Ten years ago, wide-format wasn’t even a category in the annual Quick Printing surveys of the Top 100 shops and the franchise industry segment. It wasn’t until 2003 that it appeared as a profit center in the franchise survey with 1.5 percent of sales. In 2004, it also appeared for the first time in the Top 100 survey with three percent of sales. In the most recent surveys, wide-format accounted for 4.7 percent of sales for the Top 100 and 5.1 percent in the franchise segment—hardly astronomical growth, but significant, nonetheless.In talking with printers from across the country, I have gotten the sense that interest in wide-format is growing as an attractive addition to the traditional job mix for quick and small commercial printers. To see if this personal observation holds water, I asked two industry experts for their take on wide-format and how it fits into the typical quick and small commercial operation.
Dirck Holscher is a long-time industry veteran who is publisher of the Larry Hunt group of newsletters which includes Larry Hunt’s Wide Format News. Mitch Evans heads Mitch Evans Consulting and is the chair of NAPL’s NAQP Advisory Board, which creates programs and content specifically for quick and small commercial printers. He’s is also a regular QP columnist.
QP: Are more quick/small commercial printers branching out into wide-format?
Evans: Absolutely. Printers first got into wide-format printers for proofing and then realized that they also could produce posters. These machines were slow and usually limited to producing work to be used indoors. Now shops are buying wide-format printers that can produce a wide variety of applications and print on substrates other than paper.
Holscher: Yes, I think many small commercial and quick printers are getting interested in the opportunities of wide-format. Many printers have used it for years as proofing devices, and some had already started selling prints from their proofing device as a profitable sideline. Other printers have been doing black-and-white wide-format for years for the reprographics market. Others have seen opportunities in the signage market and have either set up their own sign department or bought an existing sign shop as an expansion opportunity.
QP: What role do floor space and finishing capabilities play in setting up an efficient and profitable wide-format operation?
Evans: You do need about 500 square feet dedicated to large-format. You need to have a table that is a minimum of 4x8 feet, plus room for the printer, a laminator, a work station, and materials.
Holscher: Wide-format equipment can take up a lot of space, especially as you get into the larger printer widths. Cutting, laminating, and other finishing options can require additional equipment and take up a good deal of space as well.
One thing many printers underestimate is media storage. Media is expensive, and media rolls can be bulky. Large sheets of substrates may need to be stocked as well. Media storage space and the inventory expense need to be considered when planning a wide-format operation.
QP: What are the advantages of the different output technologies (aqueous, solvent, latex, etc.)?
Evans: All except aqueous allow for the output to be used outdoors. Latex and eco-solvent usually do not need any special ventilation. True solvent or aqueous do need special venting. UV is also being used, mainly for flatbed printers. Inks will last five years or more, although lamination is still recommended in many cases.
Holscher: This area deserves a whole article to itself. Full solvent inks, which have excellent durability and weather resistance, have become less popular because of environmental concerns. Aqueous has been popular in many applications because of the simple technology, although the prints may require lamination or other protection if used outdoors.