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Direct-to-Object Printing

Diversification is key for sign-makers to remain competitive in the modern market. Rob Fletcher discusses how a move into direct-to-object printing could help companies grow

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Sign-makers can expect to access a wide range of work in the direct-to-object print sector. Pictured: customised headphones printed using Mimaki technology

Sound Opportunities

One of the main buzzwords in the sign-making and wide-format print industries in recent years has been ‘diversification’. In the modern market, it is critical for all companies to move outside of their traditional remit and take on other work, in order to secure new customers and keep hold of existing clients.
Sound Opportunities

However, the tricky part of this is when it comes to identifying the most suitable market to expand into. There are many options for this type of venture, but one area that keeps cropping up again and again is direct-to-object printing.

Many sign-makers and wide-format print firms will have the basic knowledge required to launch in this market, and will be able to build on this to hone their skills and win valuable new work, thus ensuring their long-term future in the industry.

Innovative approach


Many of the leading manufacturers and suppliers repeat this encouragement on a regular basis, providing the kit that companies need to make a successful move into the sector. One such company is Hybrid Services, the exclusive distributor of Mimaki kit in the UK and Ireland.

Brett Newman, chief operations manager at Hybrid, says direct-to-object print offers sign-makers the “ideal opportunity” to augment existing product lines with attractive new revenue streams, citing applications such as promotional products, personalised giftware, interior décor and corporate marketing merchandise.

He adds: “There’s a very good chance that existing customers will be sourcing such products elsewhere so it’s an ideal opportunity to offer them better service and innovative new products from a single supplier.”

Available from Hybrid Services, Mimaki’s UJF flatbed printers range in bed sizes from A3 up to 710mm x 510mm

Newman wastes little time in explaining how Hybrid and Mimaki can help those companies looking to make the move into direct-to-object printing. He cites the latest range of Mimaki UJF flatbed printers as a useful tool for this sort of work, with such machines available in bed sizes from A3 up to 710 x 510mm.

O Factoid: Mimaki’s LUS-120 inks offer an excellent solution for direct-to-object printing jobs, boasting stretchability of up to 170 percent. O


“With highly creative applications typically warranting close inspection, print quality is paramount and this plays to Mimaki’s strengths, with photo quality output, bright opaque white ink and creative clear varnishes available as standard,” Newman says.

“These capabilities open doors for sign-makers to introduce high end decorative products such as acrylic photoblocks, personalised notebooks or stationery and that can be sold to commercial as well as domestic customers, but one of the keys to the global success of the Mimaki UJF range is its ability to turn its hand to so many other applications as well.

“Using the same printer to create small-format safety or wayfinding signage (produced by printing direct to substrate) can reduce processes and improve quality. Short runs of rigid labels, highly detailed point of sale or bespoke packaging are all viable options and could be a great fit for a sign-maker’s retail clients who are currently purchasing posters, window displays or floor graphics.”

Newman goes a step further by outlining the type of consumables sign-makers and wide-format print firms can expect to work with in this market. He picks out Mimaki’s UV inksets, saying their versatility “make them appealing to several different sectors”.

Newman says: “LUS-120 inks provide stretchability up to 170 percent and are great for printing onto soft material surfaces such as smartphone wallet cases which require folding.

Hybrid Services says Mimaki printers can be used to create a wide range of printed products, such as corporate marketing merchandise

“Mimaki’s LUS-150 inks are ideal for trophies and other acrylic items because they give excellent adhesion and the LH-100 rigid inks withstand high levels of abrasion making them perfect for accessories or stationery products such as pens. When used with Mimaki’s PR-200 inkjet primer, LH-100 inks are the perfect match for substrates that have been traditionally difficult for UV-curable inks, such as glass and metal.

“Finally, a variety of special effects can be achieved with Mimaki Clear Control (MCC) varnish ink, such as embossing or gloss finish.”

Establishing demand

Another company able to support those making the transition into direct-to-object print is Colourgen, providing kit from the likes of Mutoh. Melanie Enser, product marketing manager at Colourgen, says it is “very feasible” for a sign-maker to introduce a high value print products service in to their portfolio.

Enser expands: “Such companies have the relevant experience in the graphics market, the design experience in-house and the market for the products. The equipment and process is easy to learn and operate and the blank products—if they choose to address that market—are cost effective and easy to obtain.


As with any instance of adding a new service to an existing portfolio, initial market research within the company’s established customer database is always recommended

“As with any instance of adding a new service to an existing portfolio, initial market research within the company’s established customer database is always recommended. Once demand is established there, the company should look outside its database to gauge demand there and decide upon the commercial feasibility in terms of growing their business.”

Once they have established that a move into this market would be in their best interests, Enser says this is when Colourgen can help with the Mutoh range of LED UV printers. This collection includes the Mutoh ValueJet 426UF A3+ desktop printer, which she says is ideal for gadgets such as phone cases and key rings, as well as industrial labelling, bespoke signage and creative image applications.

Enser adds: “The growth potential is more in niche applications now; there are many opportunities outside the promotional gifts market such as industrial labelling and high value acrylic signage for instance. Printers such as the Mutoh ValueJet 426UF and software make it easier to address these. 

“It’s a matter of market knowledge—exploring and either having or looking for high value applications outside of the established markets. Relatively low investment means sign-makers can invest and get an ROI easily and quickly.”

Available from Colourgen, the new Mutoh ValueJet 626UF is a six-colour desktop A2-size flatbed LED UV printer

Mutoh has also recently launched the ValueJet 626UF, six-colour desktop A2-size flatbed LED UV printer. The VJ-626UF allows direct printing on a wide variety of flexible and solid materials up to 150mm thick. Enser says the larger bed size provides users with greater flexibility and productivity, while maintaining value and quality.

Enser says: “With recent developments in this area; more flexible inks and a huge range of substrates and printable blanks now available, creativity is the key business argument for sign-makers to look closely at how the technology can benefit them. It’s all about offering customers more choice, expanding the sign-maker’s portfolio of services and adding more creative options to those services.”

Proactive approach

Elsewhere, TheMagicTouch (GB) is another strong advocate for expansion into the direct-to-object market. Jim Nicol, managing director, says those involved in the sign industry must offer customers a wider range of products and service options in order to remain competitive.

TheMagicTouch (GB) says sign-makers can win work in the direct-to-object print market by targeting both new and existing customers with personalised samples

Nicol expands: “By the nature of the name ‘sign-maker’, it does not lend itself towards creating awareness of what else can be offered within the product portfolio. However, the digital transfer process enables very easily and affordably personalised samples to be targeted to both existing and prospective clients. This type of proactive contact is very rewarding and assists in building improved customer contact affordably.

“Looking back, 20 years ago very few ‘sign-makers’ were involved in garment decoration for workwear or promotional purposes, yet today it plays an integral and important part of the overall sign business as an affordable and profitable add-on to the business. The same will apply with direct-to-object print in years to come.”

TheMagicTouch has been providing solutions in this market for more than 27 years, with a focus on image transfer technology. Nicol explains the company is well placed to offer entry-level printers that cost hundreds of pounds, making the move financially viable for sign-makers.

With this Nicol, highlights some of the work sign-makers can expect to take on in this sector: “There are many opportunities that have evolved over recent years such as the growth of high-vis garments and workwear.

However, non-textile B2B products such as water bottles, enamel mugs, plaques, wood, glass, coasters and the ever-growing business notebooks have all seen incredible growth. Plus all items offer great repeat business potential.”

Products such as enamel mugs can be an extra revenue stream for sign-makers

Nicol continues: “The sign industry today is congested with a myriad of different technologies using different inks, printers, RIPs alongside a vast array of equipment and accessories costing in some cases some serious money.

And yet most sign-makers don’t employ dedicated sales people, so how should do they consider marketing all these great products and services? Once again, the simple target marketing of personalised samples is the answer. Proved and tested.”

Manufacturers and suppliers in this area are certainly making plenty of positive sounds about the opportunities on offer. However, as Enser of Colourgen states, it is of paramount importance to first ensure that there is a demand for this type of service among your customers. This statement is true when expanding into any new market; if the demand is there, then you are almost certain to enjoy a successful venture into pastures new.

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