Signs of the times: TC becomes a national center for large-sized digital graphics

TRAVERSE CITY – In the world of signage, there are graphics and there are G-R-A-P-H-I-C-S.

Traverse City is rapidly gaining attention as a national hot spot for the production of those eye-popping, large-sized computer generated graphics that more and more companies are relying on to catch the public's attention.

Leading the way is Britten Banners, whose flags, tents, banners, and signage have been used to promote corporate images for years. They have a national reputation for quality graphics that are huge. For example, their ColorJazz Hi-Q Plus MacroPrinter can produce a digital banner up to 16 feet wide and 100 feet long in less than three hours. The company has several large format digital printers in its state-of-the-art 125,000 square foot facility on Cass Road.

The company's clients include the University of Notre Dame, Tournament of Roses, Anheuser-Busch, Gateway International Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, John Deere, Subaru of America, ATP Tennis, Pearle Vision, Purina, General Motors, and many more. Britten's work appears on more than 500 nationally-televised events every year.

Founded by Traverse City native Paul Britten in the 1980s, the company has grown to employ more than 120 employees. Britten offers ordering on line ( or by phone, fax or email.

Another Traverse City firm-Signplicity-is carving out its own niche of the large format graphics market through its newly-launched web site,

It's an online, wide format digital printing company that specializes in digital printed banners, point of purchase displays, graphics, posters and vehicle wraps.

Owner Simon Wolf started Signplicity four years ago in the basement of his house. Within a month he hired his first employee. In about 18 months he moved the business out of the house and into a location in Blair Township. In three years Signplicity outgrew that site and moved to the current location, also in Blair Township.

But business has been going so well that Wolf is planning to build his own 6,000-square foot building, also in Blair Township. The larger space will allow Signplicity to provide even better services to its clients, who include Northwestern Michigan College, Interlochen Center for the Arts, the City of Port Huron, Crystal Mountain Resort, Espresso Bay, and Prime Outlets of Birch Run.

"Good service is the key to our success," explained Wolf, who heads a team of seven employees. "Our clients are usually small to medium ad agencies and their clients. Probably 80 percent of our business comes through agencies. We're not going after the Target or Subway accounts, but smaller local or regional chains."

Using its simple-to-follow format, clients can design their own product up to 30 feet in length. Then they add it to their checkout cart and receive the completed item within two to four days. Emergency jobs can be shipped even quicker.

" was created to fulfill the growing needs of our graphic design, ad agency and franchise clients," explained Wolf. "Through research and suggestions from our clients, we found that there was a great need for an online digital printing site that was easy to use. As a response of fulfilling that gap, evolved."

Britten operates a similar web site called

Another company utilizing large digital graphics is TruckSkin, established in Traverse City in 2001 as a division of Britten Media. Co-founder and company president Joe Lapekas has since bought the firm from Britten.

TruckSkin is a vinyl covering that slides into grooves on the sides and back of a truck or van body, changing it into an eye-catching, rolling billboard. The colorful skins are easy to change, inexpensive and efficient. With vivid four-color imaging, TruckSkin enables a business to use its trucking fleet to create a larger-than-life presence.

TruckSkin has enjoyed impressive growth, to the point where it is one of the top five firms in the nation to specialize in vehicle graphics and the only company to serve clients in every state in the country.

In only five years, the company has "skinned" trucks or entire fleets for several manufacturers and retailers, including Proctor & Gamble, Brown Lumber, Budget Blinds, The Bedroom Company, Gallery Furniture, Pepe's, Georgia Crown Spirits, Piano Nation, and more. More than 5,000 trucks across the nation now carry TruckSkin panels on their sides, including clients in all 50 states and five foreign countries. Companies can order TruckSkins online at or by calling (231) 932-0286.

Traverse City's signage leadership is also strengthened by Corbin, among the nation's leading "wayfinding" signage companies. Though Corbin is not a sign manufacturer, it provides signage consulting to some of the largest companies and institutions in the United States.

Northern Michigan Advertising Club President Danielle Smith says this collective of signage companies locally is great news for the region.

" If you have a business you can operate from anywhere, why not this beautiful place? That's what we're seeing from companies like these. This is great news for the ad industry and excellent news for our local economy." BN