I'm helping a friend in Middle Tennessee who owns a sign shop tweak-out his large format digital printer to print super opaque, large format film positives for screen printing. Mainly for selfish reasons... I'm done with laser vellums, warped positives, cutting and pasting, dealing with dumb fucks up at Kinkos, etc.
He's been great through the trial and error process and I think we've about got it dialed-in.
He asked about offering this as a regular service to people like us and I've offered to handle the file prep end for him if necessary. In other words, it's beginning to sound like a joint-venture for the both of us.
My question: Are there companies offering large format digital positives to our industry and if so, who's doing it well? Any first-hand experience dealing with such companies would also be helpful.
I use a local sign shop, kind of like you're describing. I think the main issue with offering positives on a large scale would be pricing + shipping, since there's a lot of local shops that have this capability in house... at least, in larger areas. Still, my interest is piqued.
The media comes on a roll 48 inches x 60 feet, so I suppose the image area would have to fall inside that (without tiling). The series I'm working on now are all 16x20 and we're ganging them to make the best use of media.
The last samples we ran are better than what I remember getting off an imagesetter. More opaque and the registration is spot-on.
As for pricing, I haven't a clue. He prices everything now at a square foot rate, but I don't know how practical that would be for what we're doing. Especially if there's shipping involved.
I was hoping to have some input here that I could take to him so we could compare apples to apples to know what sort of volume we'd have to do to be competitive with service and price.
Last edited by Thornysarus; 02-02-2011 at 04:24 PM.
Well the main monster to beat is the vellum trade. Plenty of prints happy to use them here in Austin, and even a monster 26x40 sep is around $5. I think people just hand-correct toner problems on them. For films, the sign shop I use charges $10 for a 20x26 or so. My only other option is a camera service, which shoots halftones and such for $30 a film on a 16x20.
I doubt we can get the price down low enough to compete with vellums. I get that. However, when the art dictates fine detail, opacity, and tight registration, that's where a service like this becomes viable.
Hell, I'm as guilty as anyone of going the cheap route and working it out on the light table or on the press.
I just wonder what sort of market there is for this type of product.
For what it's worth, i print films for a bunch of friends and local print shops and I have found that the best way to avoid headaches is to price by the linear inch, allowing them to use as much or as little of the film horizontally as they want. My plotter is smaller than yours but if I was sent an 16x20 image and i could rotate it to fit the 20" side horizontally on the paper, the actual printed length would be 16 inches. if i charge $1 per linear inch i just made $16. sometimes this works out extremely fair for the client if you can gang a lot of their images or print large images, but other times they may end up paying a bit more for a design that doesnt quite fill up the whole sheet, all in all though it seems to balance itself out. hope that helps.
Think about it like this: You have a big printer, there are people that wish they had a big printer. If they want big films they can either buy their own printer, or hire someone to make the film, or they can just tile stuff together like they where before. Unless you are starting a business to make films for printers, then don't worry about being 'competative' with people who will charge $20 for this service. If people think it's too high, they can buy their own printer. If they think that big film isn't worth paying $1500-$20,000 for a printer, then they will find your $40 film cheaper. IF they think $40 is too high, then they can tile stuff together and wait until they can afford the other options. IF they can't do the above math, then they are hopeless.
"I can't afford a BMW . . . but I want one . . . why won't they give me a BMW for the price of a Honda" . . .
There's a company called standard screen (which is a shitty company if you ask me) here in NY, and they offer large format film positive printing VIA a couple inkjet printers with harlequin RIP software and their films go up to 36" wide I think. Mostly they seem to sell the film to folks who are paying them to make a screen and image it for them. Basically their business model is based around college kids and "DIY" printers who wanna make something in their living room without a full screen printing setup.
Anyhow, I think they mail films out as well, but I'm not sure.
If you want to start a service printing films for people it'll probably have to be as local as possible to be effective financially. I'm guessing anyone who can afford to pay shipping/would choose to do so is not aware of the options near to them or aware that they can go find a commercial shop to buy films from.
I personally print films for people who ask for them here in brooklyn, on an epson 7880, which is modified to add a slight amount of extra ink, and is also set up to provide for a 10% dot gain. I print films using "Inkpress" brand transparency film, which works out to be about 2.70 a foot for the film, and probably like 2.00 for the ink contingent upon coverage, and it's about 5.00 a foot at cost (without factoring the printer's original price). If I print a film for someone I charge them 15.00 a foot. This is more than kinkos but the film is really high quality and there is no slur, creep, or tracking issue to speak of, or toner to touch up, so the few people I make films for appreciate that. I offer a film punching option as well, which means I line the films up on a light table based upon register marks, tape them together on a sheet of plexi, and then punch them so that the customer gets to see the whole thing together as a unit, and can even make a jig to mount these to screens in close to the same spot by buying a set of pins from me. (I've also gotten really good negatives out of it by calculating various dot gains for various amounts of ink coverage/opacity.)
I think once you've got a good workable product like you're describing, it's just pretty much up to your customers to decide if you have a viable source of income printing films for them.