One of the most basic tenets of printing is that what comes out is only as good as what goes in. Wide-format scanners have played an increasing large role in the printing industry and the over all production of high-quality graphics and images. For the printer that is considering purchasing a wide-format scanner, there are some factors to consider.
Upon inspecting the major market leaders—Colortrac, Contex, and Graphtec—it would seem that many of the products out there are similar in nature when it comes to specs. What makes one scanner stand out above all of the rest? According to Steve Blanken, director of sales at Contex Americas, “The key to getting ahead in this market is to stop selling the specs and start selling the solution.”
Blanken explained that the specs on most wide-format scanners are similar enough that making comparisons is akin to splitting hairs. Instead, Blanken directs his sales team to “stop selling the box and start selling the solution around the box.” In other words, customize products to the needs of the client and show that client how to best utilize products that will perform at optimum levels for their needs.
Blanken said that although the cost of wide-format scanners has decreased dramatically, the average cost of a scanner is currently in the neighborhood of $8,000-$11,000, down from $12,000-$13000 two years ago. The cost may seem small to a larger business but the end user still needs to be able to get as much out of that particular system as possible. The end cost of the product depends on the level of quality needed from the scanner, whether it is going to be used for high end graphics or blueprints.
Multi-function devices are among the latest trends in the industry. Not only will a multi-function device save money, it will also save time and prevent the potential havoc that may be caused by using multiple devices, particularly if they use different operating systems and software.
Blanken said that the creation of a multi-function device is the best way to serve the client by giving the client as many options as possible to create high quality products at little cost, using equipment already in-house.
“I can attach one of our scanners to an existing device,” said Blanken. “I can go into anybody’s shop and say ‘my input device can work with any output device, and make it happen.”
Blanken also feels that it is important to educate the client on what is possible when a client uses a scanner as an attachment to an existing piece of equipment.
“If you attach an input device to an existing printer, 80 percent more ink and media will go through that printer.”
Jane Napolitano, marketing manager of Paradigm Imaging Group agrees that creating a multi-function device is the most appropriate way for printers to increase their production and therefore has become one of the foremost trends in the marketplace.
“One trend is the use of MFP’s in the wide-format scanning market,” said Napolitano. “Combining a wide-format scanner with a wide-format printer, stand, computer, software—all the components to essentially make it a large-format copier. Paradigm Imaging was one of the first to introduce our EIS systems (now generally known as MFP systems) back in 2005.”
Maree Joyce, product marketing manager, Wide Format Printing Systems Division of Océ North America, said: “An increasing trend is for customers to purchase a multifunctional unit rather than a scanner only. With the wide range of possibilities with the Océ CS scanner line and the Océ TC4 scanner, there are multifunctional options for most every customer need from low volume to high volume.
“Customers are looking into MF units for the following reasons:
- Printing graphics, not only scanning to archive or to send out to reprographers
- AEC firms with large print volumes where it would be more economical to own a multifunction print/copy/scan device rather than scan in documents and outsource the printing
- Government agencies that need to both view and print.”
Niche Markets and Unique Applications
Many printers are seeking more opportunities to tap into niche markets to increase their bottom lines. While wide-format scanners continue to serve the general printing industry at large, there are some niche markets that are being tapped using wide-format scanners.
Blanken discussed a market that seems to be coming more popular among printers.
“We see our products going into some niche markets,” said Blanken. “One of those is the FDA inspection market.”
The FDA inspection market is a crucial part of the printing process as one slight alteration in FDA labeling can cause serious, if not fatal, problems. It would not be uncommon for a label to appear altered if it is part of a long run. The ink could potentially fill in a character, making an O look like a C or a three look like an eight. The reason for using the scanner is the often miniscule size of the type.
“The print is too small to see with the naked eye,” said Blanken. “Using one of our scanners, the label can be scanned in and blown up on the monitor to make sure that it matches precisely.”
Joyce noted that one niche market involves scanning government documents. “Many government agencies are scanning in all of their archived documents for internal security reasons, to avoid any damage due to oxidization, and for emergency preparedness. They also use scanners for GIS applications in national security, weather-related needs, etc.
“Another niche market is art/poster replication. With a high resolution scanner, a service bureau has the ability to scan material for later use to reproduce posters or art work for customers. This application usually allows a favorable margin.”
Printers are also looking for unique applications and projects to keep their wide-format scanners busy. Paradigm has undertaken an especially delicate project:
“One of our most extensive and unique projects was scanning thousands of color maps and documents for the Texas General Land Office (GLO), Austin, Texas, into an electronic document management system,” said Napolitano. “Many of the documents, which date back as the far as the 1820s when Texas was still part of Mexico, were deteriorating and very difficult to read. The project spanned an 18 month period and over 80,000 historical documents were scanned producing more than a terabyte of captured data.”
Océ has had similar experiences: “Storing and preserving drawings is a major application for wide format scanner users,” said Joyce. “This application is used not only to preserve legacy documents and save space, but also provides the ability to more easily search for drawings from a digital archive and distribute them wherever needed very quickly.”
Making the Most Out of the Equipment
Once purchased, printers need to learn to make the most out of their equipment. The easiest and most effective way to do this is to first, understand the kind of equipment needed and choose the most appropriate product for the job. Second, seek out jobs that fit the capabilities of the equipment.
“Perhaps the most important way to make the most of your wide format scanner is not to limit the variety of documents or items that you can scan by choosing the wrong scanner,” said Napolitano. “Always make sure that the scanner is wide enough and can scan at a high enough resolution to accommodate many different types of scanning projects. Also keep in mind the thickness of the documents to be scanned, and ensure that the software is easy to use and appropriate for the application. Don’t forget to keep your options open to unusual or unique opportunities for wide-format scanning. Choosing the right scanner makes all the difference.”