8 tips on ordering jumbo lightboxes
Thinking about super large lightboxes? At Blue River Digital, we’ve designed and built every conceivable size and shape of lightbox — but the really big lightboxes over 10 feet or larger — these are our favorite! There’s nothing quite like a vivid, high-energy lifestyle photo all lit up at 12 or 15 feet across or even 20 to 60 feet, there’s really no limit!
But what does it take to build a lightbox this large? Are there any limitations or special considerations? Let’s fly over a few quick tips on how to plan your Jumbo Lightboxes project!
1. TYPE OF LIGHTBOX. The first decision to check off your list, is determining which type of lightbox is going to work best for your project. Most ultra-large graphic lightboxes fall into one of three categories:
conventional "sandwich" design, with the backlit graphic film pressed between two plastic lenses;
tension fabric design, with no lens sandwich, just a swath of fabric that has some elasticity, stretched onto an aluminum frame; or
stretch vinyl design, with a vinyl "canvas" stretched across 2 or 4 edge rails (no lenses).
"Sandwich" lightbox models are the most popular for both indoor and outdoor, but they’re also the most limited in their adaptability to jumbo sizes over 10 feet, as we’ll see in the other tips below. The main justifications for sandwich lightboxes in jumbo sizes are:
to match adjacent décor
for easy graphic changeout
for brightest, most saturated color
Tension fabric lightboxes are gaining in popularity for their efficiency in shipping and setup, as well as price economy. The main downsides with fabric lightboxes are that they do not perform well outdoors because of their absorbency, and also their lack of vandal-resistance.
Stretch vinyl lightboxes are especially designed for outdoors because of their durability and relative simplicity; no sandwich to trap moisture, plus the vinyl media does not absorb water.
2. MAXIMUM SEAMLESS GRAPHIC SIZES. Each type of lightbox has a general limitation as to how large of a full-color, digitally-printed, backlightable image can be produced on a seamless material:
Sandwich lightboxes use what is commonly known as "duratrans", which is the high-saturation, high-resolution polyester film you see in most lightboxes in retail applications. Industry-wide, the largest seamless duratrans on the market is approximately 6 x 10 ft., unless you opt for an inkjet alternative, which may enable longer prints in one dimension while restricting the other dimension even further. For example, most inkjet backlit prints are available up to 4 or 5 ft. wide by however long the roll of media is. Your backlit graphics printer (such as Blue River Digital) can let you know what their equipment and inventory limitations are.
Tension fabric is usually limited to a 10 ft. roll width by sometimes 30, 40 or even 100 feet, depending on the printer’s production limitations. At Blue River Digital, we don’t recommend seamless lengths of backlit fabric beyond 40 ft. due to production challenges and waste factors, but contact us for details.
Backlit vinyl boasts the largest available seamless sizes in the business, at up to 16 ft. (5 meters) wide by however long the roll of media is. This is the media you’ll find on the sides of skyscrapers, billboards and other ultra-gigantic color graphic applications. Plus, vinyl can be heat-seamed to create a virtual "seamless" canvas of unlimited size, with the only caveat (for backlit applications) being a slightly-visible darker line at the heat seam joint. At these sizes, your only enemies become high winds and the sheer weight of the vinyl.
3. MAXIMUM LENS SIZES. Jumbo-size conventional (sandwich) lightboxes come with one or two lenses, usually made of polycarbonate resin. The bulk polycarbonate is formed in sheets 100" wide x 150 ft. long. So technically, this is the maximum "seamless" size of a duratrans lightbox; although in practice, you’ll rarely see this type of lightbox longer than 10 or 20 feet per separate section.
Fabric and vinyl lightboxes are not subject to the lens-size limitation, since they do not use any lenses. This alone explains why fabric and vinyl capture a much higher percentage of the super jumbo lightbox market than they do the smaller sizes under 10 feet across.
Another workaround to the limitations on lens size is simply to place a series of large lightboxes adjacent to each other, for a jumbo backlit panorama that’s "near" seamless, such as this real estate sales office "overlooking" the bay:
4. MAXIMUM FRAME SIZES. In this regard, there’s no distinction among the three lightbox "types" discussed earlier. The main factor to be aware of, is the industry-wide threshold of 18 feet, where most extruded aluminum rails ship from the various extruders at 18 ft. length and not any longer. This means that any lightbox frame that has one side longer than 18 feet is likely to have a seam in the frame, regardless of the "type" of lightbox. Adding a seam to a lightbox frame is not a challenge structurally, although it may present challenges esthetically. If you need the exposed perimeter frame on your lightbox to remain unseamed from corner to corner, then you may want to take into account the industry’s 18-foot limitation on extruded aluminum rails.
5. POWER REQUIREMENTS. Again this consideration is irrespective of lightbox types. It’s a simple matter of planning to ensure that adequate wattage can be delivered to the install site of your jumbo lightbox. At Blue River Digital, we can provide you with the estimated wattage for any size of any given lightbox model on request, so that you can plan for adequate power.
6. LAMPING. All lightboxes use either direct-backlit or edgelit lamping to provide uniform brightness across the surface of your backlit graphic. Common sense dictates that the larger the lightbox, the more lamps are added to cover the increased square footage — and this is true: there is technically no limitation to the number of lamps that can be added as the size of the lightbox increases.
The exception to this rule is the increasingly-popular "edgelit" lamping design, where LED lamps are placed along the edges of a translucent white diffuser lens which is oriented behind the backlit duratrans film, and these edge-mounted lamps shine "sideways" through the translucent substrate to make it glow and effectively backlight your artwork. Blue River Digital leads the industry in edgelit lamping technology, and our state-of-the-art edgelit panels are able to deliver solid, non-diminished brightness across the face of all sizes of graphic lightbox up to 6 feet across in the shorter dimension. So the bottom line is, if you are hoping to deploy a lightbox model that uses edgelit lamping, such as our EdgeLyte Premium line, you’re okay up to 6 ft. in the shorter dimension, but if you want sizes larger than that, you’ll need to switch to direct backlighting.
7. FREIGHT. No matter how large your lightbox, of course it needs to arrive safely and economically at your destination! With proper consultation with our custom lightbox specialists, you will be given a list of questions to answer before you get too far into the design process, such as, do you have a forklift onsite at the delivery point? Is there a receiving dock? Is inside delivery required? These types of answers will assist in your planning, as to how large of a lightbox you’re able to accept onsite. Often a jumbo lightbox will require a flatbed trailer for delivery, because the lightbox is too long to unload safely from a box trailer. We want to help you make sure there are no ugly surprises late in the process, after it’s too late to change your design.
The good news for fabric and vinyl lightboxes is, most of these models ship disassembled, which means you’re getting a larger lightbox in a smaller carton. This is often a justification all by itself, to switch to a non-lens lightbox type, for the hassle-free economy of a compact shipping carton.
8. CRANES AND ASSEMBLY. The sleeper in this checklist of challenges is, for ultra-large lightboxes, how to get them off the truck and into final position. Usually for sizes over 7 feet in the smaller dimension, if they’re to be delivered to an existing indoor install site, you’ll either need to select a non-lens model so that it can ship disassembled, or provide for crane delivery through a window or stairwell. The main reason we’re adding this tip to the list is to remind you to budget for cranes, dollies and/or special assembly tools and personnel. Small lightboxes can be handled and mounted with one or two workers, but lightboxes in the 15 to 60-foot size range need a whole crew plus special consideration for handling once they arrive at the delivery point.
Please let us know if you’re in the early stages of planning a jumbo lightbox installation, and we’ll be sure to help you think of all the right questions to formulate your ideal strategy, from which model, to how the graphics will work, to ensuring a beautiful complement to your space design!
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