Do It Yourself POP

“There are three ways to get something done: Do it yourself, hire someone or forbid your kids to do it.” 
—Mona Crane

There are three ways to make P.O.P. signage: Do it yourself, hire someone else to do it or buy it off the shelf. There are occasions where each of those is appropriate.

Numerous little widgets are manufactured that make short-term P.O.P. displays easier. These inexpensive little gizmos generally are used to attach the signage to store shelves or products in a temporary manner. They are much too cheap and easily obtainable to even consider making yourself. Just buy them ready-made.

If P.O.P. signage is not something that a shop normally engages, there are portions of the project for which the company may not have the appropriate equipment. However, some parts easily can be done in-house, while other aspects of the project can be subbed out to specialists. Cutting digital prints to precise shapes is a good example.

When deciding on how best to cut a digital print to shape, there are a variety of considerations that must be taken into account. The size of the image, the complexity of the shape, the quantity of prints, and whether or not the print will be mounted (or printed directly) to a rigid substrate all play a role in the decision-making.

If a large quantity of identical shapes are to be cut, perhaps the job needs to be sent to a professional die-cutter. Die-cutters have special requirements that have to be considered before starting the project. The images must be cut into rectangular shapes that are completely consistent. The images also must be in exactly the same spot on each sheet. To do this, the files should be printed with crop marks, then carefully trimmed on the marks. A file also has to be printed on paper giving the die-cutter a perfect outline of the required shape in the correct position on another rectangle. Accuracy is extremely important, as the die-cutting equipment just cuts automatically with no discretion. Mistakes might not be noticed until the entire job is completed.

When the P.O.P. project only involves adhesive-backed decals, like floor graphics or shelf stickers, a print-and-cut machine, like those sold by Roland and Mimaki, is an ideal solution. These are terrific timesavers and easily can become a shop’s workhorse unit. However, shops that don’t own one of these handy devices can easily subcontract out the work to someone who does.

If you only do limited shape-cut jobs, it may not be cost effective to sub out to a die cutter or buy print-and-cut unit. This is the time for “do-it-yourself.” Using templates might take a little more time than free-hand cutting, but templates provide a safe method for producing a consistent finish and can be used again and again.

The template is best if cut out of clear Plexiglas to make it easy to line up the template over the print. A few small pieces of adhesive will hold it in place, and then it's ready for trimming around it with a knife for flawless, identical edges. Large images, regardless of quantity, also might be too costly to die-cut and may be better suited to hand-cutting, as well.

A lot of shops doing P.O.P. work are using digital X/Y table cutters, such as those sold by Zünd, Esko Artwork and Océ, for cutting shapes from printed rigid substrates. These cutters are not cheap but can be very profitable — and they are a proven solution when teamed with a flatbed printer. With registration marks printed around the print to be shape-cut, the unit’s onboard camera system reads the marks and tells the unit where to cut each shape with remarkable consistency.

If the substrate needed for your P.O.P. project is too thick or tough, more sophisticated tools might be needed. A full-fledged CNC routing table with XY and cutting Z axis, like those sold by MultiCam, Gerber, ShopBot or Techno, is a perfect solution. Or alternatively, the project probably can be hand-routed in your shop. This solution also requires making a template out of MDF or similar dense, inexpensive material. Clamp the template to the print-on-substrate and rout it out using a “follow bit” (see attached illustration). This allows for precise, consistent edge control with a minimum of finishing required after cutting.

Nobody likes to turn down work, especially in a tough economy, but there are lots of ways to get jobs done.