A Sign Research Foundation report about “Digital Print Trends and Technologies in the Sign and Graphics Industry” shows how sign companies use UV-curable and solvent inkjet printers and materials for long-lasting architectural applications. Sign builders are becoming experts in choosing the right technologies and materials for long-term and outdoor durability.
Written by Craig M. Berger, the report discusses the printing technologies, techniques, and materials that sign shops can use to make permanent signs, branded environments, building wraps, wayfinding signs, and exterior architectural elements infused with graphics. More than 20 professionals in architectural sign design and fabrication, placemaking, innovative materials, and printing technologies contributed expertise to the report.
Some of the print technologies, materials, and applications discussed in the report include:
- Screen printing for large roll-outs of similar signs with narrow color range
- Direct-to-surface printing on metals, woods, and plastics
- Direct printing to vacuum-formed plastic
- Solvent and UV-curable inks for outdoor applications
- Integrated printing, cutting, and routing systems for displays
- 3D printing for custom signs and visual elements
- Layered ink printing for tactile surface textures
- Printing on mirrored, transparent, mesh, or translucent vinyl
- Fabric printing for interior lightboxes
- Illuminated graphics on glass facades and building exteriors
- Printing on colored vinyl
- Embedded and sublimated graphics
- High-pressure laminates and powder-coated graphics
One key trend highlighted in the report is branded environments. The report notes that most of the top 200 architectural, interior-design, and branding firms now have in-house design teams that specialize in brand environments and interior graphics.
In-house designers at architectural firms are collaborating with sign companies to experiment with different types of materials, printing techniques, and fabrication methods for decorative elements and architectural signage. The report notes that “Architects are growing more comfortable specifying graphics for a large-scale building project or as a complement to large glass curtain wall facades.”
Beth Gillispie, president of Acorn Sign Graphics, says her company has evolved from an interior sign company to an “interior and exterior environments company.” She states that “Digital sign printing on unique substrates is an art that requires extensive innovation.” The company experiments with using solvent, UV-cure, and latex inks in conjunction with other fabrication processes such as laser engraving, routing, and painting. She says, “We are constantly learning about the attributes and idiosyncrasies of digitally produced graphics under different conditions.”
Gillipspie notes that clients expect sign companies to be digital print and material experts: “The curiosity and skill of our designers and fabricators plus collaboration with our vendors and clients willing to invest time and resources in prototyping are key factors in creating momentum toward exciting digital applications.”
If your company owns a wide-format inkjet printer for office use, you can begin prototyping some designs and graphics you might like to see in a branded environment. But if you want to incorporate digitally printed elements into architectural signage or building features, it’s best to work with a sign or graphics firm that has extensive knowledge of a wide range of digital printing techniques and materials.
The report “Digital Print Trends and Technologies in the Sign and Graphics Industry” can be downloaded from the online library of the Sign Research Foundation. The online library includes academic research on sign codes, wayfinding, traffic safety, placemaking, sign design and placement, brightness and illumination levels, and many other topics related to world-class signage systems. The Sign Research Foundation encourages dialogue among sign companies, architects, urban planners, developers and other constituencies to build stronger, safer and more successful communities.