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Gizmos and Gadgets

The sign-making arena has long been home to a world of handy tools. Summer Brooks finds out what gizmos and gadgets are available, and what is opening up new prospects

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Sign-makers are seeking efficiency at every stage of production

A helping hand

In the early days of sign-writing and sign-making, makeshift tools would help the artisan get the work done. The art is still there today – you only need to take a glance at some of the incredible work people are creating in this industry. The tools, however, might have changed a little bit. If there is something that will make the job easier and your work more efficient, no matter how small it is, would you not invest? 

For good measure

Jayson Godridge is the director of Freestyle Designs, a sign-making business based in Bath. Having been in the industry for 11 years, Godridge says timely reinvestment in all kinds of kit has allowed the business to enjoy a healthy and varied clientele. “We have built up our kit over the years by re-investing in the tech
as and when we’ve needed it,” he says. “This careful choice of investment at the right time means we are lucky enough to own all our kit outright, something that has always been at the forefront of what I started out to achieve.”

This careful choice of investment at the right time means we are lucky enough to own all our kit outright

Godridge says he can’t go anywhere without his laser measure which helps to speed up time spent doing site surveys. Laser measures use a laser to target and record a point of reference and then the device calculates and displays the distance to that point, with high accuracy. It can be useful for sites where the terrain is irregular or tricky to measure with a conventional tape measure.

Jayson Godridge, director of Freestyle Designs

“This one sounds very small, and it is – but I would say it is a must for anyone busy doing surveys all the time,” comments Godridge. “It certainly won’t replace your trusty tape measure, but it is an easy, low-cost investment that really makes a huge difference. I bought my first around a year ago and wish I did it years ago. It massively speeds up my time on site, and it looks cool.”

 A laser measure is a handy tool that can help sign-makers work more efficiently

Unlike the tape measure, laser measures can be used one-handed and do not require another member of staff to assist with longer measurements. You can pick up a laser measure for around £20 to measure distances up to 30m, but there are more expensive options from well-known brands such as Bosch, Makita and Stanley that can measure distances further than that. To make this gadget useful in all weather conditions, there are waterproof versions available for sign-makers who find themselves on site in some Great British rain.

Add it on

Add-on kits for printers or machinery can add valuable benefits for a sign company without the need to shell out for an entirely new machine which can be expensive. Mimaki has developed a Soft Media Transportation Kit to be used with the UJV55-320 to allow sign-makers to produce large retail and exhibition textile graphics, as well as lightboxes which are becoming more and more popular.

Mimaki UJV55-320 with the Soft Media Kit

Brett Newman, chief operations manager at Mimaki’s UK and Ireland distributor, Hybrid Services, explains: “The kit’s stretch roller and tension bar reduce the amount of creasing, providing stable movement of media, which is particularly important for wider materials. The stretch roller also enables a smooth transportation of thin media, which can be more prone to sticking to the plate because of static electricity.

“If a fabric has got any compliance, or stretch, such as with display polyester for lightboxes or display graphics, the Soft Media Kit creates stability by reducing drifting or movement that can occur with these types of material,” continues Newman. “The kit also assists with the printed material winding onto the core in a more uniform way. When using heavier rolls of material, which is common with a production machine such as the UJV55-320, the kit gives confidence that there’s more accurate feeding and take up. The mechanism has been tailored around the materials and ultimately leads to less wastage.”

“The big benefit of a UV textile machine, like the Mimaki UJV55-320, is that the print is ready for finishing or use straight away as it’s UV cured,” concludes Newman. “UV inks are vibrant and provide great coverage for applications such as lightboxes, so being able to print to soft media in this way is a great opportunity for sign and graphics companies wanting to extend beyond conventional signage applications.”

A cut above the rest

The Summa F-Series F1612 flatbed cutter has also served Freestyle Designs well since taking delivery of it last year. Offering a vertical force of 12kg, the F1612 allows for up to three tools to be inserted at one time with a single screw system, meaning sign-makers save valuable time on swapping out modules.

Summa F-Series F1612 flatbed cutter can handle a range of substrates

Godridge says: “This is by far been one of my favourite purchases and even a year into having it, I still love watching it operate. It is the perfect companion to our roll-to-roll and flatbed printer set-up. Multiple boards in any material are a breeze to cut, even posters and banners fly through it in minutes without having to use up precious workbench space. A definite must if you have the budget, you won’t regret it and will wonder how you coped before without it.” Multiple material handling means that whether a sign-maker is wanting to cut roll, sheet or board material, it can be finished and cut with ease thanks to this machine.

Mimaki JFX200-2513 large-format flatbed printer allows for companies to take on more large-scale projects

Godridge cites the firm’s Mimaki JFX200-2513 large-format flatbed printer as the reason for his company taking on bigger work from clients as well as opening up opportunities for new substrates, and in turn, new applications. He says: “We have had this machine for a few years now, and it has truly taken over from our roll-to-roll machines. We invested in this to ease the capacity from our two roll-to-roll machines.”

This particular printer is capable of printing on acrylics, polycarbonates, PVC, glass, aluminium, metal, polyester and stone – allowing sign companies to offer a complete range of solutions for even the most niche applications. The JFX200-2513 has a maximum print area of 2.5m by 1.3m, which is why Freestyle Designs can complete larger scale work such as exhibition display – a sector which is demanding more eye-catching designs that engage with visitors. Aside from taking on more large-format work, this machine also allows for the high quality printing of white ink – an ongoing feat for any sign-maker.

Factoid: The first laser distance metre was introduced by Leica Geosystems at the Batimat show in 1993 and could measure up to 100 feet. O

“It was a bit of a learning curve going from the easy to use ‘chuck anything at it’ roll machines that we all know and love to the world of direct-to-substrate, but it has been worth it and in turn it has enabled us to service much larger customers and do a lot more interesting things – as well as really speeding up production and turnaround times – which is the ultimate goal for us all.”

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