Located in expansive premises close to the centre of the garrison town of Aldershot; Digital Blanks exhibit a refreshing approach to providing a turn-key solution for the promotional products industry.
Not content with being a ‘me too’ provider of gifts and printed items, they’ve set their impressive stall out to offer an innovative service comprising blank promotional products – and all the tools you need to produce your own short runs.
Digital Blanks is built on a long established foundation of trade supply and printing for the promotions industry and their marketing manager, Rob Hayes outlines their capabilities. “We have over ten years printing experience, using a variety of techniques. We’re screen printing specialists, but we’ve been doing digital transfer printing on flat promotional products for several years now and the Mimaki UJF-3042 offers the same photographic print quality, if not better.”
“We were the first company to print in full colour onto promotional products,” he continues, “and with the range of goods on the www.digitalblanks.com website, we want to appeal to purchasers of Mimaki equipment like the UJF-3042 to provide blank promotional items for them to imprint.”
It’s this new Mimaki flatbed A3 printer that’s really caught Digital Blanks’ eye – a revolutionary machine that allows practically any product to be printed to with a vibrant, photo quality image, taking advantage of facets of digital printing such as variable data, unlimited colours and short runs. Digital Blanks has created a solution that provides every imaginable add-on to the machine in a comprehensive catalogue of promotional wares, specifically designed for the printer.
“Everything we do is tried and tested before it comes to the catalogue, so we’re developing products that ensure consistency of quality,” advises Rob. “It’s time-intensive doing the R&D around product selection, but it’s important for us to be able to guarantee the result for our customers.”
Digital Blanks’ managing director, James Cleere takes up the story, “We design products in house, have our own moulds made and then produced overseas. We have our own moulds for a number of different pens, for instance, and we’re having one of our best sellers redesigned so that it gives us a flatter edge for printing to.” This commitment to an innovative and high quality product is what sets the company apart.
“We’re constantly looking at ways we can redesign products so that we can better print to them,” continues Cleere. “Our Helios highlighter is a flower shaped multicoloured highlighter pen with a printable central circle. We’ve designed it so that you just have to print the circular insert, allowing our customers to get more products on the bed, and achieve better control of registering artwork.”
Breaking down barriers
The launch of the Mimaki UJF-3042 in the spring of 2010 was met with plenty of excitement. A product that sports such substantial features, quality of print and is capable of such limitless applications has a natural home in the promotional product printing industry. Digital Blanks purchased their machine through authorised Mimaki reseller, Graphic Printing Technologies and its arrival has created a wave of interest at the company.
“The Mimaki breaks down all the barriers for price and appeals to so many people,” comments Hayes. “It enables cost-effective production of one-offs and small runs for which there’s a high demand in the promotions industry – and currently there’s just no other way of doing it. There’s an even bigger opportunity with the premium gifts – but it works very well for either option.”
Digital Blanks’ customers have shown a liking for items such as their rulers and bottle openers as they have a large imprint area and this space has been maximised when they’ve designed them. The company is also working on a range of acrylic awards and whilst they may not initially be volume business for them, the desire is there to be able to hold stock for their customers, allowing them to order in smaller quantities.
The ingenuity of creating jigs along with the specifying and sourcing of products are two of Digital Blanks’ great strengths. Their production Manager is Stephen Stott and it’s his role to engineer their successful jig making side of the business. “All our jigs are produced in house; they’re laser cut and made to order and we can do it quickly,” he says. “Having the products and seeing it in action allows us to work more productively. In fact, it’s how we developed the jig for our bottle opener – we soon put a locating tab in to ensure the print is aligned correctly.”
Such is the enthusiasm at Digital Blanks; they can also produce made to order jigs for people who have different requirements, and even for companies who haven’t purchased blank products from them at all. Visit their homepage and you’ll find information about bespoke jig design requests.
A strong export story
Digital Blanks’ sphere of activities is not just limited to the UK. Having started off servicing Mimaki distributors who showed the UJF-3042 printer at foreign exhibitions, they now have customers in the USA and Canada who are coming to them for jigs & blank merchandising. “We want to give the turn-key solution – an all in one package, a one stop shop for everything they need for their Mimaki,” confirms Hayes.
Happy to take on almost any challenge; wherever and from whoever it may come from, Hayes confirms the ‘can do’ attitude at Digital Blanks. “We’re very much a designing company – there's no limit to what we feel we can do. We’re interested in ideas and don’t see any boundaries to what we can’t design ourselves – even some of the very technically demanding products.”
The sheer breadth of capability of the printer is something that Hayes identifies as being a nice challenge for them to have when it comes to providing a production printing solution. “It’s good to talk with customers early on in their development cycle so that when potential customers for the machine have an idea of what they're interested in producing, we'll do what we can to help develop the solution for their needs, rather than playing catch up when the machine has been installed.”
Incredibly, a standard jig from Digital Blanks costs very little. “The Mimaki has broken down the barriers to entry and we thought it important to keep the other aspects the same,” confirms Stott. At that price it’s easy to take on board advice from him that having two jigs allows the user to load and unload one whilst the other is printing, thus maximising productivity. Bespoke jigs cost a little extra, dependent upon the design work required, but all are produced in house, in the UK.
The benefits of high adhesion
Digital Blanks has found that one of the real benefits of the Mimaki is the quality of the adhesion, as whilst in broad terms, UV cured ink keys to practically any substrate, this level of adhesion does differ from material to material. Having these high levels of adhesion opens up Digital Blanks’ substantial catalogue of items but they do still advocate proper preparation and degreasing of the item prior to printing.
The Mimaki white ink is something they find attractive too, because although the majority of their catalogue incorporates a white print area, the clear and non-white products are something that Digital Blanks see becoming more popular. Backing up viewed through prints (produced in reverse to clear substrates) with the white brings the machine into the photo block and small signage markets and its high quality of output ensures a premium product is delivered too.
Difference in the desire
Digital Blanks focus not just on their commitment to excellence and the quality demands they make of their suppliers to get the best product for printing to, but how they seek to educate their customers in running this new part of their business.
“We genuinely believe that customer education is key,” says Hayes. “They need to understand themselves what they can actually deliver. We've been brash and told them to save on origination charges. We charge a small sum for a one off, for as many colours as they want. Trying to teach that to your customers can be an impossible task – the education part is expensive,” he continues. “You almost have to step back commercially from it and remove that aspect.”
There’s no reason to suggest this altruistic approach isn’t working – and reflects very positively on the company. Helping others expand is helping them grow successfully too, and Digital Blanks’ innovative direction makes a lot of sound business sense.