Wider Horizons

Since the initial introduction of wide-format printers back in the 1990s with the LaserMaster units, technology has certainly come a long way. Not only have speeds and reliability increased, the initial capital expenditure is much lower as well, allowing printers who may have only “kicked the tires” years ago to be serious buyers now.Inks and printhead technology have also evolved in leaps and bounds, providing a veritable smorgasbord of options. From UV ink-based printers—both traditionally cured and LED cured—to eco-/low-/mild-solvent based printers, aqueous, and the new durable aqueous printers, there is a printer to suit the needs of every company.

QP asked key vendors about their experiences in the quick and small commercial market and how printers in this segment are taking advantage of the technology.

 

1 What interest have you seen from the quick and small commercial printing market segment in wide-format technology?

Randy Anderson, product marketing manager, Mutoh Americas: The response has been great.

Dave Carey, product marketing, North America, Agfa Graphics: In many instances, quick and small commercial printers are doing the offset for their customers and their customers are going someplace else for signage. Wide-format gives them the chance to diversify their offerings, generate additional business from existing clients, and a means to create new and profitable revenue streams. Wide-format is a fast and efficient way for quick and small commercial printers to expand share of wallet with existing customers, differentiate themselves, and generate new revenue streams.

Reed Hecht, product manager, professional imaging, Epson America Inc.: Epson is seeing increasing interest in many areas, especially with respect to quick printers who own small presses. The Epson Stylus Pro 7900 computer-to-plate system is not only enabling businesses to reduce costs associated with making plates, it’s allowing them to be more versatile because the same device can be used to create proofs, banners, posters, and photographs.

David Murphy, director of marketing, Americas, HP Graphic Solutions Business: HP has seen strong interest in large-format printing technologies from the quick and small commercial printing segment. Customers are finding tremendous growth opportunities by becoming a one stop shop for their clients. With versatile large-format technologies, these customers can deliver their clients’ requests in-house, ensuring quick delivery with higher margins and, ultimately, happier customers.

Sonny Odom, vice president of sales, KIP Americas: KIP has seen a significant increase in wide-format equipment purchases by the quick and commercial printers since the introduction of our touchscreen technology five years ago. The simplicity of the product eliminated the need for key operators and allowed printing companies to expand their product offering into wide-format previously controlled by the reprographic community.

Robert Ozankan, senior product manager, Roland DGA Corp.: Commercial printing shops are increasingly entering the wide-format printing market to offer applications such as posters, banners, and signs. Based on market surveys, wide-format printing has been a high interest category for small commercial printers. With the economy improving, it is a good time for them to differentiate themselves in the marketplace.

Randy Paar, display graphics product marketing manager, Océ North America: It has been minimal, which I suspect is due to several factors: 1) little to no awareness of the technologies that exist, 2) a perception that it is too expensive to get into, 3) and the limited space available to install large equipment. To many of them, wide-format printing is an entirely new business venture.

Steve Urmano, marketing director, Mimaki USA: Demand for quick printers has been at the very early market stages.

 

2 How are quick printers using this technology in their businesses?

Anderson: By offering large-format services they are able to provide a more complete service to keep the customers in-house and expand their business. They can effectively offer products to completely rebrand a shop—everything from business cards to car wraps, wallpaper to counter wraps, floor graphics to window graphics, and virtually everything in between. Most add a cutter to offer stickers as well.

Carey: Small commercial printers are using this kind of technology predominately for signs and display materials (such as POP) as a means of supporting their customers with multimedia campaigns. Signage is a key component to any campaign and provides an added and profitable revenue stream.

Hecht: Most of the businesses purchasing printers are doing so to expand and enhance services for their customers, increase productivity, and reduce internal operating costs. These products are being used to produce flyers, brochures, posters, photos, and more on an increasingly broad range of media. Many businesses even use the same device to create the actual proofs of those items in addition to creating banners, posters, and other accompanying marketing materials.

Murphy: With in-house large-format printing technologies, printing companies can offer customers a full range of flexible and rigid display products. With this broad product offering, printers can cost effectively handle not only one-off projects from walk-in consumers, but also full marketing campaigns. Additionally, quick printers are taking advantage of products which are making niche printing techniques possible for this segment, such as the use of white ink, which was previously available only to screen printers or grand-format devices.

Odom: Small businesses have a need for wide-format printing. Many of these companies depend on the quick/commercial printer for a variety of other document solutions. Wide-format provides the customer with a convenience and another reason to visit the print shop, and keeps the customer from visiting a competitive location.

Ozankan: To get started in this market, many businesses focus on indoor applications first and then transition to

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outdoor applications. With an integrated printer/cutter they can also expand their capacity for short-run labels and decals. The production of outdoor durable graphics presents opportunities for these shops to serve local businesses, organizations, and event planners in addition to corporate customers.

Urmano: Some quick printers are working with existing sign shops to fill demand until they can see a real business to justify purchase of a printer. Most inquiries are to expand into outdoor graphics or print-cut vinyl labels.

 

3 What technology developments have made wide-format technology more accessible to this market?

Anderson: Ink technology that doesn’t require additional ventilation. Single head, high output machines with fewer parts requiring minimal maintenance. RIPs that produce higher quality, faster RIP times with variable data capability, and more intuitive interfaces. And, of course, computer technology that makes this all faster and easier.

Carey: Four advancements have made wide-format technology more accessible to the small commercial print market: speed, variety of media, quality, and cost of print. Today, printing speeds dwarf the speeds of printing from just a few years ago. We can print on a wide variety of media for which laminating is not necessary. Today, the quality is outstanding, rivaling offset work due to the ongoing advancements in technology. Additionally, the total cost to print is reduced significantly, also due to the myriad of technological advancements.

Hecht: In previous years, many businesses purchased several different wide-format printers for a variety of specific applications. But today, a single printer can be used to create virtually everything from proofs to banners, to signs, to photographs.

Murphy: I think that the maturation of high quality, reliable printing technologies has allowed manufacturers to reduce costs and make these devices more accessible. Manufacturers have also increased their focus on making low volume, wide-format technologies that are easy to use and that incorporate easily into the print shop’s existing workflow.

Odom: The introduction of cloud printing allows print shop owners to provide a print device with an email address and distribute it to every one of their customers. Customers can simply attach files and send prints directly to the device for pick-up as needed. This simple technology previously sold for thousands of dollars and was very difficult to effectively distribute to a large number of customers. Now every customer can quickly and easily send prints to their local service provider.

Ozankan: Businesses today can get equipped for wide-format, eco-solvent printing across a variety of price points, starting below $15,000 for a 30" wide model. Larger, more capable devices in the 54" and 64" category are increasing in popularity for their versatility.

Another new technology that presents a promising business opportunity is metallic silver ink. Metallic effects add premium value to every graphic produced.

Paar: The cost of the equipment has been dropping while the image quality and application versatility has steadily increased. Productivity, ease of use, and reliability have also increased.

Urmano: I think the wide range of media choices is appealing, such as clear window films and solvent textiles for flag and trade show graphics. The ink types are also attractive such as white and silver inks for specialty graphics such as plaques, awards, and label applications.

 

4 What is the best argument for adding wide-format print technology?

Anderson: By offering a wider printing solution they keep their customers from going elsewhere. This gives small shops the opportunity to offer complete branding packages for their customers, making better utilization of their in-house design capabilities, and providing better value to their customers.

Carey: The best argument is the addition of new revenue generating products and services. Nothing will make quick printers more money per square foot than wide-format products.

Hecht: It enables these shops to establish new sources of revenue while expanding products and services. This also contributes to increasing customer satisfaction, generating more repeat business and increasing profits.

Murphy: By adding wide-format application offerings, quick and small commercial print providers can grow their businesses and expand customer reach by becoming a one stop shop for their customer’s printing needs.

Odom: The ability to expand services to compete for business currently being printed elsewhere is normally the first discussion when speaking to a business owner. New product introductions into the low volume wide-format monochrome technology are allowing print shops to enter into new printing markets very inexpensively.

Ozankan: With wide-format capabilities, these businesses can diversify. There is a very good chance that the same companies currently purchasing brochures, stationary, and business cards also need event signage, banners, decals, and even decorated apparel, all of which can be produced on a wide-format printer.

Paar: It provides new sources of revenue with greater margins. This can really set them apart from their competition. Wide-format printing provides both growth opportunities and greater stability when the market slows.

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