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The Art of War: Digital Color Imaging

White printing on Plexiglass creates a 30-foot wall of football-playing "ghosts."




Founded in 1993, Digital Color Imaging in Akron, Ohio, started out as an electronic prepress company, CEO Dave Welner says. It has branched out into new areas over the years, and DCI now comprises three business units: commercial offset, short-run and variable-data digital printing, and wide-format printing. The company has about 50 employees.

“We got into wide-format printing a few years ago kind of as an aside,” Welner recalls. “We were printing a lot of juried art-show catalogs, and some of the artists began asking if we could do limited-edition prints for them. So we began producing giclée prints on two Roland Hi-Fi Jets.”

That business took off for DCI, and soon its commercial clients began asking for wide-format work as well. As a result, the company acquired additional printers to handle the work—a couple of ColorSpan printers, a Mutoh Falcon II, and, the latest, an EFI Vutek QS3200 126-inch flatbed.

DCI recently used the QS3200’s white-printing capabilities on a job for the Cleveland Browns football team’s new training facility in Berea, Ohio. “It’s a really gorgeous facility with a lot of nice interior design,” Welner says.

“The Browns called me and said they wanted something that would be an appealing finish on one wall of a long, curved corridor,” Welner continues. “They were thinking of something like wall decals or vinyl wallpaper. But when I went up and looked at it, and saw this 30-foot curved wall, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could put some Plexiglas panels on that?’”

The Browns organization already had a theme in mind, based around inspirational quotations from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Welner took a team-supplied photo of a group of players, combined it with the quotes, and did a mockup in Adobe Photoshop to show what the corridor could look like with a row of five Plexiglas panels. The team quickly approved the concept.


Several reduced sample panels were created at first to test the amount of ghosting needed for the white background image. These were done in 10-percent increments for the Browns to approve.

Welner describes the final output: “Each panel measured 4-feet wide x 7-feet tall. We printed the photo as a ghosted silhouette at about 10 or 15 percent. Then we added the Sun Tzu quotes in foot-high letters in solid white. The photo and text were printed together in the first pass, and then we printed a second pass on the letters to get a super opaque white.”

According to Welner, the trick to getting white to print properly is all in the file preparation. “It has to be set as a spot color and labeled as white ink so that the RIP understands that it’s a white layer. In addition, the RIP’d file has to be set up to print as a multi-layer file. This step also enables you to determine the printing sequence, such as whether the white layer will print on the top or the bottom of the other colors.”

DCI also executed the install (as it does for all its work). “There were eight holes per panel that had to be very precisely drilled; these were all done using our MGE/EskoArtwork i-cut system,” says Welner. “Each panel was intended to mount on eight machined-aluminum posts (stand-offs). Because the posts were mounted to the wall first, there was very little room for error with the line up of the panel’s holes and the posts. One side of the post mounts to the wall with an aluminum anchor, and the other end has a treaded hole for an attachment bolt that holds the panel.”

Welner cautions other shops that might be planning to move into white printing to pay attention to their pricing. “When we first got this system, a lot of our sales guys thought you could just add the white ink in, like it’s a four-color job,” he says. “But it really adds a dimension of cost—there is more set up and prepress effort and, of course, it’s actually a fifth color, so if you have some spoilage it’s more difficult to absorb.”

Digital Color Imaging (DCI)




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