Interview With Larry Chan Of Signs Etc. - The Online Magazine for the Sign Trade.
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Interview With Larry Chan Of Signs Etc.

Impressions of Large Format Digital Printing

By N. Sites recently had the honor of interviewing Larry Chan of Signs Etc. Mr. Chan’s knowledge of various types of signs and the sign industry led us to explore his thoughts and concerns about the industry.

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  • SI: How long have you been in the sign industry and how would you describe your business?

    Mr. Chan: We have only been in the sign business for 3 years. We are trying to cover everything from vinyl decals to neon lettering to large format digital printing. Besides custom-made signs, we also offer a wide selection of sign related products, which makes us a one-stop shop. On our web site we even offer links to our affiliate sites such as domain name registration service, website hosting service, etc. All these products and services are business related, which allows our clients to build their new business without having to worry about the promotion part. We do not limit ourselves to provide services only for our commercial clients, we also advertise some of our products that also can be used for home decorations or gifts. Think of it this way, we have the machines and the materials and we know what they are capable of…why not think of other innovative ideas to use them for as well as sign making.

    SI: Where do you see the industry-specific area of neon going in the next five to ten years?

    Mr. Chan: Despite the rapid growing rate of new technologies, I feel that the neon industry will not completely be replaced by other means within the next 5 years. Because like a lot of today's signs, in order to bring out the design after dark, they still need the good old neon to provide the lighting effects. But I foresee that within the decade, most of the sign makers would use optical fibers as their #1 choice.

    SI: Why is that?

    Mr. Chan: Because during the sign making process, optical fibers require less skilled labor. Plus they are easier to maintain and repair. And within years, the cost of the material will drop (hopefully), then we can all benefit from it.

    SI: Do you feel that the regulations in place concerning neon installation are too strict? Too lax? Or, do you even notice them?

    Mr. Chan: It depends. Every state and city has its own regulations. Some are too strict and some are pretty easy to follow. The bottom line is, until the sign designer, sign maker and the local zoning board can work closely together, the concept that your client or designer has in mind may not always materialize exactly into what he or she wants.

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    SI: Where, in your opinion, is the large format digital printing segment of the industry heading? Do you see any major breakthroughs such as with the triangle mobile billboards and bus wraps as replacing any of the "old ways"?

    Mr. Chan: Large format digital printing is more popular then ever. It's not something new. It's been around for quite some time now. In recent years the printing technology and the quality of the media have improved in a big way, which makes the outputs more life-like and longer lasting even when exposed to the weather elements. Hence the sign industry takes a big leap into the digital printing world. I have to admit that I miss the old fashion hand painted billboards, especially when I was growing up in Hong Kong, every theater had a hand painted billboard showing what was being played. To me that was truly workmanship. However, the large format digital printing that are used on those triangle billboards and bus warps open up a new door for us all. It enables us more possibilities and options in the sign-making field, especially since I can't even draw a straight line!

    SI: Customers may accept the fact that large-format graphics are intended for long-distance viewing. Is this still a hard sell because of the human nature of art directors and corporate buyers insisting on inspecting the graphics close-up and not seeing the big (no pun intended) picture of the final product?

    Mr. Chan: Well, selling a print as a fine art or something that requires close up view is always hard. Because you might think it looks perfect but to someone else's eyes it is not acceptable especially if the buyer has high a expectation but does not have enough understanding on printing. My advice is to educate your customers about what the limits are before you accept any orders and show them some samples of what the print might look like. That way your customer will have a realistic expectation as to what the final results will be, if they don't like it they can back out rather then finding it out the hard way. That would save you a lot of time and money or worst you lost a customer.

    SI: Do you feel that the days of subcontracting the printing to screen printers or graphics producers equipped with superwide printers are gone, replaced by emerging digital billboard-printing technology in-house?

    Mr. Chan: I don't think so. Because first of all: cost. A super-wide printer cost from hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions and requires skilled staff on board for constant maintenance in order for it to run properly. Second: space. Not all sign shops could come up with extra space to house a giant printing monster. In the long run, I still think subcontracting the print job to a printer is a wiser choice.

    SI: In your experience, what do you see as the biggest threat and/or obstacle to a sign company manager or owner today? (i.e. labor shortage, vendor difficulties, government regulations, etc.)

    Mr. Chan: Labor shortage is the biggest obstacle! A good reliable worker is hard to find. Even if you find one, you're afraid of them learning everything from you and then quitting and opening a shop right next door! That is why I like to stick with the idea of a family business.

    SI: If you could offer just one piece of advice to the sign business owner starting in the business today, what would that advice be?

    Mr. Chan: When you are out in the market and purchasing equipment, do a lot of research before you buy. A good place to start is the Internet, such as newsgroup postings, discussion forums or sites like or non-profit organization's sites that do reviews. Read reviews from magazines. Talk to other sign shop owners for their real world experience with the particular equipment. Don't take all the product specifications at face value. Also, believe your own eyes; see the actual products and what they produce. Even better, ask to see the machine in action, that way you have some idea of what to expect. Oh and while you are at the dealer's place, ask a lot of questions.

    Best of luck!

    Larry Chan
    Signs Etc.
    19 Cavanaugh Road
    Braintree, MA 02184

    email address:

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