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Soft Signage

In the busy sector of soft signage, Genevieve Lewis looks into the numerous opportunities available and how sign-makers can stand out above the rest

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Soft signage is a great way for businesses to communicate their messages

Stand tall with soft signage

The soft signage sector is certainly a world of opportunity, but with so many sign-makers offering this service, how can your business stand out in a crowded market?

Many opportunities in this sector come from the installation of dye-sublimation printers, but there are also other aspects that can be discovered when moving into this diverse sector. While soft signage may be your aim, there are a number of other services that a sign-maker could offer. This can include providing personalised clothing for businesses or sportswear for local clubs, pop-up banners and exhibition signage. There are also other aspects including framing and the accessories that accompany fitting soft signage. With the right equipment and ideas, a sign-maker could explore all of the various avenues.

However, it is a cut-throat industry, and many businesses will already offer all of this and more, so how can a sign company take on the competition and reign supreme? 

Phil McMullin, sales manager for pro graphics, says that as a manufacturer, Epson’s approach to soft signage is more on the ink side, as the maximum size of Epson printers are 1.6m. He explains that if dye-sub is not an option, then perhaps  an idea is to look into high-quality eco-solvent inks that can be used on a careful selection of textiles to ensure colour consistency with the original design concept.

The Epson SureColor SC-F9300 can be used to create products such as sporting apparel and home décor
 

Despite the potential size limit, Epson’s dye-sublimation range of printers include the SureColor SC-F9300 and these can be used for other areas that are related to soft signage – including textile printing. So, sometimes it is not all about the machinery – but this obviously plays a large part in offering your customer base soft signage opportunities.

Soft signage itself, as a market opportunity, is also expanding. There are more product ideas evolving from just banners, billboards and flags. When thinking about soft signage, there are also the other factors that are a part of the installation process or are needed to display signs. Of course, that includes the framing which can make soft signage useful for applications such as point of purchase (POP) displays.

Richard Vincent, sales director of Hull-based trade supplier, Brownings, explains: “We offer TexSign, our range of non-illuminated single- and double-sided frames and also single and double-sided illuminated light boxes.

Brownings produce lightboxes which are perfect for retail signage

“When deciding on which Textile faced lightbox to purchase, thought should be taken into the location of the box. What is the ambient lighting like in the area that the box is to fit into? Brownings only offer textile faced boxes with modular LEDs as we believe they offer better light output as well as a five-year warranty. The light output of a box can be turned down with dimmer switches, but if the box you have purchased is not bright enough the client won’t be happy.


O Factoid: Textiles Intelligence reported a 25% growth in the ink-on-fabric market and a continued growth of 20% year-on-year. O


“Most high street retailers are using soft signage more and more and it’s becoming increasingly accepted. Previously, they had poster frames with paper prints, or direct print to substrates such as foam PVC.

 “What with the green issue and the need to recycle products, what does the store do once they’ve finished with the printed PVC boards? If they have to send it somewhere to be recycled, there are transport costs and recycling costs involved, whereas with the soft signage, they can just roll it up and put it to one side and use it at a later date. If it was on printed boards, the printer or the sign company would have to come in and change those. All these additional costs need to be factored in when choosing the right promotional solution.”

Vincent also mentions that the ease of products can also be attributed to the design of frames, with aspects such as silicon beading. He adds: “There are soft signage products out there now, where you can use a tool like a pizza slicer to fit the graphics into a channel. The soft signage silicon beading side of things is very convenient.”

Roland DG’s Rob Goleniowski, head of sales for UK & Ireland, also notes that soft signage has a number of environmentally-friendly credentials, including transportation. Sign-makers that showcase themselves as conscious about the environment can appear more appealing to potential customers. He explains: “This method of sign-making offers benefits for both the supplier and the customer. Since it’s lighter and easier to transport, and more flexible compared to rigid alternatives, the production costs are relatively low, especially for imaginative or unusual applications.

“Furthermore, as many companies now demand greener solutions, soft signage is made from recyclable materials and uses water-based ink, giving it considerable advantages over PVC banners which tend to use solvent or UV ink.”

Goleniowski also says that sign-makers should consider offering soft signage applications and accessories, as investing in the technology necessary opens a number of doors. He continues: “If you’re in the textile printing industry and looking for new lucrative opportunities, or if you’re a sign-maker investing in options for diversification, soft signage could be your next big step.


If you’re a sign-maker investing in options for diversification, soft signage could be your next big step

“In a market that has traditionally had very gradual growth in the UK compared with the rest of Europe, we are now seeing a boom in demand from retailers, big brands and exhibition companies to name a few.”

The improvements in dye-sublimation technology is also why several sign-makers and printers have looked into offering soft signage. Goleniowski adds: “Although soft signage has in the past been within the purview of traditional print methods like screen printing, advances in digital printing have prompted a shift towards this more flexible method.

“Roland’s Texart range demonstrates years of research and development in sublimation printing. With the recent release of the Texart RT-640M, a multi-function digital sublimation printer, the barrier to entry is lowered even further. Aside from its affordability, it also lets users print onto transfer paper or direct to textile as the job demands, broadening the scope of products that can be produced.

“With benefits like these, there are fewer reasons not to take advantage of the opportunities in the soft signage market.”

Even if, as a sign-maker, you do not want to invest or cannot invest in dye-sublimation machinery, then there is also the option of getting involved with soft signage through the accessories side of things, much like Brownings and its range of frames and light boxes. A small bit of advice from Vincent: “There’s a lot of perception the products are quite complicated, if you look at it and think ‘it’s hard, I don’t know what I’m doing with it’ but at the end of the day it’s a frame that needs to be cut to accept the graphics.”

Vincent also mentions establishing a relationship with a trade printer to create the graphics for you, he concludes: “Most trade printers offer a soft signage solution, so they’ll be able to set the artwork up.”

Another sector that could be discovered is the exhibitions market, somewhere that Grafenia has capitalised in. Starting with foamex boards and pull-up banners in 2001, the company upgraded to print directly onto fabric in 2015 and launched its initial range of fabric exhibition solutions.

Grafenia provides a range of soft signage products, including pop up stands that are perfect for exhibitions

Peter Gunning, chief executive officer of Granfenia, explains: “It’s over three years on and our fabric range has grown and developed beyond simple exhibition stands. Yes, it’s soft signage, but the area we’ve really seen develop and grow is fabric furniture. Our print partners are finding real success in selling this range to a whole host of clients.”

Grafenia also note that evolution of products is just one way of standing out, and its initial collection of soft signage was indeed just flags and exhibition stands. Now, the range offers so much more with easily assembly (the items usually come in two parts) due to its lightweight ‘click together’ frames.

Think outside the box when it comes to soft signage in order to make your business stand out in a busy sector

As the range continued to develop, other products were introduced, including furnishings. Events in the summer time can benefit, with gazebos, barrier covers, beanbags, deckchairs and parasols also available from the firm. Grafenia note that soft signage and fabric printing is a great way forward for both sign-makers and printers, because of this need to diversify in order to thrive. Textiles Intelligence reported a 25% growth in the ink-on-fabric market and a continued growth of 20% year-on-year, meaning there are great opportunities available, in both soft signage and interior décor.

Gunning continues: “Our partners’ clients are using the fabric range to ‘pimp’ their office space with branded backdrops, room dividers and in particular meeting booths. Our fabric range provides businesses with a low-cost way to brand an office, hide ugly décor, create secret meeting rooms and creative spaces.”

Soft signage can stretch to screens, textiles, light boxes, stools and many other products including deckchairs and bean bags

So, to stand out in this crowded market, there are a number of ways that a sign-maker can do this. As usual, offer more to your customers – this can be from point-of-sale signage through to branded work clothes, as well as the traditional flags and banners.

Sometimes you may already have the machine power to achieve these products, you just need the know-how. Think outside the box – offer products that are not the norm such as deck chairs and beanbags like Grafenia. Think about the high street and the opportunities it can offer you in terms of POP signage, like Brownings. Or think clothing such as sportswear, which can be made possible through investing in machinery such as the Roland DG Texart RT-640M.

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