By Melissa Donovan
Many print providers celebrate a rich history in print. They’ve adapted and reinvented themselves along the way to remain players in an ever-shrinking group of participants. Part of their success involves offering quality service and staying ahead of trends. The other element is strategically implementing digital printing technologies—both narrow and wide format.
Here we speak with one blueprint provider turned display graphics firm with over 80 years in the industry.
Above: A multitude of applications made up a recent job Cushing produced for JCC, with the amount of media totaling 201 square feet.
A Vast Timeline
Cushing, based in Chicago, IL, has seen it all in regards to print. Opening in 1929 when F. John Cushing Sr. purchased his then-employer, National Blueprint Co., and changed the name to Cushing and Company, the acquisition took place 28 days prior to the stock market crash. To keep the doors open, Cushing Sr. conducted every sales call and in a smart-yet-subtle marketing tactic, branded the company in orange and blue to mimic both the University of Illinois and the Chicago Bears. The method worked and Cushing and Company gathered clients from architectural, engineering, and construction (AEC) backgrounds.
Cushing Sr.’s son, Jack, joined the business in the early 1950s. At that time, the company also began manufacturing specialty paper. Adding this service meant competing print shops became customers, further growing the company’s client base.
By the mid-1970s the third generation of the Cushing family joined the business, Jack’s daughter Cathleen. Simultaneously, the print provider slowly moved away from blueprint production.
In the 1980s, during the AutoCAD craze, Cushing and Company acquired technology to plot and print files. With this newest introduction, the organization’s drafting material and coated paper business disappeared. But, while one service faded, another opportunity arose.
“The 1990s brought a commitment to color imaging, as color digital technology opened untapped markets. With B&W dwindling—and the PDF taking away construction documents, the Cushing and Company team knew diversifying the suite of services would be important,” shares Jon Davis, marketing manager, Cushing.
A Digital Combo
Today Cushing and Company, or as it is now known—Cushing, operates out of a 17,794 square foot space and employs 44 people. A fourth generation family business, Cathleen serves as president, her brother Joseph as EVP, brother-in-law Brian Burke as corporate asset manager, and nephew Matthew as an account manager in the sales department. It has taken steps since the 1990s to become a display graphics firm. In 2015, construction printing was no longer its top-selling service.
Clients range from graphic designers to event planners both nationally and internationally. Offerings include wall graphics, window decals, floor graphics, environmental branding, point of purchase (POP) signage, acrylic displays, banners, custom books, brochures, posters, postcards, and direct mail. AEC services are still available, including construction documents printing, engineering grade graphics, and on-site print rooms for commercial companies.
To create all of this, Cushing utilizes a mix of wide and narrow format digital technology. An HP Inc. Indigo 5600 Digital Press is used for common marketing collateral pieces. Recognizing that the same customers requesting this work also require wide format services, Cushing also employs a range of digital devices over 24 inches in width. These include a Canon U.S.A., Inc. imagePROGRAF iPF9100 and imagePROGRAF iPF9400, “which are ideal for fine art clients requesting photographic-quality images,” shares Jill Wicklund, color production supervisor, Cushing. For much of its POP and display as well as environmental branding the company relies on an HP Scitex FB750 Industrial Printer, several HP Latex 365 and HP Latex 280 machines, and eco-solvent Epson SureColor S30670 printers.
When each device is used depends on the needs of the job and how it coincides with a printer’s biggest strength. The Epson SureColor printers are preferred for adhesive vinyl graphics that require solid color panel matching. The HP Latex devices print efficiently onto wallpaper materials and allow for faster output when it comes to outdoor banner graphics. The HP Scitex FB750 eliminates laminating and mounting by printing directly to a rigid substrate.
Profiting from the Wide Side
According to Davis, offering wide format services presented previously untapped opportunity to reach companies with repeatable print needs and opened doors to vertical markets, starting conversations it would not otherwise had the opportunity to begin.
Approximately 59 percent of the work Cushing completes is considered wide format—and this is growing. Commercial real estate, healthcare, retail, non-profit, restaurant and hospitality, architecture, and educational industries all request wide format digital print from the display graphics firm. Davis specifically sees an uptick in environmental branding such as wall and window graphics. The Cushing team serves this demand and is educated on recommending the correct materials, placement, and project managers for the job.
Wide format also complements the shop’s narrow format services. “If a marketing coordinator orders brochures or custom books for a presentation or trade show—and is happy with the work—it creates opportunity to continue the dialogue. Narrow and wide format complement each other well. There is a natural fit to start conversations about wide format services as Cushing evolves into a display graphics solutions provider,” admits Davis.
First time customer, Joliet Junior College (JJC), based in Joliet, IL turned to Cushing for branding elements that would ultimately be placed in its Event Center. The newly constructed facility contains gyms and event spaces. Not only did JJC want the facility to have the appearance of an athletic center, it also sought to convey the message of a multi-purpose space that is attractive to outside groups hoping to rent the fieldhouse for events like soccer games and career fairs.
Cushing won the bid for the job in November 2016. “We put out a bid early to get this project completed and on time, with graphics being finished ahead of schedule,” explains Rick Lyman, manager construction/facility planning, JJC. Completed graphics were submitted in January 2017 and installation was completed by March 2017.
A multitude of applications made up the JJC job, with the amount of media totaling 201 square feet. Wall graphics, dimensional signage, dimensional lettering, privacy film, banners, framed and mounted graphics, acrylic prints with standoffs, and vinyl cut lettering were all created. In total, 11 pieces were constructed for the job.
For the wall graphics, 3M Commercial Solutions 3M Controltac Graphic Film with Comply Adhesive IJ180C was used and laminated with 3M Scotchcal Matte Overlaminate 8520. The material was chosen due to its minimal shrinkage, ability to be contour cut, and smooth application. Graphics were printed on the HP Latex 365. “In general, latex inks cure almost instantly, are very durable, and very minimally outgas. This allows for quicker production times and cleaner printing environments,” says Julia Kaufman, project manager, Cushing.
Vinyl cut lettering was also produced using 3M Controltac Graphic Film with Comply Adhesive IJ180C and cut using the company’s Zünd G3 L-3200 5×10-foot cutter. Matthew Cushing, account manager, Cushing, says the company selected this particular material because it’s best for textured surfaces. “The Zünd cuts with ease and that’s why we used it for this project,” he adds.
For the dimensional signage, including the JJC’s mascot, Cushing worked with a partner through the ReproMAX network called Vision Graphics. The mascot, a wolf, was printed second surface to clear acrylic and backed with styrene.
The entire production process and installation were without challenges. A crew of two went into the new Event Center and worked over three days to place everything in the facility. “We had the luxury of this being a new building, so we didn’t have to work around students, faculty, or staff. Most of the time that is not the case,” shares Lyman.
“The install team put in a solid eight hours installing all of the vinyl and acrylic elements,” says Kaufman. “They had to return a second day for banners since those required the coordination of a lift. They returned a third day to finish installing the acrylic images.”
Success as a Major Player
Cushing’s success is based on its knowledge of the industry and wherewithal to take chances. It continues to expand its client base and product offerings thanks to investments in leading-edge digital print technology.
In the Summer of 2017 the Cushing team moved to a new facility to accommodate its need for a larger footprint. As technology advances the print provider is poised to become a major player in display graphics output of all shapes and sizes.
October 2017, DPS Magazine