Latex inks are receiving lots of attention, since they are largely free of solvents, yet are quite durable. One problem with latex is the large amount of energy needed by the printer to dry the prints. Another technology to watch is UV curable inks, which have been growing in popularity in the high-production end of the market. UV inks may show up increasingly on smaller format machines.
QP: Are there any special considerations when it comes to selling or pricing wide-format?
Evans: Selling wide-format is a natural extension of selling printing. One major difference is the quantities are usually very low but the unit price is high. Most of the industry prices wide-format by the square foot. Pricing is slowly coming down as more printers and sign shops offer these services. Costs are also coming down and volumes going up. Almost all of the major print estimating systems have modules or methods for wide-format pricing. Pricing is based on a graphics charge for design, or setup if art is provided; output, based on area; and finishing, such as mounting or laminating.
Holscher: Wide-format presents a good cross-selling opportunity for printers, since many of their present customers might also be customers for wide-format products. Training customer service and sales staff to sell wide-format products is vitally important. More and more estimating systems now include wide-format modules, either standard or as add ons.
QP: Are there any outsourcing resources for printers who want to outsource more sophisticated wide-format work?
Evans: Most of the major wholesale printers are now offering wide-format as well, including such companies as Signs 365, 4Over, Wyld Grand Format Imaging, etc. Many printers strike up a relationship with a local sign shop to do their work.
Holscher: There are a number of outsourcing options. It is not uncommon for wide-format shops to outsource some of their finishing options, like large laminating projects or picture framing. Printers can also outsource work to local full-service sign shops. In addition, there are a number of providers of wide-format work “to the trade” that can be used if your schedule allows.
QP: Does digital workflow for wide-format differ greatly from that of a normal digital workflow?
Evans: The main difference is that wide-format output devices have separate RIPs. Wide-format can easily be integrated into a shop’s existing workflow.
Holscher: The RIPs are different, and the preparation of originals for signage and display work can be different as well. Also, the in-line cutting options offered by many wide-format machines add a dimension to the workflow that is not present in most traditional printing processes. That said, I think that the digital technologies have made these formerly separate businesses much more similar. The skills used in digital printing can easily be transferred to wide-format production.
QP: Any words of wisdom for printers looking to make the move into this area?
Evans: Wide-format is growing tremendously, while offset continues to decline. Wide-format is a natural way to diversify your product and services offering. This equipment can produce a large variety of products besides posters. If you buy a printer that cuts, you can produce labels and decals. Other products include window graphics, vehicle graphics, signs, etc.
Holscher: Some printers have become very serious about wide-format, especially those who have acquired sign companies or who have set up dedicated sign operations with outbound sales capability. Vehicle wraps have created a lot of interest, but skilled application is a necessity. I think we’ll see more and more printers get involved in wallpapers, floor graphics, packaging, and other specialty areas.
In any new market you are considering, research and investigate the options very carefully. Talk to your current customers about their wide-format needs. Find out if they are happy with their current suppliers and determine any area where they’re not satisfied. You might also get some pricing data while you’re at it.
In addition, there are excellent publications, such as Wide-Format Imaging, which cover the wide-format industry. Associations such as ISA and SGIA can help you learn about the business. These associations also sponsor trade shows which can help you learn about wide-format. Also, wide-format presence is increasing at traditional printing shows such as Graph Expo and Graphics of the Americas.