GRAPHICS: Feast for the eyes - Attention-grabbing images are becoming much easier to produce thanks to new-fangled print processes Lauretta Roberts looks at ways of making a visual impact without breaking the bank.

When Photobition UK Graphics hoisted a set of lenticular graphics panels in the window of world-famous store Selfridges on London's Oxford Street earlier this year, seven out of ten passers-by stopped to take a look. This will have had a lot to do with the fact that the images showed a stunning model opening her mac to reveal her underwear. But had the images been less suggestive they would probably still have caused a fairly high percentage of shoppers to stop in their tracks. Because no-one expects apparently static images to move.

When Photobition UK Graphics hoisted a set of lenticular graphics panels in the window of world-famous store Selfridges on London's Oxford Street earlier this year, seven out of ten passers-by stopped to take a look. This will have had a lot to do with the fact that the images showed a stunning model opening her mac to reveal her underwear. But had the images been less suggestive they would probably still have caused a fairly high percentage of shoppers to stop in their tracks. Because no-one expects apparently static images to move.



Double-take images

Lenticular images are cropping up everywhere - posters, bus sides, store windows and exhibition display graphics. The reason is simple says Photobition UK Graphics marketing manager Rob Kelly: 'The recognition of a stand or product is a lot higher than with a static image. It makes you stop, look, go back and look again.' And while that's happening, stand personnel will have more of a chance of engaging the passer-by in conversation and perhaps even making a sale.

The concept behind lenticular images is simple, although the technology required to produce them is more complex. Two (sometimes more) interlaced images are printed on to a substrate in micron-thin strips, which is then covered with a plastic lens that only allows you to see one image at a time - as you move so does the image. There are a number of versions of lenticular graphics of which flip is the most popular (see box, over).

Although more of an investment than perhaps standard four-colour graphics, lenticular images can act as a cheap alternative to audio-visual devices, such as video screens reckons Kelly.

'The moving image has been used so much that it has become just wallpaper,' he says.

Unsurprisingly, Photobition is just one of a number of large-format graphics firms dabbling in this process. Others include Riot of Colour, Qualitech, Service Point Skyline and St Michael's Press.



Stop the traffic

But for graphics to be traffic-stopping they don't have to move. Sometimes plain old big does the trick, and with digital printing press manufacturers producing larger and larger machines exhibitors can produce bigger and bigger graphics.

Some printing machines, from suppliers such as Vutek, can produce images up to 5m wide and as long as you want them to be. If you really felt like making a big splash at an event you could in theory wrap the entire venue in your graphics.

Reading-based large-format specialist VGL wrapped the Nationale-Nederlanden skyscraper in Amsterdam with a 10,000 sq m graphic for Nike during the Euro 2000 football championship - a feat for which it won the Innovative Printer of the Year Award 2000 from Marketing Event's sister title PrintWeek last month.



Banner business

However, it's likely that most exhibitors' budgets and space will be more modest. For them the NEC in Birmingham has come up with a large-format solution. Exhibitors, no matter how big or small their actual stand is, can book a 5m by 10m 'Mega Banner' to enhance their presence. The banners hang in the atrium that runs alongside halls 6-20. The banners cost pounds 10,000 to book but the impact they have is likely to be very high, as the NEC restricts the numbers.

'We could have 20 in there but that would be overkill, so we like to keep it to about four,' says David Mallett of NEC Media. NEC uses Luton-based large-format graphic specialist Macro Art to produce the banners on its behalf, although exhibitors are welcome to use their own supplier if they prefer.

Nick Swallow, communications director at designer Furneaux Stewart, reckons bright colour or, controversially, no graphics at all can be just as effective at grabbing visitors' attention. At the Birmingham Motor Show last month Furneaux Stewart decided to let the product do the speaking for its client, prestige car manufacturer, Bentley. For the show the London design group produced a wedge-shaped structure and instead of sticking graphics on it, stuck on the cars themselves. 'The product is the grabber,' says Swallow.

But for Citroen with which Furneaux Stewart works on a number of regional motor shows, the designer opts for graphics incorporating very bright colours. 'When you consider the two marques that's entirely appropriate,' Swallow says.



Jostling for attention

And you should consider the marque and the message before you think about what kind of graphics to go for, says Swallow.

'If you don't start with a message you're just jostling for attention,' he says. 'Attention-grabbing can get in the way of what you're trying to say and it can be just an excuse for designers' laziness.'

Some special graphic effects also require a great deal of thought about positioning and lighting. Photobition's Kelly is a big fan of Voil, which can be best described as a chiffon-scarf type material which can be used to make banners. The nice thing about it is that it has 'two planes of reference', says Kelly.

'You can focus on the image that's printed on the banner and you can look through it at what's behind,' he says. 'It gives an atmospheric feel but it has to be thought about carefully with lighting in front and behind.' This look is proving popular with fashion clients, Kelly adds.



Over and over

Until not too long ago printing on to Voil wasn't easy, or at least the image didn't last too well. New print technology means that the molecules in the fabric are stained (or dye sublimated) as opposed to an image being printed on to the surface. This means that the printed image doesn't crack when the banner is folded and you can wash it and use it again and again.

Advances in technology mean that other previously tricky-to-handle, but eye-catching, substrates can now be handled with ease. There's a growing trend for metallics which has been noted by both Photobition and Electro Tech Colour (ETC). 'Metallic was quite difficult to do before as we didn't have the substrates. You used to have to put vinyl on top of the foil or use screen-printing, which is limiting and expensive,' says Kelly, whose company recently used this process to great effect on a stand for Ford's new concept car the Think. Graphic specialists are generally agreed that metallic substrates tend to work best with mono (black and white) or duotone (black plus one other colour) images.

ETC has just produced a set of graphics using solid black on a mirror-finish foil for a European show.

'It looks stunning,' says ETC managing director Christopher Stewart.

Clear substrates are also a big hit. ETC has also just produced a stand for drinks giant Diageo for the Duty Free show, which involved full-colour printing on to a clear PVC film. The film was then mounted on to perspex sheets and crafted into cubes.

Demand for printing on to more and more varied surfaces has led ETC to make further investment in new digital printers that can handle them.

The central London firm is due to take delivery of the UK's first Novajet 850I ink-jet printer from supplier Ilford. The machine has a width of 80in and can print in up to eight colours. Ilford inks have a 20-year lifespan.

ETC already houses machines in various configurations which have been able to handle every challenge designers have thrown at them. 'We haven't been defeated yet,' boasts Stewart.



LENTICULAR OPTIONS

Flip: interlaced images that enable viewers to switch back and forth between two or more images

Zoom: Combines multiple sizes of the same image, creating a zoom effect

Morph: Uses computer animation to create an image that appears to metamorphose into another

3D Images: Three-dimensional printing that creates a layer of images giving a 3D effect.




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