How the latest digital printing technology is helping sign shops thrive

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The new digital printers offer faster print speeds and faster drying times to help Westmount Signs produce large projects efficiently.

By Ginny Mumm

Tim Bezner, owner of Westmount Signs in Waterloo, Ontario, is excited about the future of printing. Westmount has been around since 2004, and even with the changes brought on by the pandemic, he notes, “I’m still amazed at how many signs are popping up all around us. The future looks bright for our industry.

He has good reason to be optimistic. According to a recent report by Markets and Markets, the global large format printer market is expected to grow from US$8.8 billion in 2021 to US$11.4 billion in 2026. The projected increase is attributed in part to recent advances in technology in digital printing equipment that is helping print shops meet the growing demands of advertising and decoration.

We spoke with Tim and with Amanda Juneau, co-owner of a small but rapidly growing O’Hare Sign Company in Edmonton, Alberta, about how advances in digital printing technology are helping their stores thrive, even in an uncertain economy.

How did you start your business?

Tim Bezner (TB): Westmount was founded as a general partnership in 2004 in Waterloo, Ontario, and in 2008 I bought out my partner. We started in a small 121 m² (1300 square foot) shop in a mall next to a Jiffy Lube. We grew the business and in 2008 we needed to expand our current location by 595 m² (6400 sq ft). In 2018, we added a second location, moving our paper-based digital printing equipment to a 167 m² (1800 sq ft) space in Kitchener, Ontario. As a natural complement to our sign manufacturing, we purchased Dunbar Electric to add Westmount Electrical Services to our portfolio.

Amanda Juneau (AJ): O’Hare Sign started in 1983 when two friends got together to make laptops. The company then branched out into making signs with hand-painted graphics and custom signs. My business partner, Darrell Hastey, had been with O’Hare for 23 years. He left for a few years and came back. I had worked at O’Hare for 10 years and in 2019 we decided to buy the business.

New large format digital printers offer a wide color gamut, enabling stunning color prints like these.

Tell us about your store today.

VG: We have 15 full-time employees on the sign and print side of the business, as well as two employees at Westmount Electrical. Our original showroom has been absorbed into production space over the years and now accommodates four workstations for our designers. The meeting room has also been converted into a sales office. The Waterloo workshop has three spaces for vehicles; however, we pack oversized vehicles at the Kitchener location due to the larger bay size available in this building.

We keep pace with our large format digital print production with two Roland DG TrueVIS VG2 large format printer/cutter. We have plotters, assembly tables, CNC routers, CNC channel letter benders, laser engraver, laser cutters and three aerial work platforms including a crane. We also have a wide variety of presses and commercial printing machines.

A J: Although O’Hare has always been in the same place, over the years our technology has evolved. O’Hare Sign is now fully equipped with large format printers, laminators, plotters and full design stations. Our layout includes a receiving area, a production and manufacturing area, and a spacious vehicle bay for applying graphics to vehicles up to 12m (40ft) long. We also have approximately 2500 square feet (232 m²) in a strip mall, with our storefront facing two busy Edmonton streets.

What industries do you serve?

VG: We are not focusing on any particular market, however, one bright spot during the pandemic has been the construction industry and all the development that has happened in the region. High tech has also been busy with many robotics and tech companies running us with graphics for their dashboards and devices. Finally, while the pandemic has led to many restaurant closures, we have recently seen renewed growth in the hospitality sector, especially restaurants. We have clients across Canada and have sent projects as far away as Mexico City for local installation. The majority of our clients are business owners, but we take the same care with printing for a young couple’s wedding as we do with a corporate client’s branding package. Our individual in-person service seems to be a differentiator in the community. We work hard to build strong relationships, and in 2020 Westmount Signs was nominated by the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce for Community Builder of the Year.

A J: Our clients range from walk-in customers who want a unique sign or design to medium to large businesses with complete signage packages. We do many fleet graphics and owner/operator vehicle wraps, as well as signage for small businesses and real estate contractors. Our customers are primarily local to Edmonton and surrounding areas, but we have a number of customers that print and ship across the province. We even have clients in other cities who only deal with us, so we make sure their projects are ready when they’re back in town.

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