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Outdoor/indoor advertising moves to higher technology

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by Paul Schreiber

SBJ Contributing Writer

Outdoor/indoor advertising has gone high-tech.

Today's graphic artists develop ideas for billboards using computer programs like Quark X-Press or Corel Draw, according to Greg Watkins, assistant general manager at Lamar Advertising. Their work is then put on large data-storage discs and sent to an outside company for further production, Watkins added.

This information, often including both text and scanned images, is made into a "digital proof," said Judy Bigelow, sales representative for Impact Imaging Inc., in Kaysville, Utah. In this process, type and graphics are merged and converted "so it's read digitally," she said.

"With a digital proof, it comes out as one output. It's not looking through four layers of film," Bigelow said. "The Iris is closer to what our final output is on our press," she added.

From this Iris proof, an 8-by-24-inch mini-billboard is produced for the client's inspection. If acceptable to the client, a large, seamless billboard weighing about 90 pounds is made from a flexible vinyl fabric that's "kind of like trampoline material," Watkins said. This fabric is attached to the existing frame by tension ratchets. "There's probably 40 to 46 of those put on a billboard, and they're to take out the wrinkles," he said. "A typical billboard is about 14 feet tall by 14 feet long."

It's a big change from traditional billboards, in which 44, 2-foot-wide, tongue-in-groove metal sections, each weighing about 45 pounds, had to be put together like a puzzle, Watkins said. "Now we just leave those up and wrap around the billboards," he said. With flexible vinyl signs, installation takes at least a third less time.

Today's billboards exhibit an array of colors. In the last six months, printing density capabilities have increased from nine dots per inch to 70 dpi, Watkins said. The cost for nine dpi vinyl is about $900, for 70 dpi, it's about $1,200, he said.

Another recent change in billboards is the use of three-sided, "trivision" signs, Watkins said. Self-adhesive vinyl is applied to light-weight aluminum louvres. These turn every nine to 15 seconds, rotating clients' messages, he added.

Trivision signs allow three clients simultaneous access to the same location, thus increasing revenues for Lamar.

Though each client has one-third the daily effective circulation (DEC), his or her cost is roughly half that of a permanent sign. Client advantages are the increased attention these signs draw and their presence in "highly visible places," he added.

Another example of outdoor advertising in motion is bus advertising. With "large-format digital imaging," scanned photographs can be enlarged without sacrificing the clarity of the original image, said Wayne Wilson, co-owner of SignMax in Springfield. These images are applied directly over the contours of the bus. "It's like a gigantic bumper sticker," he said.

For all the innovations in outdoor advertising, Wilson said he believes one's vehicle is the cheapest and best form of advertising. For a one-time cost of less than $500, a person can put graphics all over their vehicle.

"We have some customers who pay a kid minimum wage to drive their van around at business time. Those are the people who understand advertising," he added.

Larry McKaig, owner of Images Unlimited, a large-format color printing and design firm in Forsyth, said that with new computer and printing technology, the only limit to what can be done is the human imagination.

For example, Images Unlimited, which produces trade show graphics and indoor and outdoor banners, recently added a new product, pull-down window shades.

The window shades, which can be imprinted with a company name, advertisement or a decor-complementing design, are an example of how fast technology is advancing in the industry, McKaig said.

McKaig came up with the window shade concept a year ago, but had to shelve the idea because the imprintable material and printer technology were not equal to the task.

Now his concept is an actual product.

For printed materials that will be exposed to the elements, McKaig uses a thermal resin wax a solid ink that is heated to liquid stage, then instantly solidifies upon application.

This new technology increases the life of outdoor printed materials from about one year to around three years, without laminating, McKaig said.

And because of higher resolution printing, the images are photo-quality, he said.

Along with imprinted signs and banners, electronic message centers are often used by businesses to display information. Employing "wedge-based" lighting systems, 5-watt bulbs do the work today that 30-watt bulbs used to do 10 to 15 years ago, according to John Musick, general manager of outdoor advertising for Missouri Neon.

Wedge-based lights are pushed into their sockets and are backed by reflectors to increase light intensity, Musick said.

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