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Wide-format Graphics: Improving efficiency with software

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Base photo © BigstockPhoto.com, screen shot courtesy SAi

By John Blundell
The constant need to keep production costs low while shortening turnaround times without compromising quality is an all-too-familiar challenge for large-format printing in the sign industry. While one response to this challenge is to buy a new, higher-quality printer, another is to develop an efficient end-to-end production workflow supported by advanced design software.

Front-end compatibility
Workflow, after all, begins at the front end of a job, well before it is sent to the printer. With the right software, the design stage is made more efficient, which can have a noticeable effect on overall production time. Indeed, it can mean the difference between (a) a job making it off the cutter, into a vehicle and en route to the client or (b) a missed deadline and an angry customer.

There are a number of graphic design software packages available for companies specializing in everything from point-of-purchase (POP) displays to packaging, so it makes sense to check out the respective attributes of each before making a new investment.

Certainly, not all software is created equal. 
It is worthwhile to become aware of some of the shortfalls of certain options on the market.

Some products, for example, are not compatible with the existing raster image processor (RIP) software that drives wide-format digital flatbed printers and cutters. 
They may either be limited to use with specific cutting machines—which invariably entail expensive implementation—or require 
costly additional libraries of printing and cutting shapes, acquired by licence and/or ongoing subscription.

Putting additional, unforeseen costs aside, the main priority in shopping around is to compare the varying performance capabilities of different design software packages with the sign shop’s own specific requirements.

New dimensions in design
Many professionals rely on mainstream graphic design software, for example, where they often find it time-consuming and irksome to try to visualize sign concepts accurately in three dimensions (3-D), because of the difficulty of properly accounting for the intended graphic substrate’s thickness and folding behaviour. 
In the end, the process relies heavily on trial and error during production. Fortunately, other new types of software have been developed that address this issue with a 3-D preview feature.

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In such examples, job creation efficiency is improved by simplifying the structural and graphic design of 3-D displays and eliminating extra steps within a single workflow bundle. Rather than needing additional plug-in software to enable a fuller suite of design options, 
users can access a library of display templates to select (or adapt) the shape that best suits the customer’s requirements. From there, they can set the dimensions, rotate the preview, add logos and other features and perfect the final design in just a few minutes, where it would previously have taken several hours.

One of the keys is to integrate graphic and structural design so users can view the full layout in 3-D, allowing them to catch any mistakes before production. It is also possible to export the rotational display previews as 3-D files for clients to review and approve.

A strong foundation
The right software will provide a strong foundation not only for producing a wide array of standard template-based displays, but also for adapting them to meet customers’ precise requirements, right down to the thickness of a specialty substrate.

The ability to integrate such features within a sign shop’s current workflow, without having to sacrifice its existing design, RIP or cutting software, is a highly attractive proposition. Large-format printing companies can grow their business and increase revenues by extending their range of applications, thanks to quicker, easier and more cost-effective methods for designing 
and creating display graphics.

John Blundell is a product manager for signmaking software developer SA International (SAi). For more information, visit www.thinksai.com.

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