Built up letters offer businesses the chance to make serious visual impact and a brand really 'stand out'! With different materials, finishes and lighting to choose from in the right hands they can be considered works of art. Or what about in the right machine? Kathryn Johnson talks built up letters with a number of signmakers, as well as a few who are using automated bending machines. Is this the way forward, does it compromise quality or is it something that can work well alongside hand crafting?
The sheet materials used to make a sign are arguably the most important component to ensure longevity, durability and a professional finish. While products like Aluminium Composite are a traditional favourite, there are numerous new takes on it in addition to a wealth of new products available to sign makers. Jemima Codrington spoke with industry experts to see what's available, how to use it, and how to get the best possible finish.
Beyond just being a necessary component of every signage job, fittings and fixtures are now also becoming design features in their own right. Jemima Codrington spoke to experts in this field to find out how sign makers can tackle tricky jobs, save time and expedite the installation process whilst getting an exceptional finish every time.
Soft signage offers many advantages for both end-users and sign makers; versatility, affordability and ease of transport to name a few. Jemima Codrington spoke with resellers and manufacturers to get the scoop on whatâ€™s behind the boom in banners and flags, and to see how sign makers can maximise potential within this market.
A competitive market, a higher demand for speciality print jobs and a variety of substrates on which to print has resulted in a slew of new ink types hitting the market in recent years. Jemima Codrington caught up with industry experts to find out how sign makers can get the best value for money from their ink, and what they can expect to see in 2014.
Signmaking software has become some of the most advanced in the graphics industry â€“ so is there anywhere left for it to go in 2014? Or have we finally arrived in a golden era of software? Jemima Codrington caught up with experts that discuss what lies ahead for the software market in the coming year, talking computers, clouds and consolidationâ€¦
When it comes to signage, end users are now demanding a cleaner, more impactful finish than ever before. This is largely thanks to advancements in hardware, materials and illumination techniques that allow businesses to create vibrant, eye-catching signs beyond traditional 2D designs. Built up lettering is becoming increasingly popular, and Jemima Codrington spoke with some of the leading names in the business to find out how this method of signage is helping businesses stand out from the crowd.
The routing and engraving industry is as diversified and dynamic as most sign making companies today. Software innovations, hardware updates and health and safety improvements have transformed this sector in recent years. Jemima Codrington explores how the industry is undergoing a transformation to keep pace with todayâ€™s client demand.
When it comes to gentrifying skill sets and learning about new sectors and products, the job is never done for sign makers. Jemima Codrington caught up with the industryâ€™s leading education and training providers to see what is on offer to help sign makers grow their businesses.
LED lighting has come a long way in recent years, with new products making lighting everything from small, intricate signs to large projects simple and costefficient. Jemima Codrington caught up with experts in the field to find out whatâ€™s in store for the market in 2013.
Aluminium composite may be one of the most popular materials in sign making, but cutting it isnâ€™t always straightforward. The versatility and relative inexpensiveness of aluminium composite has long rendered it a favourite among sign makers. The rust and waterproof nature of the aluminium composite makes it a long-lasting choice for usage outdoors, as does the smooth finish, and the high-quality durability has contributed to the market demand widening over the past few decades.
Traffic Safety Signage - July/Aug 2013
Is the introduction of CE Marking for fixed road sign installations likely to prove good or bad for the UK sign industry?
Over the past 12 months sign makers across the UK have got used to the many leaflets and brochures turning up in their offices and inboxes, each one carrying long explanations and notes of caution about the introduction of CE Marking for fixed traffic sign installations.
Stuart Cole from Graphic Printing Technologies (GPT), Rob Goleniowski from Roland DG and Arzu Babaoglu from HP highlight recent trends in Digital Printing technology.
Roland DG, Sihl Direct UK, Metamark and Graphtec GB explain the diverse media and techniques available to sign makers to increase their revenues.
Ashwin Mehra talks to Graham Wilkinson, MD of Hampshire Flags on whether customers should outsource or produce their own flags. Cathel Maclean from Icon:SLS writes about what sign makers should consider when it comes to flag projects.
Scott Conway from Venture Banners gives his views on choosing the correct finish for banners. Prompt Media, APA and Metamark highlight trends in the banners market.
Buckland has over 15 years' experience in the installations field, the company completes projects across the UK and abroad.
In this feature we uncover exactly what RIP software is, and the benefits of using it in managing your workload.
We speak to the experts about what makes RIP worth a second look as a viable investment opportunity.
Every year there seems to be a variety of new â€˜eco-friendlyâ€™ inks on the market. We decided that it was time we found out what it was all about.
In this feature, we profile which environmentally friendly inks are available, what the experts at HP, Josero, Roland DG UK and AIT Shiraz say, we also profile Matic Media as a case study.
Even the most basic of current graphic design and imaging technologies, when allied with todayâ€™s versatile Digital Media and SignVinyl, comprise a force thatâ€™s driving commercial and creative growth in the market for vehicle graphics and livery - we discovered what industry leaders; Metamark, 3M and William Smith are doing for vehicle livery.
Here at Sign Update, we believe that, no matter how big or small your firm is, itâ€™s about getting the job done right that is the key to becoming a known â€˜faceâ€™ in the industry. Thatâ€™s why we have profiled two well-established companies; Applelec and Sygnet Signs on how the latest developments in built up lettering can help your business.
Like any skilled trade, the key to becoming an effective signmaker lies in having the right training and knowledge for those who want to polish up on their skills, or even learn new ones altogether.
Do aspiring sign makers have much to choose from? Ashwin Mehra unravels the clearer picture when he went searching.
In this exclusive feature, we have brought in Andrew Dudley, Business Manager from Roland DG (UK) and Huw Davies, Marketing Director at Tekcel to offer their expert opinions on what you should be looking for, when it comes to investing and implementing Routing and Engraving hardware for your business needs.
Road safety relies heavily on clear, consistent and effective signage that is implemented across the UK's roads and motorways.
In this feature, we profile two well-established leading suppliers of road safety signage; Tennants UK and Pro-Tect Safety Signs. We speak to representatives from both companies and find out just what makes them trusted leaders in their field.
LED lighting is a growing trend in many types of signage. Its uses range from billboards, shop windows and other types of advertising displays.
In this feature, we delve into the different types of LED lighting available on the market, from Lumirescent Hv Fast Fit LED strips by Insight Sign Systems; Curved LED Light Sheets by Applelec; LED mobile apps by SloanLED and Light Pocket Displays from Fairfield Displays.
Flags and banners are more popular than ever. Look around and you'll see them being used in all sorts of locations and at different events, be it a car showroom, retail outlet, trade show or even a royal wedding.
Choose wisely and flags and banners can be used as a cost-effective way of getting a message across with real impact, for decoration, to enhance events and create dramatic effects. They come in an enormous range of sizes and styles, can be printed or sewn, and are made from a range of fabrics and vinyls, as well as paper. The first flags were used to assist military coordination on battlefields, says Wikipedia; but they've come an awful long way since. Such is the variety of choice on offer today that there's a flag or banner that's ideal for just about any location or occasion.
We spoke to Hampshire Flag Company, a family run business that produces hand sewn national and international flags, digitally printed flags, PVC banners, marine flags, bunting and table flags, as well as offering a bespoke flag design service. The company is a major supplier to the sign trade as well as end users.
Graham Wilkinson, Managing Director at Hampshire Flag, says: "All flags have increased in popularity over recent years - they are going through their heyday at the moment! Over the last five years we have seen an increase in patriotism and a pride in being British so flag sales have seen a real boost. Graham says the company has seen a change in the type of products ordered.
"We used to do a lot more traditional landscape flags but now we see demand for more portrait flags, for example. The most popular styles of flags are those featuring corporate identities and national flags - both sewn and printed."
We also got the views of Icon SLS, a division of Icon. The event delivery and implementation company has a large and varied portfolio of clients and projects ranging from transforming city streets to "mega events", both in the UK and overseas.
Cathel Maclean from Icon SLS also reports an increase in demand: "Banners have increased in popularity over the last couple of years as more people are recognising the benefits of using banners and flagpoles to enhance their events and their ability to have an immediate high impact for a relatively low cost.
"We continue to supply to a wide and diverse range of clients and sectors. The most popular styles of flags that we sell are banners suitable for fitting to our extensive rental flagpole stock."
While some flags and banners are bought for short-term use, maybe even as "throwaway" products for a one-day event or similar, the majority are used in longer term applications and need to stay looking good without colours fading or the fabric looking worn.
We asked Graham Wilkinson from Hampshire Flag Company, to explain the main differences between a good quality and poor quality flag.
He says: "It all comes down to the quality of the textiles, the dyes and the processes used. For example, if you use a low quality sublimation dye it will have low UV resistance but disperse dyes have high UV resistance making them ideal for external use. However disperse dye printing does require washing so it is a longer more expensive process but the product does last longer."
He goes on to explain that the immediate difference is the quality of the dye, which can have an effect on reproduction of the colours. In addition, if the washing process is not used then the dye can run when the flag is in-situ, and if the flag is exposed to high UV then the colours can degrade rapidly.
Hampshire Flags produces approximately 95 per cent of its products in-house, using DuPont Artistri 2020 machines with Artistri disperse dyes, complemented by a Rimslow Dry X, a Rimslow Steam X and a Rimslow Wash X.
Hampshire Flags uses an eight colour set with DuPont inks which have high UV resistance to achieve maximum colour vibrancy, colour matching and durability.
"These inks have high UV resistance, which is important on textiles with an external grade and is something that you don't get with the dye sublimation process," says Graham.
"DuPont is well known throughout the industry for producing high quality dyes for digital textiles and has had a great reputation particularly over the last five years," he explains. "DuPont offers proven technology and the machines are industrial and robust. For our post printing production we use Rimslow as it is a great range and has proven reliability.
Icon SLS outsources its printing to selected printers which meet the company's exacting standards. Icon SLS flags and banners are printed on Grenadier, Mimaki and Mutoh machines.
Cathel Maclean from Icon SLS says: "These machines are used as they are the UK market leaders in solvent inkjet printing. They have the ability to print at high speed, in stunning quality onto the widest possible range of materials, whilst offering outstanding reliability day in and day out."
Grenadier uses CitroSOL organic solvent inks while the Mimaki machines are capable of utilising acid dye, disperse dye ink and even reactive dye ink, depending on the material being used.
"The benefits of these inks are their ability to produce very high quality output, resulting in excellent high-resolution images," explains Cathel.
You've already invested a lot of time with your customer agreeing the colours, the text and overall design for their signs and then the requirements of the D.D.A / Equalities Act 2010 can often be thrown into the mix at the eleventh hour, so what do you do? Well most people contact a specialist D.D.A signage company like Architectural Symbols & Signs for help.
Architectural Symbols & Signs is a preferred signage supplier to the RNIB. The company supplies both end clients and the trade with accessible way finding signage and most importantly the team at Architectural Symbols & Signs offers sound advice. They have been trading since 2003, both manufacturing the signs and also performing D.D.A signage audits for those customers who need some help deciding what signage they need.
Customers include Her Majesty's Court Service (HMCS); after being specified as the preferred supplier by ATKINS, which manages the properties on behalf of HMCS. Architectural Symbols & Signs offers a full service to HMCS / Atkins - performing the initial signage audit often with the Court Manager, agreeing specifications and locations, etc. They then manufacture the signs and deliver them to site and supervise installation, which is performed by an external contracting company that has tendered for the work. The formula works for all involved and has resulted in excess of 30 Crown / County and Magistrates Courts being signed over the last five years.
Other end client projects have included signing council administration buildings, leisure centres, theatres (such as the Theatre of Light at Andover); nature reserves; several Housing Associations (Gloucester City Homes, High Peak Housing and Severn Vale Housing). Architectural Symbols & Signs has worked closely with organisations like Mencap (providing Widgit and Tactile & Braille signage at Lufton College in Somerset); and Shelter - the homeless and housing charity.
Trade customers make up about 50% of the company's business and they have helped to provide signage solutions for all types of buildings and customers. Notable examples include aftermarket 100% transparent Braille strips on ATMs for Santander; internal tactile and Braille signage for Gloucester Quays shopping centre and tactile signage for the Supreme Court in London. Architectural Symbols & Signs also exports its signs to trade suppliers in Ireland, Australia, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, USA and even for a small job in a hotel in Africa c/o an Italian architect.
Colin Bruton (Director from Architectural Symbols & Signs) explains some of the different terminology that is used and the main principles to consider when designing and installing this type of signage; especially when the architect/designer mentions that you as the sign maker is responsible for ensuring the signs are D.D.A compliant (which is a very ambiguous statement):
This normally means raised letters. The idea is that people can feel and read the text with the pad of the finger and the letters should be raised and not recessed; so conventional engraving isn't suitable. The minimum capital height of a tactile letter is 18mm, any smaller and they can't be read by the finger so would be pointless being tactile. Extra spacing between letters makes the signs easier to read.
A form of communication that is read with the fingers, each cell of Braille can have up to six raised dots. Letters/words/numbers are made up depending where the dots are located within each cell. Text can be transcribed into Grade 1 (each letter of the word is represented by a complete cell); or Grade 2 Braille (where contractions of words are used to shorten the message). Braille is a very bulky form of communication; if you had one A4 page full of ordinary text, this might transcribe into 2.5 pages of Braille.
A lot of signage companies bought machines to produce Braille, using acrylic balls that must be glued into place. After seeing various examples of this type of signage we discover that quite often the Braille is transcribed incorrectly because standard software like Adobe Illustrator doesn't understand the rules of Braille; such as adding the numeral Braille sign before some text to convert words to numbers; and back again to text; so be careful where you buy your signs from.
Because of the size of tactile text and the bulk of Braille, you have to design the signs in a completely different way. Vinyl signs can be shrunk to fit the available space but you can't do that with tactile and Braille signage, so the proposed text needs to be agreed before you can size the signs and a lot more design time is needed.
Try and ensure you have good colour contrast between the base of the sign and the door or wall where it will be located, and good colour contrast between the text and the base of the sign. Also ensure both the base and the letters are made from matt materials that aren't reflective. Clear concise signage benefits everybody, not just people who have some form of visual impairment.
Try and develop a consistency of location for the signs. This is especially important for Braille readers; if intended users don't know where to locate them, then they aren't very useful. This is why we designed Braille finger push plate for doors at Architectural Symbols & Signs.
The heights of the signs are important, 1400mm - 1700mm (55 - 67 inches) from the ground is a height that is often referred to; although anything that is located above 1200mm (47 inches) isn't much use for a wheelchair user.
When designing directories ensure that all the messages/ locations that are pointing to the left are dressed to the left after a suitable ISO arrow, and all the messages that are pointing to the right are dressed to the right in front of a suitable ISO arrow. We have all been in public buildings and stood confused in front of directories that have small triangles as arrows.
Another form of communication altogether that most people haven't heard of, Moon allows people who are blind or partially sighted to read by touch. It is a code of raised shapes and takes its name from its blind English inventor, Dr William Moon. As the characters are fairly large and more than half the letters bear a strong resemblance to the print equivalent, Moon has been found particularly suitable for those who lose their sight later in life, or for people who may have a less keen sense of touch.
Whereas Braille is made up of patterns of dots, Moon uses lines and curves, similar to print, to create nine basic shapes. Rotating or reflecting these shapes in different ways creates the 26 letters of the alphabet. Adding a few dots for punctuation marks and a numeral sign completes Grade 1 Moon, which can be used to provide a tactile version of any text. When Dr Moon invented his system in 1845, Braille had been invented 16 years before but had not reached this country from France, and Moon was well established by the time Braille was taken up. Moon has remained an indispensable alternative ever since including use within RNIB Schools.
These are used extensively throughout schools to assist with learning and are being specified a great deal more now within mainstream buildings such as leisure centres, colleges, council buildings, and the like.
Makaton Symbols have been specially designed. Most of them are black and white pictures illustrating the important meaning of the words we use. Children and adults who cannot read or write can now have, for example: stories, instructions to carry out tasks, timetable events, shopping lists, letters and messages, all written in symbols.
The Widgit Literacy symbols (previously known as Rebus) have developed over the past 20 years and are used in many countries worldwide. The symbols are clean, concise and suitable for all ages. They too have been carefully designed to illustrate a single concept without adding unnecessary information such as gender. There are more than 7000 images in both colour and black and white covering a vocabulary in excess of 20,000 words.
Colin says "There's a lot of information to digest and a lot of different systems that can come under the umbrella of 'Accessible Signage'. Architects and designers often need a lot of support and help when including this type of signage into their buildings so if you need some advice and help please contact an expert supplier, such as Architectural Symbols & Signs."
Today digital printers utilise a combination of complex technology and clever engineering to provide for the widest ever number of different applications, giving sign makers and graphics professionals more opportunities to supply more markets than ever before. Sometimes it seems as if each new printer launched offers higher quality, increased speed, greater integration with other equipment, and additional flexibility than any previous model.
Figures for print speeds are impressive but other factors such as media handling systems, bigger bed sizes and faster drying times all contribute to fast throughput.
The most noticeable change in digital printing is probably improvements in the quality of images that's now achievable.
It used to be that dots per inch (DPI) was the way print quality was measured. It worked on the principle of the higher the number of dots, the higher the quality of print; but that was when all dots were the same size.
Four colour CMYK systems used in the early days didn't always reproduce tints and lighter colours very well. This was especially noticeable with skin tones; a few pixels of CMYK ink in every dozen pixels meant a lot of white space in between the ink pixels which produced a very grainy image.
When lighter colour inks (such as Lc, Lm) became available, printers would produce more pixels of ink (albeit lighter colour), leaving less pixels of white space which resulted in less grainy appearance on skin tones and similar effects. The popularity of six colour printers grew largely because of the improved image quality and smoother skin tones they were capable of. One disadvantage was that printing more ink pixels meant six colour systems used more ink than the four colour printers, but the printed images looked better so could be charged out to customers at higher price and the additional ink costs could be recouped.
Then variable drop technology and Piezo (Piezoelectric) print heads capable of producing drops of variable sizes were introduced and everything changed again.
The optimum size of ink drop for each part of an image is specified by clever software. Large drops are used for printing solid areas of colour through to very small droplets for fine detail and tiny type, resulting in noticeably improved image quality compared to six-colour printing with older technology and fixed drop size. So advanced is this technology that variable dot printing can output images of near photographic quality.
Using the best inks is critical to producing top quality signs and graphics. However much you spend on a printer, if the inks arenâ€™t right, the results wonâ€™t be good.
Sign makers and graphic professionals want the widest colour gamut and most vibrant colours possible to produce stunning graphics for their customers. They also look for durability, flexibility, and factors such as health and safety and environmental concerns also determine their ink choices.
Ink manufacturers are constantly striving to improve their inks provide an even greater choice for a growing range of applications, such as high quality printing on to textiles.
Results from ongoing research and development include inks that are safer to use, donâ€™t need ventilation, and the growing availability of white inks. A particularly exciting innovation is the introduction of metallic inks for digital printing. While not all users may yet be convinced, this opens up a whole new world of possibilities for sign makers and graphics professionals.
Advances in inks go hand in hand with developments in digital printers, see our Digital Printing feature.
These are PVC (polyvinylchloride) with additions such as plasticizers to give flexibility, pigments for colour, and other chemicals to provide specific qualities such as improved resistance to UV radiation and temperature fluctuations. Solvents are also used in the manufacture of cast films.
Cast films are made by a liquid mixture of the ingredients being poured on to a moving web (called a casting sheet) and put through one or more ovens to evaporate the solvents.
Casting produces a thin film with particularly good conformity and dimensional stability that holds its shape very well. Ideal for application over rivets, welds, complex curves and other irregularities, vehicle wrapping is the most popular application for cast vinyl. A good wrap with the correct printed vinyl can look like, and perform like, paint. Cast vinyl is available in a very wide range of colours and the way it's manufactured means it's practical to produce relatively small quantities of special colours. Casting usually produces films with the highest gloss and the longest outdoor durability.
Calendered films are produced by a thicker mixture being fed through a series of rollers, known as calendars, which progressively squeeze it down to the thickness of film required. Films made with polymeric plasticizers are usually higher quality with greater conformity than those made with monomeric plasticizers.
Because they are squashed and stretched to their finished shape, calendered vinyls are less dimensionally stable and when heated; they tend to contract and change shape back towards their original form. The manufacturing process for calendered films also limits how thin they can be, although this gives an advantage in that thicker or stiffer vinyl can make for easier handling with improved resistance to abrasion. The choice of colour in calendered films is more limited and their production method means producing special colours isn't as easy or economical.
But the biggest advantage of calendered films that they cost considerably less than cast films, largely because they're produced in bulk. Calendered films are a perfect solution for flat and simply curved surfaces, such as point of sale displays, wall, window and floor graphics, and for applications not requiring such long term outdoor durability of many years.
Dispite their greater cost cast vinyls may have an edge over calendered films but the development in calendered films over recent years is very exciting. Manufacturers are creating increasingly thin calendered films, with improved conformability and dimensional stability, as well as longer outdoor durability.
One company that manufactures all its products in the UK is Shopkit Group.
Nick Dixon, Marketing and Advertising Manager at Shopkit, says: "Our finished items are the best quality available, with all our products being manufactured in-house. We can now compette on price with imports from China or wherever on many items, and we win on quality of materials and workmanship.
"Iâ€™ve been told by end users that you canâ€™t re-use those cheap fittings. The thread gets crossed or something else goes wrong, theyâ€™re just no where near as well designed or well made as ours."
Nick says: "We have been approached by Far Eastern manufacturers to produce our components, but we were never satisfied with their quality an did not feel that it came close to that of our own."
Fairfield Displays & Lighting also manufactures its products in the UK. Its sign supports are made from solid brass in three parts, designed to ensure quick and easy installation, and to be completely hassle free for many years.
Janice Fairfield, Marketing Director, says: "Quality sign supports make all the difference. For example, installers are often asked to put up signs before the decorators have been in. With our fittings installers can put all the brass boss fittings on the wall, the decorator can easily unscrew the barrel and cap, without any tools, and paint the walls without splashing paint over the new sign fittings."
Janice points out that sign makers should be wary of the many cheap aluminium fittings on the market that may look as if they do the same job, but donâ€™t.
An example of Fairfield Displays and Lighting designing its fittings not only to look good but also to make installation easy for sign makers is its 25mm diameter fittings. These include a 6mm lip, for the installer to rest a panel on while fitting, especially useful when fixing heavy glass and acrylic panels.
But there are more advantages than quality control from manufacturing oneâ€™s own fittings and providing technical support, says Martin Cowell, Sales Director, at BigHead.
"In-house manufacturing means we can also tailor products to individual customer requirements," explains Martin. "Many companies can supply an item quickly but only if itâ€™s already in their warehouse, anything you want thatâ€™s not in stock has a four to six week wait for it to come from the Far East."
"In-house manufacturing means we can respond quickly to demand and simplifies introduction of new products, such as BigHeadâ€™s new Poppit two component fastener. We also offer BigHead customers the facility to design their own fastener via our new website," says Martin.
However, imported products may be significantly lower priced and when economic times are tough people look to save money where they can, says Chris Ferrie, Managing Director, of i-sPi.
"But be warned if buying off a website from a company you donâ€™t know, you pays your money, you takes your chance. Product photos look great on websites but I know people who have received hollow fixings in post. Itâ€™s a balance of affordable prices and reasonable quality that customers are looking for," says Chris.
One of the biggest trends over recent years is the increase in the number of different sign fixture and fittings ranges available.
Hobday has been providing shop fittings for almost 80 years, first to shop fitters and for the last 15 years or so to a growing number of sign makers across the UK.
David Best is Managing Director at Hobday "The biggest change is that it used to be that one product would be around for several years. Now new items are introduced all the time, products turn over quickly and we work hard to take them on board and ensure we continue offering a comprehensive choice for our customers."
It appears that the choice of fixtures and fittings is likely to continue growing for some years yet, as will the number of companies supplying them.Further information
01202 574 601.
|Fairfield Displays & Lighting||0845 166 5209.|
|Hobday||0121 608 4431.|
|i-sPi||0845 241 2467.|
|Shopkit Goup Ltd||01923 818 282.|
But with the widespread use of the internet and other ways of communicating with customers, many companies have opted out of large trade shows in favour of a higher number of smaller promotional events.
Because the type of events has changed, the rapid advances in large format printing along with media and inks, so customer demands and styling have changed too. These days, customers want more versatile displays that can be used on multiple occasions at different events and locations and still have a real impact.
Mary Griffiths, UK Operations Manager, at Mark Bric Display, says: "We're finding traditional shell scheme and square straight lines are not so popular now. People are choosing more attractive shapes, curves and waves that entice passers by, with large seamless graphics and clever illumination making full use of the available height.
"Our customers want stands they can re-use on different occasions. For example, after an exhibition they'll use part of it for a reception display or for demonstrations, so systems have to be flexible and versatile."
Chris Newton, Creative Director at Enhanced Images, agrees, saying "Companies will often hire part of hotel or conference facility rather than go to a big exhibition, and their display requirements have changed accordingly. Costs such as being charged for each electrical socket on your stand is also part of the reason why people going down the portable route."
"Display solutions that they can transport themselves, in the back of a car, and which won't cost a fortune to store, are what people want now," says Stewart Wilkins, Managing Director of Splash Display. "Overall spend is reducing and customers are more likely to use something year on year where they can just update the graphics. One irony is that some exhibition companies have been re-using bits for years, but charging clients for totally new systems."
Gordon Neile, Business Development Director at Eurostand Display, has been involved in the exhibition trade for 20 years and thinks the drastic reduction in lead times is one of the most notable trends within the UK marketplace today.
He says: "It used to be the case that prospective end-user clients would make initial approaches to our dealers for their display or stand requirements up to four or maybe five months in advance of an event. They'd even take time out to travel to our dealers' premises or showrooms to view and physically assess display products being on offered. Nowadays, however, the contact is made much closer to an event - sometimes with less than a week to go."
Quality is also a big issue in today's market, because shorter lead times and the perfectly-reasonable desire to reduce costs can lead to mistakes. Now many more customers source their suppliers via the web, but this may not necessarily be a good thing. An impressive-looking website is no more than that; it's not a guarantee of quality products. And it's important to remember that direct comparison of goods viewed over the internet can be extremely difficult, if not impossible.
"It used to be the norm for our dealers to travel in order to demonstrate a product, or arrange a showroom visit. When you're in front of a customer they can see and feel the true quality of graphics and the different display mechanisms that work with them. Even Eurostand Display's lower-priced product ranges are guaranteed for a minimum of five years. This dramatically reinforces our core message to our trade-only customers that we offer only quality products," says Gordon from Eurostand Display.
Chris from Enhanced Images echoes this sentiment, saying: "Some suppliers are just printers who knock out a roll press and don't fully understand environment the products are used in. We offer a complete service including design concept, in house printing, finishing, and installation. It's important to choose a professional company that understands the potential pitfalls and can recommend the correct solution, not just the cheapest."
However, the cost savings that can be made from choosing the correct display system can be significant.
Leigh Godby, Studio Manager Maxe Display, explains: "We had one customer who was spending about Â£4,000 each exhibition printing paper mounted on MDF and wood, which all went into the skip afterwards. We looked at what he needed and suggested a Plex aluminium display system. He's thrilled with system, and he saved Â£12,000 in a single year."
According to those that Sign Update spoke with, the recession isn't all bad news and good companies will come through it.
Leigh of Maxe Display says that at the start of the downturn there was a bit of a dip but now people are finally realising that marketing will keep them out of trouble.
"All of a sudden people want more marketing materials, and with some suppliers folding there are some new customers that can be won," says Leigh.
Stewart from Splash Display adds: "From what I hear some companies in the exhibition trade are struggling, but business with us is as buoyant as ever, so we're optimistic."
What's more, says Mary from Mark Bric Displays, although some customers are being economical, December 2009 was the busiest December in the USA and Sweden for years with the UK now picking up also and people are feeling quite positive at the moment.
Chris Bradley from William Smith says: "Exhibition graphics will be influenced to an increasing extent by the availability of, in particular, non-PVC films and new Latex inks and complementary printing solutions that create a much reduced environmental impact as well as more advanced graphics pre-printing and finishing solutions.
"New non-PVC films are degradable by comparison with traditional solvent-based alternatives but with no compromise on the quality of the finished graphics. The new Latex inks, unlike traditional solvent-based inks, do not give off dangerous levels of harmful VOC emissions which are now either greatly reduced or eliminated. This benefit is further enhanced by the availability of specially configured printers which use these inks and require little or no out-gassing, leading to higher print speeds and final graphics output."
Chris also believes that other special-purpose materials such as those with enhanced flammability rating now used widely for rear-projection applications and for creating special effects and surface finishes will be major driving factors in the future of exhibition displays.
Things were very different says Nicholas Hawksworth when he set up Wayfinding Consultants Ltd in 1999, which works with sign companies, planners and architects to research, develop and design, project manage and install wayfinding schemes.
"At the beginning we often had to explain to architects and potential clients what wayfinding meant. But there was an explosion in wayfinding and accessibility signage around 2002-3, and we now find that many of our clients understand what wayfinding is, and how good wayfinding and good, well thought through sign schemes greatly improve their profile."
"It's brilliant that the market has expanded but even though awareness of wayfinding is good, we still find that the budget on a project is often very small or just added at end. Signs are in the last fix but they're often the first thing people look for and interact with. Sign companies and sign / wayfinding consultants need to be involved earlier," he explains.
Nicholas says many customers these days now look at the wider picture and accept the need for expertise to produce solutions, of which in terms of a journey, sign are a significant part. One trend he highlights is the move away from standard off-the-shelf systems to bespoke signage.
"We promote bespoke to our clients rather than off-the-shelf systems so we can control typographic layout and effectively integrate the design to the architecture and landscape."
Trevor French is Sales & Estimating at Simplex, a trade only supply company where wayfinding systems make up a significant proportion of the business.
He says: "Each customer wants their own individual identity and people are moving away from flat standard signs to more modern styles with greater variations. 'Flavour of the moment' is curved wayfinding signage."
"Popularity of bespoke wayfinding signage is definitely on the rise but the market for standardised products is far from dead. We supply for lots of contracts, especially around colleges and universities where they go for traditional fingerposts, pole and plank and directory types."
"Things can change quickly and we often have to advise clients to allow scope for extra names to be added or things to change," puts in Trevor.
Digital printing revolutionised the sign industry, and wayfinding is no different. Digital printing has enabled wraparound text, pantone colour matching, and given greater design freedom; and its affordability has led to the advent of disposable and adaptable wayfinding signage and more short term displays.
Lesley Coleborn, European Product Manager - Sign Systems & Displays at Spandex, says "The need to update the message regularly is what determines the type of wayfinding solutions that customers choose."
"The communication world is moving at a rapid pace and the demand for more information is being driven along with that. These days you walk into a reception or exhibition hall and you expect to have lots of information readily available. Now more things such as electronic displays, tracker screens, and LEDs can be put in wayfinding displays and they can be updated regularly, even hourly. It's very exciting, almost scary, but in a good way."
Nicholas agrees, saying "Customers expect more and are being delivered more. This is the Information age; we're all more switched on and used to reading and understanding maps and following different types of signs and wayfinding devises"
"A catchphrase at the moment, and not just in the sign industry is 'Convergence Technology', which is where a device does many different things, such as the multiple applications on an i-pod or a monolith type sign that gives information not just on where you are going, but also other local attractions, and an opportunity to interpret local history, all in many different graphic, visual and digital ways."
But how much information is the right amount to include?
Robert Shelley of Shelley Signs, a company specialising in the design and production of outdoor information panels for parks, nature reserves and visitor attractions, says: "Wayfinding differs from other areas sign trade in the need to convey quite a lot of information in a clear way so graphic design is hugely important."
"A common error is trying to squeeze too much information on a sign, but less is more on a good quality interpretive sign. Some customers think they have to tell people everything and find it hard to know what to leave out. Keep in mind, a sign often needs to work for many different people, maybe a whole family, and they may look at it for 30-60 seconds only. A useful tip is to imagine you have just one minute to tell someone what's the most important points."
"In an ideal world a panel sign would be A1, have 150-200 words and small illustration with caption, that's enough. If people need more detail, that's what leaflets and websites are for."
"Following good sign design guidelines is what's important. They should be specified in a project, but whether or not they are, good design should be adhered to anyway," says Robert.
Avoiding shiny surfaces that produce glare and using high contrast colours, clear typefaces and lettering spaced correctly, are some basics towards effective signage for everyone. Location is also important, what's the use of a sign under lights that attracts so many insects it quickly gets covered in debris?
One useful tool aimed at anyone involved in planning access within and around buildings is The Sign Design Guide, jointly produced by JMU Access Partnership (now part of RNIB Access Consultancy Services) and the Sign Design Society.
The A4 publication of more than 90 pages covers planning, designing, specifying and installing signs, as well as the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and has in-depth guidance on accessible signage. It gives information on creating effective and consistent signs, promoting one sign for all to meet everyone's signage needs. The Sign Design Guide is available at Â£20 + VAT from JMU's website.
As more information needs to be accessible to more people and legislation such as the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 is introduced, tactile and Braille signage is now specified more often. However, it's more than just a case of using raised letters or translating words into Braille.
RNIB Access Consultancy has considerable experience of accessible environments and offers sign assessments, advice, proofreading, translation services, and sign design training.
Sharon Almond is Principle Access Consultant at the RNIB Access Consultancy, and says: "Sometimes people are nervous to contact us because they think that to make a sign work for blind and partially sighted people it needs to be black and yellow, but this is far from the truth. Signage can look great and be accessible to a wide range of people. We're working to same goal, i.e. understanding the people you're designing for and planning more inclusive schemes."
"Often people ask us why a sign needs to be designed to meet the needs of blind and partially sighted people - surely if they can't see they can't find or use the sign? We explain that the majority of blind and partially sighted people can see and through logical placing and good design a sign can be used by a wider range of people. Good visual contrast can aid someone when locating the sign and then raised text and Braille can be felt with the fingers by people who can locate the sign, but not read the information visually." says Sharon. "It's also important to remember that many of the aspects of good design covered in the Sign Design Guide will make signage easier for everyone to use. Creating an accessible signage scheme doesn't have to add much to the overall cost but it makes such a big difference to the people trying to use it."
"Clear, well-planned wayfinding signage makes sense not only for customers and for sign makers' reputations, but for everyone," says Sharon.
The balance of whether the possible additional income is worth the financial investment and associated risk is different for every business; but critical to any venture's success is choosing the right equipment from the start.
The latest machinery is more technically advanced than ever. Versatility of new machines is increasing, the choice of materials is growing all the time, and the possible markets for what is produced can seem endless. But it's not all roses, depending on what you buy, serious investment can be required, although leasing can help, and the competition is fierce. Manufacturers are busy researching and developing ways to get the most out of technology and have a range of tempting equipment, take a look.
Tekcel routers are available in single tool or multi tool change configurations, have class leading ballscrew drives on every axis and now include Tekcel's own print to cut solution, developed in conjunction with CADlink. AXYZ's Intelligent Cutting System (ICS) has a highresolution camera imaging system that captures print registration marks as well as industry-leading I-cut control software to resolve problems associated with linear and non-linear material distortions. The robustness of the Pacer HDS, closed-loop servo drives and ball screw combination, contributes to its smooth operation and fine-tolerance cutting capabilities that provide high quality edge finishes, meaning less post-routing finishing. Identify Engraving Systems has boosted its existing range by now offering Roland engraving machines.
But it's not just the router or engraver that makes the difference between success and failure; software and accessories are also crucial.
CADlink's new EngraveLab V8 program includes advances in both rotary and laser engraving workflows, additional features such as new fill routines to reduce "tool time" and is twice as fast as the previous version. ITC Tooling is about to launch a new ClearCut range, developed to give outstanding surface finishes on acrylic materials and eliminate the necessity of secondary operations and finish polishing.