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Olympic towers feature digitally printed fabric graphics

Graphics | February 26, 2010 | By:

In September 2009, during a game of golf, Rainier’s Bruce Dickinson and Jamie Gallagher of Sopers Inc., Toronto, Ontario, discussed a potential alliance to bid for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia. After several months of negotiations and pre-bid submittals, the alliance formed and submitted a bid for 12 40-foot-tall, internally lit way-finding towers and more than 200 custom signs.

Rainier was awarded the mission to design and fabricate the 12 towers in its 140,000-square-foot Seattle facility. Sopers Inc. would provide all site, concrete, installation, maintenance and removal services in Vancouver.

The towers are assembled with a steel frame system and an aluminum staple track system for digitally printed fabric graphics. They rise from a concrete base with decorative beetle wood (wood from forests heavily damaged by wood-boring beetles). Construction of the towers drew from the core strengths of each division at Rainier; an established group of engineers in DTS, skilled artisans from the frame shop, woodshop and fabric shop, as well as expert designers and technicians from the display division.

The towers are seven feet wide with rounded corners at different angles. The internal lighting for the backlit graphics cycles through red, blue and white every two minutes. The lights are minimal energy usage LEDs.

The fabric choice was 16-ounce Cooley 0606 White Translucent Recyclable material and interchangeable quarter-inch acrylic inserts. The main panel with the Olympic Winter Games logo required a blockout vinyl corner wrap with cut out text of the Olympic village namesake. This method blocks the internal backlight from the area surrounding the text to create an aquarium-like glowing effect. The procedure entailed blockout vinyl cut out on a CEI Plotter, then heat transferred to the translucent vinyl by the Sunbrella Graphics System.

The blockout corner wrap panels and the adjacent panels hold quarter-inch acrylic pictograms. The tower structures are to be repurposed for the Paralympics later this year, and the pictograms need to be interchangeable. The digitally printed quarter-inch acrylic was installed by bolting a piece behind the fabric and inside the tower to the printed acrylic over the fabric on the outside of the tower.

Printing on the translucent fabric was challenging. The art consisted of two-toned floral leaf graphics that overlapped text reading, “With Glowing Hearts” (from the Canadian National Anthem) in both English and French. For the text, Vancouver Organizing Committee designers determined the backlit design would be composed of a white ink flood with reversed text. The white ink flood is intended as a blockout medium for a more subtle effect, where some light is allowed to pass through. The result created a higher contrast between the corner wrap with blockout vinyl and the adjacent panels with the white ink and reversed text.

The leaves were designed with a darker and lighter blue using an Illustrator multiply blending effect. The multiply blending mode takes the color at each point in the top layer and multiplies it by the color value at the same point in the layer underneath. Doing so creates a color at least as dark as what we started with. The VANOC design team desired the blue leaves to be more opaque, blocking out the light coming through the material. A common practice to achieve opaque areas on translucent material is printing white ink underneath the color. A new challenge surfaced while applying this technique. The white ink mode, combined with the Illustrator effect, did not translate correctly at the printer.

Rainier prepress designer Brian Farrell applied trapping methods to the design. Trapping is the process of compensating for misregistration on a printing press by printing small areas of overlapping color where objects meet. In this case, the multiplied areas were trapped as separate objects and then the white overprint setting was interpreted correctly. The trapping method, combined with the white ink overprints, proved to be challenging at the Durst Rho 351 printer. The amount of information in the files took up to four hours to RIP. Each panel was seven feet wide, printing roll to roll continuously for 40 feet.

In the end, exact color and design was achieved. The client and design team were ecstatic with the results. The 12 towers are soaring today thanks to great planning and execution. The Rainier/Sopers team worked through many challenges to make it happen. What began as a conversation on the golf course came into fruition for the world to see at the Olympic Games.

Kelly Morris is creative director at Rainier Industries, Seattle, Wash. Her experience in web and print design makes her the point person for all of Rainier’s marketing design needs. While working in the art department, she applies her design skills to client side projects as prepress for Rainier’s large format digital printers.

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