Category Archives: New Technology

Because we can or because we should? Evaluating trends in printing technology.

Famous British mountaineer George Mallory was once asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, an expedition that seemed fated for disaster. Mallory famously replied, “Because it’s there.”

Today’s innovators could very well revise this quote to “Because we can.” Technology has advanced at an exponential rate over the last century, and printing is no different. In fact, at the upcoming drupa 2012 conference, HP Indigo founder Benny Landa plans to announce an all-new process called nanographic printing. This technology promises some impressive results, with abrasion and scratch resistance, the ability to print on any substrate, and images that are only 500 nanometers thick. Landa will introduce a stable of nanographic printers at the conference, and they’ll certainly make a big splash on the industry.

The printing industry has existed for hundreds of years, and offset printing has been around since 1875. During the 20th century, screen printing, laser printing, inkjet printing and thermal printing all burst onto the scene. Digital printing itself is a technology that is less than 20 years old, and the HP Indigo partnership formed about 11 years ago. In the technological industry, those numbers would be considered ancient, especially with new and improved products launching every month, so it should seem natural that an entirely new printing process is about to be unveiled.

Or should it? Should we spend our time wondering what’s next or spend more time trying to answer why we are doing it? Should we be jacks of all trades, masters of none? Changes to the marketplace are always welcome, and inevitable, but it can be easy to get caught up in the current craze and forget everything you’d learned before. And in a society with an increasingly short attention span, it’s easier than ever to fall into this trap.

Sometimes the best way to create a successful business is by marketing a consistent product from a staff of knowledgeable partners with years in one industry. Specialty stores that market to a specific niche – coffee shops, for example – often outlive stores that try to do a bit of everything, like sell everything from batteries and bacon to espresso and earplugs. And jumping on a trend just for the sake of  it can quickly oversaturate the market – the recent gourmet burger trend comes to mind.

Nanotechnology is an exciting prospect, and to be sure many printing companies will stop what they’re doing to get a piece of the new devices. But that will also require a lot of time and money spent learning the new process and perfecting a new craft. It might also lead to a lot of failures and a lot of loss along the way. Vibrant Graphics has always lived on the cutting edge, not the bleeding edge, and we’ll keep an eye on nanotechnology over the next few months. In the meantime, we’ll keep perfecting our own digital printing craft, which we’re still learning new things about each day. We’ve established a solid customer base through our timely, consistent services, and we’ll innovate for the sake of improvement, not solely for the sake of innovating.

It’s easy to feel successful by hitching your wagon to the latest and greatest technology. It’s a lot harder to actually be successful, and that takes years of patience and determination. We’re proud of our work at Vibrant, and if we can continue to innovate in our current craft, then we’ll quietly keep on giving our customers brilliant results – outside of the spotlight.

We’d like to hear from you – is it important to stay on top of new trends, no matter what? Or is there more value in evaluating the marketplace and your customers’ needs before taking the leap?

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Filed under Digital Printing, New Technology, Vibrant Graphics

What’s In a Code?

A Quick Response (QR) Code is a two-dimensional barcode that can be scanned with a smartphone. They have exploded onto the digital scene and become one of the biggest trends of 2010. Not only are the small black and white squares easy to use they are easy to create, allowing just about anyone to claim their identity through a code. More and More businesses and advertisers are using the new trend as a way to connect their audience to a landing page (the page that appears after someone scans the code) and instantly offer more information than what can fit on a product label or in an Ad.

To read the code, download a barcode reader app on your smartphone. Next, point your camera phone toward the code and it will instantly connect you to a landing page. It’s that easy! If you are looking to create a QR code, there are websites that will do it for you, such as createqrcode.appspot.com. Once you have created the code, right-click and save it to your computer. Then insert it into any document just like you would any image. Once the code is made you can resize the image, but it must remain square. Also, be sure not to crop away the white boarder. It is needed to be recognized as a code by a smartphone. Make sure the code stays black and white. Print it on either white paper or any paper that is light enough to contrast with the black square. It is a good idea to test a code you create with your own smartphone just to be sure it works properly.

Are you still wondering what all the hype is about?

Ways to use QR Codes on your product label:
– Discount Coupons
– Product give-a-ways
– Contest awards
– Upcoming events you are involved in
– Link to a menu
– Link to a website
– Link to recipes or serving suggestions
– Link to an online owner’s manual
– Product details
– Link to a video

Imagine you are having your in-laws over for dinner. You go to the grocery store to start picking up what you need. Steak is on the menu. As you head towards the meat department and browse the different options you notice a QR Code on the packaging of one of the steaks. You pull out your phone and scan the code. It immediately takes you to a list of wines that are recommended for pairing with that steak. You pick up the wine and your dinner is a great success. Your in-laws are impressed with how well your choice of wine goes with the meal. You accept the compliment…they don’t ever have to know!

QR Codes are a great fit for product labels. They are expected to gain even more momentum in 2011. Don’t get left behind! Create your QR Code today and start offering more information and incentives to your customers.

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From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg

Gutenberg from: stevenfama.blogspot.com

As I watch my 80-year-old grandmother attempt to figure out how a wireless computer ‘mouse’ is relevant to the workings of a computer, I wonder if a complete shift to the digital landscape is truly plausible.  A while back, I researched how students in Milwaukee, Wisconsin choose to keep themselves updated on worldly news.  A shocking 80% of students claimed that the most informative outlet was the good ‘old’ newspaper.  According to a study completed by OnCampus Research, 74% of US college students still prefer to use a printed textbook while taking a class(http://printinthemix.com/fastfacts/show/348, 2010). 

This is a highly significant in the current digital climate; with today’s MTV culture having an attention span of three seconds or less, this may prove that people still want credible, well told stories (instead of a Tweeted update).  The question is: will people choose information over visuals?   The four reasons listed below confirm PEOPLE STILL LIKE PRINT!

1)  Major paper-based publications have seen steady business

According to Vanity Fair Publications, people do choose quality content over iconic visuals.  “[Vanity Fair] print circulation (both newsstands and subscriptions) is emphatically up at a time when everyone tells us it is supposed to be down.”  Consumers may appreciate the tangible aspect of the information, or the fact that many articles written in print are less biased as those on the web (which, let’s face it, many exposed articles tend to be highly opinioned and sometimes fabricated).

In a 2006 study conducted by the Direct Marketing Assocition (DMA), the DMA found that when it came time to generate orders, 60% of orders came from printed catalogs, 24% by retail settings, and only 9% of orders were obtained using the internet. (http://www.artboxcreative.com/why-print.htm, 2010).  This may be proof that tangibility can result in further brand recognition.  For instance, if you have gotten a magazine, chances are there may be a sale or coupon insert that you may hold onto.  Having something like this in your hand is easier than trying to remember to print out the coupon and travel to said store.

 2)  Digital gate-keepers are not always credible.

www.wikipedia.com  is an example of this – would you take a piece of information from Wikipedia and site this as expert advice in a research paper (when the article could very well have been written by a 12-year-old boy)?  Probably not.

 There might be a link between education and the computer, but does the digital revolution guarantee excellence in learning? According to Artbox Creative research (2010), “B-to-B magazines were viewed by prospects as trustworthy and objective, websites were seen as the place where they received timely information, and trade shows were viewed as the place for interactions and to improve their awareness of alternatives.” People do still find value in print.

 3)  There are digital disadvantages

The Kindle, for instance, is a fairly new product on the market and allows one to download books for free, from the public domain.  Printing Industry guru, Frank Romano, said, “It is a mistake to assume that electronic content will eventually replace books.”  Like Napster, Kindle faces several challenges – these works that are now able to be downloaded for free are sure to become protected instead of being openly shared.  In addition to protected resources, many universities such as Syracuse and the University of Wisconsin-Madison are discontinuing use due to complaints from organizations that advocate for the blind.

 As the costs of digitalization decreases, there becomes less of a ‘digital divide’ and more people have access to various learning platforms.  However, as many consumers are able to use social media outlets to expose relevant information. Mitchel Resnick of The Massachusetts’s Institute of Technology understands that there is a difference between having access to online forums and being fluent in online applications.  Resnick compares online fluency to language fluency: can you say a couple of words in German, or do you REALLY know the language?    

4)  Print + digital = lasting impressions

It is difficult to have a ‘stickiness effect’ with just online advertising.  With digital news being oversaturated, it is simple to dismiss advertisements and stories.  With print, there is a higher ROI since many magazines are distributed over and over.  For example, if you are in a doctor’s office and are waiting over 20 minutes for an appointment, you will most likely take a look at a magazine nearby.  That person might take the magazine home, and pass it on to their friend, and so on.  Sure, this person might be able to send a link to somebody, but not everybody opens every email with the high amount of spam.  Print is more personal, and not an attack on your inbox.  Print is lasting.

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Filed under Digital Media, Digital Printing, New Technology, Vibrant Graphics

A Brief List of Do’s and Don’ts for Printers in the Twitterverse

Image courtesy of Rob Cottingham

By now, you may have finally given in to those pesky Twitterers, who excel at condensing their lives into 140 character status updates. You may have also realized that Twitter isn’t quite as egocentric as you thought, with a good bit of news and useful information flying around, as well as the token “Here’s what I’m eating for lunch” status updates. And maybe you’ve even started to build up a following on Twitter to read the posts you’ve composed, and you’re feeling pretty good about starting off. In the printing industry, working effectively on Twitter and reaching your target audience can be tricky. Unless you serve the average consumer, you might find that most of your customers don’t use this service. Twitter is still a pretty new site, having not really caught on until a couple of years ago, and it’s still dominated by the “social media gurus,” the media, and random teens who love tweeting about Justin Bieber. If those aren’t your customers, then it may seem difficult to find others to connect with, and compose meaningful updates. However, it can be done, and there are printing companies successfully using Twitter to share information about the company and the industry at large. You just have to know where to find them. And of course, since I already mentioned that the media loves Twitter, this site can be a great way to push your newsworthy topics directly to their attention, especially if you’ve befriended the correct contacts and already follow them. You can win a lot of free press and publicity without too much effort. Here’s a list of some other ways to use (and avoid using) Twitter.

Do: Give us beyond surface level information about your company. Do you have a big project you’re working on? A new product rolling out? A fantastic partnership that you’ve just solidified? We want to hear about it! Of course, not everything can be shared freely, but Twitter is an excellent tool for providing your followers with daily news briefs about the latest and greatest at your company, ensuring that your daily work doesn’t go unnoticed.

Don’t: Talk about yourself all the time. Maybe Twitter was originally used for you to tell us all about you…but that’s changed. Today, most people on Twitter expect you to provide useful and entertaining content first and foremost, and they will probably get annoyed if that content is always about you and how awesome you are. Be sure to keep up-to-date on industry news and freely share it with your followers, and make good use of the re-tweet (RT) button to publicize your followers’ content — they’ll thank you for it.

Do: Connect with your customers. If you do find that one of more of your customers are on Twitter, by all means, connect with them! Be sure to follow them and send them a personal message that shows your excitement about connecting in another venue. Pay attention to their status updates and re-post them — especially if it’s good news, or information about a meaningful cause. This is a great way to get closer to your customers and show that you care about them beyond the sale.

Don’t: Only talk to your customers. Twitter is full of potential customers and the aforementioned media and industry experts who might not even know you exist. Be sure to follow some of them and start conversations with them as well…again, the RT button can be your best friend. You can also speak directly to them, commenting on any of their statuses and adding your opinion to anything they’ve already posted. It’s a good way to bring your company directly to their attention, and they might find your input so thought-provoking that they poke around to learn more about you and your company.

Do: Establish your company as a “go-to” source for expert knowledge in your field. Search for printing related questions that you can answer on Twitter (hint: you don’t have to follow someone to respond to a post). Provide useful facts about the advantages of your method, and work to debunk techie jargon that may keep the average Joe befuddled about what your company really does. Try to find great news in your field and post it first — others will RT it, which will spread your content and your name.

Don’t: Worry that Twitter won’t do anything for you because you don’t have anything to say. Everyone has something to say, and it may benefit you to take notes at the office each day about projects that the group is working on, or goals for the week. This can spawn useful content about the latest and greatest at your company, which will show your followers that you’re always up to something new. Even if there’s nothing new going on, use that Twitter time to connect with your followers, join conversations, and seek out questions to answer. This time is well-spent both in establishing your expertise and in demonstrating that you’re interested in what others have to contribute.

Do: Have fun with it! Twitter can be very valuable for your business, but you don’t want to make all of your posts straight-laced and business focused. Use some of your updates to show your personality, whether you’re commenting on that news story about the giant cat, complimenting a customer on a new profile picture, or sharing a funny joke or picture (on the appropriate side, of course). Social media is just that — social — and the fun-loving people are usually those to draw a crowd.

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QR Codes and the Digital Revolution

QR Code

Barcode labels aren’t what they used to be. Imagine picking up a case of your favorite soda at the store. On your way home, you notice that there’s a barcode prominently placed on the side of the case, with a message encouraging you to scan it for more details. You pull out your smart phone and download a free digital barcode reader, using it to scan the code on the case. A webpage pops up on your phone displaying a video about how the soda was made, coupons for your next purchase, and a link to enter a contest to win free soda for life. Whether you know it or not, you’ve just taken part in one of the new biggest trends in the digital revolution, known as QR codes. They’ve already caught on big overseas, and they’re slowly starting to sweep the nation in 2010.

In the early nineties, before even the Internet had caught on, Vibrant Graphics started out as a branch of OnCourse Information Services, a document management company. OnCourse needed to keep medical records organized for a variety of organizations, and started printing simple barcode labels on a tabletop printer to aid in the process. When scanned, these barcode labels provided unique data that kept files identifiable and in order. The service grew so popular that OnCourse had to buy more printers to keep up with the demand, and eventually the entire printing division split off and became Express Labels. Barcode labels had grown more complex, with room for variable images and unique sizes and shapes, and the company purchased two large barcode label printers that featured these printing capabilities. Although most people think digital printing is a recent innovation, barcode label printing is actually technically digital, because it operates without plates and can print variable images and data accurately and efficiently. Express Labels was a digital printer from the start, although the company eventually transitioned over to high speed, modern digital presses that offered greater flexibility, and renamed themselves as Vibrant Graphics to reflect the change. The barcode label business died down a bit, although Vibrant still processes these labels for a handful of regular customers.

Now with the advent of iPhones, Androids, and smart mobile technology, a new breed of barcode labels is roaring into prominence. Alysha Schertz from the Milwaukee BizTimes recently posted an article about how QR Codes are adding another dimension to traditional media. A QR code is a two-dimensional barcode, also known as a matrix code, that can store anything from traditional tracking data to website URL’s. They originated in the tech mecca of Japan and have since caught on in many parts of Asia and Europe. The U.S. has been slower to catch on, only recently realizing the marketing potential of this inauspicious device. MillerCoors brewing, who’s better known for their mountain-centric TV ads than their love of social media, recently released a Colorado Native Lager that uses these codes in an innovative way. Each beer label features a “Snap Tag,” a variation of a QR code that doesn’t even require scanning. If the user snaps a picture of the tag with a mobile phone, then emails it to the phone number on the tag, the brand begins a conversation with the individual user with a series of emails featuring Colorado trivia and questions about hobbies and interests. These conversations are stored, and the brand can later send emails to the user that are targeted to his or her interests, featuring special offers and promotions. It sounds a bit creepy, but MillerCoors is confident it will pay off, and it’s a whole new form of product interaction.

QR codes aren’t strictly the domain of billion dollar brands – anyone can take advantage of this new technology. Several websites offer free QR codes that you can download, customize with information, and use on anything from birthday cards to photographs. Once your friend scans the code on a card, for example, he or she might be redirected to a YouTube video of you with a personal happy birthday message. For printing and marketing companies, who have struggled with moving away from traditional media into the online marketplace, the possibilities are endless. Here at Vibrant Graphics, we’ve made note of this and we’re looking for ways to implement these innovative code into future marketing collateral. Let’s face it – a simple postcard only goes so far anymore, but when it’s tagged to something interactive, you can take personalized messages to a whole new dimension. QR codes are definitely part of the digital revolution, and as a digital printing company, we’re equipped to harness the power of this technology. It will be interesting to see how long it takes before other companies start to take notice.

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