In-plant Aids School Rebranding Initiative
Catherine Chambers likes to call her in-plant at Alfred State College of Technology “a small shop doing big things.” As the scope of its work makes clear, that’s an accurate claim.
By installing a dye-sublimation printer, a heat press and a 3D doming system to create a 3D lens effect, Print & Mail Services (PAMS) set itself up in the business of producing attractive, durable name badges — a sought-after item by faculty and staff on any college campus. In doing so, the in-plant has not only added a new product to its offerings, it is demonstrating how in-plants can supplement their traditional specialties with new applications and strengthen their bonds with their primary customers at the same time.
The commercial printing industry calls this trend “convergence.” For PAMS, it’s all in a day’s work on its campus in the village of Alfred, N.Y., a rural community in western New York’s Southern Tier.
It all started with a recent rebranding initiative by Alfred State College, which is part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system. Chambers, director of PAMS, says the in-plant’s role in the year-long project — which involved updating the school’s logo, its athletic mascot (an aggressive blue, white and gold ox) and other elements of brand identity — was to ensure that everything would be printable. As a member of the rebranding committee, Chambers inspected samples and offered suggestions for how the artwork could be tweaked for optimal reproduction.
It was during the course of this work that name badges emerged as a new application for PAMS to pursue. Chambers says that up until then the I.D. tags had been sourced from an outside supplier, usually in orders placed by departmental secretaries.
After some research, she proposed that with the right equipment, the in-plant would be able to furnish them more conveniently right on campus and at a lower cost. “Fine,” said the rebranding committee, as long as the quality and appearance of the badges remained the same.
This gave Chambers a green light to purchase a Sawgrass Virtuoso SG800 Product Decoration System, an integrated desktop device that came with color management software and an online library of product templates. For Chambers, it was an instant hit.
“It’s the first time in five or 10 years that I’ve been this excited about a piece of equipment,” she enthuses. “It’s cool.”
She paired the dye-sub printer with the other component needed for imaging the surfaces of items such as badges: a heat press — specifically, the DC16AP automatic heat press from George Knight.
Chambers announced the availability of badge making last August, and that, she says, “is when the orders started rolling in.” Now, Alfred State College personnel who need name badges can input their I.D. details via the in-plant’s online storefront (PrintSYS from Prisme Technologies) and check a PDF proof online. The Sawgrass Virtuoso prints badge layouts onto sublimation paper, and the heat press transfers the designs from the paper to the faces of the rectangular, brushed-metal badge blanks.
3D Dome Effect
The next step takes place with the help of a Model 1213 system from Logo3Doming. After a self-leveling resin is manually applied to the printed side of the badge, exposure to UV energy for about 20 minutes in the doming unit forms a transparent, raised coating over the surface, creating a clear, 3D dome effect. A magnetic fastener is then affixed to the back of the badge for the finishing touch.
Although dye-sub badge making isn’t a complicated process, Chambers says that there were a few techniques to master along the way. One was the trickiness of aligning the badges correctly on the sublimation paper before the heat-press step, a “manual dexterity thing” that Chambers says she overcame by adding grid lines to the sheets. She also discovered that spray adhesive worked better than heat tape for holding the badges in place on the paper.
After a few mistakes, a reliable badge production workflow was soon in place. Chambers says that to date, PAMS has turned out about 250 of them at half the unit cost of what the outside supplier used to charged. The savings, she notes, have been enough to repay the investment in the dye-sub press.
Even better than the savings, though, the in-plant’s ability to play a role in the college’s rebranding initiative by providing such a crucial, visible product has been invaluable to PAMS, enhancing its reputation and value at the college.
“Adding dye-sublimation equipment to our portfolio allowed us to respond quickly to the needs of our internal customers, especially after a rebranding and at the beginning of the college’s semester,” Chambers says. “I am fortunate to have a cohesive team who are willing and able to learn how to produce a new product with new equipment quickly.”
She points out that PAMS was in full production mode for badge making less than 30 days after starting research on how to equip for it.
“That means that we researched the equipment needed, decided which equipment and features were necessary, purchased the equipment, and taught ourselves how to use an entirely new technology,” Chambers adds. “I’m real proud of the team for that.”
Beyond badges, the in-plant has also experimented with ceramic-on-cork coasters, and Chambers plans to offer mouse pads as well. Off-campus orders could come from ceramicists, potters and other craftspeople in the Alfred region, she says, which is famous for its clay deposits and its long history as a source of terra cotta tiles and other artisanal products made from the raw material.
The in-plant does a lot of external business, Chambers says, insourcing from churches and local organizations in and around Alfred, where residents don’t have many other print service providers to turn to. It also prints for Alfred University, located literally across the street from Alfred State College.
“We do a lot of outside work, I’m happy to say,” notes Chambers.
Naturally, PAMS pays closest attention to the needs of the Alfred State College population, which includes about 3,500 students. With six full-time employees cross-trained for printing and mailing, the in-plant produces the school’s recruitment, fundraising and admissions materials, along with brochures, booklets, posters and other standard items, most of them in color. Its principal digital presses are a Ricoh Pro C9110 color production printer and a Xerox iGen 150, supplemented by Memjet and OKI Data devices for envelopes.
Chambers says that although PAMS doesn’t have full right of first refusal on the work, “for the most part, we do all the printing.” This increasingly consists of variable data jobs, a challenge that PAMS is well up to.
“It’s nothing for us to get 10,000 post cards merged, printed, prepped for mailing, and taken to the post office in one day,” she says.