Who continues to offer the best value for high quality, large scale digital printing solutions? New Mexico Big Prints that's who.

505-345-1600
5659-C JEFFERSON NE ALBUQUERQUE, NM 87109

"Be creative....be flexible...that's what sets us apart from our competition."

Big Prints For All Purposes: Technology Transforms
Large-Format Printer
Excerpt from Electronic Publishing Magazine, June 2005

"It gives us the flexibility to do high quality photographic work faster than ever before." - John Hanson, Owner/operator of New Mexico Big Prints.

Over the course of 20 years in the large-format printing business, John Hanson has seen a lot: the birth and evolution of large-format technology, business highs and lows, and competitors come and go. He has scaled back his own company, New Mexico Big Prints, since 9/11 to create a leaner enterprise that's better suited to the cyclical nature of the print business. But it's no reflection of his appetite for the business. He still loves the challenge when a customer walks through the front door with a project no one else in town can handle.

"Because we're known for quick turnaround and pulling rabbits out of the hat, you never know what's going to walk through the door," he says. "Because of that, I still look forward to going to work every day."

A scientist preparing to do a presentation in Canada found out at the last minute that he would be unable to use his PowerPoint presentation. So he called around town to find out who could provide an alternative at the last minute. New Mexico Big Prints was the answer. He walked through the front door with his laptop, popped out a CD and gave it to Hanson. Thirty minutes later, he left with the entire presentation on a 60 x 48-inch poster. "It was a small job, but our niche these days isn't always handling big jobs for big clients; it's also being able to take care of anyone, right now," Hanson says.

His secret weapon for jobs requiring fast turnaround is the newest tool in his arsenal: an Encad NovaJet 1000i from the Kodak Graphic Communications Systems group. "It prints up to six times faster than our other printers, and at the speed we use most often, at a higher quality level," Hanson explains. "It gives us the flexibility to do high quality photographic work faster than ever before." The 60-inch printer cranked out the scientist's poster in 10 minutes.

Another advantage of the NovaJet 1000i printer is drying speed and durability of the finished product. "With Kodak Premium Rapid-Dry Photographic Glossy Paper (he uses only Kodak media), the ink dries instantly onto the paper with a gloss finish, which is what most clients want on posters," Hanson notes. "And the Encad Quantum ink has such a long life, we're finding we just don't need to laminate a lot of projects."

Posters survive just fine in indoor environments, he notes. So he has eliminated lamination on many projects, further improving turnaround and allowing him to be more competitive. "It saves hours of production time and cuts our costs, so we share the savings with customers," Hanson says.

We've all seen the sign that promises, "You can have it quick, fast, or good. Pick any two." But with the NovaJet 1000i, Hanson says, you get all three. That, he says, is going to put him in a whole new market niche. Exactly what the niche might be, Hanson won't say. But it's hard to imagine one he hasn't played in.

From Grocery Stores to Museums

When he first started the business in 1985, he printed grocery store signage in two colors and became so good at it that he was supplying stores throughout the southwest. When the stores begged him for color, he began doing silkscreen and later, electrostatic printing. "It was slow and expensive," he recalls. Throughput on the electrostatic machine was about a half-inch per second, and it had to do four passes. "So you effectively got 1/16 inch per second of throughput."

Despite the low speed, he stuck with electrostatic printing. "The first generation of inkjet printers had a terrible time controlling color fidelity," he recalls. "And the ink would fade so fast - literally in minutes under the sun - because it was basically dye for Easter eggs."

But by the third Digital Printing Industry trade show he attended, inkjet had matured. Quality had improved, and prices had come down. He bought his first Encad printer - a NovaJet Pro 50 - and has stuck with the brand ever since. In fact, when a company that was marketing the Pro 50 under its own name decided to liquidate its inventory, Hanson bought the lot of them.

"Encad printers are highly reliable, easy to maintain and even to overhaul," he says. "I have a NovaJet Pro 50 that I've rebuilt several times. I've only had to have an Encad technician come here once in the past nine years."

Over the years, his business grew and expanded beyond supermarkets. Museums and government clients became prime customers, including Los Alamos National Laboratory and its Bradbury National Science Museum. He courted national customers and began doing high-value trade show displays.

It was the "go-go" '90s. Business boomed.

Then came 9/11. The following day, Hanson got five calls from trade show clients cancelling their orders. Other work dried up, too. And like many in the industry, he peered over the abyss: he had major lease payments to make and very little work in house to pay them. The business lost years of accumulated earnings, but managed to survive the downturn.

A New Formula for Long-Term Survival

Hanson scaled back dramatically. He reduced his staff, cut back on production space, and adopted a pay-as-you-go philosophy for new equipment.

"It pays to be small and fiscally conservative in this business," he says. That approach insulates him from the cyclical nature of the large-format business. Business drops off in mid-December and rarely picks up until sometime in February. So competitors with huge lease payments go through a cash flow crunch for more than two months. Hanson watches each year as competitors wither and die over the winter. Then new shops open in late summer.

Part of the reason for the newcomers, he notes, is the declining cost of getting into the business. "A decade ago, it cost a quarter to a half-million dollars to get into large-format printing," he notes. "Now $10,000 will do it. And you're getting a better printer than ever."

The future of large-format printing, he predicts, will parallel desktop publishing. Large service bureaus will give way to more in-house capabilities. "The future is that there's going to be a large-format printer in every business of any size," he predicts. "Even a small retailer who comes to me for signage today will put in his own large-format printing operation."

Being Creative

So where does that leave Hanson and New Mexico Big Prints? Being creative. Solving problems for customers, rather than just printing signs. Years ago, a Mexican supermarket chain scoured the southwest looking for someone who would print banners on butcher paper, because that's what independent Mexicans had always used. Other printers just laughed when they heard that request. Hanson thought for a second, and reasoned that the matte paper he used would look the same. "I just told them, 'Don't wrap any meat in it.'"

On the day we spoke, he was working on a sign for a local church. He printed the church's name and schedule of services on Kodak adhesive backed vinyl, overcoated it with a UV-resistant laminate, and applied the image to DiBond, an aluminum sandwich with expanded PVC in the center. That part of the sign will be permanently mounted to the building's exterior. Each month, Hanson will also print a banner that hangs from the sign promoting programs that change. He'll print those on canvas or some other banner material.

Among other projects he's working on: tabletop display stands, museum displays printed on clear acrylic, and rugs. "We've decided it's best to be flexible about new possibilities. When people come to us and ask us to print on rugs or design something special, we say, 'Sure.' Then we sit down and figure out how to do it."

Most of his business these days is for designers, ad agencies and other sign shops, on a wholesale basis. He also sells directly to Pepsi, various museums and area casinos (the real growth industry in greater Albuquerque), and does full vehicle wraps. Customers provide him with files in QuarkXpress, Adobe Freehand, InDesign and Illustrator, or other major graphics applications. He allows the designers to be very hands-on, tweaking color at the last minute.

"They like to be able to come in, make a proof print, change it, and maybe do fine color adjustments," Hanson notes. That's especially true if a single graphic is being output to multiple media - a banner material, various types of cloth, polycarbonate backlit media, and photographic media - as is often the case when he does work for a local casino.

He RIPs the files using Onyx ProductionHouse software, running several machines from a single PC workstation. "I've used Onyx from the start. It used to be that you would stack up jobs at the RIP and they would go through one at a time," Hanson notes. "Now the software is so fast, it RIPs two at a time. And for some customers, speed is everything."

The key, Hanson says, is being able to give every customer what he or she wants. "That's why we've survived in this business. And we plan to stick around because every day is a new challenge. Like I said, you never know who's going to walk in the door."