Printers are seeing more signs of the times

Political signs are big business this year

It isn’t so much that business is lagging, said David Kaplan, president of Signs Etc. in Cedar Rapids. It’s more that customers are placing orders later in the year.

“Especially with vehicle lettering and wraps,” Kaplan said. “Instead of starting in on vehicle after vehicle in January for customers, the orders are coming in later in the year, like in March.”

For sign printers, diversity has been key in recent years. David Tallman, owner of AlphaGraphics in North Liberty, noted that large-format printing for items such as banners, signs, posters and vehicle graphics has been up about 15 percent from 2011.

The large-format printing segment of AlphaGraphics has increased every year since the company was established in 2008.

With six employees, AlphaGraphics has grown to include promotional products, mobile marketing, e-publications and email marketing.

“Because we do offer more than one service, some people ask us why we don’t just focus on offering one and doing it really, really well,” added Jerry Mohwinkle, owner of Rapids Reproductions. “But we have chosen to be a more broad-based, and to do that well.”

He sees his business’ diversification as a way to hedge his bets.

“If one area of the business is down,” Mohwinkle explained, “we can shift focus as the economy moves back and forth.”

Sign Trends

“Political signs are a big deal right now — we’re mass-producing those,” Mohwinkle said.


Most of the political signs that Rapids Reproductions is producing this year are yard signs, but he’s also had orders for large signs to be mounted on the sides of buildings.

Kaplan at Signs Etc. added there’s been an uptick in vehicle graphics. He thinks partial vehicle wraps are popular because they’re an easy, inexpensive — and mobile — way to advertise a business.

Tallman also has seen a trend in vehicle graphics at AlphaGrahpics. For between $500 and $2,000, extensive graphics can be placed all over a van, truck or car, he said.

He’s also seeing QR — quick reply — codes being incorporated into vehicle graphics.

“On the last three vehicles we’ve done, there have been QR codes placed on them,” Tallman said.

Printing signs on different substrates such as wood, cloth, Plexiglas and metal is another options customers are focusing on, Mohwinkle said.

“We can print on anything that’s less than two inches thick,” he noted.

Wood substrates typically are used for job site construction signs or advertising a construction project. He receives requests for directional and entrance signs, and business names on metal.

Customers are also trying their hand at graphic design. But for customers who don’t have in-house designers or the time to create their own design, many sign companies offer graphic design services, said Kaplan, who employs three full-time workers and has a few subcontractors that occasionally help with installations.

New Is Better

Sign company owners agree that digital printing has changed the industry for the better.

“With digital, we can now print directly on vinyl for banners,” Kaplan noted.

Before, the vinyl had to be cut out and then transferred on to the banner, making for a very labor-intensive process. Digital printing also allows these companies to further customize signs for customers.

“Previously if someone wanted a simple for-sale sign with red lettering, that’s what they got,” Kaplan said.


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Today digital printers allow his company to provide red lettering and add features such as black shadows and photos.

“If you did that in vinyl, it’d be very expensive. But with the right digital printer, it doesn’t cost the customer any more,” he explained.

CNC cutters also are a relatively new technology making sign production more efficient. Linked to sign design software, this equipment allows cutting and machining of almost anything.

The result? Customized signs that aren’t possible with conventional sandblasted designs.

Latex printers also are an option that’s making sign production more effective. Latex printers are environmentally friendly and allow signs to dry instantly so they can be laminated almost immediately.

“We can produce everything with these machines, from posters and banners to vehicle graphics. And because everything can be done on one, you don’t need several different machines,” Tallman said.

Latex printers also don’t need to be vented outdoors — they’re odor-free and non-toxic to work around. Mohwinkle pointed out latex also has allowed him to offer more products and printing substrates.



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