No Challenge Too Great
The Allan Hancock College Foundation recently celebrated 40 years of helping students’ dreams take flight by throwing a 40th Anniversary Gala at the ArtCraft Paint Hangar located at the Santa Maria Airport. The event featured two live bands, dancing, a live auction, games and a plethora of food and wine provided by the college’s culinary and viticulture students. The event was a huge success, raising more than $140,000 for the Hancock Promise, a program that allows local high school graduates to receive free tuition for their first year at the college.
A few months before this, several members of Campus Graphics’ production and design team, including myself, met with the event planning committee to go over the unique print projects needed for the event. The list included the usual suspects: table tents, passports, menus, banners, Coroplast sandwich boards, tickets and VDP programs. What got our attention, though, was the last, and very unusual request, for a modular exhibit spanning 20x8 feet to help fill the voluminous space of the hangar. The committee envisioned the central exhibit graphically displaying the 100-year history of the college and the 40-year history of the foundation.
To provide some background, Campus Graphics is an in-plant for a public community college in Santa Maria, Calif. Our staff includes two full-time graphic designers, three full-time print production staff and two part-time student workers. We are 100% chargeback, and our annual operational budget is around $500,000. While we still have offset capabilities, 90% of our work is digital. Our growth and opportunity areas are in digital printing, laser etching and wide-format printing. We also insource, which funds new equipment purchases and pays for part of our staffing.
The printed products for the 40th Anniversary Gala were no-brainers. However, designing and building a custom modular exhibit was definitely out of our comfort zone. We had more questions than answers. What material would we use to build this? How would we build this? (We are printers after all, not engineers, architects or carpenters.) Where would we build this? (Campus Graphics is affectionately called “Crampus Graphics” by students and our customers who marvel at how squished we are in our 1,500-sq.-ft. facility.)
Time to Brainstorm
To overcome these obstacles and accomplish the task, we started by having weekly brainstorming sessions with the entire design and production staff. Having input from both the design and production staff was invaluable in turning the vision into a reality, as production personnel confirmed capability or raised questions in the design process regarding logistics. Once our graphic designer, Matt Macpherson, settled on the eight consecutive 3x8-ft. double-sided accordion-folded panel design, we enlisted Tim Hogan, a faculty member in Allan Hancock College’s PCPA theater set design program. Tim took our design and built the wooden structures in his workshop near our facility. He fastened them together with removable pin hinges so they could be easily transported and assembled. Every part of the design, engineering and printing of the exhibit would be done in-house by Allan Hancock College staff. Nothing was to be outsourced for this project.
The unique accordion design allowed viewers, depending on what side they approached the exhibit, a totally different viewing experience. One side displayed the history of the college and the foundation. The other side had 23 interactive flip doors adhered to the structure by glued hinges and latched by ½˝ Magcraft Rare Earth magnets. Custom-designed graphics were mounted on the surface of the wood doors and, when opened, revealed a fun fact that went along with the graphic on the door surface.
The door graphics were printed on 4-mil matte permanent adhesive vinyl by our wide-format latex printer and then were mounted to ¼˝ wood luan plywood by Campus Graphics Coordinator Robert Nourse and his crew. Prior to mounting the vinyl adhesive to the panels, the luan plywood was pin-nailed to 1x4˝ premium kiln-dried square-edged whitewood boards attached together by 2˝ Rosco loose pin hinges. Material-only costs, including printing, were around $900 for the exhibit.
Ownership and Pride
Production of the modular exhibit, as well as the other print products, consumed more than 150 hours of print production and more than 78 hours of design time. Campus Graphics utilized 90% of our equipment at some point in order to produce all that was required for this event. All Campus Graphics employees experienced the “Ikea Effect” in the design and production process of the Gala event because everyone felt ownership and pride in what we produced.
Lessons learned through the creative process of producing this grandiose project solidified our commitment to two things: our unique collaborative design methodology; and our plan to capture the increased demand for in-house designed and wide-format products. As an indicator of the rapid growth of wide-format demand, more than 19% of the total square footage produced on our latex printer was work that came into our shop in October 2017. We literally run the printer every day on various substrates and roll widths with the majority of work being mounted.
While we were mounting the vinyl and assembling the exhibit panels, our sales representative from a local offset printer visited Campus Graphics. He was amazed at what we were doing and added that his shop did not take on wide-format projects. Since then, Campus Graphics has sold latex-printed adhesive banners to this commercial printer — a first for our shop in providing print services to outside printers. Go figure.
Protected from the disruptive nature of the Internet and mobile technology, wide-format printing looks to have a bright and profitable future for the in-plant. Custom-designed services coupled with wide-format printing allow us to reinsert profitable vertical integration back into our manufacturing processes. This is welcome news because we continue to see traditional print, while remaining relevant, plateau due to competing media outlet options.
Over the past two years, I have “gone to school” talking to several in-plant managers who I consider to be pioneers in wide-format printing. From wraps for cars and buildings to custom exhibits like the one we just completed, we can help each other position our in-plants in the new and exciting world of wide- and grand-format by sharing our stories.
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Gordon Rivera is a graphic communication lecturer at California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo and is the supervisor of Campus Graphics, an in-plant provider of traditional and digital media for Allan Hancock College, a community college in Santa Maria, Calif. He is a certified G7 Print Professional and has successfully completed both Lean/Six Sigma training and a Black Belt level project. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org regarding your print experiences in the pursuit of quality.