Sign Shop

“A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.”
    Edward Abbey

Note: This article is an expansion of a posting I made to my blog, “Life With a 7900,” about living and working with my Epson Stylus Pro 7900 large-format printer. The blog, started in late 2011, is of interest mainly to anyone using that printer, which is no longer sold by Epson. A more readable story with some photos, about how I came to own this machine, is in our November, 2011 article, “Printer 2.0.”

A sign being printed for the April, 2017 'Climate March'

Printing a sign for a 2017 climate march.

Some background (snooze alert!): I've owned several ink-jet photo printers over the years. As of this writing I use an Epson Stylus Pro 7900, a 24-inch machine I purchased in October, 2011. The machine is beginning to show its age and may be approaching the end of its life, but it makes wonderful prints. I'll continue to slog along with it until it doesn't. It's cranky and requires effort, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, to clear “clogged nozzles” in the printhead prior to each printing job. (As an aside, these are often not nozzle clogs at all, but other issues with the complex chain of components that deliver ink to the printhead; regardless, they must be resolved before prints can be made.) On bad days this is frustrating enough to raise thoughts of physical violence, perhaps the use of explosives on the 200+ pound (90+ kg) machine. On good days I can just print, and it's wonderful. The print quality and color matching make up for many mechanical sins, and the 7900 has paid for itself many times. What's important to note is that this machine must be run frequently; it's made for production work that would run it all day every day. My use is more limited, and that infrequent use has much to do with the problems I've had with it.

I've avoided politics in my postings here. Exceptions have been rare, perhaps not more than three or four articles in over fifteen years of writing. I never expected life with a 7900 would have anything to do with that, and it doesn't. But life in the U.S. (and around the world to various degrees) has been, uh, interesting these last 432 days (as I write this on 28 March, 2018). My wife (Pat) and I are quite liberal in our attitudes and approach to life in general; living in Montana, overall a very conservative state, has sometimes been frustrating, sometimes depressing, sometimes hilarious. We didn't come here to be annoyed by our Republican neighbors and generally angry all the time, so we aren't, in spite of news reporting that makes it seem most of this country is. As Will Rogers said, “Most men are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” I've made up my mind, and I'm not interested in arguing the point.

Sign(s) of the Times

Signs printed for the January, 2017 'Women's March'

Signs for the 2018 'Women's March.'

Back in April, 2017, we participated in a climate march in Missoula, MT, about 75 miles/121 km south of home. I made a couple of large signs to carry in the march (part of one shown above). I printed those on a 24-inch-wide roll of an inexpensive but durable satin/luster surfaced paper and attached the prints to sheets of quarter-inch foam core. This worked out well, and the signs looked great for minimal cost. I thought they were much nicer and more easily read than hand-lettered signs on poster-board, as commonly seen at these sorts of events. People in the large crowd of marchers loved them.

And just like that I became a sign shop.

In January, 2018, Pat asked me to make signs for a local (Kalispell, Montana, about 60 miles/97 km north of home) version of a nation-wide “Women's March .” These, too, were well-received.

Signing In

The message may be serious, but the signs are fun to make. Pat and I will kick around ideas, or she'll make up or find a slogan she likes. Thanks to his endless stream of often ill-considered tweets, our 45th president sometimes provides the perfect caption. Then I'll dig around the Web looking for clip-art or other appropriate images I can use without paying a royalty or stock fee; there's no shortage of these, some very nice, but typically the free versions are small jpegs of quite low resolution. These must be enlarged by orders of magnitude to accommodate my design. You'd expect these to look terrible, but the results are often surprisingly good. I modify the pictures to best suit my design and the slogan, changing colors, filling in areas, cropping or vignetting the image.

Printing these signs is done the same as any other photo printing job. I size the image as needed for the sign, complete the design work, set up the printer with a 24-inch roll of luster, and then print. The prints are then cut to fit the foam core, which has been stapled to wooden handles (in this case, cheap yardsticks). A spray adhesive is used to attach the print to the foam core. The signs below, for this month's (March, 2018) March For Our Lives held in cities around the world, were made in the same way. I made the nozzle check test print as usual. It showed no clogs or other problems, so I printed the larger sign, which looked as expected. A half hour later I printed the smaller sign. I could see as soon as that print started to emerge from the printer that the color in the cow pie photo was way off. As this is a non-critical application I let the print finish. Had this been one of my photos for display I'd have canceled the print job and scrapped the print, cleared the problem, and printed again. I then did another nozzle check and found light-black (Epson doesn't call this “gray”) ink patterns had gone missing. It's not common, but also not unheard of for a color channel in the printhead to disappear in the middle of a print job; this was one of those frustrating cases.

Signs printed for the March, 2018 'March For Our Lives'

Signs for the 2018 'March For Our Lives.'

When I got the 7900, and its Canon predecessor (my first large-format printer), I never imagined I'd print things like this. I don't plan to do it regularly or for anyone other than Pat. Making these things provides another opportunity to run the printer during slow periods. It's fun, can get the creative juices flowing, and we've received positive comments from the (obviously) like-minded folks in the rallies and marches. Keep calm, and carry a big sign!

March, 2018

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