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Four generations of sign making "down under"

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The 5500 sq. ft. shop that is home to SignKiosk in Marrickville, NSW, Australia, is the result of four generations of sign making. Built on traditional skills, the business relies on everything from gilding on glass to state-of-the-art digital printing to service its clients—who have come to count on SignKiosk to handle any project thrown at them.

Three of the shop’s staff of five are brothers Greg, Brett and Shane Bolan—whose father and grandfather were signwriters before them. They’re joined by Brett’s sons, Moyle and Michael.

Greg and Brett came up through the traditional sign writing apprenticeship program and Shane is a veteran tube bender. As technology made its way into the industry, they chose to use it to keep their business viable.

digital print on illuminated sign

“Many signwriters had a negative attitude towards technology from the start,” says Brett, “but we couldn’t wait to put it to work. We’ve not abandoned one for the other—we try to take advantage of the strengths of both. In the sign business, you have to be open and press yourself into new areas. You have to be a cabinetmaker and welder and a designer and whatever. If you don’t grab the new tools and show what sign work can be done with them, somebody else will.”

digital print on truck

Customers have changed, too, as a result of the technology. Many expect to see the sign before it’s made—maybe even in a photo of their storefront or vehicle. If you can’t satisfy this need, you stand to lose a certain amount of business.

“Pricing has become more aggressive, too,” says Brett. “A lot of customers are looking for the low-cost option now, saying they’ll ‘get a better sign when times are better.’ We can’t compete with that using old production techniques.”

digital print on trailer

In the past 15 years, the shop has had four digital printers. Greg says it was good training, but there were lots of hassles along the way. Last year, they bought an Epson GS6000. A second GS6000 just arrived at SignKiosk a few weeks ago. It will be used for longer print runs, freeing up the other unit for short run projects.

“The technology is really there now with this one,” he says. “It really liberates us in our designs. We just know wecan print anything you want and it will look good. Before we avoided ‘problem colors,’ but not anymore.

digital prints on walls

“Epson's GS6000 gives us the quality of the 12-color water-based printers,” says Greg, “and great durability. It’s changed our business—we can print anything, even backlit graphics. There are none of the color limitations of cut vinyl film.

“There’s no problem with matching PMS colors, or any color for that matter. With past printers, we had to use cut vinyl when we needed powerful colors for lettering, and combine it with a print. Now we can print it all.

“I’m so confident that I haven’t even printed a test sample for a job yet. I create the file, check it, and print it. I never worry how it’s going to come out.”

digital prints on windows

With past printers, cleaning and service was ongoing. Greg used to plan on spending an hour a day cleaning their previous printer—losing the equivalent of one day per week on maintenance. He says that’s been eliminated with Epson's GS6000, along with problems like ink starvation. The prints are proving to be durable, too.

“We print a lot of banners for the back of trucks for Coca Cola and they change about every month. With our old printer, we noticed that the banners were scratched and beginning to fade a bit by the time they came back in. That’s not so with the Epson. The ink is much more durable.”

digital prints on truck backs

What do they print? “Lots of outdoor signage—banners, vehicles, wraps, backlit signs, flat panels, even A-frame sidewalk signs—plus some trade show signage and displays. We do a lot of glass graphics, too—panels and panels of windows. That’s because we get no visible banding or distracting patterns with the GS6000. You don’t see any of those strange patterns on a window like you can with other printing.

“We’ve got a lot of fussy customers down here, so that’s an issue. But it’s not a problem—we know we can give them the quality they want.”

You can see more of the Bolans’ work at

digital print on shopfront


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