Spectrum Scan: Portrait of a print artist

Digital printing? Offset on non-paper? Screen printing? CTP bureau? Amit Shah's company defies all definition as it unfurls one game-changing technology after another, says Ramu Ramanathan

02 Feb 2011 | By Ramu Ramanathan

Amit Shah believes printing has moved beyond the narrow confines of the x-axis and y-axis. For him, the future of print is all about the z-axis.

 "Printing is often seen as a traditional method of putting ink on paper. This is a simple 2-D product. With the z-axis, the print application adds another dimension. Shah says, "It’s just a question of igniting your imagination."

Shah who loves pithy one-liners has a favourite one, "Where paper ends, we start." Another Shah slogan is, "there’s no precedence to most of our jobs."

As theories go, it may seem a bit sci-fi, but there’s a method to this madness. And the method is solid. Spectrum Scan is quite clear that print constitute a mere 20% of its core activity. Because the team believes they trade in imagination and ideas for POP/POS items.

Originally situated in Shah & Nahar in Lower Parel, the group pre-empted the slowdown in Mumbai and shifted into a 45,000 sq/ft  four-storey plant in Vasai. This unit does everything. It creates inexpensive but stylish thermoforming structures from moulds; plus wide–format screen printing with vignettes and halftones.

It houses a R&D laboratory which is manned by the indefatigable Burman who runs an array of tests on the Wheatrometer to check substrate sustainability (weather conditions, sun rays, wind, dust, rains).

This, says Shah, "gives Spectrum Scan a definitive edge when we negotiate with modern retail/conventional  outlets and brand managers who admire our ability to provide durable solutions at an inexpensive cost."

A creative journey
Spectrum Scan started operations in a single gala in 1987. By the time, the company had shifted its mother-plant to Vasai, it acquired a reputation for big ideas and aggressive marketing in POP//POS market. There are stories of Spectrum Scan sending tempo load of print applications/samples  to convince a dithering customer.

But what a lot of people forget is, Amit invested in the right kit at the right time. The decisions may seem impulsive, but in the long-term it paid off. In fact the train journey which we undertook with Shah from Andheri to Vasai in the Mumbai local train, seemed to be a metaphor for Spectrum Scan. Fast, no nonsense approach to reach the final destination. It’s this ability to make rules as one goes along that’s given Spectrum Scan, an edge.

Shah invested in a semi automatic screen printing machine from Atma which he purchased from Taiwan. After labouring for six months to master his art and generating any business with the investment, his team started to produce screen printing samples at 90 lpi (screen resolutions are usually, 45–65 lpi). This was  truly path breaking, since in those days no one use to print hi-definition  halftone with screen printing.

Pretty soon, Shah and his team realised the versatility of screen printing. They realised the surface does not have to be printed under pressure. Plus high-end screen printing inks from Sericol can be used to work with a variety of materials. The tech-team headed by S Rajgopal, general manager, works developed a technique which could be used on items, including decals, clock faces, flange, cutout standee, table top dispenser and production of large volumes of FSUs (floor standing units).

A gallery of awards
The body of work – and amount of creative sweat that is poured into it – has ensured Spectrum Scan has been a runaway award winner. It has bagged 65 national awards and 45 international awards. In 2010, it won the PrintWeek India Screen Printer of the Year Awards amidst tough competition.
Shah recalls an incident during the Fespa India Awards when an unknown stranger hugged him after the ceremony. "The man was a screen printer with a small set up from Jharkhand. He said, I’ve given screen printing a new lease of life. And the man felt he had a future in screen printing in spite of the threat from digital. That brief encounter has been the greatest award for me."

Thermoforming: A game changer
What is truly astonishing at Spectrum Scan is a raft of thermoforming machines which the company has developed indigenously.

The process (totally under wraps) involves printing and forming, providing a complete signage and POP solution, right from conceptualising to the final product. A wide variety of materials like PETG, HIPS, PP, PC, PVC, Acrylic are deployed. As Shah says, "It’s 20 months of R&D, and blood sweat and tears."

There’s a huge amount of ideating. Once the concept is finalised and agreed upon by the client, dummy prototypes are created and sent to the clients. This may change the landscape for signage industry.
Shah says: "We refrain from charging our clients for concepts. Although, every new design prototype motivates us to start from scratch. Our team of designers have been able to create more than what the client expects. We have fathered many products." Some of the products have been patented by Spectrum Scan.

The dies for the thermoforming moulds are created in-house. More than print, it is an engineering process where a plastic sheet is heated to a pliable forming temperature, formed to a specific shape in a mould, and trimmed to create a techno-commercial product.

One step ahead of the competition
Shah has always remained a step ahead of the market. A look at the Spectrum Scan gallery which was kept on display indicates a dazzling array of shapes and sizes of POP items, as well as applications. Amit says: "Size is a factor which keeps us ahead of competition. Have you heard of a 90-inches guillotine machine? We have it." Today, it may be the largest cutting machine in India.

With a client list that boasts of blue-chip premium brands like ICICI, HUL, L'Oreal, Castrol, Microsft, Airtel, ITC, Uninor, Vodafone, Colgate, Cadbury, Citibank etc, Spectrum Scan is clearly eyeing a larger role for itself.

To achieve its goal, its gearing to expand into a 45,000 sq/ft plant – a short distance from its existing unit. Work is in progress. By mid-2011, there will be machine reorganisation. All the thermoforming machines and offset presses with interdeck (which doesn’t print paper) will be shifted to the new unit. Shah plans to have a showroom and a specialised fabrication factory, here.

The fleet of wide-format machines  with latest HP Latex printer, which are housed in Lower Parel unit will be shifted to the mother plant in Vasai. The Lower Parel unit will serve as a headquarters and marketing operations, and continue to produce thermal CTP plates for print shops in and around Shah & Nahar.

Even as we exit, Amit Shah plucks some Japanese Mint leaves from his little garden which he lovingly tends. He says, ruefully, "if I was not a printer, I would be a farmer."
What was evident during the visit to the Vasai plant is, under the rough-tough exterior, Spectrum Scan is headed by a man who loves to stare at the bee honeycomb outside his top-floor office after a longish day’s work. Perhaps Amit Shah sees a parallel in Spectrum Scan and the hardwork the honeybee and the army of bees puts in to create few kilos of honey, which "have eternal and immortal value".


Spectrum Scan is one of the top 500 print firms in India. This rating is from THE 500 list which is published by PrintWeek India and powered by Xerox India.