Humidity is not sublimation’s friend

It’s coming!

Soon it will start warming up in Canada and that means that some regions of the country will have to deal with high humidity challenges. It can be a nuisance in a number of ways but not least of all when sublimation printing.

If you have perfectly good prints that begin to show colour shifts and fuzzy images during the day when nothing else has changed, increasing humidity might be the problem. If it’s over 50% it’s at the stage where the moisture in the air is going to start affecting your prints.

The solution is to store your substrates (fabric or rigid) and transfer paper in a cool dry place at least 24 hours before using them. Fabrics may have to be pre-heated to get rid of excess moisture.

Thanks to Roland for alerting us to this issue.

Now it’s politically-charged billboards and signs

Do I take this job?

A few posts ago last month, we addressed the topic of controversial billboards and signs and whether a shop should have a policy in place for dealing with them. Well, the topic has intensified just this week. It seems appropriate to revisit the issue and the questions surrounding it.

Recent news reports have been about billboards being deployed in the run up to the 2020 presidential election in the U.S. Some go beyond promoting a particular message and seem to be designed to be insulting. They are of course bound to please one section of the population and offend another.

Back here in Canada at election time sign printers churn out lawn signs for the candidates of all parties. I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard of certain print shops being favoured with these jobs (or declining them) because of political affiliations, but it does raise some interesting questions.

For instance, is it risky to associate your shop with a political party or philosophy? Is it wise to accept jobs such as politically controversial billboards or signs? If the billboards or signs are associated with your business and they offend a large section of the population, could this result in a loss of customers?

You may have to deal with these questions one day. It might be worth giving it some thought in advance in calmer times and maybe even establishing a policy rather than waiting and wrestling with it under pressure.

Roland quick-cleaning tips (it’s important)

Roland has some important tips for keeping your printer working smoothly. And it’s not just about when the operator is at the shop; it’s also about making use of the time that the machine is not working when the operator is away. This may be for short periods over a weekend or particularly for longer periods when the shop shuts down for vacation.

The components can clog if the printer is left idle for a long period. This will of course result in downtime to clean the machine is when you have a job to run. It could also result in damage to nozzles and other sensitive parts. The remedy for this is to manually clean the the equipment at regular intervals, before it breaks down.

But what of those longer absences from  the shop? Well, those are ideal times to enable Roland’s printing and plotting equipment’s automatic cleaning feature to do its thing. If you turn off the machine at the front panel but leave the primary power source on at the back, the automatic maintenance will kick in.

And while you’re taking good care of your Roland equipment, don’t overlook covering it to keep dust and other dirt off.

Amazing what useful information you can find on the Roland site, don’t you think?

Advising customers — yard signs

Great design. Simple and to the point. Credit:


Since you’re in the business of not only printing customers’ signs but also advising them how to get the most out of their signs, here are some tips you may want to pass on:

  • Make a sign stand out by selecting dark, contrasting colours able to be read from even a distance.
  • Directional arrows on lawn signs can be effective.
  • Keep the message short; avoid clutter of information. A website address enables an interested person to find out everything else they need to know such as a phone number, address etc.
  • Font selection is important. An easily-read font adds to the effectiveness of the sign.
  • The bigger the letters the better.
  • Printing on both sides of a lawn sign can be a waste of money because seldom can passers by see both sides of the sign.

These tips may seem obvious, but every single day we see ineffective signs because one or more of them have been overlooked.

Industry profile per areas of specialty – How does your shop compare?

Am I in the right product line?

One more interesting insight to be gleaned from the Sign Media annual survey is where the industry is focused. Some of the the specialties of the responding printers were:

  • Banners – 67%
  • Retail signs- 58%
  • Vehicle wraps – 46%
  • Dimensional signs – 45%
  • Wayfinding signs – 43%
  • LED illuminated signs – 41%
  • Digital signage – 39%
  • Floor graphics – 34%

Perhaps surprising for being so low on the list were:

  • Billboards – 26%
  • Menu boards – 25%

This is merely a taste to encourage further study of the report. The details should be examined  before forming firm conclusions and plotting strategy.

Another typical online scam to guard against

They keep coming. The trick is not just for you, but for all your staff to recognize a likely online scam and avoid plunging your shop into a potential problem.

Here’s an example received just today where any reasonably aware person should be able to smell a rat . . .

Dear Customer service team

We are interested in purchasing some of your products. This products are needed ASAP at our head office in Dubai U.A.E, We would like to know if you offer services to international customers, We have a private shipping company who handles our shipping when products are ready for collection. We would also like to confirm if you accept wire transfers. Kindly let us know looking forward to your


Sales Manager.

Stinks, right? But they must catch some businesses because they would surely have given up by now if it didn’t yield results.

Be careful! Train your staff.

Employee management matters

There are many ways to reward employees, boost morale, and keep them on side.

Here is one from Bob Nelson’s book 1001 Ways to Reward Employees . . . Quoting Robert Preziosi of Management Associates: “For some reason there never seems to be enough recognition. After a brutal day, walk up to employees and say, ‘You were great. I’m so glad about what you did today.’ You’ll be surprised how far a simple gesture will go.”

Try it.

Controversy — signs, banners and billboards

Sorry . . . We don’t do those!

When a client places an order for a sign, banner or billboard that you instinctively know is likely to be controversial, what do you do? Do you produce such an order without question or do you exercise some degree of censorship?

Controversial messages have in the past included a wide range of topics including religion, politics, pedophilia, food, abortion, climate, and a host of other topics around which strong views exist. Aside from your personal view on any of the topics subject of a customer’s order, what might influence you to accept or decline the order?

Does your shop have guidelines regarding the subject matter of potential orders? Do you consider the impact on staff members who may have strong  views on controversial topics? What about the impact on some customers? What about the reputation of your shop? Are you forced by law to accept orders you’d rather not?

Subject to any legal obligations imposed upon you in your particular jurisdiction, it may be wise to develop guidelines in which you make clear your shop’s position on certain topics. This could help avoid the potential of embroiling your shop in controversy, not only with the public or interest groups but also officialdom.

Annual industry survey raises questions — Part III

Continuing with our reading of the annual Sign Media Canada survey and keeping in mind that it would be a stretch to assume that the picture painted by the respondents reflects the state of the entire industry, let’s have one more look at what the results yielded.

Industry associations: 58% of respondents reported that they are members of either the Sign Association of Canada, the International Sign Association, and/or The Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA). Clearly a large number agree with us that industry associations have a significant role to play in the industry. If you don’t already belong to an industry association, you should.

Frustrations: Some of the frustrations (presumably of mostly owners) include: chasing money (non-paying accounts); customers shopping for price rather than quality or service; employees with a lack of imagination and motivation; and hiring and retaining competent staff. Seems to be pretty standard for most businesses.

This concludes our cursory reading of the survey. We hope we’ve convinced you to look it up and study it in depth.

Annual industry survey raises questions — Part II

Continuing with our reading of the annual Sign Media Canada survey and keeping in mind that it would be a stretch to assume that the demographic of the respondents reflects the demographic of the entire industry, let’s look at some more results.

Working hours: 31.5% of respondents work between 40 and 50 hours a week. But another 31% work a ‘typical’ workweek of 35 to 40 hours. The conclusion is that members of the sign industry seem to have a reasonable work/life balance.

Benefits: 74% enjoy paid vacations. 55% have dental/group benefits. 50% have medical insurance. 41% have parking. 38% have long term disability insurance. Only 14 % enjoy profit sharing. For more details you should see the full results—they’re interesting.

Job satisfaction: 81% of respondents were at least as satisfied with their jobs as they were the year before. Of course this doesn’t tell us how satisfied they are but it seems to more positive than negative.

How does your shop compare?

Annual industry survey raises questions — Part I

Sign Media Canada has reported on its annual Salary Survey for the Canadian sign industry. To gain an in-depth understanding of the industry the results of this survey should be studied in detail, however, as a primer we’ll touch on some of the highlights and the interesting questions that they raise.

It would be a stretch to assume that the demographic of the respondents to the survey reflects the demographics of the entire industry. But that being said . . .

Gender disparity: The results seem to suggest a huge imbalance between the genders: 75% male and 23.5% female with 1.5% declining to state their gender. This seems to be out of step with the working population generally.

Age disparity: 80% of respondents were 40 years and older while only 20% were younger than 40 with just 5% younger than 30. What does this mean? The younger members don’t care to participate in an important industry survey or there’s a serious shortage of young and upcoming talent in the industry? Either way, it’s troubling.

Experience disparity: About 60% of respondents have been in the industry for 15 years or more. Only 40% for less than 15 years with 15% having less than 4 years experience. Again, perhaps the younger members don’t care about industry surveys or perhaps while there’s a lot of experience in the industry, it’s not being replaced.

How does your shop compare?

Diversification into textiles — a trend among sign shops?

Should I diversify into textiles?

If the industry literature such as has its facts straight about a diversification trend, then sign shop owners need to sit up and take notice.

It seems that there is a trending tendency for sign shops to extend their reach into textile printing. According to Roland’s product manager for textiles, print-service providers (PSPs) are looking for fabric printers that can handle a wide variety of fabric items.

Singmedia, in quoting Lily Hunter of Roland, report that PSPs are recognizing that they need to get into fabric printing as a means of extending their product offering. Some have already extended their reach into fabric printing but have been using sub-contractors and now wish to bring the work in house.

With any information like this coming from industry sources, you need to investigate it, assess it, and decide if your shop should react in order to beat or at least keep up with the competition.


Revisiting a 3-year-old headline: Sign and Graphic Printing Continues To Go Digital

Three years ago reported findings by the SGIA under the above headline.

How is your shop doing versus the digital trend?

The survey reported that just over 55% of respondents described their business as entirely digital. You can bet that this number has grown since then. Multi-technology printers with no dominant technology numbered only 17%. Overall, digital printing was used by almost 99% of respondents and screen printing by 36%. These numbers almost definitely continued trending in favour of the evolution to digital sign printing.

Now, three years later, where does your shop stand in this regard? Is your shop keeping up with the digital trend and is it staying competitive?

Your shop’s online activity

How comprehensive is your shop’s online presence? Are you constantly reminding customers and potential customers that you’re around and ready to do business?

There was a time when a website was sufficient for an online presence but things have progressed rapidly in the online digital world over the past decade or so with the growth of the reach of social media platforms; Facebook launched only 15 years ago and Instagram only 9 years ago. Both of these as well as other social media platforms like Pinterest (launched 9 years ago) and YouTube (launched 14 years ago) accommodate businesses. And your shop should be making use of them.

Hey, we’re still here and ready to do business with you!

A comprehensive online presence for your shop could include a website with a blog, and a regular presence on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and perhaps even videos on YouTube. In a competitive market in which customers are bombarded daily with online information you need to constantly remind your customers and that you’re still around or you will be lost in the noise and clutter.

Remember a saying that’s been around since 1563 and is as true now as it was then: Out of sight, out of mind.

None of this needs to be costly but there will have to be a time commitment if you assign it to an employee or do it yourself with the help of some of the many tools and how-to guides available, you guessed it, online. On the other hand, you can pay a social media expert to get you set up after which you can maintain your shop’s online presence.

The route you decide to take to establishing and maintaining a comprehensive online presence is an important decision, but the really important decision is the one you take to actually do it.

Step and repeat banners

Wikipedia describes step and repeat banners quite well: “A step and repeat banner is a publicity backdrop used primarily for event photography, printed with a repeating pattern such that brand logos or emblems are visible in photographs of the individuals standing in front of it.”

All it needs is your print.

So, here’s an idea for your shop . . . through your mailing list or any other method you have for reaching customers, promote the idea that at their next trade show or event, they set up a step and repeat banner and have a photographer shoot pictures of visitors in front of it. Then they should email the images to these visitors and encourage them to post the images on their social networks, thus having their logos or emblems displayed. Knowing how vain so many people are and how readily they’ll post pictures of themselves (especially with a “Hollywood” type step and repeats backdrop) it seems like a sure thing.

The whole point of course is that your shop will produce the step and repeat banners.

Creating a trade show booth for a customer (or yourself)

What will a potential customer expect to see?

If you’re retained to design and produce the signage for a trade show booth for a customer, or if you have to do so for yourself, promoted a very interesting approach to the project.

It requires a 180 degree change from the way we tend to design show booths.

They suggest that the design and content should be based on a potential customer’s perspective. In other words, don’t design the booth according to what you’d like to show or how you’d like to show it, design it according to what and how a customer would like to see it. This of course requires that you understand your target audience very well.

As a guide they suggest picking two or three if the following list of elements upon which to base your content and design:


  • Classy
  • Style
  • High tech
  • Earthy
  • Comforting
  • Trendy
  • Modern
  • Rustic
  • Country
  • Rugged
  • Feminine
  • Empowering
  • Professional
  • Cutting edge
  • Outdoorsy
  • Bold

Great way to go about it, don’t you think?

Advising customers — signs and brand image

I’m sure you’ve also seen signs so poorly designed, printed or positioned that you’ve wondered which sign shop the advertiser used and how that shop can still be in business.

As you can see, the sign won’t get you maximum attention in this location . . .

The problem of course is that they got very poor advice or no advice at all. That is not how your shop does business, is it? You tell your customers that you’ll design and print their sign to the highest standards to help boost their brand. But, it will all be wasted if they don’t do certain things with the signs while keeping the image of their brand in mind.

For instance, they must locate the signs for maximum effect. Then they must keep track of their signs so that pranksters (or competitors) don’t relocate the signs to where they wouldn’t want them located. They must follow the local community and municipal rules so as to not to incur fines or damage their reputation. And they must maintain the signs in good condition because a damaged or defaced sign can reflect badly on their brand.

This is one way in which you differentiate your shop from the competition—added value in the shape of good advice.


Customer service requires a number of skills

How often have you had to deal with a “customer service” rep who didn’t have a clue what the job really involved?

Haven’t you found that some of them are so poorly trained or unsuited to the job (which is really a management problem in either case) that you, the customer, far from receiving “service” is left irritated and angry.

It takes a number of qualities to deal with an angry customer.

When this happens, you should be making  a pact with yourself to ensure that no customer of your shop is ever left feeling this way.

So what does it take from you or a customer service employee (which could be everyone in your shop who interacts with customers at any level) to deliver the type of customer service that keeps customers coming back? And remember that word of mouth is an effective and inexpensive business builder so you want customers to tell other people about your great customer service. But, word of mouth can also be a devastating business destroyer.

So, here’s a list of qualities needed for providing great customer service (this is just a list, you need to explore them in more depth):

  • Top notch communication skills
  • Good listening skills
  • A thick skin
  • A willingness to take ownership of customer problems
  • Patience
  • Empathy
  • Politeness (good manners)
  • Product knowledge
  • Adaptability and creativity

What will people say in a survey about your shop’s customer service?

Stanley’s holiday closing dates

The holiday period – time to put your feet up and relax.

The crew at Stanley’s want you to know that they have enjoyed serving you this past year and that they appreciate your business.

And as we get ready to head into the new year, they also want you to know that they welcome inquires about new products or technologies in the industry at any time. If they don’t know the answer right away they have a great selection of brand-name manufactures from whom they can get answers quickly.

In the meantime, if you’re going to need supplies in the December-January holiday period, please keep in mind that all four branches will be closed from noon on Tuesday the 24th of December until Monday morning, the 6th of January. 

If you are going to require a courier delivery, please check with the Stanley’s office in your area well in advance of the holidays to make sure that a courier service will be available closer to the 24th.

Floor decals

That’s too cool!

A recent article about trade show booths included the following counter-intuitive finding; “Research shows that people often don’t look up, but they will look down when they catch sight of your floor decal.” It went on to say: “Everyone will have a sign, but you can be the one of the few who also has stellar floor decals.”

So what does this mean to you, the graphic shop owner? Well, obviously, it suggest that there’s an opportunity to educate customers on their proposed booth signage and garner some additional work producing floor decals.

With a little research, perhaps some reading, and a bit of design creativity, you could have another winner to offer customers.


Product knowledge—you can’t sell properly without it.

Go ahead, ask me anything!

In literature about hiring sales people it’s often stressed that in-depth product knowledge is an absolute necessity; what it does, how to use it, what customers want from it, how to adapt it to unusual requirements, and so forth. But in many cases, given that the Canadian graphics industry largely consists of small businesses, that salesperson is usually you, the owner.

So, if you’re going to enter a conversation with a potential customer you’d better know all there is to know about every aspect of the technologies and materials that your shop uses. You must know what can and cannot be accomplished with your resources and, above all, you must have a firm grasp on the economic aspects of all that stuff.

It’s not just a case of can we or can we not do this, it’s very much a case of can we or can we not do it profitably. Without an in-depth knowledge of every aspect of your business you’re neither well equipped for salesmanship nor ownership.

Doming—an additional revenue stream?

Doming decals. Image credit: Roland DG South Africa

If you’re looking to diversify your shop a bit into additional revenue streams you may want to explore doming. Roland and other suppliers offer kits to dome everything from lapel pins to vinyl lettering.

In certain circumstances doming can add an additional dimension to an otherwise flat product and move it up a notch or two in intrigue and class. It could also provide an opportunity to provide a companion product to an existing order such as say, domed lapel pins to an order for signs.

A little creativity coupled with a technology like this might provide your shop with another revenue stream.

Are you targeting the right audience?

Why are you bothering me? I don’t need or use signs in my business!

If you sit and wait for business and are not out there looking for it, then this post won’t interest you. But if you’re looking to target new customers you will want to keep in mind this story told by Seth Godin in his book This is Marketing.

A well-known comedian’s agent gets him a booking at a gig in New York City. The comedian turns up and delivers his best material. The audience doesn’t react at all. No laughs. The comedian is distraught. He thinks that perhaps he is failing and should give up comedy. Then he finds out that his agent wasn’t paying attention. He wasn’t targeting his audience properly; it was an Italian tour group. They didn’t speak English and couldn’t understand the comedian. It was a waste of everyone’s time.

Are you targeting the right audience?

You’re leaping from employee to owner. Now what?

Leaping from employee to owner. You need all the help you can get.

You’re about to buy or launch your own shop, or perhaps you became an owner some time ago. In either case I’m going to give you a huge tip that is guaranteed to make your ownership adventure easier and more successful. It might not be something you particularly like doing but, like exercise or dieting, it may be difficult at first but once you get into it, you’ll be excited by the results.

We’re talking about reading technical and business books, articles, and blogs or listening to podcasts and audio books. The technical stuff because you must stay up to date, and the business stuff because you’re no longer just a technician, you’re now also a business person with a lot to learn.

But don’t just take my urging alone, see what Charles William Eliot, who was the president of Harvard University for over 40 years, said: “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”

Stanley’s has Apolan squeegees

Stanley’s is pleased to announce that they now have Apolan squeegee blades. If you’re a graphics screen printer you’re going to appreciate the solvent resistance of these blades.

The range of profiles and durometers is also extensive. There’s a squeegee for every requirement you may have, including special squeegees needs.

The Stanley’s staff at all four branches can tell you what you need to know about Apolan squeegee blades and help you find the ones best suited to your needs, both standard and special.

Call any of Stanley’s 4 branches and ask for about Apolan squeegees: Edmonton 780-424-4141; Calgary 403-243-7722; Cambridge 519-620-7342; Richmond 604-873-2451; or call Alfred Gunness directly at 416-832-3162.  

Sign Manufacturing Day.

Future employees at Sign Manufacturing Day.

October 4th was Sign Manufacturing Day.

We encouraged you to participate. If you did then you’ll know that it was a great success. Participating print shops report that they found new employees, accepted interns, and forged stronger relationships with local schools.

If you didn’t participate this year, plan to do so next year. You can take the first step by contacting the Sign Association of Canada at or 1-877-470-9787.

So who are Igotcha Media, C17 Media, and Singex Mfg.?

They are your competitors who won multiple awards in the Best of Canada’s Sign Industry Awards (BOCSLes), just announced.

The November edition of Signmedia Canada magazine has all the results and, as one glances over the winning entries (and who doesn’t?), these three names are repeated a number of times. It’s not just about the bragging rights and the staff morale booster either, it’s invaluable and credible exposure in a format bound to attract many more eyes than even an expensive full-colour magazine advertisement.

Let’s have your shop’s name there next year. Make it a goal now!



Wind slit pros and cons

Countering the wind.

It has long been a practice to slit banners as a counter-measure to the pressure of wind on the banner surface. These are usually semi-circular cuts in the substrate.

However, not everyone agrees that this is an effective practice. The chief criticisms are that they detract from the aesthetics of the banner, they weaken the banner material and they don’t do much to lessen the impact of wind pressure. Apparently, slits only reduce the wind pressure by 10 to 15%.

An alternative to slits is a heavier weight banner material and better installation methods. For instance, weave the rope through the grommets and tension and tie the rope to keep the banner taught. A banner that flaps tends to tear. Another method is to secure the banner with bungee cords. It’s said to work well by stretching and preventing the wind from tearing the material.

Vehicle wrap idea falls flat

How am I supposed to get hold of your amazing product if you don’t answer me?

Last month (September 18th) we posted information about an advertisement about a product that appeared to be a great idea—magnets rather than tape to hold wraps in place. It still sounds like a great idea but it’s not the idea that has fallen flat, it’s the really bad customer service behind the product that has fallen flat.

Twice we emailed the advertiser to inquire about the magnets and ask if they’d be willing to supply a sample for testing. We undertook to post the results of a test and give them more coverage. So far there has been no response at all.

Here’s the lesson for us all . . . If you don’t follow up immediately on inquiries it doesn’t matter how amazing your product may be because you’re only going to have limited success getting it out into the market. Additionally, any money you spent on advertising would have been wasted.

Have you considered surge protectors?

Do you have surge protectors for your sensitive production equipment?

Extreme weather conditions are a way of life in Canada. Summer thunder storms, winter blizzards, ice storms, tornadoes and hurricanes, we have them all.

And with these weather events we have power disruptions. And with power disruptions we have power surges. And with power surges we have potential for damage to our sensitive electronic and digital equipment. So it’s not unusual to have surge protectors for computer equipment but what about production equipment like plotters, printers, and engravers?

Plotters, printers, and engravers have sensitive electronic components that can be fried by excess voltage from power surges. Even brief spikes can be damaging.

Is the sensitive production equipment in your shop protected from power surges by surge protectors? If not, right now might be a good time to do something about it.