Manufacturers of grand-format printers are fond of saying, “Bigger is better.” However, when the economy is on a downslide, customers can be heard saying, “Bigger is more expensive,”—which might explain the downturn in grand-format printer sales over the past two years. While sales may have slowed, manufacturers did not. They continued to push the envelope, creating bigger, faster equipment with the ability to print even more applications. So, as the economy began to improve, albeit at a snail’s pace, so too did the grand-format market.
“The economic downturn cast a shadow industry-wide on purchase decisions and activity,” said Michael White, :M-Press TIGER sales manager, Agfa Graphics, Ridgefield Park, NJ.
Patrick Ryan, general manager, Seiko Instruments USA, Inc., Infotech Division, Escondido, CA, said that sales of grand-format printers dramatically dropped during the fall of 2008, and did not begin to improve until February of 2010. “Sales are now growing slowly and consistently each month,” he said, “but at lower overall volumes than 2007-2008.”
The poor economy made print houses very sensitive regarding the printers’ running cost, according to Hagai Valach, marketing director, Matan Digital Printers LTD, Rosh- Haa'yin, Israel. “Fast production speeds, which decrease the number of shifts and therefore bring labor cost down, low media waste and especially low ink consumption have all become major considerations,” said Valach.
There were positive gains for users in need of entry systems, according to White, while purchases of middle- to high-speed systems were a bit softer than in years past. “The good news,” he said, “is that in recent months this pattern seems to be slowly moving in the right direction and, overall, the picture seems to be more positive going forward.”
HP Graphics Solutions Business is one company seeing quarter over quarter increases in equipment and ink purchases.
“Some of the equipment purchases were to address capacity issues, but a good many others were to increase the print providers’ capabilities to go after new markets,” reported Don Knox, US director of sales, large-format printing, HP Graphics Solutions Business, Palo Alto, CA. “Today, more than ever, a big part of the sales cycle goes well beyond an evaluation of the speeds and feeds of the particular product, but involves a deep dive into an ROI analysis. In some instances, the ROI business case was instrumental in securing the financing for the equipment acquisition.”
One way to increase ROI is to come up with new applications for the equipment. Hot trends in grand-format are directly related to the expanded range of applications built right into today’s grand-format printers. “Many of today’s business models support working 20 to 30 percent of the time on developing new applications, and business owners are leveraging the results of that time spent to extend the range of products they offer,” said Mike Wozny, strategic product manager, EFI-VUTEk, Meredith, NH.
HP’s Knox continues to be amazed by the innovation and resourcefulness demonstrated by their customers on a daily basis. “More and more, our customers are producing and successfully marketing new applications, such as textile and fabric printing for interior decorating, customized wallpapers for children’s’ rooms or ever-changing retail environments, fine-art reproductions on canvas materials and many other high-value, high-growth specialty applications that allow them to capture new business opportunities,” he said.
Agfa’s White has also seen substantial growth and excitement with fabric printing. “For end users within retail and exhibit and display industries, fabric is particularly hot,” he said. “Fabrics are easy to work with and there are so many ways to create unique output. Plus, there are numerous cost benefits to working with textiles for exhibit and display industry, such as reduced drayage, shorter set-up times and the list goes on.”