By Sara Aase
Digital printing processes have created greater demand for inflatable logos, characters, and product replicas as eye-catching marketing tools, while at the same time reducing costs, increasing productivity, and expanding product lines for printers.
Cold-air inflatables are used by any kind of business that wants gawker appeal, from car dealerships and hot dog vendors, to Fortune 100 companies. Giant blow-up replicas of NFL mascots at football games, for example, direct foot traffic to an entrance and create excitement. Likewise, an artfully illuminated corporate logo draws attention to a convention booth and acts as a conversational icebreaker.
Before Ohio-based Scherba Industries bought its solvent-based, heat-cured roll-to-roll digital printer in 2003, it relied heavily on labor intensive silk screening and hand painting processes. Silkscreen runs could take several days or weeks to complete. Production speeded up with the company’s first inkjet printer in the late ’90s, and allowed Scherba Industries to do smaller order runs. But wide-format roll-to-roll printing has dramatically increased his company’s volume.
“We’ve become pretty much print on demand,” Scherba says, eliminating the need to count on volume orders from clients. “Themain purpose of our printer is to supply the 80 percent of our business that is inflatables.”
Scherba and inflatable manufacturers, such as Skyline Promotions in Tampa, Fla., tend to print on vinyl-coated nylon (polyvinyl chloride) of seven-ounce to 22-ounce weight per square yard, depending on the product. “It needs to be able to withstand wind blowing and the air pressure associated with inflatable advertising,” Scherba says.
Not all solvent-based inkjet inks work, says Bruce Cohen, owner of Skyline Promotions, who outsources his company’s printing needs. Cohen says printers should expect their customers to do worst-case-scenario testing on the finished product. “We laminate or coat the inflatable with a clear coat to add further strength, but I will crumple it as we would in the field to see how well it holds up under abuse,” he says. “We really abuse the product in testing.”
Both Scherba and Cohen say that digital printing efficiencies have made high-quality, photo-realistic inflatable products more affordable for more customers. “The process might take 30 minutes instead of 24 to 32 hours,” Scherba says. “We’ve definitely seen an increase in inflatable sales because clients love the sharpness and the speed of digital printing, and we can respond to everyone’s 12th-hour need.”