Tools of the (Graphics) Trade

For any vinyl or vehicle graphics company to succeed, there are certain tools, materials, and equipment that are absolutely essential. Most often, the first tool that every shop owner depends on is a simple squeegee.

For My Time Design and Associates of St. Augustine, Florida, their must-have tools and equipment not only include squeegees but also a few other mandatory items. For printing, they swear by their forty-six-inch Mutoh Falcon; for materials, ORACAL’s Orajet and Oraguard films and laminates have worked wonders; and for cutting, the sixty-inch Graphtec cutter and forty-inch Vinyl Express cutter get the job done.

As Owners Sharon and Ralph Bendix share, these tools and equipment—some old, some new—have been their best friends for the past sixteen years.

Today My Time Design produces virtually every type of signage except electric and sandblasted. The oldest city in the U.S., St. Augustine sets its signage regulations according to the historical society, which enforces strict codes to preserve the city’s historic architecture. The punishing Florida heat also restricts signage options, and Sharon and Ralph recommend PVC and MDO for their ability to weather the climate.

Among their many clients (including eight local cab companies, a local mall, museums, and cruise companies), My Time Design’s longest-standing project revolves around the fleet of buses for the Council on Aging (COA), which includes transportation for the elderly and the Sunshine Bus line. Since there is no public service in St. Augustine, residents utilize the bright yellow Sunshine Bus system, and seniors rely on the Council of Aging buses to make their way around the city.

In 1998, My Time Design began working with St. Johns County to paint the public bus service that they named The Sunshine Bus Company (now managed by the COA). My Time Design stepped in to help differentiate these buses, first painting them yellow to give them a cheery appeal.

When the company began working with the COA in 2000, an idea presented itself to Sharon and Ralph: The large white buses that served elderly riders had virtually empty space on all sides—prime real estate for ads that could generate income for the non-profit. In addition to applying the COA logo, the idea was to transform the sides of the buses into “rolling billboards,” a concept that has generated $12,000-$15,000 per year to help seniors in need—a boon to the community in an age of widespread government cuts.

My Time Design charges a one-time fee to print the vinyl ad and install it on the buses, which can be displayed anywhere from a month to a year. Ads are displayed on the curbside, rear panels, street sides, and access doors. “Since the buses run every day from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm, there’s continuous exposure to the community,” says Sharon. “My sales approach is to relay the fact that the price of an advertisement for one year is just about the same price as a full-page ad for one day in the newspaper.”

MyTime2Sharon also sells all the advertising for the bus line to local vendors. This results in a service that helps the community and brings in additional revenue to support the COA’s other efforts (Meals on Wheels and the senior center).

Currently there are about sixty buses on the road, with all the curbside and rear panels sold. To this day, My Time Design has worked on 125 buses in total.

With all that wrapping experience, Sharon and Ralph have learned that “less is more.” “Tell them who you are, what you do, and how you can be reached,” she says. “Make it attractive. You only have three to six seconds to get their attention. Basically the human eye is lazy—if there’s too much to read, it won’t be read.

“If it’s pretty or interesting, people will look at it. So make it quick and informative.”

When it comes to materials, My Time Design sticks with Oracal. History and their own testing of materials has shown them that the Florida sun can be brutal on color—especially red. “Many years ago, a red sign would be in the sun for just ten months and turn to orange,” says Ralph. “Oracal was one of the first companies to introduce a bright red that wouldn’t fade.”

In the past, laminates were also giving the company issues. Ralph and Sharon started seeing jobs returned with the laminate peeling. The couple realized they had to make sure that the printed vinyl and laminate were compatible. “It’s very important to put the right laminate over a product,” advises Ralph.

They’ve also discovered that, when it comes to inks, eco-solvent brands have improved tremendously. “We had to laminate because the vinyl was fading—especially the reds—whereas now the inks last longer,” says Ralph. “We still prefer to laminate everything that leaves the shop, because it’s easier to handle and we know the graphics will last longer [at least for another year].”

Before laminating however, the duo airs out the prints. “We air-dry them for twenty-four to thirty-six hours [depending on ink coverage] to allow for the escape of solvents [out-gassing],” says Sharon. “Living in Florida, even though our eco-solvent inks provide UV protection, we like the assurance the laminate gives.”

Sharon adds that they stick everything they can wet using application fluid (70/30 for inside application and 50/50 for an outside summer installation). “It gives you a smoother installation, and you get a second chance if you make a mistake—especially if a gust of wind comes by and you’re wrapping a bus,” she says.

She recommends squeegeeing all the fluid out of the vinyl from the center to the edge and not to force it. If little bubbles appear, they can be pin-pricked and released. Sharon and Ralph prefer felt squeegees for applying the vinyl graphics, and they typically start with an OSHEE felt squeegee and follow up with an Avery blue felt edge squeegee.

MyTime3“We also tape everything down,” says Sharon. “Tape is cheap, i.e., if the substrate moves, you can ruin the job in a split second when cutting or sticking it.”

One simple piece of advice for a well-organized, successful installation is to establish—and adhere to—a cleaning protocol. “We clean up between every single job and start over,” says Ralph. “It’s a great habit to get into. It really can mess you up, if you grab a bottle of alcohol instead of the application fluid and try to stick vinyl.

“And we clean, clean, clean the substrate with alcohol.”

Sharon adds that choosing quality material is a sound investment in the long run. “Skimping on quality may save a little money, but your customers won’t be happy in a year when their sign fades or falls apart or the vinyl peels,” she says.

Though they’re content with their current tools, materials, and equipment, My Time Design does have a few items on their wish list: “I would like to see the printable graphic film industry consider a green energy product that incorporates solar cell material that would return energy back to the vehicle or one that can absorb the energy from the sunlight during the day and make the film shine in the dark. I would also love to have a thin lenticular lens laminate that could be used on compound curves on an exterior vehicle,” says Sharon.

Working with their tried-and-true products has given My Time Design a reliable client base in their community, where networking and friendly relations go a long way. “I love when customers tell me it’s like I went into their head and pulled the idea right out and put it onto the sign,” says Sharon.

—Lori Shridhare

Photos courtesy of My Time Design.




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