With the right machines and software, and a few people, Brahan and his team produce signage of all types, vehicle graphics, cardboard constructions and special projects to create the image and effect required by customers. One of those tools is SAi Flexi which enables the company to do the variety of work usually found only in larger companies.
Creating effects is something that Brahan has done all his life. He spent more than two decades as a special effects designer for the BBC with his work seen by millions. That passion remains evident today – literally and figuratively.
Established in 1986, Amersham Sign Design began with traditional vehicle painting, later moving to electronic, then digital design and print technologies in the mid-1990s. Through SAi reseller, Graphtec, based in Wrexham, the company began using SAi Flexi in 1996, adding SAi EnRoute shortly after.
“Unlike other systems at the time, Flexi was more comfortable to use,” says Brahan. “Basic functions, like drawing a circle, were easy compared to everything else that was available. More importantly, it offered more file export extensions, enabling files to be used on a wider range of equipment.
“These were early days for digital, and there were myriad new and proprietary formats, some of which were short-lived,” he continues. “Flexi’s advantage was that it could be used with what we had. Today, we use it with our HP Scitex FB950 flatbed printer and our HP Latex 360 large format printer. Flexi exports directly with the Zünd GTK Software to drive our Zünd G3 digital cutter, as well as with our MultiCam 48 Plus CNC router thanks to the direct link with SAi’s own EnRoute software.”
Finding the best solution for customers
About 50 percent of Amersham Sign Design’s business is vehicle graphics. These are designed and printed using SAi Flexi, but the majority of work is for partial wraps.
“This is where understanding customer requirements is particularly important,” explains Brahan. “When you mention vehicle wraps, people tend to think of a full wrap, but in fact, what suits most businesses are smaller panels or sections with their relevant information.
“We’ve made several observations regarding the choice of wraps: if there is body damage, or a section has been poorly prepared and repainted, there is a good chance of paint damage when wraps are eventually removed,” he says. “Using panels is faster and you can keep the graphics and text away from those areas that may have been damaged, or where damage is more likely to be sustained. Smaller panels can also be more easily and quickly replaced.
“We print as well as install full wraps, but always after advising customers. Using SAi Flexi means that we can re-print graphics quickly and with good colour matching,” he adds.
Cut vinyl remains a large percentage of vehicle graphics. The print-and-cut capabilities of SAi Flexi, used with the Zünd digital cutter & T160 Summa Cutter, enable speed, minimal material waste, and fast, accurate production. The True Shape Nesting feature automatically positions designs for optimal material use, while the speed means that any changes in contact details can be addressed with minimal off-the-road time.
Features that ensure quality
“A national restaurant chain wanted its name sand-blasted in stone for all its outlets,” Brahan says. “Using SAi Flexi’s design and cut we produced the masks that would be used by the stone mason to define the areas to be sand-blasted. With the “cut order” feature of SAi Flexi, we were able to choose a sequence that generated the least movement of the cutting head, reducing slippage and increasing registration accuracy.”
Versatility is the key advantage of SAi Flexi for Amersham Sign Design. “With one piece of software, we are able to drive our latex printer, a solvent printer, a UV flatbed printer and the digital cutter,” Brahan says. “It underpins all types of work that we undertake.”
Every now and then, Perry Brahan’s skills as a special effects designer and sign fabricator come together.
In 2009, for the Robert Downey, Jr film, Sherlock Holmes, a breakaway window frame was needed. A flaming stuntman would launch himself through it, 60 feet in the air.
“The window was an elaborate Victorian design and 10 feet tall,” Brahan explains. “In the past, breakaway furniture and fittings were made from balsa wood, but it is a hardwood and strengths can vary throughout the material. We used a composite material which would perform consistently.
“The windows were made using our MultiCam router with SAi Flexi and SAi EnRoute software,” he says. “We made 8 of the 10-foot windows in two sections. These needed to be identical and cut to a high level of tolerance to ensure the resin glass – used to simulate real glass – could be safely mounted. It’s very delicate, so the rails needed to be precisely cut.”
Although only one window was shown, others were needed for rehearsals or as reserves in the event of damage during transport and installation.
“SAi Flexi and EnRoute interact seamlessly to produce reliable and repeatable results, so for this demanding task, they were ideal,” Brahan concludes. “Other software solutions have come and gone, but SAi Flexi stayed the course and continues to improve. It’s a great advantage for a small company not to have to continually learn new software programs and buy additional licences; it’s the foundation of everything we do.”