By Olivia Cahoon
Part 2 of 2
Advancements in inkjet technology allow direct printing to cylindrical objects like water bottles, tumblers, and thermos. Manufacturers invest in direct to object printers to streamline the production process while offering shorter runs and enhanced design options.
Based in North Sioux City, SD, Big Frig started as a hobby business for its sister companies that needed branded tumblers. Today, it offers apparel, accessories, stainless steel vacuum insulated tumblers, and growlers as well as rotomolded coolers. From its 20,000 square foot facility, Big Frig serves customers in Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. All of its personalized products are created with digital printing technology.
Big Frig’s personalized tumblers are still its primary business. Until February 2016, the company outsourced this work to a local trophy shop that performed laser marking.
“After a couple of months, there was no signs of things slowing down, so we bought our first laser engraver and started customizing in house,” says Dakota Hoard, director of operations, Big Frig. The company initially looked at color printing options but found it too expensive. It also didn’t yield optimal samples. “The laser was more affordable—an important factor for a brand-new business—and the marks are extremely durable, which has always been very important to us.”
Its coolers are now 50 percent printed and 50 percent plain while the tumblers are 95 percent printed or laser marked. The tumbler manufacturer uses Epilog Laser Legend Series Mini laser engravers with rotary attachments.
In February 2018, Big Frig committed to full color printing to print directly on its tumblers. It installed two X2 flatbed UV LED inkjet printers and one Helix rotary inkjet printer from Inkcups Now.
“Over the course of two years we had dozens of samples printed, but they all had issues with print quality and durability,” explains Hoard. “The Helix was the first machine capable of producing detailed, color-accurate prints on our tumblers that didn’t chip or peel off.”
The Helix rotary inkjet printer is designed to print quality single- and multi-color images on straight-walled and tapered cylinders—ideal for drinkware, cosmetic, and industrial printing industries. Its single, advanced quick-change tooling fixture minimizes part setup time. The device offers 360 degree printing and handles cylinder lengths up to 12 inches at four parts per minute.
For Big Frig, the primary benefit of using digital technology is in the flexibility of the machines. Switching jobs is now simplified, which Hoard says allows the company to do both long and short runs, including one offs, without excessive downtime or change overs.
The digital process also makes artwork preparation easier. “We don’t have to worry about breaking out colors into different screens and how elements might need to be trapped or overprinted as you do with multi-color screenprinting,” explains Hoard. Design errors are also easier to correct, even if production already started.
In June 2018, repeat customer Consumers Supply placed its first color order with Big Frig. The client previously placed an order for laser marked tumblers for employees.
“This was their first color order and their first order for products to give out to their clients,” comments Hoard. The client wanted to promote its Country Vet Naturals line of pet foods and requested a printed tumbler that mimicked the food bags’ design.
Using Adobe Illustrator, Big Frig designed a seamless wrap around the entire tumbler with each side of the bag’s artwork represented. The manufacturer printed the artwork onto the tumblers using the Helix rotary inkjet device. “It was really the only printer that we could have used since we needed a very detailed, full-color print on a cylinder,” shares Hoard. “Because the Helix can print 360 degrees around a cylinder with perfect registration, we were able to print each tumbler in a single pass.”
In four weeks, Big Frig printed 1,000 30-ounce tumblers—half in stainless steel and the other half in powder-coated matte black. This was the first large run the manufacturer completed with a seamless wrap around the tumbler. According to Hoard, it was fortunate that the company invested in the Helix when it did, otherwise it would not be able to produce anything close to the customer’s vision. “The speed and flexibility of the Helix allowed us to complete the job in batches without delaying production of smaller runs.”
Overall, the customer was very pleased with the quality of the print. Since completing the order, Hoard says he spotted several of the tumblers in action. “It’s good to know they are doing their job for our client.”
For manufacturers like Big Frig, direct to object digital printing is the most efficient option for customizing products. “Our niche since we began has been customization of our products with our customer’s designs. Traditional techniques would be too slow to setup and too expensive to execute to make sense for short- to mid-sized runs,” comments Hoard.
With its Inkcups Helix and X2 digital printers, the manufacturer continues to keep clients satisfied and produce varying sizes of personalized drinkware.
Feb2019, Industrial Print Magazine