Does this sound familiar? “Hello, I’d like a quote for 20 posters needed by Friday.” “No problem, I’ll email your quote over. You would have to have your artwork with us by Wednesday…” Wednesday arrives, but no artwork.
Then it arrives but it’s wrong and you can’t edit it. The client’s designer has gone on holiday - but the deadline is not moving. The client spends £50,000 a year with you and you don’t want to let them down, but your artwork department is complaining, the operations manager is complaining, the printer operators are complaining… “we are always picking up the pieces”. It’s all totally frustrating. So Matic Media has done something about it - developed a full end-to-end ‘Web-to-press’ system.
The team at Matic Media don’t think of themselves as pioneers exactly, but what they have done is taken real life experience, learnt from some failings and developed a platform that they believe will grow their business by capitalising on the on-demand requirement for commodity type large-format printed products.
Matic Media’s MD Richard McCombe thinks that this is the future of wide-format print. “We have looked very closely at the traditional print industry and this is contracting by 8% each year. We see the big guys like Cimpress driving this W2P strategy forward for traditional print and they are ahead of the large-format print sector. However, in large-format printing there are so many variations - like ink, lamination, substrates and finishing. We see this as being the barrier to change or software development in this industry. We want to capitalise on the short-run, on-demand display graphic market.” So they’ve done a bit of DIY.
Understand that Glasgow-based Matic Media is a relatively small business with 22 staff run by three directors who are brothers. The youngest, Robert McCombe, is a software development graduate who worked part-time within the business while at Strathclyde University. Now fully employed as the technical director, he quickly became the problem solver with large-format printers and from the off was starting to develop ERP/MIS systems to create business efficiencies.
Right from the start sales director, Adrian McCombe, was looking for an ERP system that would integrate features from the best off-the-shelf customer relationship management (CRM) software and the MD, Richard McCombe, was looking for ways to improve communication from the sales to delivery process.
The initial outcome was MaticTrack, a custom built ERP software that integrated marketing, enquiries, quotes, job bag create and then workflow, departmental and individual tasks to dispatch and delivery. This then tied into Sage (now Xero) to automatically invoice.
Good so far, but the business suffered from seasonality, with December and January eroding the profits from the buoyant months. So Robert was tasked with developing a method of designing photo canvasses online so that the artwork could be sent pre-tiled to the Rip software and then to the printer. Over a three-year period this solution (www.photoartwarehouse.co.uk) processed 300,000 unique photo canvases (and including photos to metal, plastic and wood) for 200,000 unique clients – all self-service and with virtually no telephone enquiries.
“We took this experience and applied this to the concept of wallpaper tiling, customising colours in patterns and using logos,” says Richard McCombe. “This became a miniature version of wallpaper and WooWooNails.co.uk was born, whereby people could design their own nail wraps (self adhesive stickers for hand and toe nails) online to match existing fashion accessories. The brand sold around £100,000 of bespoke designs.
“An auto picking facility, where the shopping basked created the artwork of batches, meant there was no stock inventory. Artwork would be ready at the beginning of the day, pre-Ripped and nested ready to run on HP Latex L26500’s, and then cut and perforated on digital cutting devices,” he explains.
The next phase took Media Matic into the realms of roller blinds/window furnishing. The company took everything it had learned from PhotoArtWarehouse.co.uk and WooWooNails.com and applied this to Printed-blinds.com - a platform that allowed users to design a room setting, create a window aperture, select the hardware and visualise a window with a blank roller blind. This could then be coloured, logos added, photos uploaded or pre-existing patterns manipulated with custom colours etc. to create bespoke designs. On completion and payment the artwork would be sent to dedicated print queues with cutter files sent to a Zund G3 digital cutting table.
“However, this was becoming increasingly frustrating,” adds Richard McCombe, “as we realised the window blind industry was not ready for shorter runs of material than 100m! We were just too early for the level of personalisation we were offering.”
He says: “By 2015 we had decided we must use all this knowledge and skill to grow what we know best: large-format printed products.”
The upshot is the now launching ‘Web-to-press’ platform for wide-format products. At the front end there is not only an online quoting system but an automatic template tool. The company has commoditised 160 of the most common products, profiled every machine to match the product, and mapped the suppliers to the product by creating a just-in-time inventory.
As a client keys in the parameters of the product, the bleed, safe zones, pockets, eyelets etc. are recorded and immediately built into an instantly downloadable template for Matic Media or the client to work from.
For those who don’t want to use templates, Matic Media has created an online proofing and editing tool with all the options Rip software has built into it, like mirrored bleed, spot colour bleeds, stretch flip, crop… without altering the original artwork file.
“Now wait, here comes the best bit…,” says Richard McCombe. “Would it not be really helpful if, online, in real time, after uploading their artwork you were displayed a report of the suitability of your artwork with a preflight report? What does that mean? RGB colours embedded, CMYK colours embedded, spot colours embedded, fonts, image DPI, scaling… all within 15 seconds? Matic Media’s platform has this all built in. It means that clients can now send their artwork directly to the print queue from their own office anywhere in the world.”
To prove the concept Matic Media has bought six second-generation latex ink HP printers to enhance its existing Oce Arizona flatbed, dye-sublimation textile printer, Oce Colourwave and HP L28500.
“The business model is based on many transactions for many customers with a low average transaction value, therefore high quality output machines are a must. The only way this can be achieved is by automating the administration of the order taking and pre-flight of artwork processing. Big printers are not suitable for this model, they require too much down time in media change over and supplying ‘one-off’ for a client is uneconomical. It must be dedicated machines to dedicated stocks and minimal administration and maximum automation,” enthuses Richard McCombe.
He sees this as a ‘Web-to-Press’ model being used across networks, like copy shops or office stationery supplies. “Rather than having multiple types of printer in each location, jobs can be ported to the store with the right hardware, or the store closest to the client with the most efficient print set-up. The potential is hard to digest.”