For most small and medium-sized commercial printers, the struggle to find offset press projects has become increasingly difficult. These struggling shops might want to take heed of the fisherman’s old adage: if you’re not catching enough fish, cast a bigger net! In today’s printing industry, that “bigger net” can include a large variety of services. From short-run digital color to pick-and-pack fulfillment, there are many ways to expand your capabilities and capture more work from both new and existing customers.
For some printing companies, the addition of wide-format inkjet has generated substantial new revenue. Applications can include everything from plain paper posters and vinyl banners to more exotic items like magnets, floor graphics, vehicle wraps, and repositionable window film. While some of these products can be output from the 36-inch inkjet proofing devices that most printers already own, the greatest opportunities are enabled by production-level equipment. These devices are wider, faster, and able to hold multiple rolls of media so that substrate changes can occur without operator intervention. Popular vendors of these super-plotters include Epson, HP, Inca Digital, Mimaki, Mutoh, Roland, and Océ.
Ride the Wave
“The ColorWave Poster Printer can be equipped to hold two, four, or six rolls of media in different widths,” says Joe Biegler, product manager at Océ, “It can also be equipped with a sheet stacker and an optional take-up reel.”
Originally developed for the reprographics market, Océ has just released a new version of the ColorWave optimized for large-format disposable signage. The system uses Océ’s solid ink TonerPearls, which are melted then sprayed onto the substrate. The resulting prints require no drying time, as the TonerPearls instantly harden onto the surface of the paper, creating a water-fast surface that is weather resistant for four to six weeks. This non-aqueous inkjet technology not only means no smearing and smudging, it also yields excellent print quality on plain bond papers.
“Most inkjets need expensive pre-treated media that runs from 15 to 25 cents per square foot,” explains Biegler. “With the ColorWave Poster Printer, you’re able to print heavy coverage on standard 20-pound bond, which runs closer to two cents per square foot. In addition, it can also be used with outdoor media such as polypropylene film and Tyvek.”
Substrate compatibility is the reason that small commercial shop Action Graphics in Butler, WI, has invested in two wide-format solvent inkjet printers, with plans to acquire a third device in the near future. An early adopter of both direct imaging offset and cut-sheet digital printing, Action Graphics is now looking to wide-format inkjet to grow its business.
“It’s been eight years since we bought our first wide-format machine,” says owner Raphael Horvath, “But that was a big mistake because it was a pigmented water-based system, so it wasn’t outdoor durable. But we went ahead and started making indoor signage for people, and we found that the margin was much better than printing letterheads or newsletters.”
Skeptics might point out that Action Graphics’ 98.4-inch wide Mimaki JV3 is considerably slower than an offset press. “You don’t have to stand there and actively run an inkjet plotter like you have to with an offset press, so both my labor cost and my overhead are pretty low,” says Horvath. “The machine time is the last thing you think about, because it doesn’t really cost you a lot as it sits on your shop floor.”
In addition to his inkjets, Horvath attributes Action Graphics’ wide-format success to the contour-cut capabilities of his Graphtec FC2250 cutter, which handles substrates up to one-quarter inch thick. This device has enabled some unique solutions for his customers, including large printed magnets for point-of-sale signage on ice cream freezers. Magnets are just one of the unusual substrates that help differentiate wide-format imaging from the rest of the printing industry.