The Printing Community Got Creative During COVID-19 Shutdown

As COVID-19 shutdowns disrupted the demand for event and advertising graphics, print-service providers quickly found ways to create new products for businesses and individuals coping with different phases of the crisis.

Below are a few examples of the types of helpful products printing-related businesses offered to produce for medical professionals, remote working novices, home-schooled students, and temporarily shuttered local businesses.

Photo Stickers for Medical Workers

To help patients feel more relaxed in the presence of medical personnel garbed in personal protective equipment, two medical students in Israel started a Facebook movement to add photos to protective suits used by medical workers. The page attracted the attention of HP Indigo team employees who helped launch the project by supporting the printing of the first 70,000 photo stickers.

Medical workers in protective gear don’t look quite so intimidating when patients can see photos of the professionals who are caring for them. Photo: HP

Each 5.8 x 8.3 inch photo sticker featured a smiling photo of the medical worker along with their name and function. The medical workers added the prints to their protective gowns and disposed of them at the end of each shift. By early May, HP and its print partners produced and donated 200,000 photo stickers to medical personnel at 16 hospitals in Israel.

Thank You Cards to Healthcare Professionals

Postable, a web-to-print greeting card company offered an online service through which people could create and mail thank-you cards to healthcare workers at the front lines on the COVID-19 pandemic. Visitors to the Postable site picked a design, selected a hospital from a list of hard-hit areas, and typed a message of love and encouragement to the medical workers.

Postable donated 100% of the profits from these cards to the Frontline Responders Fund which helped get critical supplies to front-line hospital workers. The cards were printed on HP Indigo digital presses at Mercury Printing in Memphis. Photo: HP

Sealed Delivery Boxes for Restaurant Take-Out Orders

CompanyBox in Charlotte, NC, developed takeout boxes and bakery boxes that made it easier for local restaurants to shift from operating dine-in operations to fulfilling orders for curbside or home-delivery. The specialty boxes featured a single-use seal that kept the food securely inside the box until the recipient removed the adhesive tear strip. The boxes were printed on an HP PageWide C500 Press with water-based inks approved for food packaging.

CompanyBox started a program to donate the first 100 boxes to local restaurants and planned to produce 100,000 boxes in total. (Photo: HP)

Fabric Face Masks with a Designer Touch

Spoonflower.com is a global marketplace that connects makers and consumers with artists worldwide. A pioneer in short-run digital textile printing, Spoonflower uses digital textile printing equipment from HP, Kornit, and Durst to bring on-demand, eco-friendly, sustainable and scalable manufacturing processes to the textile industry.

By early May, Spoonflower had produced more than 5,800 yards of fabrics that mask makers around the world used to sew an estimated 70,000 face masks.

The Spoonflower team mobilized its in-house sewing team to design patterns that members of the Spoonflower design community could use to sew knit gaiter or double-layer cotton face masks to prevent the prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The ColorCasters color-management consulting firm supplemented their income during the COVID-19 shutdown by using the dye-sublimation printing equipment in their testing lab to make protective face and neck gaiters.

In an April 26 blog post about why ColorCasters pivoted from color management consulting to dye-sublimation printing, Jim Raffel explained that their firm had missed out on the first round of the government’s Paycheck Protection Program design to help small businesses: “We had hoped that it would help us through a few more months until we could travel again.”

ColorCasters already operated an e-commerce store through which they sold color-management training, software, and devices. So they added their line of ChroMasks gaiter style face coverings to their store and started promoting it to their community through social media. “The most amazing thing happened,” Raffel wrote. “Business colleagues from our community purchased large quantities of gaiters for their employees.”  

Although they had to quickly make some adjustments to handle all the orders, ColorCasters doesn’t plan to become a print-service provider full time. “When this is all done – we’re going back to being color management consultants and trainers. It’s who we are, it’s what we do.”

Home Conferencing Backdrops

During the first week of the shutdown, many people who formerly worked from offices suddenly had to adapt to working from home. The Britten visual branding company in Traverse, MI, was quick to promote their ability to produce easy-to-set-up conference-call backdrops/privacy screens for entire teams of employees. They offered to produce color logos or custom designs on hemmed fabric or vinyl that could easily be slipped onto a study, steel adjustable frame that could be set up or torn down in minutes without tools.

Soon, Britten had set up a landing page highlighting the many different products they could produce for hospitals, city planners, grocery stores, and others affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Companies could provide customized backdrops to employees who would be conducting video conference calls from home. Photo: Britten

Structures and Supplies for Temporary Medical Facilities

Graphics companies equipped to sew soft signage and design custom trade show booths promoted their ability to create temporary medical facilities and other supplies.

D’Andrea Visual Communications showed concepts for custom-built temporary medical facilities (above) and movable privacy partitions (below).
Privacy screen designed by D’Andrea Visual Communications

D’Andrea Visual Communications published a COVID-19 product catalog to promote their ability to build temporary structures, privacy stands, or hospital beds as well as free-standing hand-wipe dispensers or hand sanitizers complete with safety signage.

In a blog post entitled “Fabrication During Troubled Times,” Britten discussed how they could make temporary medical testing stations, cough barriers, hospital isolation gowns, and hand-washing stations in areas without access to running water.

Graduation Light Pole Banners

For Kingsley High School in Kingsley, Michigan, Britten produced Graduation Light Pole Banners that featured photos of each of the school’s 2020 graduates. Parents and administrators wanted to do something special to honor the 88 graduating seniors who wouldn’t have a traditional graduation ceremony. Each student will receive their 24 x 48 in. banner as a memento, after the light-pole banners are prominently displayed along city streets.

Educational Graphics and Safety and Wayfinding Signs

As retailers and businesses began to adapt to new methods of doing business, print-service providers such as 40 Visuals, eSigns, Signs.com, and KDM started promoting their ability to produce new types of signs and graphics for retailers, restaurants, and manufacturing plants.

On March 13, the Houston-based online sign and banner company eSigns.com added new hand-washing sign products and designs to its workplace signage offerings.

“We’ve always offered signs and designs that provide various safety warnings and information,” said eSigns CEO Roy Marsh. Some of the first COVID-19 hand-washing signs they printed were for their own eSigns warehouses and production facilities.

eSigns.com was one of the first print-service providers to promote hand-washing sign designs during the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis. (PHOTO: eSigns.com)

Signs.com offered free downloadable templates that companies could use to quickly print their own temporary health and closure safety signs. Or, website visitors could order custom-printed masks and different types of signs promoting thank you messages, social distancing or store-capacity requirements, and curbside pick-up locations.

40 Visuals published a blog post illustrating the Five Essential Types of COVID-19 Safety and Social Distancing Signs. The blog included photos of: parking-lot pavement graphics; floor graphics for aisle traffic flow and social distancing; stickers on sanitation stations, waste disposal bins, or sanitized products; and wellness barriers for salons and restaurant take-out counters.

KDM typically supplies retail marketing solutions such as in-store branding and custom point-of-purchase displays. They were quick to promote solutions as restaurants and grocery stores adjusted their standard operations. As states started to relax their shutdown orders, KDM published a blog post that discussed how retail signage could help companies safely re-open for business.

During the COVID-19 shutdown, KDM’s newsletter showed how retailers could use KDM signage and branding solutions to attract online shoppers to new curbside pickup locations. Photo: KDM Retail Marketing Solutions

As businesses re-opened, D’Andrea Visual Communications promoted their ability to fabricate acrylic shields for retailers, restaurants, and the workplace. The company offers kits for making shields that could be hung from ceilings, mounted on countertops, or inserted in a freestanding, portable display frames. They also offer custom printed, re-usable face masks that companies could order for groups of employees.

Lessons Learned

Print-service providers equipped with a web-to-print ordering capabilities and an extensive combination of digital printing, finishing, and fabrication equipment rose to the challenge of making new types of products during each phase of the COVID-19 crisis.

But selling these new types of products also required marketing agility. Companies that already had effective digital marketing programs in place seemed best prepared to demonstrate why printing should be regarded as an essential service during crises such as pandemics.

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