Wide-format Printing: Producing Toronto’s street banners

September 5, 2017

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Photos courtesy Cityscape Displays

By Peter Saunders
Cityscape Displays, based in Mississauga, Ont., fills a very specific niche in the sign and graphics market by planning, printing, installing and maintaining street banner programs across Toronto to promote events and festivals. To ensure this specialized graphic output can stand up to urban wear and tear, the company relies on high-grade coated textiles.

Bringing printing in-house
The company operated as Carol’s Flag & Banner in Milton, Ont., for about 20 years before it was taken over by its current owners in 2008.

“We purchased the company from a retiring couple,” explains David Dich, one of the three partners. “Much of the value was in the goodwill they had built with the city of Toronto. The street banners represented 95 per cent of the business and they had landed top clients like the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM).”

At that point, the company fabricated its own hardware, acquired the necessary permits and installed the banners, but outsourced the printing. The new owners, who had a shared background in sign design and production—including stints with WSI Sign Systems in Bolton, Ont., and a FastSigns International franchise in Burlington, Ont.—began to change that by bringing printing in-house. This enabled them to expand the business with larger wall banners, but also required more space. After one year in the original 93-m2 (1,000-sf) Milton facility, they moved into a 344-m2 (3,700-sf) plant in Mississauga.

“We knew our new facility would be large enough to accommodate our future needs,” says Dich. “As we expanded, for example, 
we were able to add a second floor to it.”

Event horizons
The client list grew as Cityscape promoted its full package of services, from permits through printing through installation, which was rare in an industry where most suppliers were more heavily specialized on just one type of work each.

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“Mirvish Theatre Productions was the first organization to really jump on-board with us and expand their street banner promotions,” says Dich. “They found they got a lot of calls for tickets from people who had seen their banners, so now they do ‘takeovers’ along King Street. The National Ballet of Canada has also followed suit.”

Toronto’s bylaws require the street banners—which are not regulated the same way as other out-of-home (OOH) ads—to showcase only events and non-profit organizations.

“The rules are pretty cut-and-dry, so we do
a lot of repeat work for the same clients,” says Dich. “We do well with plays, ballets, jazz festivals and ROM exhibits.”

One exception is a site-specific program on the University of Toronto’s (U of T’s) St. George campus, where banners announce graduations and reunions and showcase services for  international students.

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The banners are printed on a scrim blockout material that is sufficiently durable for long-term outdoor advertising.

Serving up the city
As Cityscape’s client list grew, its staffing increased from two to four full-time employees and from three to four part-time installers. As for the printing technology, a 1.5-m (60-in.) wide ultraviolet-curing (UV-curing) flatbed printer was joined in 2015 by a durable aqueous ‘latex’ inkjet printer of the same size.

“We bought the latex printer to produce banners after submitting a bid to promote the 2015 Pan Am Games across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA),” Dich explains. “That work was 
a real game-changer for us, as it got people’s attention beyond downtown Toronto. We now do work regularly for Mississauga, too.”

That said, focusing strictly on the Toronto market has proven highly lucrative for Cityscape because of the repeat nature of the work and the exclusivity of its particular medium.

“Not a lot of companies do this type of work because of the cost and effort involved,” says Dich. “We stay up-to-date with our documentation and safety training to ensure we have the necessary approvals. Competition isn’t much of an issue. Everything you see downtown is us!”

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The company has been approved to work on Toronto Hydro poles, for example, which accounts for most of its inventory. The rest include Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and privately owned structures.

“The previous owners just plotted out all of the city’s poles in their heads,” Dich explains. “We’ve since developed a database that allows us to map all of the street poles in the city, right down to 1-m (3.3-ft) radius accuracy.”

Thanks to this tool, Cityscape can plot out new locations that have never been used for street banners before, such as along Kingston Road in the city’s east end. It also allows the company to keep track of poles affected by construction and road work.

“Whenever a pole is taken down, the banner is kept aside for us,” says Dich, “and usually it is replaced soon.”

Installations are handled at off-peak hours, usually in the middle of the night, when it is easiest to work at heights without causing disruptions.

“Our installation methods are mostly the same across the city,” says Dich, “but some business improvement areas (BIAs) have hardware built into the poles or can only accommodate smaller banner sizes.”

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The company also manages a site-specific banner program for the University of Toronto (U of T).

From banners to signage
Cityscape prints its street banners onto a 595-g (21-oz) scrim blockout material.

“We keep it constantly stocked,” says Dich. “It’s expensive, but it’s worth it because it lasts well. Some of our banner programs are up for months or a year at a time.”

The latex printer has become favoured as the faster option for printing the company’s double-sided banners with high image quality, but the UV flatbed’s compatibility with rigid substrates has allowed Cityscape to expand into other signage applications.

“Our street banners have already kind of peaked, so growth is slowing down,” says Dich. “Everyone wants their ads in the same locations. With signage, though, we’re getting called upon to handle bigger programs, such as conferences. And we can accommodate those installations in our schedule because they can take place during daytime hours.”

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Such programs have reached large-scale facilities like the Mattamy Centre, the St. Lawrence Centre and the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC).

“We don’t need a third printer quite yet, but we might within the next few years,” says Dich. “At that point, the question will be whether we put on an addition at this facility or we need to move to a larger one.”

With files from Cityscape Displays. For more information, visit www.cityscapedisplays.com[4].

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: https://www.signmedia.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Lion-King.jpg
  2. [Image]: https://www.signmedia.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/IMG_5258.jpg
  3. [Image]: https://www.signmedia.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/U-of-T-Kings-IMG_3685.jpg
  4. www.cityscapedisplays.com: http://www.cityscapedisplays.com

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