Technological innovation and sheer diversity of applications has been driving growth in the wide format printer market. Although the secret of growth opportunities in the wide format print sector may have gotten out some time ago, it has not stopped companies from entering the sector. Whether it’s commercial printers diversifying into the market or traditional signmakers adding new revenue to their businesses, the wide format printing sector has become a very popular and competitive place. Despite the onslaught of online and electronic media, print media still remains relevant by providing low cost posters and banners that are portable, flexible and provide immediate consumer engagement without technical glitches. Print is not dead in the wide format print space and print service providers are leveraging technological innovation and creativity in order to find new ways to merge print media with digital media. The sheer diversity of applications is one of the key reasons why wide format printed materials continue to be used even in our present digital marketing age.
But which wide format printer is the right printer to get?
Well it all depends on your application and the volume of prints you want to produce. Here is a breakdown of different inkjet printing technologies.
Aqueous inkjet printing
The worldwide wide format aqueous inkjet market is a fairly mature market. The aqueous inkjet market is a large market comprised of three primary market segments: technical, creative, and production graphics. Aqueous inkjet is the most flexible wide format print technology, especially in the technical and production graphics markets. The trend toward environmentally friendly printing processes and the sustainability of print has also been gaining momentum, and there are no signs that it’s likely to stop any time soon. Canon, Epson, and Hewlett-Packard have all launched new systems to increase speeds and improve resolution and image quality, as well as use new ink formulations to expand the colour gamut and improve outdoor durability. Wide format aqueous inkjet systems provide the fastest output with typically the highest resolution, yet with the lowest capital investment. These printers will appeal to commercial printers, designers, advertising agencies, and sign shops, as well as architects, engineers, prepress/proofing departments, photo labs, professional photographers and internal marketing departments. The new Canon PRO-SERIES printers include a variety of software applications such as PosterArtist, which is template driven poster creation software which allows just about anyone without experience to create beautiful looking posters for indoor and sort term outdoor applications.
Solvent & eco-solvent printers
Solvent and eco-solvent inks are the ideal choice for wide format printing applications such as outdoor durable signage, vehicle wraps, posters and banners. However, owing to concerns related to the environmental impact of volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) present in solvent inks, print service providers are shifting from solvent inks to aqueous and UV-curable inks. Colours have excellent fade-resistance and they are relatively inexpensive and enable printing on flexible, uncoated vinyl substrates, which are used to produce vehicle graphics, billboards, banners and adhesive decals.
Eco or mild solvent-based inks are less hazardous but may not be as durable as true solvent inks. These printers have become popular in small to medium-sized sign shops.
We normally associate latex printers and inks with HP, since they were the first ones in the latex game, but Mimaki and Ricoh also offer wide format printers based on latex ink technology. What they Think reports that latex inks are water-based, and don’t give off much in the way of harmful vapours (like solvent inks), nor do they require ultraviolet light exposure to dry (like UV inks), but they do require exposure to high temperatures to dry and therefore the extreme heat needed to cure them may offset any environmental benefit. Still, advances in the ink technology, and the addition of an optimizing fluid, have helped lower the temperature at which the inks cure, improving the equipment’s energy footprint. Top applications for latex printing are banners, soft signage, vehicle graphics, and other indoor and outdoor applications. HP in particular has been seeing substantial growth in interior décor, from wallpaper and other printed wall coverings, to window treatments, to flooring, to upholstery.
According to inkworldmagazine.com, UV-curable, water-based inkjet printing is showing the most growth in digital printing. Inkjet printing has always played second fiddle to commercial or screen printing because of its relative lack of speed. Now, thanks to advancements in UV printing, more speed has been added to the inkjet side of things, considerably changing the print equation. UV printers are getting faster, printing at higher resolutions, offering more substrate options. The UV technology provides users with a high level of flexibility and versatility with the ability to print on nearly any type of substrate. That’s what makes this technology so unique and new niche markets – such as interior design/décor and personalized/customized short run graphics will continue to evolve.