Gifts and giveaways: promotional and personalised items
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By Sophie Matthews-Paul
18 July 2011
The Mimaki UJF-3042 from Hybrid Services has been instrumental in bringing UV-curable production to the promotional market
In the old days, if you wanted some wacky giveaways or promotional gifts you were restricted to offerings produced using analogue processes which, by their very nature, meant it was only really practical to produce hundreds if not thousands of the end product. When computerisation came along, this all changed as individual items such as coffee mugs and mouse mats joined engraved items in small lot production, using sublimation and via thermal transfer technology, such as with the Gerber Edge.
The ability to reduce overall run lengths for promotions and gifts revolutionised the market for giveaways and provided excellent add-on opportunities for sign-makers. Those accustomed to working with desktop engravers for the production of trophies and glassware were able to add colour to their range of services and products for the first time, generating bright ideas and some useful new revenue streams.
Along came ink-jet and, with the best will in the world, in its earliest days it was never assumed that it was going to become a popular process for the gift market. Aqueous-based technologies didn't lend themselves to the marking of goods for promotional use and, instead, as ink formulations moved onto encompass solvent-based products and UV-curable chemistries so digital showed a concentration directed at wide-format production.
What goes around comes around so perhaps it was inevitable that, before long, the criteria found in ink-jet printers would find their way to the production of smaller products. Certainly the principle of print-and-cut in an integrated device gave users the opportunity to chop up large areas of print and perfect finely tuned labels, decals, stickers and badges. The addition of doming in the form of adding a highly durable three-dimensional polyurethane-based resin onto a flat product was no more complicated than icing a plate of buns yet transformed a standard item into something with an added value and a lasting quality.
Technology continues to march forward ever relentlessly and, with the growing acceptance of UV-curable processes came an interesting mix of the methodology employed in industrial production and that used in the display field. One of its benefits has always been that the curing function isn't bothered by the thickness of the media, with tough and durable results proving themselves on a wide range of different substrates, many of which were ideal candidates for the promotional and gift markets.
This isn't to say that the continuation of solvent-based printers hasn't also found its own areas of popularity in many products. The combination of specialist inks, such as metallics and white, and an inventive mind of the user has seen the generation of specialist goods where a mix of processes has been merged to produce thermoformed or laminated items. Likewise, transfers for T-shirts, bags and apparel have also been developed with great success for the solvent-based market and resulted in one of the most popular areas for personalisation. And, again, the key is the ability to produce one-offs and short runs without customers having to pay the penalty.
Adding highly accurate contour cutting via an external table has brought UV-curable output within the realms of promotional products onto a wealth of rigid materials. Software designed to generate paths to ultra-fine tolerances has meant that three-dimensional gifts and products, such as personalised jigsaw puzzles, can be manufactured to individual requirements.
Another significant step-change came about when Mimaki launched the desktop UV-curable UJF-3042, as it was clear that this was a machine whose capabilities would extend into the promotional market sector. As a result, low-run step-and-repeat production can be output from a machine whose technology was familiar to sign-makers.
Similarly, Roland has added a duo of desktop options to its portfolio, the first offering solvent-based output with a metallic ink and the second bringing UV-curable ink into a compact unit. But the true joy of all these smaller machines is that they complement their larger counterparts in what they can do and also prevent disruption to the production of larger or longer runs by making it cost-effective to output single pieces or very low volumes on a separate device.
Whilst engraving and sublimation still hold their places in the gift market, the ability to produce more interesting promotional goods has enormous appeal to end customers who want to be able to offer as a memento more than the ubiquitous pen, mug or mouse mat. The combination of ink-jet and contour cutting has come up with some unlikely but highly valued contenders for unusual giveaways, and it's these that recipients tend to keep.
Comments in chronological order (Total 1 comments)
03 July 2012 8:15PM
As a distributor in the promotional products industry it is always great to see new technology. It allows our suppliers to provide even better print quality, hopefully at a cheaper price. An added bonus would be quicker lead times. Anything which makes the end user feel they have a quality product at the right price is good for our industry.
At Zest Promotional we only work with suppliers who offer great products at the right price, the print methods described above will hopefully be rolled out in the industry.