By Melissa Donovan
Personalization on the consumer level continues to drive demand. While phone cases, calendars, and coasters are popular, décor celebrating notable milestones like wedding anniversaries, birthdays, or graduations is also a draw. Pieces with a high-end feel like wood or slate are preferable for many buyers.
Simon Holland, CFO, Sassy Squirrel Ink, gravitated toward a custom slate piece for his own wife, Kelly, to celebrate a wedding anniversary in December 2015. It included an image of the two of them at their engagement spot in Venice, Italy.
With Simon a musician and Kelly a singer/dancer, a personalization business was a far cry from their current professions, but the custom plaque pushed the Hollands to consider what else might look good on a slate. Three months later they had a company name, researched and purchased equipment, and had designs in place.
The initial goal was to bring in extra income each month, but the demand was so high, the two moved from New York City, NY to Gold River, CA and now work full time personalizing slate plaques under the Sassy Squirrel Ink entity with an additional two part-time employees. The business operates out of a 1,500 square foot space.
Above: Sassy Squirrel Ink uses a Roland VersaUV LEF-300 to print directly on slate to create a range of signs that include anything from home address numbers to lyrics from a couple’s first dance song.
Dye-Sub to Direct
Initially, the Hollands decided to use dye-sublimation (dye-sub) to personalize small slate plaques. Unfortunately, when these slates were left in the sun, the heat from the dark slate cooked the dye-sub inks away. When researching alternatives, the husband and wife team decided on a Roland DGA Corporation VersaUV LEF-300 benchtop flatbed UV printer. “I spent hours scouring the internet for viable alternatives and eventually thought that UV printing might work,” explains Simon Holland. He contacted a Roland supplier, sent samples out for printing, and purchased the printer in April 2018.
At press time, Sassy Squirrel Ink had only been using the printer for about nine months, but based on its knowledge of UV ink was looking forward to the longevity of the printed slates when exposed to the elements.
The Roland VersaUV LEF-300 enables output on materials up to 3.94 inches thick. Since it handles thicker pieces of slate, the company now uses material with surface variations versus the pre-surfaced slates it purchased prior to the VersaUV LEF-300. Not only does the change reduce material costs, but it also provides a more authentic final product, according to Holland.
Equipping the printer with Roland ECO-UV ink allows Sassy Squirrel Ink to offer consistent color matching across all of its slate pieces. In addition, Holland notes that the UV ink maintains vibrancy over time. According to Roland’s website, droplets of ECO-UV ink are cured by UV lights shortly after landing on the surface of the media, leaving almost no time for the droplets to react or be absorbed by the media. This virtually eliminates any ink and media compatibility issues.
With the VersaUV LEF-300 able to print up to 30 inches in width and 13 inches long, the Hollands now offer larger slate pieces. Originally pieces sold at 12×8 or 12×6 inches, but with the new printer plaques measure 18×8 and 16×10 inches. The addition of larger options is popular among Sassy Squirrel Ink’s customers, as the Hollands note it accounts for 25 percent of sales.
Customers can access Sassy Squirrel Ink’s offerings through Amazon, Etsy, and its website, sassysquirrelink.com. On the website, over 80 templates are available to help users build their own designs.
Popular personalization options include home address numbers, customized messages, and photos. Slates are personalized for weddings and anniversaries and feature printed poems, wedding vows, or lyrics to a first dance song. Lyrics to entire songs are printed on the slates at point sizes ranging from 15 to 20, and very clearly read.
On average, the company handles 600 orders a month. Peak times include the holidays. For example, Valentine’s Day orders range from 600 to 700 requests.
Almost all orders are one-off jobs. For an common request involving adding lyrics from a song onto slate with a photo, design time takes ten minutes and another hour total for the entire process.
The Roland VersaUV LEF-300 continues to play a role in the future of Sassy Squirrel Ink. “Photo personalization is really gaining in popularity. There’s just so much versatility with the VersaUV LEF-300. It’s fun to come up with new ideas we can make into printed treasures,” explains Holland.
Sassy Squirrel Ink is a great example of combining technology and creativity to unleash the potential of digital.
Mar2019, Industrial Print Magazine