The Screen Print Man

Classic Stripes in Vasai, PRS Permacel in Ambernath, SJS in Bengaluru, Craftsman Labels in Haridwar, Galio Graphics in Gurgaon, Pune Metagraph and AA’s Ad-Aids in Pune, Monochem and Rippu Daman in Delhi, Rybcal in Bhiwandi, Santi Arts in Guntur, Prayag Advertisers in Hapur, Vow Grafix in Baroda, and many other screen printing companies have something in common.

10 Oct 2014 | By Shripad Bhat

These companies are riding on the automobile decals market, along with the many other products in their portfolio.

And, most of the slim and silent scooters, roaring bikes, cars, pick up vans, tractors, buses, trucks that we see (or use) on the roads have designer decals on either side of the vehicle. Even this trend is changing. Small decals, or say stickers with some design are applied on fuel tanks, back and front of the vehicle body (cars).

The most aesthetic beauty that arrests your eyes when you see a two or four-wheeler is the body side designer graphics (decals). Decals are used simply to enhance the aesthetic beauty of the vehicle. India has created its own market for auto graphics.

By the way, in the ongoing TV commercials, some of the leading two wheeler giants, highlight designer graphics as one of the important features of their brand, besides touching upon other advantageous features and parts. 

Role of Screen printing
Arguably, screen printing is the most competitive way and also the most preferred choice for printing automotive graphics and labels mainly because of the durability, quality and productivity factor.

So, despite the wide-format digital presses, automobile decals are mainly produced using screen printing technology – semi automatic screen printing machines, wide-format screen printing machines and even fully automatic cylinder presses. These companies also have advanced large-format screen making set up. Some of these companies use digital press for producing small-run decals for demo vehicles, digitally printed decals have not found to be fit for outdoors. The durability of these digital decals is at most five or seven years as mandated by the OEMs.

In an interview, S D Bapat of PRS Permacel, Ambernath, favoured screen printing as the most competitive choice for printing automotive graphics and labels for outdoor suitability. “I do not think India is lacking in anything when compared with other South East Asian countries where two- wheeler markets are very strong. We are at par with the global standards and are very competitive. Considering the intricacy of good print, the science and technology involved in it, screen printing today is very advanced and in depth, it is not superficial.”

Are we ‘UV’?
UV technology, so far, has not made any successful strides in automobile decal printing, hence decals are printed using solvent inks. The printed jobs are dried either with a racking system or through fully automatic wicket dryers, which are connected to automatic machines for faster production.

In an interview with Grafica News, Pune Metagraph's Bhushan Musale, said that most of their over coat inks are solvent-based. He also added that their objective to move into UV technology was to improve quality. “But there is no UV technology which gives a lasting outdoor life to our products. It failed the weathering test conducted in our full-fledged lab (only few companies in India have this facility) which is equipped with Zenon Arc weather-o-metre.”

Seconding him, Bapat said, "Currently in our segment, UV has not made much progress. Hence we have to depend on the solvent medium. I think the screen printing industry should work more towards going green.”

Primary and secondary market for decals
Within the automobile decal market there are two segments; the primary market and the secondary market. In the primary market, decal manufacturers like Classic Stripes, PRS Permacel, Pune Metagraph, supply decals directly to OEMs (automobile manufacturers) on just-in-time principle.

On the other hand, in the secondary market, screen printers supply decals to automobile dealers and accessory shops. It is possible that the decals may get damaged after several years of ride or due to abrasion or accident. In that case OEMs do not have the facility to replace the decals but one has to approach automobile dealers or accessory shops. Also, in case of four wheelers most of the vehicles do not have decals. If at a later stage vehicle owners want to put decal on their vehicle, then they have to approach four wheeler accessory shops as OEMs do not supply decals.

So, secondary market is breeding a new opportunity for screen printers although some of the leading decal producers also have interest in the secondary market. In the remote Namakal town in Tamil Nadu, Blue Diamond Printographics, a digital and screen printing service provider has diversified into automobile decals for secondary market. They supply decals to heavy commercial vehicles and light commercial vehicles, through heavy vehicle dealers.

The entry of Vow Grafix is also to cater to the secondary market. VOW Grafix Industries produces automobile decals (both for imported and Indian cars and bikes/scooties), graphic stickers, labels, PU dome labels, stickers, door stickers, vinyl sticker, chrome stickers, customised graphics, etc. They have their own showroom in the heart of Baroda city, besides having distributors in Gujarat, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharashtra. They have also exported decals to Tanzania.

“There is no denying the fact that the decals applied on vehicles at OEM's end are of high quality. However, the secondary market, what is also called as ‘automotive aftermarket’ or ‘replacement market’ gives the customers wider choice as per their passion. With after-market decals, customers can reapply / replace decals of their choice at their will. Our growth is 60% per annum which was just 20% when we started off. We do not want to simply flood the market but want to establish our brand as quality supplier and create goodwill,” said Harish Rana of Vow Grafix, Baroda.

Automobile decal is an artistic field. Decals look simple to produce through screen printing process. But it is not so. “It is an 'A' class screen printing multi-colour job with complexity of design and high demand from automobile OEMs,” said Bhushan Musale.

He feels that decals have got to be on the high list of the most difficult jobs to print and screen process is the only way to print such a high quality. It requires 'craftsmanship' in producing eye-catching decals with rich multicolours (seven to eight colours) for two- and four- wheelers (utility vehicles) using a fleet of screen printing machines (Grafica being one of the leading suppliers in India).

According to Harish Rana, from concept to design to printing, decal production is a big journey as there are so many parameters / processes to be followed.

“We know people’s choice, their liking for auto graphics and stickers. We have a design team, comprising of my three sons. We understand the needs of the young market. We offer decals with eye-caching designs and appealing colours for cars and bikes. We are continuously designing new graphics as per market trend and customer feedback while at the same time we give top priority to quality. The decals should be easy to apply and remove, and it should not cause dirt or stains on vehicle body. We guide the secondary market customers properly on how to apply the decal, and offer replacement guarantee.”

He added, “We constantly create new designs besides selection of appropriate colour patterns. One can use the best machines and materials to make graphic decals but if the design is not appealing, there would really be something missing.”

Some of the challenges he highlighted are; maintaining consistent quality, printing with edge sharpness, preventing occurrence of Moire, colour reproduction as per WYSWYG principle (what you see what you get), registration accuracy, and tackling dot gain / dot loss.

Indian automobile scenario
As you all know from the economic and business media reports that two-wheeler markets are riding very high and there is still lot of potential. That is why automobile giants are penetrating more on the rural market. If the rural infrastructure is developed well, the demand will further go up.

The Automotive Mission Plan 2006-16, was aimed at doubling the contribution of automobile sector in GDP by taking the turnover to USD145 billion by 2016 (although the updated figure was not available at the time of writing this quick blog) with special emphasis on export of small cars, MUVs, two and three wheelers, among many other things.

With such never-say-die attitude of the automobile industry (all segments), I firmly believe that the decal market will grow further. That’s why one can see some new entrants in this field such as Image Care in Ahmedabad, VOW Grafix in Baroda.