In the competitive market we live in today, every business should be looking for new ways to maintain and grow their business. It helps if new projects are aligned with your core business and, even better, if they can be targeted at an existing customer base. Retaining or growing business with an existing customer is always much easier and more successful than entering completely new markets.
The ChromaLuxe and Unisub range of products provide one great way of doing this; and one with nice margins and ease of use.
Universal Woods produce ChromaLuxe which is a range of dye sublimation coated panels. They are available on aluminium sheets, MDF panels and hardboard. Images, photos and graphics can be easily transferred to the panels. The result is super high quality images on a very durable tough surface which is scratch, fire and moisture resistant.
Unisub is essentially a very similar product, also from Universal Woods, but aimed firmly at the gift market with items such as clocks, trays, plaques, coasters and table mats, key rings and luggage tags. Basically smaller sizes that only need an A4 or A3 printer and similar sized heat press.
Production of both ChromaLuxe and Unisub products requires a dye sublimation printer (with inks and paper, of course) and a flat bed heat press. A basic system capable of printing up to A3 will leave change from €2,000. A full size system capable of printing up to 1.2m x 2.4m can cost over €50,000. But a Midi sized system capable of printing up to 75x110cm will cost a more modest €15,000. Such a system is great for printing large panels but can also produce tiny items like dog tags! Remember that because it is a dye sublimation process, the printer and press can also be used for printing on textiles. With typical sales pricing the Return on Investment can often be only a few months with a very modest print production of 3 or 4 prints per week.
But what is the market for these products? Well, we always say that “your imagination is the limit”. Photo prints is the obvious and main use, but we now see more and more creative adaptations. One of our largest clients is making only table tops, predominantly for the café and bar market – it’s a great promotional tool. Another huge client specializes in whiteboard for hospitals, schools and corporate use. Whiteboard pens can be used on ALL our products without creating any damage. Should someone accidentally use a permanent marker (we’ve all seen it happen!) it can be quickly cleaned off with some acetone or similar cleaning product. Even better, it does not leave any shadow mark.
Other potential uses are Indoor signage – you could use our clear aluminium as an alternative to anodized plates. Other uses are for Serial number plates for equipment, machinery plates, Advertising A-boards etc.
So now look at your customer base and think about what could be done. Some great examples – Spas, hotels, golf clubs (tee off boards, membership bag tags), sports clubs, football clubs (famous clubs could have a range of gift items), corporate wall décor and signage, manufacturing (safety panels). Museums love the product as it can be touched by kids and cleaned easily.
The list is endless.
Let’s have a quick look at the photo market. For many years all our photos were taken on film and then produced as prints using a chemical process. As we know digital photography has now replaced film almost totally. But photo prints from our digital images made with photo chemicals are still very popular and provide a very high quality result. Photo labs offering online prints at 10×15 cm and 13×18 cm sizes still do huge business. At the high end, large format prints are often made with the chemical process and then mounted on Dibond or behind acrylic.
However, at the same time over the last 15 years, we see a lot of inkjet printing onto art papers, canvas, banners etc. The quality has improved dramatically over the years, but in terms of quality photo chemical based papers are still the benchmark.
Where does dye-sublimation fit into this? First of all do not get confused with those little dye-sub printers used in many photo kiosks that produce 10×15 cm prints using RGB/CMY coloured films. Real Dye-sublimation is the process where prints are made onto a paper using special sublimation inks. The ink is then transferred to a coated material in a heat press using high pressure and high heat. The substrate can be a textile or a hard substrate like ChromaLuxe and Unisub. Hard substrates include aluminium, MDF, hardboard and FRP.
So how does a ChromaLuxe print compare with our benchmark of silver based photo paper going through a chemical process. In terms of colour gamut (the range of colours that can be printed), a ChromaLuxe print very closely matches the photo paper and is much better than prints from an inkjet flatbed printer. As the inks are infused into a multi-layer coating on the ChromaLuxe, there is an impression of 3 dimensions and the colours truly ‘pop’. But a very big advantage is that the surface is incredibly durable – tough and long lasting. Firstly, with a surface rather like glass, it is extremely scratch resistant unlike papers and it can even be cleaned with powerful industrial cleaners. Secondly, testing by the Rochester Institute of Technology has shown that it has over twice the print life of the very best photo paper when exposed to Xenon Arc light fade tests.
So as I said earlier, your imagination is the limit! With sublimation you can open up new profitable markets which can help you compete and grow a profitable business in these difficult times.
Charles Henniker-Heaton has over 30 years experience in the imaging industry, first at Durst and then at Fujifilm as a senior manager involved in retail photo, chemicals and since 2006 as European Marketing Manager for large format printing. He joined ChromaLuxe EMEA in 2014 in charge of European Business Development for large format.