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Wide-format printing for a good cause… The story behind Flat Daddy and the people who make them.
Eric Crockett first heard the intriguing story of Flat Daddy on National Public Radio one morning. Troops deployed overseas were having their photographs enlarged, printed, cut out, and affixed to various materials, from cardboard to foam board.
The point was to have a life-size representation of the deployed soldier to help ease the family's hardship while the loved one was on assignment.
Crockett is the business development manager for SFC Graphics, headquartered in Toledo, Ohio. Given the company's wide-format printing capabilities, Crockett felt like Flat Daddy was a perfect fit. It appeared to be a worthy cause and Crockett wanted to help, so he started asking around to find out how he could contribute.
It turns out that Flat Daddy recently came to wider public attention when Master Sergeant Barbara Claudel, who's the state family program director for the Maine National Guard at Camp Keyes in Augusta, Maine, started printing them en masse, or at least as many as the base's printing operation could handle for her group in Maine.
Flat Daddy printing on LexJet 55 Intermediate Adhesive Vinyl at SFC Graphics, Toledo, Ohio.
Word traveled quickly as more of them made appearances at family gatherings and other events. Though Claudel was instrumental in bringing Flat Daddy into the national public eye (though not purposely), her revelation came from Elaine Dumler, who first came up with the idea and owns the trademark.
Dumler is the Westminster, Colo.-based author of I'm Already Home and I'm Already Home… Again. These books are filled with ideas for military families to keep their deployed loved ones as close to the heart and home as possible. Innovative craft projects, electronic conferencing, and other ideas, including Flat Daddy, make up the books' contents.
Dumler also speaks at National Guard and military bases around the country sharing her ideas. Sgt. Claudel heard about the Flat Daddy concept at a presentation Dumler gave in Philadelphia, which would ultimately kick off the wider Flat Daddy movement.
Flat Daddy in the field.
Once SFC’s Crockett connected the dots he offered to help print them, should the need arise. Sgt. Claudel says she's able to keep up with demand at her base, but has begun fielding calls from across the country for Flat Daddy – orders she can't fulfill. That's where Crockett and SFC Graphics enter the picture.
SFC Graphics has an amazing 100-plus year history in the graphics business, beginning as Peninsular Engraving in 1902. Through the years, the company developed one of the best reputations in the nation for its quality color and output.
In 1969, for instance, SFC provided the first color separations of the Man on the Moon project within 12 hours of the original's release from NASA, which allowed newspapers across the country to print four-color images of the Man on the Moon photo.
Now, SFC Graphics' diverse production includes everything from package prototyping and point-of-purchase graphics to exacting color and digital manipulation for corporate clients. Quality is the overriding factor at SFC Graphics, so those who receive a Flat Daddy from the company are getting the best the printing industry can offer, though they may not even know it.
SFC Graphics provided color separations to newspapers nationwide for this most-famous of moon shots.
"We use a template for Flat Daddy that sets the shoulder width for women at about 16 in., and about 21 in. for men. We're trying to keep the specifications within a certain criteria so we don't get into all the details that make it difficult to do; we're trying to make it as simple as possible for everyone. Whether it's the perfect size and resolution is not overly relevant," explains Crockett. "We like to print them at the highest quality possible, but at the end of the day they're only as good as the input provided. We try to work with a minimum 2 MB or 2 Megapixel image, which gives us pretty fair quality, but from the end user's perspective it's probably better than fair."
Crockett says the company has printed a "handful" of Flat Daddies so far, but is working on getting the word out to other military families across the country who would like a free Flat Daddy through a website he created at flatdaddies.com.
Crockett is also seeking donations and sponsorships to help offset the printing and shipping costs. LexJet has sent its 55 Intermediate Adhesive Vinyl to help defray material costs.
"We'll probably print them on our ColorSpan. Ideally, we'll aggregate the orders into one big run, versus one at a time, but we'll do it one at a time if there's a need," says Crockett. "We're letting the families apply the prints. We send them a rolled up print that they apply to a corrugated material, a plastic, or whatever they might have available. The interaction between the families and putting the print on the material may even be sort of therapeutic."
Eric Crockett, business development manager for SFC Graphics.
Sgt. Claudel says the National Guard families in Maine use a map-type paper applied to foam board with a spray adhesive. The use of LexJet 55 on the SFC Flat Daddy prints should help with some of the durability issues they've had. Basically, they've been "well-loved," as Sgt. Claudel puts it.
To find out more about Flat Daddy, and how you can help, visit these sites:
I'm Already Home
Operation Connect a Family
A project where you can “gift” a copy of I’m Already Home… Again directly to a military family.