Wide-Format Keeps Indiana Shop Busy After Presses Silenced by COVID-19
For a busy offset printing operation like Ball State University Printing Services, COVID-19 hit hard. School events were canceled, and with them went all the promotional printing that normally keeps the Muncie, Ind., in-plant’s six-color, 20x29˝ Heidelberg Speedmaster 74 busy. Then, as the need for campus signage rose last spring, the seven-employee in-plant found itself at a disadvantage.
"We were doing large-format on a proofer, which was great for anything that wasn’t [for] long-term outdoor usage,” remarks Director Ken Johnson. But any printing placed in direct sunlight would quickly fade. Even before the pandemic hit, Johnson was disappointed his shop couldn’t print more of the university’s wide-format work.
“I kept turning down jobs on a regular basis that people wanted to use outdoors,” he laments. More than a year ago, he started researching LED-UV printers. He checked them out at trade shows, analyzed procurement spending for signage produced off campus, and prepared his justification for a new LED-UV wide-format device. The justification was 80% ready — and then COVID-19 hit. Suddenly, the need for campus signage exploded.The in-plant subsequently got the green light to lease a 64˝ Mimaki UCJV300-160 LED-UV printer. It was installed in July.
“It wasn’t justified on COVID work, but I think the COVID work helped speed along the process,” Johnson remarks. He chose the Mimaki because it could both print and cut, saving substantial time on jobs. And its UV ink won’t fade in the sun, opening up a world of new wide-format work to the in-plant. Beyond posters, it is now printing wall, window, and floor graphics, as well as smaller pieces like stickers that were previously very labor intensive to produce.
The first round of stickers done by the shop were printed on its Konica Minolta AccurioPress C3080 and had to be laminated and cut, requiring two operators and a lot of hands-on time.
“It just took forever,” Johnson says.
Now that job can be printed and cut on the Mimaki UCJV300-160, with no lamination needed.
The need for safety signage was huge in the summer as Ball State prepared to bring students back to campus.
“There were weeks where we weren’t doing anything but the COVID signage,” Johnson says. “It really has made us relevant to campus.”
The Mimaki’s ability to print unattended has allowed the in-plant to set up a long job at the end of the day and let it print overnight. A 100´ roll of paper will print for 12 hours or more, Johnson says. He has a webcam set up so he can watch it from home, but he says the printer will stop printing if a problem develops, such as a paper jam or low ink levels. Being able to print unattended will help the shop produce an order of 3,000 round floor stickers that will take 31 hours to print and cut.
The new printer uses both clear and white ink, enabling some unique effects, like white ink on clear substrates. Adding a clear ink layer to printed pieces makes the color pop, Johnson says.
The in-plant has printed a variety of jobs so far, such as two-sided window clings with different messages or images on each side, and a removable adhesive graphic showing images of fruit to cover the glass doors of the coolers in a dining area (to disguise the fact that the coolers are empty). For floor graphics, the in-plant uses Jessup CatWalk textured media. After some substrate shortages early on, Johnson learned to stock up.“I’m not used to ordering materials for wide-format by the skid,” he remarks.
The move to an LED-UV printer has so far proven to be a smart one for Printing Services, allowing it to prove its value in a time of need.
“This machine helps our visibility on campus,” he affirms, enabling the shop to keep wide-format printing in-house and stay busy during these unusual times.