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Profiling Business Management Software Options for Specialty Imaging, Signs and Graphics

An MIS/ERP program can help you streamline everything from quoting and job tracking to inventory management, shipping and invoicing.

By Eileen Fritsch

Running a profitable printing business is hard, partly because it's super easy to overlook critical details that lead to costly mistakes.

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  • But there is little room for error in a business climate in which margins are being squeezed by greater competition and rising customer expectations. Today's clients expect great service, super quality, fast turnaround and low prices. Some clients have started asking graphic producers to furnish more detailed cost data and guarantee that prices will be reduced over the course of a multiyear contract.

    To keep these promises, some SGIA members are adopting lean manufacturing principles and more automation to eliminate errors, unproductive time and wasted materials. While many prepress and production functions are already automated, there is a growing interest in making greater use of modern management information system (MIS) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to automate business-management functions.

    An MIS/ERP program can help you streamline everything from quoting and job tracking to inventory management, shipping and invoicing. MIS/ERP software can minimize errors by eliminating the need to re-enter data as a job moves from quoting to work-order creation to the printing of shipping labels and sending of invoices. MIS/ERP software can also collect and report job-cost data to help you provide better quotes and identify which products and customers are most profitable.

    The major difference between the two types of business-management programs is that an MIS system sends job data to a separate accounting program - e.g., QuickBooks or Peachtree. An ERP software suite includes accounting and financial management tools within.

    Some SGIA members want MIS/ERP software to help them add production capacity and product versatility without increasing their staff. Others want to add follow-through automation capabilities to web-to-print systems that bring in orders from a broader base of contacts. Sometimes, the person placing the order isn't always the same person who will be paying the bills. Keeping track of data and details is a must.

    Multiple Choices
    At the 2013 SGIA Expo, a number of exhibitors demonstrated MIS or ERP software programs - for sign shops, large-format and superwide graphics production, apparel decoration, textile printers and commercial printing - that offer a mix of document printing and graphics production. Some options are highlighted here.

    Most business-automation software shares some common functions (such as customer-relationship management and job quoting). But each program has been developed to meet the specific estimating, costing, project management, reporting and work cultures within different sizes and types of printing and graphics businesses. MIS software developed for custom sign specialists or superwide graphics printing differs from packages or modules developed for printing companies that want to diversify into large-format graphics. Many software suites are modular, so you can introduce new capabilities as your business grows and diversifies.

    At its core, all MIS software tends to focus on accurate quoting and consistent order entry, because these details can dictate the overall success and profitability of the delivered job.

    The higher-end packages offer JDF/JMF tools and API capabilities that can help you bridge the dreaded "islands of automation" in your prepress, production, and finishing departments, and can also help develop an end-and-end automated workflow.

    As you will see, MIS/ERP software options exist for all sizes of businesses - from one- or two-person sign shops to global, multi-plant printing firms. Finding the best package for your operation will require doing some homework and asking some key questions. While these overviews illustrate the variety of approaches being undertaken for different types and sizes of enterprises, these product descriptions don't list all of the functions and capabilities of each product. Please visit the websites or call the providers for up-to-date information and product demonstrations.

    Avanti Slingshot

      What: Modular, scalable business-management software suite for commercial print providers, enterprise in-plants and franchise operations that provide various combinations of conventional printing, digital printing, large-format printing, mailing and fulfillment services.

      Format/Pricing: Runs onsite. Browser-based.

      Capabilities: Estimating. Order entry/job costing. Scheduling. Purchasing. Inventory and roll inventory management supported by bar-coding and wireless RF (radio frequency) technology. Shop-floor data collection. Shipping and shipping integration. Invoicing. In-plant chargebacks. Accounting integration. Point-of-sale. CRM. Mailing.

      Features: Two distinct print estimating modules: One for sheetfed and Web presses, and one for digital equipment. Estimating standards library, import/migration tools, and QuickStart Database decrease implementation time. Real-time graphical view of jobs in production and scheduled jobs. Staff can use handheld computers to enter/validate inventory data and print barcode labels.

      Imports order data from multiple third-party Web-to-print systems and communicates job-status information back to the system for use by the customer. Job shipping information can be automatically transferred to packing slips, carton/skid labels, and courier waybills. Integration with UPS and FedEx to initiate and track shipments. Customizable invoice layout for company branding.

      Training/Support: Tailored, hands-on training and documentation. Remote connection software can hook directly into your system to troubleshoot problems or provide procedural training. Telephone and email support.

    Nucleus by CRC Information Systems

      What: Comprehensive business-management software system for the graphic arts industry. Core package includes complete system from estimating through accounting. Typical client has 30 to 100 employees, but software is also used at sites with as few as 15 and as many as 500 employees.

      Format/Pricing: Runs onsite. Browser-based. License fee.

      Capabilities: CRM, industry specific job estimating, management reporting. accounting tools, drag-and-drop production scheduling, inventory management, e-commerce.

      Features: Estimating modules for wide-format digital printing, screen printing, commercial printing, business forms, label manufacturing, folding cartons and book printing. Fully customizable dashboards use color, graphs, symbols and charts for easy data visualization. Data can be customized to show net profit performance; cash availability; actual versus budget analysis; late, hot and shipped jobs; jobs due today; underperforming employees; and sales metrics and statistics. Inventory management for raw materials and work in progress.

      Training/Support: Implementation services include installation, data conversion and tracking. All updates, upgrades and software support are included.

    Cyrious Control

      What: MIS software for many sizes and types of sign and graphics businesses. Currently used by many independent sign and large-format businesses, Cyrious Control is also suitable for smaller sign shops. Small shops that don't need all the features immediately can disable them until they do.

      Format/Pricing: Runs onsite. Many capabilities will be available through the cloud when Control is integrated with the new Cyrious Online app that enables customers to place orders through custom storefronts. Cyrious Control and Cyrious Online are available through license subscriptions.

      Capabilities: Estimating, CRM, job tracking, production management, invoicing, shipping, inventory management, purchase-order generation, marketing-list creation, payables and full general ledger or export to QuickBooks and other accounting programs.

      Features: Specific pricing and tracking tools for: Large and grand-format graphics; vehicle wraps and fleet graphics; screen printing; architectural and ADA signs; electric signs, service, and installation; routed, engraved and dimensional signs; textile screen printing and embroidery; display sales and rentals; vinyl signs; quick copy, repro and small format; and membrane, RFID and printed electronics. Pricing tools for vehicle graphics let you charge for window perfs and installation time. Tracking tools for sign products let you include permits and surveys with quotes and work orders.

      Training/Support: Basic training includes four hours of individualized training, several online classes each week and online videos and step-by-step guides. On-site training for detailed customization is available for fee.

    EFI Monarch

      What: Robust Print ERP system can be configured for end-to-end oversight of work in large single-plant, multi-plant or multi-national printing, publishing and mailing operations. Can be used with multiple types of work, including: Web, sheet, screen, inkjet, digital and flexographic. A Small Business Edition (SBE) is available for growing operations with complex manufacturing environments.

      Format/Pricing: Browser-based. Internet-based desktops provided to designated users.

      Capabilities: Advanced job management; intelligent production planning; and JDF-certified integration with top suppliers of prepress, press and finishing equipment. Modules for acquisitions, estimating, planning, scheduling production, inventory and fulfillment, financial, businesss intelligence, and custom and support services.

      Features: The estimating logic, tailored to your business, selects a production path for each quantity and generates a detailed plan that includes prepress, plates, stock, press, cutting, folding, finishing and shipping. Internet-based client desktops. Intelligent estimating and quotes. Real-time data collection. Visual complex planning without templates. Version management for complex jobs. Internet-based catalogs.

      Training/Support: Customized implementation services. Telephone support by software and industry experts. Custom report and software development.

    Good Questions to ask

    EFI PrintSmith Vision

      What: Modular MIS software for small to mid-sized operations including on-demand, franchise and commercial in-plants with a mix of print processes.

      Format/Pricing: Self-hosted. Browser-based. Sold as perpetual license with a monthly subscription fee. Pricing is based on number of users.

      Capabilities: Estimating and financial management, point-of-sale (POS) credit-card processing, production scheduling, order management, shop-floor data collection, financial management, management reporting.

      Features: Flexible pricing and estimating tools can be used to create quotes for offset, large-format and digital-press jobs. Invoice templates for repeat jobs. Automatic multi-bidding capabilities for up to 40 different quantities.

      Training/Support: Six months of phone support and updates included.

    EFI Pace

      What: A customizable, modular MIS program for mid-sized to large commercial, in-plant and hybrid shops that use a mix of print processes.

      Format/Pricing: Hosted onsite. Delivered on an EFI Pace Appliance, an easy-to-install server that has been pre-configured with your selected modules. No additional PC-based desktop software is required to be installed. The server provides browser-based access from Macs, PCs and any mobile device with an Internet connection and a browser app. A standard EFI Pace Appliance license supports up to 50 users.

      Capabilities: Time and materials estimating, price quoting, job management and shipment, shop floor data collection, job costing, inventory management, purchasing, job billing, accounts receivable, e-commerce through integration with EFI Digital Storefront integration, custom-reporting with PaceStation query tool.

      Features: Cost-based estimates for sheetfed, Web and digital presses, and wide-format and superwide printers. Captures quoted information for outside services. Delivers detailed estimates with value-added and profit analysis. Supports multiple, customer-specific price lists, and multiple and single quantity, multi-part quotes. Links quote items to inventory items. Generates user-defined quote letters that can be emailed. Job Control Center module offers centralized access to information about current and completed jobs. Fields, screens, translations and email notifications can all be customized. In facilities that use Fiery XF for inkjet production or Fiery and Fiery Central for page production, jobs can flow directly from DigitalStorefront to the appropriate production device.

      Training and Support: Customer-support hotline. Online Pace Knowledge Base. User forum.

    Clarke Systems Architectural Signage Systems Wayfinding ADA

    Some Tips from the Experts

    EPMS Enterprise

      What: Scalable, flexible print MIS/ERP software for mid-sized to large, multi-plant printing companies (mostly 75-200 employee range) and enterprise in-plants. Most of the 700+ clients use a combination of sheetfed offset presses, digital presses and large-format printing equipment. But EPMS is also well-suited for use by screen printers, Web printers, flexo printers and other specialty imagers who print on materials other than paper.

      Format/Pricing: Runs onsite. Priced by module, so system can be phased in as needed.

      Capabilities: Modules for quick order entry, estimating order entry, scheduling, data collection, job costing, purchasing, inventory, finished goods inventory, shipping, accounts receivable, general ledger, cash book and accounts payable.

      Features: Can aggregate multiple workflows (e.g., digital, flexo, finished goods, mailing) and combine them into one job, all from the main module. This eliminates the need to manage different workflows in different applications or unnecessarily split estimates and orders into multiples. Configurable Wizard streamlines online-order entry and reduces errors. Price Setter feature assists in negotiating prices without losing sight of suggested estimate price, profitability and value. Customer-based pricing accommodates discounts and markups on specific jobs. Extensive template database for commonly run jobs. Tracks non-chargeable time and processes. Can schedule jobs across multiple plants. Inventory management tracks sheet and roll stock, standard items, inks and plates. Automatically tracks materials on hand, on order and allocated to jobs. Can track and store kits of finished goods in assembled and unassembled form. Can generate picking lists for full kits or individual items. Purchasing module can save vendor price lists and discounts.

      Training and Support: The amount of training needed depends on number of modules purchased. Options include classroom training, online training and onsite training. Training is included. Customization and project-management support is available.

    Flexi and FlexiPRINT 11 with Cloud

      What: Cloud-enabled Windows add new business-management features to SAi's FlexiPRINT 11 sign-making software for small to medium-sized sign shops.

      Format/Pricing: The sign design and file-processing portion of the software runs onsite on Windows PCs, so shop personnel can continue to use Flexi or FlexiPRINT even when not connected to the Internet. Like Adobe's Creative Cloud, only portions of the software are accessed through the cloud. Flexi and FlexiPRINT 11 can be purchased outright or as monthly subscriptions.

      Capabilities: On-the-go job tracking, file viewing and price quoting.

      Features: Business owners can view job reports, including summary information on completed projects, printer and media usage, and total production time on each job. Sign and print businesses can upload and archive design jobs for cloud-based backup, sharing and retrieval. Using the Web-based FlexiQuote, shop employees can use a "wizard" to make a job quote in less than a minute. The database comes with standard media prices and can factor in materials, labor, commissions, discounts and taxes. A free SAi mobile app for tablets and smartphones provides remote access to production trends and information.

      Training/Support: Software was designed for ease of use. Training videos run in the cloud window.

    Midnight by Virtual Systems

      What: Modular, scalable print-business management software for companies that are expanding beyond signs and banners to offer a wider range of marketing services. This includes small- to mid-sized companies that offer large-format, screen printing, graphics and signs, vehicle wraps, offset and digital printing. Current users include commercial printing firms, in-plant print shops and small businesses with fewer than 10 employees to companies with 100+ employees.

      Format/Pricing: Cloud-based. Perpetual license with monthly subscription.

      Capabilities: Base package includes modules for CRM, estimating, work orders, billing, purchase orders and inventory.

      Features: Quick and easy access to information about inventory, pricing, projects and clients directly from the dashboard interface. Because it is cloud-based, any changes are instantly shared with any employees with the app on their smartphone, tablet or PC.

      Training/Support: Software includes four months of free online training plus a comprehensive user guide and video tutorials. Onsite training and configuration support services are available for a fee.

    Software in the cloud

    OnSite by ShopWorks

      What: Scalable MIS/ERP for textile screen printers, textile embroidery companies, promotional product manufacturers, trophy and award manufacturers, and digital printers. Users range from small start-ups to firms with more than $30 million in sales. Typical customer averages $1 to $3 million in sales.

      Format/Pricing: Runs onsite. Based on Filemaker platform for Mac. PC compatible. Cloud-based solution is included with OnSite 8. Pricing based on number of concurrent users.

      Capabilities: Order processing. Production management. CRM. Shipping and receiving. Purchasing and inventory. Finance and accounting.

      Features: Pricing can be calculated on quantity, stitch count or number of ink colors. Industry standard pricing is used for apparel and promotional items. Size matrix offers the ability to enter different sizes on a single line item. Design and art management feature stores of ink and thread colors, screen details, thumbnail images and more. Seamless integration with SAGE (promotional product sourcing) and InkSoft e-commerce platform for customized apparel and products.

      Training and Support: A technical support contract (10 percent of the base price per year) includes all upgrades, hourly support and other bundled services. Training options include: Classes at the ShopWorks facility, online training courses or on-site training. Core training is three to four days. Website features more than 100 hours of online support in the form of videos and other training materials.


      What: MIS system for small to mid-sized sign and graphics companies.

      Format/Pricing: Delivered from the cloud and accessed securely via a Web browser. No server or software is required. Utility pricing model means you pay only for the number of users. Monthly or annual subscriptions are available with a one-time set-up fee and no long-term contract. Support is included.

      Capabilities: Estimating. Job tracking. Proofing. Work-in-progress tracking. Shipping, and customer-support portal. Different views into PixtaFlow for administration, production, production management, customer-service reps, accounting and shipping.

      Features: Straightforward estimator is based on an activity costing model to more accurately determine true job costs and margin requirements. Estimating can be done on the go from an iPad or smartphone. Customers who sign into the customer portal can track production, upload files, re-order and view the shipping status of their jobs. Drag-and-drop job board provides a quick overview of scheduled work at each stage. Email can be sent and received to each job ticket, centralizing communications and maintaining a history of email transactions for the job. Automatic report generation provides reports on jobs shipped, unpaid and due today; monthly sales; sales by device; and more. Integration is provided for QuickBooks accounting and FedEx Web Services to get tracking numbers, provide shipping details and directly print labels.

      Training/Support: Support center contains documentation, forums, and tutorial videos for all Pixta products.

    PrintMatics by Cloud 7 Systems

      What: Fully integrated MIS software for shops specializing in large- and grand-format graphics.

      Format/Pricing: Hybrid system keeps day-to-day business data on your company's intranet while offering permission-based access to reports and monitoring via PrintMatics' Web-based system. Pricing is based on modules selected and number of concurrent users.

      Capabilities: Estimating; job-entry and scheduling; cost analysis; production management and job monitoring; invoicing and accounts receivable; Web-based reporting and dashboards; PCI-compliant credit card processing. Integration with shipping software of most major carriers.

      Features: Margin-driven sales quotes based on detailed cost analysis of the entire order, up-to-date labor rates, material costs, inventory on hand and production schedules. Area-based costing takes into account how images can be nested to make the most of the material used. Percentages can be added for ink coverage or labor cost differences by product, machine or department. Color-coded approval processes let sales people know whether quote is "green for go" or needs manager approval. Custom price lists can be developed for special customers, using specific pricing, tradition discounts, or PrintMatics' margin-plus pricing. Customizable production nodes can be changed at any time. Each node has a due date and time, and can be set by department, item or machine. Inventory tracking enables materials to be received at one location and transferred to multiple sites. Work orders can be produced with barcodes to facilitate movement of jobs from department to department.

      Training and Support: Monthly subscription fee includes phone and email support, and direct online connections to customer stations for answering questions and training employees. Training is tailored to the needs of each customer. The curriculum focuses on applications modules and each customer's configuration. Staff training within an organization is based on the role of each employee.


      What: Sign-business software that tracks everything from a customer's initial call to the thank-you card sent with the final invoice. Typical users range from one-man operations to four to eight person shops, but signVOX is used by multi-million-dollar enterprises. Its price-proof-manage-invoice workflow may also be suitable for use in shops that do awards and engraving, screen printing or custom apparel.

      Format/Pricing: Cloud-based. Perpetual license for core package with monthly subscription fee for 10 users. Fees for additional users and optional modules.

      Capabilities: Estimating. Sign pricing. Online proofing. Electronic job board. CRM. Business intelligence. Employee management. Purchase-order management. Invoicing.

      Features: Standard-based, square-foot or product-based pricing, with ability to offer quantity and area discounts. Customizable quotes and templates. Online proofing and notifications of approvals and changes. Users can annotate site-survey images with store measurements, install instructions and design ideas. Two-week production calendar with drag-and-drop scheduling can include estimated installation times. Company logos and other customer files can be saved for future use. Each customer's PMS colors and fonts can be shown on each work order. myVOX user dashboard lets each employee keep track of what they are currently responsible for. Integration with QuickBooks. Integration with Magento Shopping Cart. Easy pricing of outsourced items. Goods found in catalogs can be organized and identified for pricing purposes.

      Training/Support: Free online training is recorded, so current and future employees can access it as needed. Also: Comprehensive operations manual; live-chat online; training videos. Onsite training is available for a fee. Email and phone support is included with subscription.

    Final Thoughts
    "Businesses today are faster, more sophisticated and more financially aware than ever. Customers don't just expect good service - they expect great service immediately," observed Scott St. Cyr of Cyrious Software. "This increase in management intensity requires faster information, increased coordination and a better vision of your entire business. This involves many practices, but MIS can be a large enabler." A print MIS can help minimize information barriers within your business and keep you abreast of what's happening in sales, pricing, costing, production, inventory, shipping and invoicing.

    "A seamless flow of information that facilitates production planning results in lower costs, less stressed workers, more informed managers and ultimately, happier customers," noted Alex Ravari of Cloud 7 Systems.

    If Web-to-print storefronts are already generating business for your company, then you probably already recognize the value of print MIS.

    "Printing companies who have a Web-to-print solution but no MIS quickly realize that they need the MIS as the system anchor," said Carol Andersen of EPMS. "The W2P applications will take an order and run a job ticket, and maybe an invoice, but they don't take the process any further. We've made a concerted effort to integrate with most of the solid W2P products out there so that our clients connect all the dots with the least amount of human intervention and get the job scheduled, billed, cost and out the door in an expedient manner."

    "Most of our customers come from environments in which they are using four or five different pieces of software to run their business," said Jay Malanga of ShopWorks. "Being able to do most of the same functions in a single application enables them to work faster and more efficiently."

    "The right software should help you do more with less, reduce mistakes, have better communication and grow your business," said Kevin Kennington of SignVox. "Time savings, fewer mistakes and better customer retention make you more profitable and increase the value of your business."

    Some printing experts contend that automation is the only way to achieve the full value of your investment in bigger, faster, and more expensive printing devices. If you can't charge more for your jobs, you increase your profits by becoming more efficient.

    Eileen Fritsch is a Cincinnati-based freelance writer who has covered the transformation of printing since the 1990s. For additional and updated information about these and other MIS programs, email the author at

    This article appeared in the SGIA Journal, March/April 2014 Issue and is reprinted with permission. Copyright 2014 Specialty Graphic Imaging Association ( All Rights Reserved.

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