Creating Playscapes: Wide Format Printing and Finishing for Early Education | Digital Output Magazine

Creating Playscapes: Wide Format Printing and Finishing for Early Education | Digital Output Magazine

Beyond commercial applications like signs and banners, print is a powerful tool for nearly any industry. In some cases, it is utilized to simplify tasks and make them repeatable.

Fit and Fun Playscapes, LLC takes the capabilities afforded by modern digital printing and finishing technologies and applies it to early education and childhood development.

Above: Fit and Fun Playscapes takes the capabilities afforded by modern digital printing and finishing technologies and applies it to early education and childhood development to promote physical activity and emotional learning.

Cutting a Niche Approximately 12 years ago, Pam Gunther volunteered to help paint the schoolyard at her children’s school. As she and members of the parent teacher association hand painted a playful design over the course of a few weeks, she got to thinking—there must be a more effective way to do this. This led to the idea for the company’s inaugural product, stencils. In lieu of hand painting designs from scratch, stencils can be easily placed to create colorful, innovative, and engaging games that promote physical activity and emotional learning.

While this idea proved successful, Gunther also got to thinking—what if games moved inside? From there additional concepts were born, including roll out activity mats for use during gym class or movement breaks in the classroom; and floor stickers, which offer a more permanent installation of indoor activities and exercises.

Today these products contribute to the company’s steady growth, moving from the Gunthers’ kitchen table, to a small closet, a brick-and-mortar store in a local strip mall, and finally to a 5,000 square foot office and production studio in Poughkeepsie, NY with eight employees.

Its client base is mostly schools, healthcare providers, and municipal parks. All of its business comes from the Fit and Fun Playscapes website and it ships across the U.S. and beyond.

The company has more than 40 different copyrights for its products and over a dozen trademarks. It maintains a stock of these printed and cut products to ship out fast as needed.

Higher Quality, More Control From the start, Fit and Fun Playscapes did all of its own designs, but brokered out the production. However, after a few years it realized printing and cutting in house would bring higher quality, lower costs, and more control.

It started the journey of in-house production with an HP Inc. Latex 570 Printer, a Summa cutter, a Graphic Finishing Partners, LLC laminator, and a Caldera RIP. These were quickly put to work producing the floor stickers and roll out activity mats.

This all happened around Fall 2019 and the pandemic arrived shortly after. On a positive note, it gave the company some time to get to know the equipment and experiment with what could be accomplished.

The effects of COVID-19 led Pam’s husband, Gary, to the business. “During this time I started to learn about wide format printing. I stumbled through, making a lot of mistakes and having HP vendors out a bunch of times,” he shares.

Fit and Fun Playscapes came to the realization that an industry veteran could help perfect the print and finishing process. A production manager was hired to strengthen and improve production. This lead to the purchase of a second HP Latex device.

Stencil Work With the in-house production of its floor stickers and roll out activity mats a well-oiled machine, the next project was to bring Fit and Fun Playscapes’ flagship product—stencils—under its own roof.

The company’s stencils are made from thick, commercial-grade plastic, making them durable for pavement markings. However, manufacturing requires a more powerful cutter than what is used for floor stickers and roll out activity mats.

Eventually a Trotec Laser SP2000 was purchased. The SP series CO2 laser cutters are well suited for cutting large format materials, like the commercial-grade plastic used in the stencils. After installing the first, a second was added shortly after.

In addition to in-house laser cutting capabilities, the Trotec lasers enable the company to offer brand materials and incorporate layers for a more comprehensive product right out of the box.

Each stencil package is designed for ease of use and install, including illustrated application instructions and suggestions on how long the painting will take and how many volunteers are needed.

The company also sells paint separately at pre-calculated amounts that contain enough for each reusable stencil and include colors that match what is seen on its product pages. One of Fit and Fun Playscapes’ best-selling products is one of its oldest, signature designs—the Daisy Hopscotch. More than 12 feet long, it creates a movement path for children to follow and features a set of playful green leaves, each with their own shape, and numbers layered on top.

Utilizing the Tools While hand painting is always an option, schoolyards and playgrounds are areas that experience a lot of wear and tear. With products like Fit and Fun Playscapes’ reusable stencils, this effort is streamlined. The company offers a well-rounded offering that utilizes wide format print and finishing tools outside of the traditional print shop.

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