ISA Sign Expo 2022: Back to the Future

For an independent B2B journalist like me, trade shows are a great place to have quick, face-to-face meetings with multiple sources and clients within a few short days. So I was delighted to attend he International Sign Expo 2022 held May 4-6 in Atlanta.

It was the first in-person trade show I had attended since October, 2019. Like Rip Van Winkle, I felt as if I was waking up from years of sleep to discover how much the world had changed. While everyone (me included) looked a bit older than the last time we met, most show floor booths and products seemed brand new.

Sign Expo was the largest in-person gathering of sign, graphics and visual communications professionals since the autumn of 2019. People liked being able to see, touch, and compare many of the future-focused innovations that exhibitors had announced but hadn’t yet demonstrated at an in-person trade show.

“The show floor was busy all three days – yes, all three days,” said Lori Anderson, ISA president and CEO. “More importantly, attendees came to do business.”

Observations

Here are some general impressions I gathered while wandering the show floor.

The audience was noticeably diverse. The show floor and educational sessions attracted young people who wanted to start their own businesses as well as older entrepreneurs who are considering selling the businesses they started 30 years ago.

ISA Sign Expo was a show for signmakers, sign printers, and sign painters. Everything a sign shop could possibly need to fabricate or print signs, brand experiences, musuem exhibits, or brand environments was on display.

While I expected to see digital signage exhibits, I was surpised to watch professional sign artists Kelsey Dalton and Andrew McClellan of Heart & Bone Signs hand painting a 15-foot tall mural promoting Sign Expo 2023 in Las Vegas.

Grand-format digital printers was first used to minimize the need to hand-paint or screen-print billboards, murals, storefronts, and ohter outdoor ads in the 1990s. In recent years, the craft of sign painting has enjoyed a a resurgence.

But ISA International Sign Expo 2022 was about a lot more than signs. The versatility of digital printing, cutting, and engraving equipment makes it easier for sign shops to add product lines such as custom apparel, awards, gifts, decor, or promotional products to their offerings. Many exhibitors showed different types and sizes of flatbed printers, direct-to-object printers, and sublimation systems for making promotional products.

Some booths, such as the Epilog Laser exhibit, featured educational materials to help entrepreneurs build new businesses with systems for engraving, cutting, or personalizing all types of products.

In the Epson booth, Tim Check suggested that the company’s Epson SureColor F170 dye-sublimation printer provides a low-cost way for sign shops and start-ups to learn more about the dye-sublimation printing process for items such as mousepads, mugs, and awards. Priced at $399, the F170 desktop printer outputs dye-sublimation inks onto 8.5 x 11 in. sheets of dye-sub transfer papers. For less than $300 you can buy a heat press that will transfer the printed designs to the item.

Booth designs seemed more creative. One booth featured a digital sign wrapped around a hip-high corner wall. The graphics alternated between a crackling flame and underwater scene. So the people standing in the booth behind the display looked like they were eiether on fire or up to their waist in an aquarium.

Many booths featured QR codes, either on their booth graphics or on the equipment being displayed. When I scanned the QR code on one piece of finishing equipment, it took me to a web page with technical deails about the machine and links to other equipment from the exhibitor. This meant I didn’t have to catch the attention of a booth worker who may or may not have known the answers to my questions.

In the OmniPrint booth, Victor Pena sat on a pedestal above a display screeen and live-streamed interviews and panel discussions that were conducted via Zoom. The sessions focusd on how to start and scale custom apparel businesses using either an Omniprint direct-to-garment (DTG) printer and/or a direct-to-film (DTF) system for making heat transfers.

It was fascinating to watch Pena moderate the discussions and field questions from members of OmniPrint’s Creator Community who watched the livestream. But I couldn’t help but think: “Why am I mesmerized by this in-booth Zoom presentation when I have been so eager to return to live trade shows?” It’s probably because OmniPrint 360 was an excellent example of how a creative marketer could get the best possible return from having a booth at an in-person trade show.

Manufacturers and distributors of adhesive vinyls drew crowds by conducting wrapping demonstrations and timed competitions in their booths.

Flatbed and hybrid printers were everywhere. More than 20 companies showed compact flatbeds, wide-format flatbeds, or hybrid flatbed/roll-feed UV printers.

Many models shown for the first time, including models introduced in early 2020 during the lead-up to the to drupa international expo that was scheduled for 2020 but cancelled due to COVID.

To fully illustrate their capabilities, the flatbed printers at Sign Expo were printing on dozens of different types and thicknesses of rigid and flexible materials.

For example, it’s one thing to read the spec sheet that shows that Roland the Roland VersaUV LEC2 S-Series UV flatbed printer can decorate items up to 7.87 inches high. But when you see the 64-in. UV LEC2 S-Series printer decorating batches of metal lunchboxes, it’s easy to understand why UV flatbed printers can be instrumental in expanding product lines.

Durst, which makes high-end, industrial digital printing and production systems for graphics, soft signage, packaging, labels, and ceramics, was at ISA Sign Expo for the first time in quite a while.

In addition to showing the Durst- PS350 mid-to-high productivity hybrid flatbed/roll printer, Durst helped Vanguard Digital Printing launch two new printers. Vangaurd announced the VK300D-HS (a higher-speed version of their VK300D) that can print up to 60 boards per hour and the VKH900-HS hybrid UV LED printer. The VKH900-HS combines the spped of the VK300D-HS flabed with capabilities of Vanguard’s VKR300-HS roll-to-roll model.

In 2020, Durst acquired a majority stake in Vanguard Digital Printing. Systems. At a Sign Expo press conference, executives from both companies explained the synergies that are strengthening the merged companies.

Vanguard was a 2015 start-up company that quickly made a name for itself with well-engineered, award-winning flatbed printers for entry-level and mid-level production. The acquisition gives the Italy-based Durst a stronger presence in U.S. markets and enables Vanguard to expand its sales in Europe. Smaller sign shops that start with Vanguard flatbed printers can upgrade to Durst printers as they grow.

Vanguard owners can also take advantage of Durst’s software-driven “pixel-to-output” workflow. Durst software includes the Lift MIS/ERP, the Durst Smart Shop web-to-print solution , Durst Workflow for prepress and production, and Durst Analytics for data and transparency.

Digital Direct-to-Film (DTF) systems offer sign shops a cost-effective way to produce decorated apparel. Unlike DTG (direct-to-garment) printers that work with a limited range of pre-treated cotton and cotton/poly shirts, a DTF system can print on non-treated, cotton, silk, polyester, denim, nylon, leather, 50/50 blends, and more.  

STS Inks demonstrated two modular DTF systems they developed with Mutoh, a manufacturer of wide format printers. One system uses a 24-inch Mutoh VJ-628D printer, the second is built around Mutoh’s 64-inch XPJ-1682D printer.

In the DTF process that STS Inks uses, the logos and other artwork are printed in reverse onto a single-side coated PET film that can withstand the higher temperature and pressures of a heat press. Then, the STS Automatic TPU Adhesive Powder Shaker applies a powder adhesive to all inked areas of the film. The shaker removes any remaining powdered adhesive from the non-inked areas. The powdered film is then placed in an STS Transfer Film Curing Oven where the adhesive powder gels with the ink.

The images transfers to the garment when a heat press fuses the adhesive-backed image to the garment.

Kingdom DTF, Reece Supply Company, OmniPrint, and Epson showed other methods for getting stated in DTF printing for garment decoration. For example, if you already own an OmniPrint DTG Freejet printer that works with the company’s GamutPlus or Direct Ink brand, you can buy a Freejet DTF starter kit that includes 100 sheets of film, adhesive powder, a powder funnel, application tray, and squeegee. At Sign Expo, OmniPrint showcased their OmniDTF printer and drying unit.

Adhesive materials were available to decorate almost any surface imaginable. At least 20 companies were promoting adhesive materials that could be used to produce temporary promotional graphics, permanent decor graphics, or digitally cut shapes for for garments and promotional products as well as decals, and labels.

Avery Graphic Solutions demonstrated their smart VELA window film for interior windows in offices, stores, hospitals, and other settings. The translucent film becomes clear when the electronic circuitry embedded in the material is switched on. When occupants of a glassed-in area want privacy, they can keep the film in translucent mode. When they want to open the room to more natural light, they can switch it to clear. In a retail setting, the clear windows used to display products can be converted into digital display screens for product promotions.

Systems for cutting and converting prints into products were in abundance. More than 30 companies were promoting digital routing, cutting, engaving, laminating, and other systems for converting printed materials into ready to use products. But specialty finishing systems were on the show floor too.

Lamina Systems showcased an inline folding, gluing, and taping machine for converting diecut, creased, or slotted materials into boxes, displays, and bags.

Colex Finishing, Inc. and Fotoba International demonstrated the Fotoba XLA170 Automatic X/Y Cutter operating in-line with a Canon Colorado 1650 printer that was being used to print wallpapers. The Canon UVgel Wallpaper Factory automatically cuts the printed wallpaper into custom sizes and lengths, while the rewinder re-rolls, labels, and tapes the wallpaper rolls so they are ready to ship.  

The Textile Finishing Systems group of Media One provides turnkey sewing, welding, and cutting solutions for print-service providers that want to convert digitally printed and sublimated fabrics into displays, flags, curtains, tents, and other products.  The company also provides consulting, training, services along with fabric, keder, loop, zippers, flag accessories, and sewing machine consumables.

Some exhibitors offer specialized services to small sign shops that can’t provide everything that a client might require.

The Sign Pack offers month-to-month subscriptions to sign design services. The specialized sign designers can help with presentation layouts, technical and permit files, as well as pre-production files.

Easelly’s Outsourced Print Graphic Design Service provides access to more than 30 designers of a full-time, part-time, or small-project basis. The designers are experienced in designing signage, brand assets, vehicle wraps, infographics, billboards, business cards, and direct mail. They can also help with logo design, landing pages, blog graphics, and more. Instead of contracting with freelance designers on a project-by-projet basis,,you can subscribe to the monthly plan that best matches the number of design tasks your company has each month.

Advantage Innovations is a nationwide graphic installation company with offices in 20 locations. Specialties include custom retail graphics, signage, die-cut vinyl, surveys, and full decor packages.

National Installations offers installation services for graphics, vehicle wraps, POP displays, interior signage and window film applications. 

Space Tailor is a Korea-based company that offers interior pattern designs to printing and signage companies that print window films and fabrics for interior decor.

Sulliway Engineering offers structural system design and analysis with structural detailing for sign projects. Drawings and calculations are stamped with a Professional Engineering State Seal ready for submission to Building Departments for obtaining a permit. Projects include signs, awnings, billboards, canpoies, tension fabric structures, electronic message centers, large frame structures, tents, and LED structures.

Swagforce provides an e-commerce portal through which designers and creators of custom T-shirts and other promotional products can sell their merchandise.

Comments from Exhibitors

The show floor was busy right up to the close of the show. Attendees relished the opportunity to see products in action. Vloggers and YouTube content creators rushed from exhibit to exhibit conducting interviews and reporting on the most exciting products.

Tom Wittenberg, HP large format industry relations and event manager for North America described the mood at Sign Expo as upbeat: “It was a special pleasure to return to shows with our industry colleagues. The show exceeded expectations on attendance and booth activity for HP.”

“There was constant activity and visitors at our booth throughout the event – even during the last hour of the show!,” said John Glazer, executive vice president of Elliott Equipment.

“Graphic Solutions Group (GSG) was blown away with our results, more than doubling our sales at the previous show in 2019,” said Matt Smith, director of national accounts for GSG. “The customers who came to this year’s show were very engaged and interested in spending time talking to us and intrigued by the new products we were showcasing.”

Sign Expo 2023

The next ISA Sign Expo will be held April 12-14 in Las Vegas, NV.

What is Nanography and How Is It Used?

Nanography® is the enabling science behind a breakthrough digital printing method that combines the variable-data and print-on-demand features of digital printing with the throughput speed, media versatility, and quality of offset printing.

The inks used for the process were developed with nanotechnology — the science of particles that are measured in nanometers (billionths of a meter).

Nanography was invented by visionary digital-printing pioneer Benny Landa, who discovered that water-based inks formulated with nano-sized pigment particles perform differently than standard water-based inks used in production inkjet printing.

Water-based Landa NanoInk® uses less pigment to deliver more brilliant colors than other printing processes. The ultra-small pigments stay on the fibrous surface of paper without the need for an ink-receptive coating or paper treatment. The nano-size pigment particles form images that are a mere 500 nanometers thick. This is less than half the thickness of images created with the inks used on offset presses.
The ink droplets made with nano-sized pigment particles on uncoated paper (bottom row) have more sharply defined edges and greater density than ink droplets on production inkjet presses (top row).

Landa Digital Printing is using the nanographic printing process to develop high-speed digital printing presses for short-to-medium run lengths for commercial printing, publishing, packaging, and direct-mail applications.

S10P Landa nanographic press cockpit view
The Landa S10 press does not need to be installed in a clean-room environment like some digital printers do. From the Landa cockpit (above), the operator can monitor the press status, inspect output, and watch video feeds of printing inside the press.

How Nanography Differs from Production Inkjet

Like a production inkjet press, nanographic printing uses high-speed inkjet printheads and sophisticated software to convert digital files into data that dictate how, when, and where each ink color droplet should be ejected to form the images.

But instead of ejecting wet inks directly onto paper, the printheads deposit the inks onto a specially constructed “blanket” which is then dried before it passes beneath rollers. Pressure from the rollers transfers the image from the blanket to the selected material.

Depending on how each press model is engineered, the Landa dry-ink transfer process will work with the standard off-the-shelf materials used to produce magazines, catalogs, direct mail, folding cartons, or flexible packaging.

In contrast, jobs on production-inkjet presses often require materials manufactured specifically to control the spread of the wet inks as the papers pass quickly beneath the printheads. These materials cost more than substrates already developed for high-volume production on traditional offset or flexographic printing presses.

Like other digital processes, nanographic printing doesn’t require the time and expense of creating and loading a new set of plates for each color on every job. So, the process is inherently more efficient than and cost-effective in producing an uninterrupted sequence of small to mid-sized jobs. Many of these these types of print jobs now include custom designs, localized or personalized messages, or QR codes.

Nanographic printing enables owners of existing offset, flexographic, and gravure presses to focus on running their highest volume jobs on their analog equipment.

Flexibility in run lengths makes it feasible for global brands and retailers to offer more specialty products and seasonal promotions. And, packages, promotions, and inserts can be customized to reflect the buying habits and languages of consumers within each city.

Seven-color Landa presses add orange, green, and blue inks to the standard 4-color inks (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black) used by color offset presses. This 7-color combination can reproduce 96 percent of the Pantone colors that brands use to differentiate themselves in their logos and marketing materials. But even the 4-color Landa (CMYK) presses can hit 84 percent of Pantone colors, 30 percent more than CMYK offset.

The ability to hit a wider gamut of colors than standard offset four-color printing means that Landa press operators don’t have stop and load custom-mixed Pantone spot colors to handle a series of jobs from different clients.

print samples from Landa digital press
With 7 colors of Landa NanoInk and 1200 dpi resolution, Landa presses produce excellent image quality. For packaging, publishing, display, and direct-mail projects that require brand colors, nanography reproduces more Pantone colors than offset printing.

Why Nanographic Printing Is A Breakthrough

The Landa presses are designed to close the “profitability gap” between digital printing presses and the offset, flexographic, or gravure presses that used to mass produce graphics for packaging, magazines, and marketing materials.

Digital presses that use electrophotographic or inkjet technologies have improved in quality, but are still slow compared to traditional offset and flexographic presses. Plus, the costs of inks, toners, and treated or coated papers add up quickly when a customer orders more than a few thousand copies.

Because the Landa presses can print at high-speeds on the same materials that big printing companies already use, owners of offset and flexographic presses can now produce short to medium-run jobs that wouldn’t be profitable on their standard presses.

Current Models

Landa Digital Printing introduced the Nanography process at the drupa global print technology exhibition in 2012 and displayed the first press, the sheetfed S10, at drupa 2016. The first Landa press was installed in 2017. In 2019, Landa Digital Printing began installing a second model: the S10P. Here are a few details about each model.

The Landa S10 is a single-side sheetfed press for mainstream packaging applications such as folding cartons and point-of-purchase/point-of-sale graphics. The S10 prints 6,500 B1 sheets per hour on substrates in thicknesses 2.4 to 32 pts. An inline coating system can enhance or protect the printed materials with UV or aqueous coatings.

The S10 can run seven colors and be profitable on jobs of about 30,000 boxes or even higher when ganging jobs or adding variable barcodes. The S10 provides a digital production solution for more than 50% of all folding carton jobs.

The Landa S10P Nanographic Printing Press is for general commercial print jobs that require printing on both sides of the substrate. For example, the S10P can handle advertising pieces, catalogs, direct-mail, and high-end magazines.

Landa Digital Printing is currently developing web-fed presses for flexible packaging and high-end publishing.

Workflow and Quality Control

The data required to print each job is processed through a digital front end (DFE) that is tightly integrated with each press. Based on EFI Fiery technology, the Landa DFE enables to press to fit into any printing environment, regardless of what mix of digital, offset, or flexo printing processes the company uses.

The Landa DFE not only communicates with prepress automation applications and business-management software, but also with finishing equipment.

All Landa presses are equipped with an active quality management system that fully scans each printed sheets, identifies defects, and initiates corrective actions. Operator intervention isn’t required.

Comments from Users of Landa Presses

Some of the companies using Landa presses in the U.S. include:

K-1 Packaging Group provides custom packaging solutions for consumer products. K-1 uses the Landa S10 for jobs use 5,000 sheets or less. The work includes folding cartons, countertop displays, labels, and litho-lam corrugated boxes. 

K-1 President Mike Tsai said a key factor in the decision to buy the press was how fast the Landa press could produce back-to-back short-to-medium-run jobs. A press run that would have required eight make-readies on a conventional press were achieved in just 70 minutes on the Landa S10.

Because the Landa press handles sophisticated jobs with ease, Tsai said K-1 will be able to bring a more holistic, integrated approach to their clients. For example, K-1 can process and print a client’s 1-to-1 variable product codes, support traceability of products, and meet other supply chain requirements.

Duggal Visual Solutions is an award-winning global supplier of exceptional printed visuals, custom displays, and multi-media solutions for global retailers, Fortune 500 corporations, museums, galleries, non-profit organizations, photographers, and visual artists.

Duggal installed a 7-color S10 Nanographic Printing Press at their New York production facilities to better serve their clients, which include 16 of the top 25 brands in the Interbrand Top 100.

Landa S10 at Duggal
Mike Duggal, CEO of Duggal Visual Solutions (right) says that “With the Landa S10, we can fulfill even more of our customers’ print and packaging needs much faster, and offer personalization and other special features.”

“We are blessed to work with so many of the world’s leading brands and creative minds,” said Mike Duggal, CEO of Duggal Visual Solutions. He said the Landa S10 enables Duggal to help their customers break new ground in what is possible with print.

Duggal sees nanongraphic printing technology as the logical next step in the company’s evolution from their heritage in high-end imaging for professional photographers. Since moving into high-impact corporate work, Duggal now produces a wide range of applications for in-store marketing.

The Marketing Alliance Group is one of the largest retail design and manufacturing companies in the U.S. The company makes visual merchandising displays and fixtures for grocery stores, convenience stores, and manufacturers of health and beauty, apparel, home improvement, and flooring products. Clients include some of the leading retailers and brands in North America.

The Marketing Alliance Group is using their Landa S10 Nanographic Printing Press to deliver faster, higher-quality digital printing of short-to-medium runs of retail signs and displays.

“We already had a considerable print operation with a mix of analog and digital printing capabilities, and they all have their place,” explained Bryan Hair, CEO of Marketing Alliance Group. “But the Landa S10 fills a different gap. It’s not only substantially faster than any other digital press, but it also has an offset format. Thanks to its seven colors, the color vibrancy and high print quality satisfy our world-leading brand customers, too.”

Hair said the S10 enables enables retail customers to reduce costs, stock, and waste while getting promotions into stores much faster. “We consider Nanography to be the new era in printing technology.”

Virtual Packaging is an all-digital company founded in 1996. They provide full-service production of packaging prototypes and folding cartons to a variety of U.S. and international brands. The company can provide everything from a single mock-up for a presentation to a few thousand prototypes for market testing.

During a WhatTheyThink! webinar, Virtual Packaging Vice President Jordan Patterson said the Landa S10 press complements their existing fleet of digital printers. Over the past 2 years, the Landa has enabled them to expand their revenue streams to include sustainable packaging and corrugated boxes. The have also used the Landa to print 8,000 posters with different quantities of 127 poster designs. Making plates required to run such a job on an offset press would have been extremely costly.

One of the biggest jobs VIrtual Packaging has handled on the Landa involved printing 100,000 variable-data sheets on a plastic packaging substrate. Problems with ink adhesion made it difficult to print the job with offset and/or Indigo presses. Virtual Packaging completed the job on the Landa in two days.

Virtual Packaging also serves trade printing companies and smaller start-up brands. For example, if a company sells only 6,000 products per month, the client can order folding cartons on a subscription basis. Instead of printing 72,000 cartons for a year’s supply of cartons, the client receives just the number of packages they need each month. The client doesn’t have to warehouse boxes and the brand manager to ttweak the package design each month. One Virtual Packaging client that orders packaging on a subscription basis advertises a related product on an interior panel of the carton and includes a different coupon code each month.

About the Inventor

The Nanographic Printing® process was invented by Benny Landa, the same visionary who created the Indigo liquid electrographic digital printing process for the high-speed production of high-quality color images.

Landa established the Indigo company In 1977 and sold it Hewlett-Packard in 2002. Then, he immersed himself in studying ways nanotechnology could be used to save the planet.

Today, Benny Landa holds more than 800 patents worldwide. He is the Chairman and CEO of the Landa Group in Rehovot, Israel. The Landa Group includes Landa Digital Printing, Landa Labs, Landa Ventures, Lusix, and the Landa Fund.

Read more about Benny Landa’s background and achievements by visiting: Benny Landa – Landa Nanography

For More Information

On the Landa website (landanano.com), you will find more details about each Landa press. You can also download white papers such as this one:

Nanographic Printing® – Landa Nanography describes the printing process in more detail and how Nanography has evolved.