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Where Craft meets Star Wars?

James Cryer of JDA Print Recruitment, puts one of our industry's star performers under the microscope.

A company with 13 wide-format presses is not something to be sneezed at - welcome to one of the signage sector's best kept secrets.

Avon Graphics is like a friendly neighbour that's been around for years - you've waved to them over the fence, and your kids go to school with their kids - but you really don't know much about them.

We're about to blow the lid on that, but first, let me describe Avon as standing at the cross-roads of where the old and the new collide. There may be no more dramatic or stark example of how, these days, a printed product (such as a wedding invitation or even a business-card), can embrace both art and science, all in one.

Melbourne factory
The 5000 square metre Melbourne factory

Avon Graphics occupies a unique position in time and space: where Star Wars meets Henry's T-Model Ford.

Under each of its three rooves (in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane) are housed some of the latest, state-of-the-art, wide-format equipment, fresh out of the box - in addition to some equipment that may not have looked out of place in Gutenberg's day.

I am, of course, referring to Avon's unique position as the country's largest embellisher! There's that word again but it refers to some of the most ancient and visually dramatic processes that can enhance the printed page. These, of course, include die-cutting, hot-stamping (or foiling), embossing and laminating. These are, in many ways, the ''forgotten arts'' of our trade, easily over-looked in the headlong rush to mass-production and the drive towards lower costs. But in this era of boring sameness, Avon can lift our spirits by its dramatic use of metallic hot-foiling, deep, rich embossing so sharp it'd cut you like a knife, and the clever use of spot-varnishing. All designed to re-vitalise a love of the printed page, something that tends to get overlooked in the modern, anodyne world we inhabit these days.

The bank of 13 Mimaki flatbeds that are in continuous use at Avon Graphics
Just some of the 13 Mimaki flatbeds that are in daily use by Avon Graphics

The company itself is a relative ''newcomer'' - a mere 50-odd years young - founded as a small general printer, in Melbourne by a Mr Jim Barry. A chance encounter (as is often the case) and the take-over of another small company called Firestone Embossing, tipped him irrevocably in the direction of ''special processes'' and so began their journey down the path, if not of enlightenment, certainly, of embellishment!

It was at this time they also committed to another major decision: to become a ''trade only'' service, a policy that they've rigidly adhered to, ever since.

Many people who've been around the industry for a while (such as me) have always associated Avon Graphics with the name Hone, as in ''honing'' one's technical prowess. But it wasn't always so! Young Trevor Hone (the current Chairman) joined the business back in 1978 as their production planner - and the rest is history, as they say.

Tate and TRevor
Tate Hone (left) with Trevor Hone

The company itself has gone on to be the most awarded entrant in the Australian National Print Awards - having won medals every year since its inception, over 30 years ago.

And it's hit the jackpot on the international scene, having won 9 ''Bennies'' at the prestigious International Print Awards, held in Chicago each year.

But meanwhile, back at the ranch ... Trevor himself, was too self-effacing to mention, but he has been a dedicated Councillor of the Victorian PIAA for many years, a former President of the PIAA, was named a Life Member of the PIAA, as well as serving on the board of the National Print Awards for many years - and was named Printer of the Year, some years ago.

And while Trevor Hone remains as the firm's titular head, brother Kerry runs Avon NSW and son, Tate, is the firm's managing director.

But the Avon business is a family affair in more ways than one: it is also a ''family'' business in terms of the longevity of service of some of its employees. Long-standing staff members include Brian Casey (recently retired Victorian sales manager), Robyn Kennedy (production planning and everything else!), Scott Gavenlock (financial controller), David Thorpe (their Brisbane manager) and Dean Troy (long-term manager of their engraving business). Trevor attempts to keep a straight face when he tells us that there are several members of a shadowy group that he calls the Avon Fossil Club (although he declined to give further details!) Not bad for a sprightly young company going on 50!

But one has to adapt to survive, and Avon has undergone a major transformation over the last few years. Three years ago they made the decision to make a dramatic shift away from their traditional reliance on the ancient and honourable crafts of embellishment and move into the ''star wars'' technology of wide-format inkjet. Scattered over three states, Avon now have over a dozen roll-fed as well as flat-bed Mimaki and Vutek hybrid devices (i.e., roll-fed or flatbed), plus a Mimaki dye-sublimation printer. Plus a full suite of finishing equipment

The Mimakis handle the most demanding high-end jobs seamlessly and their flatbeds can print onto a rigid substrate up to 50mm thick! Avon have also perfected an almost totally solid opaque white, as well as spot UN-varnish and a high-build varnish which has the ''look and feel'' of embossing! Reflecting the current trend, they're doing more and more printing on fabric (including tear-drop banners and exhibition backdrops, because, as Trevor says, ''You can backlit it easily, then roll it up, pack it away - and use it again!''

They can also do vehicle- and building wraps - but - like all of Avon's work, it's all part of their strictly ''trade-only'' service offering. In other words, they never deal with end-users.

It's nice to give plaudits where due, and Avon continue to serve the industry with the same high level of service for which they've become renown. And while they recognise the industry faces difficult headwinds, with continued consolidation occurring within the commercial print sector, they are optimistic and even excited by the growth prospects rolling out across the wide-format space.

But what about the brilliant creature that adorns their marketing collateral and probably acts as their ''good luck'' charm? I'm referring, of course, to the marvellous ''winged-lizard'' that was allegedly dreamed up over a glass of red, back in the mi-90's, and which seems to capture that sense of whimsy, creativity and ingenuity which characterise the best of Aussie enterprise. I am reliably informed the creature does exist and can occasionally be seen the deepest, darkest canyons of our mind.

Like this mythic winged-lizard which serves so brilliantly as their logo, the key to success is adaptability, and Avon have certainly been a great example of a creature embodying the best of the old and the new.


Avon Graphics