Printers Step As much as Combat COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented the printing industry — and the world — with unprecedented challenges, and printing companies have found ways to be of service in fighting the deadly virus. In some cases, they are working to fill existing gaps in medical supplies. In others, they are finding ways to limit exposure in public settings. Others have worked to shore up the small businesses who traditionally serve as their customers. In all cases, there is an imperative need for someone — anyone — to act, and numerous printing companies worldwide have stepped up to serve.

Impressive as this is, it is important to remember that the companies highlighted here, and others, quickly mobilized even amid concern for their own businesses, the health and well-being of their teams, their families, and communities.

This article is in no way an exhaustive list of printing establishments that have stepped up. What it does, however, is highlight the inspiration, commitment, and flexibility used to address this strong and ongoing threat.

Franzen Graphics | Sheboygan, Wis.

According to an article in the Milwaukee Business Journal, Franzen Graphics, a commercial printer, switched from its traditional print production and is instead engineering and producing disposable face shields for use by medical workers. The company did so in response to calls from both the World Health Organization (WHO) and state governors across the U.S., stating the need for personal protective equipment.

Given reliable material availability, the company is able to produce medical face shields at high volume. Justin Webb, the company’s owner, said that if Franzen Graphics can, “provide support for those on the front lines of this battle, we will.” He later added, “It is our goal that our face shields can be a part of the solution to win the war against COVID-19.”

Graphic Visual Solutions | Greensboro, N.C.

COVID-19 informational poster, designed and distributed by Graphic Visual Solutions.

This commercial, packaging, and wide-format printing company created posters and signage, much of which contains elements gleaned from the Centers for Disease Control website, which it offered free in any quantities to its clientele with a two-fold purpose. The first is that the posters can be placed in numerous customer workplaces and facilities as a guide to protection from COVID-19; and, second, it can serve as a useful reminder that Graphic Visual Solutions is available to provide printing services to meet their needs. “We’re offering this to our top customers,” says company president Bryan Hall, a former chair of Printing Industries of America, “and it’s a great way to connect with our customers in a different way.” The company also offers the designs to other printers so they can do the same.

Image Options | Lake Forest, Calif.

This company, which traditionally serves retail and exhibit display markets, has launched a multi-pronged effort. Like many other print service providers, Image Options quickly changed its day-to-day production toward producing face shields. This was based on the suggestion of a staff family member who challenged: “You make all kinds of things. Can you make face shields?”

To date, the company has produced more than 100,000 of them. Using existing equipment, it has also been able to produce grocery shields that create a protective blocking barrier between cashiers and customers at grocery and other retail settings.

In a recent interview with Wide-Format Impressions, Tim Bennett, the company’s chairman, stated that the production of these elements is relatively easy. The technology they have did not need to be retooled for the purpose. A particular challenge, however, is sourcing material. “The supply is bumpy,” he says, “it’s definitely a challenge.”

Image Options can also use its CNC cutting systems to produce pop-up beds, dividers, and intake desks — all of which can be produced for temporary medical settings.

Disc Makers | Pennsauken, N.J.

In a television news report posted by WCAU, an NBC affiliate serving the Philadelphia area, Disc Makers — which traditionally produces compact discs and DVDs for music and data purposes — has retooled its production toward the creation of medical face shields. According to Tony Van Veen, the company’s CEO, Disc Makers expects to be able to produce 40,000 to 50,000 shields per day.

Of the ongoing effort, Van Veen reports, “Besides helping with the crisis and protecting people on the front lines, one of the things that I’m looking to do is keep people employed here.” He said the demand for the face shields was unbelievable, and that his business was hearing from representatives of numerous industries, including medical and food service.

Pine Print Shop | Fort Collins, Colo.

Pine Print Shop produced and sold garments for local businesses, and the revenue generated was shared by both companies.

Pine Print Shop produced and sold garments for local businesses, and the revenue generated was shared by both companies.

To facilitate the protection of small businesses, an apparel decoration company, Pine Print Shop, launched a program through which the company can gain business for itself while also supporting local businesses. It is a no-risk approach to keeping dollars coming into those companies that, for the time being, cannot be open.

The local business provides the artwork. A 20-piece minimum order is required for production to move forward. When printing is done, Pine Print ships the shirts directly to customers, and sends the partnering business $10 per T-shirt and/or $20 per hoodie sold. The first “wave” of this program grossed about $25,000 in sales. According to Owner Garrett Danielson, the program was “born of necessity,” and that “it helps us support the businesses that do business with us.”

Allied Printing Services | Manchester, Conn.

Allied Printing is manufacturing medical face shields.

Allied Printing is manufacturing medical face shields.

John Sommers, the CEO and owner of Allied Printing Services, felt it was important for his company to be “a part of the solution” in its response to the pandemic. In doing so, the company took a rapid-response approach, retooling and reconfiguring production lines that normally produce print and packaging to instead produce and then donate face shields for hospital workers and first responders.

Further, the company is producing workbooks for the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center that contain educational material and activities to help children understand the
COVID-19 crisis. “I am incredibly proud that Allied Printing Services has been able to react so quickly and respond to this great need our country and state is facing,” Sommers says. “As an essential business that is open during this crisis, our No. 1 priority has been to keep our employees safe.”

Artisan Colour | Scottsdale, Ariz.

“When we heard reports about the rising COVID-19 infection rates and the shortage of protective gear for health care workers,” recalls company president Doug Bondon, “you could feel the sadness in the room. One of our directors suggested we do something … the whole team got behind it.”

The company quickly retooled and acquired a supply of PETG, a PVC material that can be used to produce face shields. To date, face shields produced by Artisan Colour have been donated to the Scottsdale fire and police departments. The company has also reached out to offer shields to essential businesses, including Banner Health, Phoenix Children’s Hospital, and a Phoenix-area food processing plant.

Custom Label | Hayward, Calif.

Designated an essential business by the state of California, Custom Label utilized its designation to manufacture products for health care, food, and other industries. The company worked directly with its press manufacturer to acquire emergency ink supplies to ensure printing could continue, even amidst a spike in orders.

“One of the largest increases in incremental volume,” says President and CEO Lars Ho-Tseung, “is for packaging for ready-to-eat food, due to the shift from dining out to making food at home.” He adds that print volume is also increasing for labels and packaging for over-the-counter drug products.

Duggal Visual Solutions | New York

This New York-based signage, displays, exhibitions, and digital commercial print service provider teamed up with Kings County Distillery, a Brooklyn Navy Yard neighbor that converted its efforts to the production of hand sanitizer, to produce paper-based labels. Additionally, the company retooled its production facility to produce face shields for medical staff and first responders in the hard-hit New York City area.

In the first week of the company’s response, reports Marc Lovci, VP at Duggal Visual Solutions, “we assembled a task force to address the shortage in health care safety equipment and immediately saw we could produce face shields. More than 150 volunteers are coming to work to make this life-saving equipment, producing 120,000 units in the first week, with a total order of 360,000 units.”

Minuteman Press | Levittown, N.Y.

Face shields shown here, produced by Minuteman Press Levittown, include 3D printed elements.

Face shields shown here, produced by Minuteman Press Levittown, include 3D printed elements.

The face shields this company is printing are being requested by medical professionals, and requests are mounting as quickly as Minuteman Press Levittown can fulfill them. Using its 3D printing capability, the franchise location is also able to produce specific face shield components. Company owner Michael Levy says that when he heard of the need, he obtained files of the needed parts, converted them for 3D printing, and ran a test that showed positive production results.

Now that Minuteman Press Levittown is producing face shields and 3D components, Levy is pleased the shop is doing its part to combat COVID-19 “I will sleep well tonight, for the first time in a while,” he notes. “I worry about business doing well and that is what drives me. Since that has not changed, I made sure to put that feeling to work.”

Olympus Group | Milwaukee

This wide-format producer, with a strong focus on fabric printing for banners, exhibits, and retail displays, took advantage of its skilled sewing staff and manufacturing capabilities to produce masks and face shields for medical teams and first responders. In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, company CEO Brian Adam says, “This is a great way to keep paying our staff. Our culture and our beliefs wouldn’t be to profit off something like this. We’re trying to cover our time and materials. If we can do that, we’ll call that a major win.”

Adam, through his involvement with SGIA, was also able to mentor other businesses looking to produce similar products, providing guidance and open-source production schematics for the successful production of medical-grade products.

Kirkwood Printing | Wilmington, Mass.

This commercial printer stepped up to produce signage for testing centers, hospitals, and supermarkets, and mobilized for overnight delivery of outdoor signage printed for drive-through testing centers for a locally-headquartered national pharmacy. The signage, produced on the company’s wide-format inkjet equipment, helps to direct people around the testing area, increasing both safety and efficiency.

Further, Kirkwood produced point-of-purchase posters that can be used to advise of store closings. “Shortly after this crisis began, we began diverting resources to COVID-19 related needs,” says Mark Napa, chief sales officer for Kirkwood Printing, “and providing materials as fast as possible for signage to inform the public.”

Answering the Call

In a recent blog post on the COVID-19 Resource Channel — a joint effort by SGIA, NAPCO Media, and the PIA and its affiliates, to create a clearinghouse of helpful information — Marci Kinter, SGIA VP for Government and Business Information, sent the industry strong kudos for their efforts: “I am so proud to be associated with the printing industry, and even more so right now! I cannot open my email, look at my LinkedIn page, or read Twitter without reading how companies are stepping up to provide much needed materials for those working the front lines of this pandemic.

“Shifting gears, for some in the matter of hours, to provide face shields, masks, and other protective equipment. Then, I read about our printers that are stepping up to help those in need — working with the nonprofits that are reaching out with all types of fundraising activities.”

I, too, have been awed by our industry, and am honored to share this article’s handful of stories.

As this article is being written, the COVID-19 crisis is relatively new. In that time, however, it has changed our lives profoundly. It may define for us a new way to shop, congregate, work, and view the future.

For many printing companies, depending on the products they print and the markets they serve, the COVID-19 crisis may represent an existential threat, and it will surely do its damage to the body of our industry. But it will not kill us. The graphic arts industry is too diverse, too innovative, and too essential. The challenge for printing companies worldwide is the same as it’s always been at times of great change or crisis: To embrace the new reality and find a way to operate there.