Hardware: Grand-Format Printers

Bigger is better—at least when grand-format prints are involved. From building wraps to billboards, grand-format print providers produce thousands of feet of graphics and signage every year. Wide-Format Imaging takes its annual look at this market by talking with representatives from some of the top manufacturers in the market.

Agfa

When it comes to grand-format printers, Agfa’s :Anapurna XL2 is the company’s best seller, thanks to its pre- and post-white printing capabilities. “It handles the broad range of applications that customers are demanding, giving users increased business opportunities,” said Deborah Hutcheson, senior marketing manager, commercial/wide format, Agfa.

One of those opportunities arose for Decorative Films LLC of Gaithersburg, MD, who did a project for the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Memorial in Washington, DC. “They used the :Anapurna XL2 to produce four 95x84-inch prints for the windows of the Woodrow Wilson Center,” said Hutcheson.

The market, however, has seen several changes in the past 12 months—mostly based on sustainability issues. “Print buyers and government regulations have had the most significant and immediate impacts on the green movement,” said Hutcheson. Major retailers are specifying print requirements that include more efficient and earth-friendly processes and substrates. “Therefore, conventional mounting processes and photo-sensitive film are losing ground,” she said, adding that eco-solvent and aggressive solvent printing technologies have also lost ground. “The economy is motivating people to reduce waste, increase productivity, and move to no- or low-VOC inks,” Hutcheson explained.

The real question now, though, is whether people will continue to pay a premium for an environmentally-friendly print. “People want to be green, but they may or may not be willing to pay more for it, particularly in this economy,” she said. “It’s an issue that has to be addressed in the market.”

According to Hutcheson, grand-format UV printing will continue to grow due to the reduced production and labor costs as well as the flexibility of substrates associated with UV technology. “We are also seeing growth within interior design, home décor, and fashion industries, especially with regard to store décor,” she explained. “Grand-format technologies have provided a more cost-effective way to produce wallpaper, floor tiles, and now even the panels on ceiling fans.”

Durst Image Technology US LLC

From a roll-to-roll standpoint, the Rho 320R UV machine is at the top of the list at Durst. “Its productivity is really giving our customers an advantage in the market, along with the capabilities for dual-sided printing and fabric printing,” said Christopher Howard, the company’s vice president of marketing and sales.

Astek Wallcoverings of Van Nuys, CA, recently purchased the Rho 320R. The company used its Rho 600 Pictor to create the interiors of the Sistine Chapel, the Parthenon, and other historic locales for “Angels and Demons”, the sequel to the “Da Vinci Code”. Astek President Aaron Kirsch says his team printed on MDF boards to reproduce the Sistine Chapel’s marble floors, on plexi-sheets to reproduce its stained-glass windows, and on bolts of roll media to reproduce walls and other interior elements.

The move from a solvent roll-to-roll base to a UV roll to roll is a continuing trend, according to Howard. “I think this is due to the efficiency of the platform, along with the expanded scope of products that can be produced from it,” he said. Durst works with its customers to help them meet the sustainability goals they set for their businesses. “Our platforms, which are all UV-based, give our customers advantages in this area as it relates to the inkset and production environment friendliness.”

EFI-VUTEk

The VUTEk QS printer continues to provide the best value in the market, according to Mike Wozny, product manager, EFI-VUTEk. “It provides high productivity, a high definition print, and a wide application range at a reasonable price,” he said. “This value has resulted in it being our bestselling flatbed printer in the last three years.”

The Centre for Life Museum in New Castle, UK, recently used the QS2000 printer to create a jungle scene. The structure was made of wood, with spaces left open for the graphics. The images of the animals were printed on opal acrylic and some were illuminated. The leaves of the tree were printed on Foamex. All of the pieces were then fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.

From a technology perspective, Wozny said the most obvious change continues to be the transition to UV, pointing out that the number of UV printers is now about equal to that of solvent printers. “VUTEk has been selling more UV than solvent for more than 18 months now,” he reported.

While the move to UV would seem to indicate a continued push toward going green, Wozny doesn’t feel sustainability issues have greatly affected the market. “PFP providers are continuing to look for ways to lower their carbon footprint,” he admitted. “Most folks are evaluating and working with recyclable materials and others are extending it to defining and lowering their footprint of their entire production facility, but the overall market impact has been minimal.”

Wozny is confident that the market will continue to grow. “Growth is driven from more than one growth driver, i.e. out-of-home advertising, and the conversion from analog to digital,” he explained. “This growth driver diversification will result in continued market growth.”

Gandinnovations

The Jeti 3150 X-2 from Gandinnovations is the company’s most popular printer because of the speed it produces. “Shops all have their needs—whether it be a high-production printer or a high-quality printer—and the Jeti 3150 X-2 brings both of those qualities to its owner,” said Cory Bock, Gandi Group.

Bock said a unique use of the printer has been some ceiling tiles and light fixtures. “Our customers have had a lot of success with this,” he noted. “Advertisers are always seeking new means of advertising and pretty soon, we’ll all be seeing a lot more ceiling graphics.”

The poor economy has hurt the industry, according to Bock, but he is quick to point out that it is merely a bump in the road. “Shop owners have been tightening their belts, which is a good thing,” he said. “They have taken more time to make sure their decisions are profitable. Print shops know that a wrong and costly decision could have long-lasting effects on their business and this has in turn slowed down the industry. The key word there is slowed...just slowed.”

HP

HP offers a full range of digital solutions designed to help print service providers (PSPs) profitably grow their businesses. The company’s best-selling printers include the HP Scitex FB6700 and the HP Scitex TJ8550. “The UV printer opens new opportunities for almost any printing shop—screen, digital, and offset—delivering maximum ROI in as little as eight months and helping drive business growth,” said Don Knox, US director of sales, large format printing, HP Graphics Solutions Business. A newer addition to the portfolio, the HP Designjet L65500 Printer, is already proving to be a top seller, according to Knox. “This allows PSPs to increase their print capacity and grow their business, while reducing the impact of their printing on the environment,” he explained.

As for the future, HP expects three major forces to drive growth. The first, according to Knox, is the conversion of high-quality, long run applications to digital printing, such as POP advertising, increasing the impact of retail environments. “Secondly, there is a substrate substitution from PVC-based materials to lighter, easy-to-handle polyester based materials,” said Know. “Last, digital signage will finally break the barrier of what is creatively possible (new space, new format, and new communication channels).”

Matan Digital Printers LTD

The Barak5 is Matan Digital Printers’ best-selling product. “It is popular thanks to its production speed, versatility, and multi-roll and backlit capabilities,” said Hagai Valach, marketing director, Matan. “Our customers are constantly working on projects for advertising, decoration, sports events, concerts and more.” Valach said a 2,000 sqm mesh building cover that was recently completed by Yahav Digital printing in Israel was perhaps the most unique project created with the Barak5. “It is built up from eight 5x50m mesh rolls all printed in one shift,” he said.

While the poor economy has slowed business, Matan took this as an opportunity to boost its development plan. “We released new quality modes and backlit workflow, and will announce new production capabilities and a camera-based backlit at SGIA,” reported Valach.

The future looks very positive. “Grand-format applications offer the most cost-effective advertising with the best CPT (cost per thousand). The UV technology opens new printing applications on exotic media making it almost borders free,” he said.

Roland DGA Corp.

The AJ-1000i is the top-selling grand-format printer at Roland as many AdvancedJET customers who have been have migrated into grand-format printing as their businesses have expanded. “Adding wider print capabilities on banner and mesh media up to 104 inches enables them to dramatically increase their shop throughput and services,” said Robert Ozankan, senior product manager, Roland DGA. ”

Despite the economic challenges, Ozankan reported there are still businesses looking to expand their services and bring previously outsourced grand-format jobs in-house. “We are finding that some customers who might have added another six-figure printer in the past are now considering a more cost-effective platform like the AdvancedJet, or other printers in its class,” he said. “These printers allow them to add the capacity they need in the short term without the payments of an even larger device.”

Ozankan has noticed the trend away from solvents to UV curing devices. “As printers and print buyers try to move away from PVC-based materials, we have seen a dramatic growth in fabric printing across solvent, UV, and dye sublimation grand-format printing.”

As sustainable and recyclable materials such as Tyvek become more popular, Ozankan said we would see more recycling of signs and banners after installation. “The infrastructure for this process is starting up in the US,” he reported. “Digitally printable fabrics are becoming increasingly popular due to their versatility and reduced weight, shipping costs and lower carbon footprint. With the economy gradually improving and marketing dollars coming back, advertising campaigns will see continuing demand in the grand-format market. The continued improvements in quality will also mean that grand-format devices will be used for applications where they might not have been suitable in the past, ultimately cutting into offset and screen printing even more than they already have.”

WP Polytype

The bestselling grand-format Swiss-built printers at WP Polytype are the RS25 and RS35 with the white option. The printers feature six printheads per color (CMYK lclm) plus 12 printheads for white, for a total of 48 printheads. “Its extraordinary hybrid system (roll-to-roll, flatbed and overlength substrates) offers genuine diversity, as it can handle substrates up to 3.7 inches high and carry weight up to 10 pounds per square foot,” said Michael Albrecht, vice president, sales and marketing, digital printers at WP Polytype.

The company has a unique glass decoration process that ensures excellent adhesion with UV ink. “This industrial application has been developed for the manufacture of kitchens, tables or other indoor glass decoration projects,” said Albrecht.

Albrecht agreed that the trend is to get away from solvent printers, which increases the demand for more eco-friendly UV printers, but says the future is all about lower production costs and a continuous increase of quality and speed.

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