By Griffin Coulter
Progressive innovation allows companies to differentiate themselves and gain a competitive advantage in their market. Without it, businesses can quickly become lost to conformity and complacency. This applies just as much to the sign industry as to any other business segment. When sign shops simply mirror what their competitors are doing, there is no incentive for new clients to be attracted to their product offerings.
Each sign shop differs in its access to capital to finance new equipment, but there are many ways for even small shops to gain a competitive advantage. In recent years, many options for computer numerical control (CNC) routers and knife cutters that were previously too expensive for the majority of signs shops have become more competitively priced. At the same time, new technologies have found their way into the market.
Traditionally, the CNC router market has been split between very high-end machines and less expensive ‘do it yourself’ (DIY) models. Today, however, there is a greater range of technologies available, from mom-and-pop shop to mid-level production to full production machines. These different product lines all offer similar features, although automation capabilities tend to be more common on the more advanced systems.
Investing in some of these options can allow sign shops to meet underserved demand, diversify their product offerings and improve the efficiency of their in-house workflow to maintain profit margins.
Digital registration goes hand in hand with the sign industry’s shift toward direct-to-substrate printing of wide-format graphics over the past five years, as it is crucial with this type of printing to ensure the material is aligned properly to compensate for skew or distortion. Today, approximately 50 per cent of CNC routers sold to the sign industry come standard with digital registration capabilities, which allow shops to excel as they move toward printing all of their output direct-to-substrate.
Without a digital registration system, signmakers will undoubtedly struggle with skew, distortion and image drift problems. With one, they will be able to offer superior cutting performance to their customers and will be more likely to win repeat business. It is a cost-effective way to become more flexible in terms of design and then improve the quality of the final product.
To benefit from digital registration, the signmaker adds ‘fiducials’—i.e. registration marks—to an image file before sending it to the wide-format printer. Then, when the job moves on to the CNC routing stage, software is used to compare the actual printed image with the original file, to make any toolpath adjustments for skew or distortion and to instruct the router/knife how to make any other necessary compensations.
Digital registration also reduces the need for manual alignment and intervention to quickly gain tolerances of +/- 0.25 mm (0.01 in.) or better.