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Recently I was met by a traditional sign writer that found it very hard to hide his contempt for me, and those like me, that practice the ‘digital new age’ concept of his traditional trade.
I hasten to add that no one is more in awe of our traditional sign guys and girls, whether it be in the brush, airbrush or pastel applications, than me.

But I was more than a little amused when he labelled ‘my type’ as wannabe’s and impostors.

Strong words that I found rather confronting.

Below are some photographs taken by Shane Drew
I’m the first to admit that there are plenty of my Digital colleagues out there way better then me. Just as there are plenty of Traditional sign people that are better than our digital colleagues as well.

Clearly, some traditional signies have embraced the digital age and use both forms to ply their trade. Some, though, have not.

As a wholesale print supplier, most of my own regular clients are traditional screen printers or old school sign painters that either have no intention of going digital, or don’t understand the software to make the machine sing. Some of my clients willingly admit that they are technologically challenged, some just have no interest in the art form that is the digital realm.

Whilst most have vinyl cutters, the growth of the digital print industry has clearly overrun them and some are not happy.

Then you get the shops that buy a machine because they can afford it, but find after a few months it is just too hard or the industry was more competitive than they had first anticipated.

I was talking to several reps recently and they all told me the same thing - a fair percentage of units purchased will be back on the market within 12 to 18 months.

As an example; several years ago I was doing small print jobs for a computer cut sign company out west. It was nothing stunning in terms of turnover, but my client developed a niche business in the farming industry and used me to produce the prints quickly, and his clients were none-the-wiser.

All went well until he rang me one day, thanking me for my support, telling me he was going to buy his own machine.

I was a bit concerned as, unless he wasn’t telling me something, the business I did for him was not going to be enough to support a machine on its own.

He dismissed my concerns and asked who I’d suggest he approach to buy a printer. He wanted the exact same setup as me, so everything would be the same. I suggested the company I purchased from.

I heard back later that he rang that company, and his order was for ‘everything that Shane had’. To his credit, the salesman looked at his business, his turnover and his position, and advised him that he wouldn’t have enough business to warrant buying a machine. The salesman actually declined to sell him one.

The sign guy, not to be deterred, went to an opposition supplier and purchased one from them. Worse, the sales person stitched him up good and proper by supplying all his ancillary materials on the same 5 year lease as his machine. This effectively increased his monthly lease payments by a significant amount.

Eight months later, I get a call asking if I would takeover the lease of the printer he’d purchased. As I had two already I declined. He then admitted he was about to go bankrupt. He realised having his own printer was a bigger burden on his cash flow, than if he just purchased what he needed, when he needed it, and made a mark-up on each sale. It was an expensive lesson to learn. He was very upset that I didn’t try and talk him out of the idea originally. I reminded him of our conversation, and suggested I was not his keeper. He couldn’t, and shouldn’t, blame me.

But I digress.

After my rather confronting conversation with my new traditional sign painter friend, I did actually have a reality check some weeks later. I understood the lesson the traditional sign writer was trying to teach me.

You see, I am a mad keen photographer. Not weddings or anything like that, but landscape and animal photography mainly.

Having had my own dark room years ago, I’m more a traditional photographer. I like to think my best shots are through the lens without software manipulation.

It totally frustrates me to see photos that are heavily photo shopped for instance, winning awards for photographic excellence. It drives me to distraction. It is clearly not a photographic talent, but a Photoshop talent. There is a difference.

In my humble opinion, a good ‘traditional’ through-the-lens photo is infinitely better than an ‘average’ photo that has been enhanced electronically.

But like my new friend, the traditional sign writer said, these digital new age people are impostors. In this instance they are photographers that rely of software enhancement when it comes to ‘real’  photography.

It was only after this, my own experience, did I truly understand my ‘traditional’ colleagues pain.

Lessoned learned.