Growth opportunities in wide-format printing

Agfa Jeti Ceres.
Agfa Jeti Ceres.

As volumes increase, new equipment enters the market, and new ink types are adopted, digital wide-format printing is seeing a worldwide rise of new substrates and applications. More printers are also investing in print and related production software. They’re looking to enter new markets and are relying on a strong software backend for successful management of the increasingly complex workflows in their shops. Quick-to-market capabilities and on-demand mass customization are now realities that enable printers to produce applications with very little downtime. Previously untapped markets are now seeing an increase in wide-format printing solutions that are driving profitable growth for many commercial printers. Also, the range of digital wide-format applications has increased dramatically over the past few years, and digital wide-format ownership is at an all-time-high according to market research firm InfoTrends.

Fujifilm Acuity LED 3200R.
Fujifilm Acuity LED 3200R.

The two largest growth areas in wide-format are dye sublimation and direct-to-garment (i.e. textile) printing, as well as aqueous inkjet. This has enabled print service providers to produce prints on a broader range of materials – including metals, wood, textiles, vinyl and more. Also, the types of wide-format machines purchased are changing to include scanning head systems as well as single-pass systems. Improved workflow systems combined with a growing range of finishing solutions – from cutters, routers, sewing and robotic loading and offloading materials – are enabling more effective turnkey solutions.

Canon imagePROGRAF iPF670.
Canon imagePROGRAF iPF670.

The original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in the digital wide-format sector keep unveiling new devices that are improving print quality, reducing downtime, expanding substrate range, opening up new markets, and above all, boosting profits. Exploring all the options out there – from desktop printer models to more sophisticated machines – would be well worth your time.

Increasing sales with web-to-print. Web-to-print bridges the gap between digital online content and commercial print production. This process allows a print house, client, and even a graphic designer to create, edit and approve computer-based online template designs during the entire prepress phase. Customers buy small printed products through the web each and every day. So why not sell large-format as well? According to a 2015 Primir 2015, 76% of printers still did not have an online store!

Mutoh ValueJet VJ-1638U.
Mutoh ValueJet VJ-1638U.

Here’s another fact that may surprise you. In 2015, more than 69% of wide-format buyers purchased signs, banners or posters. Yet a huge 86% of large-format graphics were still outsourced by commercial printers. Through all this, the greatest worry among commercial printers is that they don’t know what system is right for them. Well, it’s time to find out. Talk to your equipment supplier and find out what types of wide-format and sign-making equipment are available from them. But be sure to also check out competitors’ products. Whether you’re a commercial or in-plant printer, there is no denying the benefits of adding wide-format to your core service offerings.

Affordability. Vendors today are creating a variety of affordable solutions in wide-format, regardless of the brand you choose. These cost-effective machines can be flatbed, roll or hybrid. There are also affordable machines ideal for entry-level. The good news is that when one simply needs to produce a product that’s on display for a short period of time, overall quality is not that a huge of a concern. Using a low-end system to run high-margin products quickly with consistent (i.e. pleasing) colour, allows print shop owners to capitalize on their minimal investment.

Mimaki TS30-1300.
Mimaki TS30-1300.

Versatility. Today’s wide-format printers overcome previous limits posed by traditional technology – be it challenging substrates of various thicknesses, ink types or smaller quantities. The ability to print using either UV or inkjet inks, the option of white ink, plus an extended colour gamut (through the addition of light cyan and light magenta inks) has also helped solidify wide-format as a major player in the printing industry.

These options have allowed for more consistent, accurate colour matching, ensuring that the first image matches the last. Bindery equipment has also changed. The use of i-cutters to eliminate bottlenecks in finishing reflects how much the bindery sector is taking notice of wide format’s ongoing growth.

Moving forward. Wide-format serves the demands of customers with tight deadlines who need products printed immediately. One area of opportunity is catering to marketing agencies and printing short-run prototypes. Large-format equipment that can print variable data is also being demanded more and more. Wide-format RIPs are also able to merge files without the use of third-party software. All this being said, wide format printing requires careful planning for new players to succeed.

HP Latex 570.
HP Latex 570.

You’ll need to:

  • Figure out how much wide-format work is actually going to be done in your shop
  • Measure how much wide-format printing is currently being outsourced
  • Estimate the actual size of the market you might be able to get
  • Find out what equipment options are out there – from your current suppliers to competitors’ models
  • Finally, invest in the knowledge and training of your staff and salespeople – so products can be sold and produced efficiently to leverage the many benefits of wide-format printing

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Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.