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Common Techniques and Tips for Producing POP

By learning about the changes in the industry, signmakers can capitalize on new media and applications for it to create eye-catching indoor POP displays and graphics.

By Ed McCarron, InteliCoat Technologies

With the state of the economy leading to cutbacks in advertising dollars, signmakers have no doubt felt the effects. Despite the current financial outlook, an area that has a few eyebrows raised is indoor point-of-purchase (POP) graphics. Although POP displays and graphics are not a novel idea, they represent a major opportunity for sign shops looking to maximize their revenue.

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  • Applications for POP displays range from soft signage (textiles) to roll-up displays and stands. Typically in demand among the same customer base of retailers who already buy outdoor durable banners from signmakers, the average selling price of POP graphics is 75% higher per square foot than the average selling price of outdoor vinyl. This potential for growth, coupled with the increased availability of media options, creates a substantial market opportunity. By learning about the changes in the industry, signmakers can capitalize on this to create eye-catching indoor POP displays and graphics.

    Why POP? Why Now?
    As a result of the efficiency in targeting customers in the actual buying environment, POP graphics present retailers with new and interesting ways to catch the consumer's eye. In a situation where buyers are financially conscious, it's critical that sign shops not only produce visually compelling signage that fits within the décor of the retail atmosphere, they must also result in dollars spent.

    In addition to meeting this challenge, signmakers considering a re-emphasis on the production of POP displays face a number of environmental factors, including bright lighting and durability, as well as the need to convey messages and attract customers in the fast-paced store aisles where there is only a matter of seconds for retailers to make their mark.

    What's next?
    The plethora of new and improved combinations of inks, media, hardware and software has pushed the quality of wide-format graphics to a new level. Among the most notable technological advancements in this arena is the wealth of new media options available today. In addition to being highly cost-effective as a result of the affordability provided by digital printing, today's media options enable softer-looking, high-end POP displays that are more environmentally-friendly than traditional vinyl materials. Wide-format printers also enable the flexibility to produce one-of-a-kind graphics and alter different portions/pieces of a display based on various factors, including regional or industry-specific requirements. This can be a very attractive feature for retailers looking to save money.

    Although it may seem like a daunting task, choosing the right media is critical to producing effective POP displays that meet requirements for image quality and durability. After all, the digital media landscape features a range of assorted weights, textures and finishes that can affect how the final image looks and feel. Below is a tip sheet that outlines the most promising types of POP applications and provides advice on what materials and specifications to use use for the creation of high-quality graphics.

    Navigating the Digital Media Landscape
    Roll-Up Displays
    Although there are various types of media that can be used for these portable display systems, it is critical for the material to feature an opaque substrate with a block-out layer in order to prevent show-through that would distort the image. Since they are often wound in a floor canister on a spool and unwound (like a window shade) to be displayed, materials used to construct roll-up displays should also be flexible.

    Another key factor to consider with roll-up displays is edge curl, which looks unprofessional and diminishes the message conveyed on the sign. Since vinyl, fabrics and other soft substrates are prone to edge curl, it is recommended that an opaque film product that lies perfectly flat be used. Common product constructions for roll-ups include 8 mil block-out polyester film, polypropylene or vinyl banner materials with block-out films providing the best lay flay properties.

    When it is time to laminate the roll-up display, thinnest laminates are the best choice. Not only does lamination change the image gloss level of the roll-up display, but it also adds durability. It is recommended that liquid coatings be used, or very thin pressure-sensitive adhesives or hot melt laminates.

    Fabric Signs
    POP displays constructed with fabric materials have experienced an increasing popularity over the last few years for two main reasons: fabric is more environmentally-friendly than vinyl materials and fabric features a softer look and feel that lends itself to the décor of the retail environment.

    For signmakers looking to create fabric POP applications, dye sublimation processes present the best avenue. Rather than direct printing or heat transfer, the sublimation process allows the inks to become part of the fabric - translating into increased durability, as well as the richest color and the softest texture.

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    POSPRO+ 200 Polyester Film for pigment & solvent inks To achieve the best results, dye sublimation should be performed on white or light-colored surfaces and surfaces should also be specialty-coated or polymer-coated to accept inks. Since sublimation conditions vary depending on the heat transfer press being used, it is necessary to determine optimal temperature, pressure and dwell time conditions based on individual heat presses.

    Dye sublimation papers used for high quality sublimation transfers are designed to print a wide gamut of vibrant colors, while enhancing the release of ink during the sublimation process. These specialty media choices also help to produce optimal results and ensure product quality by lowering ink use and expense.

    The downside of dye sublimation is that it requires special printing and heat transfer equipment. In cases where a print shop may not have this specialized equipment there are direct print textile materials available for both standard solvent inkjet and aqueous inkjet printers. There are a wide variety direct print textiles ranging from very sheer fabrics to heavy flag material. There are even some adhesive back textiles that offer a uniquely soft look and feel for a number of mounted POP display applications.

    Pop-Up Stands
    Pop-up stands are no longer just for tradeshows. As a result of the increasing availability of media options, pop-up stands can be a very good solution for in-store environmental graphics or display back drops. The final construction of pop-up stands should target a composition of 20 mils thick, which generally consists of an opaque backing layer, imaging layer and textured laminate.

    When constructing a pop-up stand, it is critical for the panel to be both heavy enough to stand firm in the framing and durable enough to be rolled up and shipped to retail outlets. Below are three common ways for completing portable pop-up stands:

    • Encapsulating ink jet imageable paper or film between an adhesive backer and textured laminate: This is the oldest method, and today, most graphic houses have switched to the other two methods outlined below because fewer materials and steps are required. Paper in particular as an image layer is weak because it is easy to crack an edge or corner during the packing process.
    • Reverse print on ink jet printable polycarbonate and laminate with opaque backer: This option works best with dye based inks. Dyes penetrate the image coating very well and rest against the film surface - allowing for vivid colors when reverse printed and viewed through the film.
    • Direct print on to imageable backer and laminate with textured polycarbonate film or textured vinyl: This method is the best solution for pigment inks or solvent ink jet production. Pigment particles are larger than dyes and tend to sit on the surface.

    A common construction for pop-ups includes direct print onto a 10 mil, opaque backer with frosted polycarbonate laminate, or reverse print on printable polycarbonate with an adhesive-backed laminate. Resulting in an 18 to 20 mil thick imaged panel, this construction can be finished with magnet strips that will adhere to the face frame of the pop-up stand.

    Backlit Displays
    Advancements in digital printing and media technologies have made it easier to produce high quality, cost-effective backlit graphics. As with the opaque displays, it is recommended that signmakers use matte to textured, lustre finishes for the construction of backlits, which are commonly imaged on polyester or polycarbonate-based films. Polycarbonates are reverse printed and then viewed through the film or from the non print side. Polycarbonate films are available with a textured finish on the viewing side of the film.

    Polyester backlit films are also becoming increasingly popular among users of solvent printers. There are four parameters to consider when producing graphics for light projection displays: calculation (amount), location (where), application (how) and duration (longevity). This information will determine the best methodology for producing the graphic.

    Semi opaque materials present the ideal form of media for POP displays because they ensure that there is enough translucency for the graphic to look great under the reflective lighting on the retail floor. The best choices for in-store backlit displays are white films or polypropylene media that offer 90% opacity. Films that feature 40% to 50% opacity are preferred options in lower light environments.

    While difficult economic times present challenges for signmakers worldwide, they also open the door for the development of new ideas and the re-evaluation of old ones. As a result, seemingly commonplace applications such as POP displays are given new life. Today more than ever, retailers are placing emphasis on bare bones tactics in order to garner sales. With the increased availability of media options, signmakers can produce high-end signage that fits in with the décor of even the most upscale retail environments, resulting in a substantial market opportunity to create eye-catching indoor POP displays and graphics.

    About the Author
    Ed McCarron oversees the company's development and marketing of coated products and services for technically demanding applications. Due to his wealth of both hands-on and field experience, McCarron is regarded as a valuable resource and has visited 21 countries to train digital printers in the latest printing and finishing techniques.

    McCarron is a frequent speaker at industry conferences, tradeshows, and conventions as well as a member of various industry associations.

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