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Sign World Review

Tried and tested.

The Wonder from Down Under

By Dewi Dewison

At one time if you had a request for a jazzy looking chalk board for the local pub or a pavement sign for a sandwich shop that looked that little bit different from all the rest, you would have either had to have been an exceptional artist, or farmed the work out to a chalk artist. Not any more with the arrival of a superb product range from Knomad Chalkart Systems called, unsurprisingly, the Knomad Chalkart Studio.

Developed by professional chalk artists in Australia, the Knomad Chalkart Studio is a collection of 260 hand drawn images, every one a unique and detailed high-resolution image that has been specifically designed for use in the sign industry. The images themselves have transparent backgrounds, which work in conjunction with Adobe Photoshop, making it easy to mix and match individual images to make a customised image.

Of the eight editions available we were sent the Pub Pack, I wonder if they are trying to tell us something. The other editions include the Organic Pack, the Deli/Bakery Pack, the Starter Edition, Intermediate Edition, Specialist Edition, Professional Edition and finally, all of the above on one CD called The Whole Collection. The difference between each edition? Well the Pub Pack edition has 20 images designed specifically for use in pubs, small bistros and the like, while the other editions are either targeted towards a specific industry or are a chosen selection of images from the collection.

Knomad offer some unique bonuses as well. Now you can not only buy images individually and download them from the website, but you can also buy the entire library of artwork in a low resolution GIF format, ideal for laying out artwork for jobs and gaining client approval before you go ahead and purchase the high resolution version. This library is called The Designer Library and is available on the website for $50 (under £30). We’re also reliably informed that there will be some free downloads available on the website, allowing potential purchasers to test the images on their printer before they commit to purchase.

The quality of the images is truly outstanding, but rather than prattling on for a couple of pages, we’ve taken the liberty of taking the Chalkart Studio out of the box and we’re going to make a sign with it. After all, this is what you’ll be doing if you purchase it, so it’s probably going to be useful to read how we got on.

Inside the box is a 32 page full colour manual and as you’d expect, a professionally presented CD case containing the Chalkart Studio CD. The bizarre thing is, once you’ve got the CD into the computer, you kind of expect to see some fancy menu pop up with the Knomad Chalkart Studio logo splashed all over the place, but its not there! Why? Well to secure the CD from being pirated (illegally copied) the files are contained inside a zip file and are password protected. Nice easy solution to get you up and running though, you can either log into the Knomad website and follow the links to register or fill out the license agreement in the box and return a copy to your seller. Once you’ve done either of the above you’ll get a password that’ll allow you into the treasures within.

After entering the password, you can now unzip the files to your hard drive. You’ll find a helpful PDF file that explains how to get started, another PDF that is a reference card of the particular edition you have purchased and of course, all the images in .PSD (Adobe PhotoShop) format. Our edition (the Pub Pack) included various food items such as roast beef along with montages of cocktails and various other drinks. Our personal favourite is the fish & chips image, the fish has been particularly well drawn and looks like such a happy chappy, you’d be hard pushed to find anyone who didn’t like this image.

Being in .PSD format, you’ll need a copy of Adobe Photoshop to be able to open the images and edit them, but there are many packages, Adobe Illustrator and CorelDRAW being two of them, that will import a .PSD format file. Fortunately the industries sign software SignLab has now included support for this file format in version 7, but for those still using version 5 or lower, you may have a problem as .PSD files are unsupported. FlexiSign Pro, or at least version 7 of FlexiSign Pro also offers support for the .PSD format. Due to the vast amount of graphics software used in the sign industry it is impossible for us to check compatibility with it all, so it is well worth checking whether the software you use regularly will import .PSD files, or look into purchasing Adobe Photoshop if you don’t already own it. For the purposes of a smooth review, we’re going to assume you already have Adobe Photoshop or software capable of editing .PSD files.

Laying out the sign is quick and easy. We’re using CorelDRAW, which allows you to import .PSD files with transparent backgrounds, so a couple of clicks and the image is onscreen. Once the image is in place, we place text around it, much as you would produce any other sign. We’ve chosen to do a breakfast menu, using white vinyl for the lettering and an image that displays a variety of breakfast items.

Printing the image is just as simple providing you’re familiar with the printer and software. As we do not have print facilities in-house at the moment, we took our image along to a helpful signmaker who has a 30” Roland VersaCamm, and he printed us virtually everything from the Pub Pack Edition. One thing that had us a little puzzled was the cut lines, or rather the absence of them. This was quickly solved by manually drawing the cut lines in SignLab, but for those who struggle with drawing their own cut lines, this could pose a slight hiccup to the process.

With the images now printed, we set about making up our chalkboard by getting some sheet material (in this case some 5mm foamboard) and painting it with chalkboard paint. There are numerous suppliers of chalkboard paint, but it is all pretty similar stuff and dries relatively quickly. There are also suppliers who will provide you with ready to use chalkboard substrates, and although this may be a little more expensive, it does speed up the process. Once the substrate was dry we applied the now printed image and the white lettering to it and that, as they say, was that. We’d imagined there to be something more to it before we started, but that really is all there is to it.

Up to now, the Chalkart Studio may appear nothing more than a well-produced image library, but one of the unique things about this collection is the fact that it is supplied as .PSD files with transparent backgrounds. For those unfamiliar with these types of images, all it means in real terms is that it makes it easier to use several images together to produce a new image. You can resize one of the images, overlay it onto or behind another, or even use the Adobe Photoshop gadgetry (filters) to customise elements of the image. This makes the Chalkart collection of images far more than just an image library, it is more akin to the vector images we use in the sign industry everyday in which you can edit and alter the image to suit the particular sign you are producing.

Knomad Chalkart Studio is an unusual product in that by the time we’ve written how to make a sign using the images provided on the CD, you could’ve logged into the website, downloaded one of the free images, printed it and applied it to your own chalkboard! You can just use the images you buy either on CD or from the website but something that may take a little longer to master is manipulating and customising the images to suit the sign you want to make, however, with a virtually unlimited amount of variations possible with the images available we’re sure the Knomad Chalkart Studio would be a useful digital asset to any sign business, and an asset that would help produce great looking chalkboards again and again.
Website: www.chalkartstudio.com

For more information on the test or a copy of the magazine phone 0044 (0) 1372 741411 or email derek@aemorgan.co.uk

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