Training for Sign Makers

Training for Sign Makers when budgets are tight, is one area that companies may be tempted to cut, but well-trained personnel with a better knowledge base and skill levels are a huge benefit for both their company and its customers. Sign Update looks at just some of the many courses available for people working within the digital printing and sign making businesses. 2 students with a teacher from Roland DG

Training comes in many forms. Anything from someone being shown a simple, straightforward process that takes only minutes through short workshops to specially planned intensive courses are all ways staff can increase their knowledge, improve existing skills and learn new ones.

When you buy equipment, whether hardware and software, it usually comes with a manual of some sort. These days it's increasingly electronic rather than a printed version, but they serve the same purpose of being a quick reference guide, with an explanation of how to use the product and its settings and functions, at least.

A machine manufacturer or dealer may also include a certain amount of instruction and / or technical support. This varies from the very basic to comprehensive but generally covers installation, setup, use, configuration, quality control, media selection, media loading, and operation. Buy a new RIP or software and guidance is likely to include installation, setup, operation, colour management and other features in the RIP.

A van with lettering on the side.

Technical support also varies; it may be free for a limited or unlimited period after purchasing a product; it may be on contract; or charged per call or per minute. Manufacturers' technical support is often restricted to the product purchased. But what about related issues such as workflow, integration with other products and applications, and tasks such as scanning, digital photography, and colour management? And as a new machine or software gets used for customer orders and staff become more familiar, further training may be needed.

What training is required may be obvious, but it's worth consulting with staff on what they feel would help and getting them on board at the earliest opportunity.

Training from different providers varies so much in depth, effectiveness and overall quality (and these aren't always directly related to cost) that time and effort spent researching the options is not wasted. Staff who have received good training can properly understand the technology, equipment and software they use. They have increased confidence and are more likely to welcome new technology and processes, enabling increased production efficiencies and a greater number of happy customers.

Encouraging young people and new starters

Application tape being used on vinyl

For young people or others with no industry experience, intensive and certified training such as NVQs and apprenticeships may be the solution. Walsall College, through its partnership with Roland DG, and Oldham College are two locations offering NVQs and nationally recognised qualifications in signmaking.

Oldham College offers up to NVQ Level 2 in Signmaking. The course, running two days a week over two years, trains people up to a competent level to enable them to work in the sign making industry. The training provides a good basic grounding in a range of skills and knowledge, including sign design, vinyl application, digital printing, traditional signwriting, preparation and painting, fabrication, and of course, Health and Safety.

Up to 15 students at a time learn on systems installed with signwriting software and use a plotter and print and cut and a fully equipped workshop for the production of different types of signs.

Bespoke and on site training

Buying in bespoke or on-site training may seem costly, but when calculating the cost per employee to compare it to sending individuals to training events off site, factor in expenses such as employee travel, sustenance and lodging.

The biggest advantages of bespoke training on your site is that it is designed for your staff's particular needs and their operations, it takes place on equipment they use every day and in their working environment. But that can also be a disadvantage, when employees are distracted by urgent production issues arising because other personnel and equipment aren't available. If the training is on new equipment, ensure it's fully installed and operational but not being relied on for production during the period of training.

Before making a final decision, find out who the trainer will be. Do you know them, what experience do they have, are they a certified trainer, and what support is there after the training? Get the training programme in advance and have all hardware, software, rooms and other equipment set up and ready to go in order to avoid hold ups.

Off site in the classroom

Training away from the company location has the advantage that employees are away from distractions on site so they can focus on learning. Also, these events bring together users from different business who can share their experiences and knowledge.

Participant numbers at classroom type events are often restricted to ensure all individuals can be involved. They usually include presentation, discussion, and demonstrations, and possibly hands on work with equipment and software, although this varies from course to course.

Check the training agenda in advance to make sure it fulfils your or your staff's needs. Give staff a copy of the agenda and encourage them to think about questions before the day, ask them to take a memory stick or blank CD for their work, practice files and notes.

The advantage of seminars is that they are usually either low cost or free, often because they're sponsored by a manufacturer. Disadvantages are that there's often many attendees so opportunities for individual questions or hands on experience are likely to be limited at best. Again, having the agenda in advance means you can make the most of any question and answer sessions with questions you prepare in advance.

A teacher teaching at Roland DG.Roland DG is one company offering a range of "hands on" application courses running from one to three days.

For new entrants to the digital print market and those who have purchased a digital printer and want to learn more, the company has designed a one day Introduction to Digital Print course. It focuses on basic RIP control to ensure less wastage of time, ink and media, whilst training the end user to maximise production speeds and ensuring quality print results on a variety of different products.

For the more experienced or those buying a new machine, Roland's Intermediate Digital Print two-day course covers advanced RIP features such as variable data to spot colour matching within the RIP, then advances to machine calibration and maintenance and finishes on lamination. Digital print users frequently waste valuable hours trying to match colours and many don't have the skill sets to pre-empt when, where or why colours may come out wrong so day two focuses around colour appreciation and consistency.

In response to customer demand, Roland introduced a one day Basic Application / Finishing course in May. Aimed at those starting out in signmaking, topics encompass when to use specific media, correct preparation procedures for maximum longevity of print products, and dry and wet mounting onto different substrates.

Software skills and product knowledge

An expert from Spandex demonstrating wrapping

The leading manufacturers and dealers offer a wide choice of training events focused on particular machinery or software to help operators get the most out of their products.

One example is Spandex's comprehensive range, specifically designed for people working in the digital printing industry and covering Vehicle Wrap Application, Design Software and Hardware, as well as Sign Systems. Available at Spandex's Bristol site and at customers' locations, they are designed to help attendees make the right production decisions and to make the most of their equipment.

Spandex's two day Design Software and Hardware courses include Working with Gerber Omega and Gerber Solara ionx with Onyx or Ergosoft Posterprint2008; one day events are How to get quality printers from your GerberEdge FX, Omega update, Understanding ErgoSoft PosterPrint 2008, Printing with Onyx, and Image correction in Adobe Photoshop.

A teacher demonstrating Spandex softwareSpandex also provides Design Software and Hardware on-line conference courses. The on-line training is a live, interactive learning experience with between three and six participants where the company's qualified trainers deliver 90 minute sessions over the internet and telephone.

Roland, in conjunction with CADlink, runs a couple of one day courses on SignLab. Introduction to SignLab provides a useful induction for users new to Signlab and those upgrading from version 5 or below. The Advanced SignLab course is aimed at more experienced SignLab users and people who have recently upgraded and want to learn how to use the new features in version 8. It explores issues such as improving workflow procedures, making involved tasks such as object selection from busy backgrounds into simple routines. Advanced issues such as eliminating pixilation when resizing low resolution graphics are answered, along with creating effects such as chrome to objects and text.

For Photoshop users Roland runs a Adobe Photoshop for Digital Print, which focuses around interlinking Adobe Photoshop with a digital printer. Starting from the beginning where users may need help to fast-track settings and layout to improve performance, this two day course moves up to more advanced tricks such as completely changing colours within objects. It aims to help signmakers develop the knowledge and skills to offer their customers image creation services, thereby avoiding their customers going to a third party for image creation and that third party then tendering for the print work as well.

Demonstration by AXYZ InternationalThe focus of AXYZ International's product training is currently focused on the AXYZ, Pacer and CAMTECH CNC router ranges but plans are afoot to extend it to other machine brands. The courses cover topics such as machine operation, programming, and CAD as well as application-specific issues.

The company offers standard and customised training at its recently opened CNC Routershop facility and training centres as well as on site at customers' premises.

Learning to wrap vehicles

Most of the time at KPMF's Vehicle Wrapping courses are hands on.Vehicle wrapping and other practical skills are generally taught with lots of hands on experience balanced by some theory and several vinyl manufacturers organise training for new and existing customers.

Spandex, in conjunction with AST Signs and Avery, run a two day Vehicle Wrap Application course where signmakers can learn the skills needed to wrap a vehicle or any other complicated structure with self-adhesive vinyl.

The courses start with a classroom seminar (one hour) which gives an overview of the different types of materials that can be used for vehicle wrapping, the importance of ink and adhesive technology, pitfalls encountered in vehicle wrapping and solutions to common problems. The remainder of the time is spent hands-on, applying both printed and unprinted films into a variety of recesses and contours typically found on a vehicle. The course includes advice on preparing artwork for vehicle wrapping and other digital print projects.

Kay Premium Marking Films Ltd (KPMF) has teamed up with Roland to offer again its popular Vehicle Wrapping courses at the Roland DG Academy in Walsall.

Delegates learn some theory about different types of vinyl and the like but the majority of the two days is spent wrapping vehicles. Numbers are limited to a maximum of six in order that attendee can get the most out of the course. KPMF says anyone enrolling on the course will develop the skill of becoming an expert wrapper of VWS films under professional tuition at the prestigious Roland DG Academy. After two days of intensive, but enjoyable training, each 'graduate' earns the right to have their name added to an accredited installers' list on the KPMF website and to receive discounts on KPMF materials.

Vehicle wrapping DVD from HexisAs well as its partnership with KPMF, Roland DG works with Mercedes Benz, Metamark, Paper Co (Euro-Point), and Grafityp to offer Vehicle Wrapping courses, both on single media and generic courses, comprising classroom and workshop sessions.

An alternative to hands-on tuition are short films on-line and on DVD. One is Hexis' recently released Car Wrapping For Professionals DVD.

The film demonstrates a complete vehicle wrap, detailing all the steps from preparing the tools to the finishing touch of the completed wrap. Covering the latest technological advances and newest techniques, it shows tips and tricks to achieve high-quality wrap projects, so even experienced wrappers can benefit from fresh ideas.

Attendee from PKM Signs course, applying vinyl onto a window.Special techniques

As well as offering a consultancy training facility and running a popular Basic Vinyl Handling Course, PKM Signs provides Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced Airbrushing training. These two day courses cover basics such as what is an airbrush and simple gradient fades, through creating dimensional effects for cartoons and illustration fills, fantasy finishes, to custom work including real flames and freestyle effects.

Attendees benefit from PKM making use of its 30 years' hands-on experience, independently using, trying and testing products and the company's close relationships with manufacturers and suppliers. Many tips and tricks previously used in traditional signwriting and adapted for modern materials and equipment are explored and with two tutors per class and numbers limited to 10, all clients have plenty of individual attention.

Similar to product manufacturers wanting distributors and signmakers to get the most out of their products, sign system manufacturers want their customers to be confident and completely at ease in specifying and making signs using their components.

A lady using an airbrushSpandex demonstration from a course

One way is to provide free training and Spandex has designed three levels of training programme relating to its Modular Sign Systems, in addition to bespoke courses. Level 1 is aimed at field sales and internal sales personnel; Level 2 at specifiers, buyers and planners; and Level 3 for workshops and fabricators.

Spandex's Modular Sign Systems are available in component pieces and aluminium bar length forms so that signmaker have freedom to customise finished signs to each client's individual specification. The components are designed to go together easily and effectively making the fabrication of these signs quick and cost effective, both for the novice and experienced fabricator.

Contact details

AXYZ International 0115 988 7770 www.axyz.co.uk
Hexis S.A. 00 33 467 186684 www.hexisgroup.com
KPMF Direct Ltd 01543 414163 www.kpmfdirect.com
Oldham College 0161 785 4275 email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or go to www.oldham.ac.uk
PKM Signs 01493 330100 www.pkmsigns.fsbusiness.co.uk
Roland DG 0845 2309060 www.rolanddg.co.uk
Spandex 0800 77 26 33 www.spandex.com/uk
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