our wide-format digital print production humming with two Roland DG TrueVIS VG2 wide-format printer/cutters. We have plotters, mounting tables, CNC routers, CNC channel letter benders, a laser engraver, laser cutters, and three aerial lifts, including a crane.  We also have a wide variety of commercial printing presses and machines.

AJ: Though O’Hare has always been in the same location, over the years, our technology has evolved. O’Hare Sign is now fully equipped with large-format printers, laminators, plotters, and full design stations. Our layout includes a reception area, a production and manufacturing area, and a spacious vehicle bay for applying graphics to vehicles up to 12 m (40 ft) long. We also have roughly 232 m² (2500 sf) in a commercial strip mall, with our storefront facing two very busy streets in Edmonton. 

 

What industries do you serve?

TB: We don’t focus on a particular market, however, a bright spot during the pandemic has been the construction industry and all the development that has been going on in the region. High-tech has also been busy with a lot of robotics and technology companies keeping us running with graphics for their instrument panels and devices. Lastly, while the pandemic resulted in a lot of restaurant closures, we have recently seen a resurgence of growth in the hospitality sector, especially restaurants. We have customers all over Canada and have sent projects as far away as Mexico City for local installation. The bulk of our customers are business owners, but we take the same care with printing for a young couple’s wedding as we do for a corporate client’s branding package. Our one-on-one, in-person service seems to be a differentiator in the community. We work hard to forge strong relationships and, in 2020, Westmount Signs was nominated by the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce for Community Builder of the Year.

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AJ: Our clients range from walk-in customers that want a one-off sign or design to medium- sized or large corporations with full signage packages. We do a lot of fleet graphics and owner/operator vehicle wraps, along with signage for small businesses and real estate contractors. Our clients are mainly local to Edmonton and the surrounding areas, but we do have quite a few print-and-ship clients throughout the province. We even have clients in other cities that only deal with us, so we arrange for their projects to be ready when they are in town again.

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