Signage goes high tech

January 1st, 2011 / By: / Features, Graphics

New opportunities in building wraps combine specialty fabrics with dazzling digital effects

Outdoor advertising is big business. In 2009, advertisers spent $5.9 billion on signage—and more than $3.8 billion of that was on billboards alone. As businesses seek new opportunities to make their brands stand out, the sign industry is meeting the need with high-tech options that integrate specialty fabrics with new technologies such as LED display and solar power. But PVC (or its eco-friendly fabric counterparts) is not going away. Traditional print media can successfully combine with electronics to help your clients make a statement.

That’s a (building) wrap

For the better part of the last decade, fabric-based wallscapes and building wraps have dressed up a structure’s exterior while impressively communicating a message. To bring these products to the next level, two companies have partnered to introduce a new product called Mediamesh®. Ag4 has designed, developed and patented Mediamesh in cooperation with GKD-Düren in Germany (its U.S. operations are in Cambridge, Md.), a metal fabrics weaver. The product, which was first used on an exterior in Istanbul in 2007, is a transparent media façade that integrates digital imagery with color and metal fabric. At the same time, it is designed to become part of the architecture while maintaining daylighting, sun shading and open visibility qualities.

In addition, the product incorporates special high-luminosity LED strips woven at regular intervals (based on the project’s viewing distances, viewing times, sun direction, display requirements and cost structure) into GKD’s Tigris stainless steel mesh. “The LEDs are then interconnected and wired back to the computer control center where all content originates.

“The media installation can include images and graphic elements, films and live video input,” explains Barbara Kummler of ag4. “Use of the spaces behind the façade remains unrestricted.” Mediamesh has appeared in prominent places such as in Milan, Italy, and Times Square. For an installation at American Airlines Arena, the product rises 13m and plays video that reaches the stadium’s 1.3 million annual guests, along with those driving by on busy Biscayne Boulevard.

“Because temperatures in Miami can reach 56C, it was critical that the Mediamesh be able to perform regardless of weather conditions,” says J. David Carduff, marketing and product manager for GKD-USA. “[The product] can also resist hurricane-force winds up to 65mps.”

The power of solar

The outdoor signage market is working on ways for billboards to harvest energy. For example, outdoor advertising companies, such as Lamar Advertising Co. in Baton Rouge, La., are installing solar panel arrays on the top of vinyl billboards to not only power the nighttime lights but also feed electricity back into the energy grid. The Cooley Group in Pawtucket, R.I., is working to generate energy through the billboard itself.

The company has helped create a flexible, lightweight solar-powered billboard system constructed from its Enviroflex® printable billboard substrate, which is then integrated with a thin-film photovoltaic (PV) system. In June 2010, Cooley teamed with Lamar (the media printer), Ricoh Americas Corp. (the advertiser), Takara Media (the advertising agency) and Xunlight Corp., which produces the thin-film product, to create the billboard for Times Square.

Cooley plans to expand its eco-friendly offering to the outdoor advertising market soon. “We think there is a big opportunity for advertisers to take advantage of this system to send a message that they recognize the need to reduce their carbon footprint on our environment,” says Jeffrey Flath, president, Cooley Group. The system, Flath says, is designed to work with retrofitting any existing billboard structure.

By embracing digital technology and other leading-edge applications such as solar billboards, outdoor sign makers can keep one step ahead in a competitive industry that is seeking attention from a multitude of consumers. What’s more, the evolving nature of technology affords the opportunity for innovation, as well as for the formation of partnerships inside and outside the industry to expand offerings—and ideally profits—into the outdoor signage market.

Holly O’Dell is a freelance writer based in Pine City, Minn.

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