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A Wide Format State-of-the-Industry Report

Advances in technology, and a desire for print-service providers to become a one-stop shop for clients, have brought about many changes in the wide format market. We have asked various industry leaders for their input on the wide format market, from lower prices, to areas of growth, and of course the battle between speed and quality of prints.

Printer manufacturers, media producers, and suppliers of finishing equipment are the ones who drive the technology and trends. What they see as important now will show up in the equipment and consumables available next year and beyond. The billions of dollars that advertisers, merchandisers, and print buyers spent on wide format materials last year is expected to rise even more through 2006.

The collective wisdom of executives from all aspects of the wide format business provides a valuable source of information for digital printers making decisions on their business, equipment, and the services they provide.

Deborah Hutcheson
senior marketing manager, Digital Solutions
Agfa Corporation
Wide format is one of the fastest growing segments in the printing industry, including any piece between 24 and 100 inches. Fast, photo-quality signs, billboards, vehicle wraps, and trade show graphics are just a few of the wide format products customers are willing to spend top-dollar for, which is why printers are expanding their offerings with digital.

Wide format digital printing is a natural extension of commercial printing capabilities. After all, most printers already have inkjet proofing systems that could easily turn out posters and displays during down time. Wide format is also a sensible investment, considering most systems simply plug into the existing workflow. Another key benefit to commercial printers who offer wide format digital printing is that they don’t need to search for new clients to buy the digital products. There are plenty of opportunities to offer banners, posters, and exhibition graphics to their own existing customer base, which means a faster ROI. Offering a cross media campaign that includes wide format digital output can also give a business an edge over their competition when new customers come shopping for print services and offer a new differentiated revenue stream.

Tiffany Witham
senior marketing manager, Business Development Group, Graphics Division
Avery Dennison
The industry continues to embrace solvent printers that are less costly, have higher resolution, and have faster speeds. The fact that these machines use non-topcoated media has led to further cost and performance differentiation between solvent and aqueous printing. We foresee that solvent—both eco-solvent and mild solvent—inkjet installations will continue to grow significantly as traditional and non-traditional OEMs are, or will be, offering lower cost printers.

Additionally, ink trends show a move toward reduced cyclohexanone, but venting the machines will still be required. All of these factors will allow small to large size shops lower cost-of-entry into the durable graphics market, thus increasing the competition in this arena. Shops purchasing these printers will need to focus on the value adds they can bring to their customers, thus differentiating themselves amongst their competition. In the future, UV-curable printing will continue to take hold as a viable print solution. It is currently still in the stage of proving itself to sign makers and screen shops manufacturing outdoor durable graphics, but it will continue to make headway against solvent printing over the next couple of years.

Amit Bagchi
director of marketing, Printer Division, Imaging Systems Group
Canon U.S.A, Inc.
The wide format printing industry has begun to move in a new direction. It used to be that as long as the image looked clear from a five to six-foot distance it was sufficient. This may still be the case in the billboard market but in the 13" to 60" print market, the end user is much more likely to scrutinize. The top companies have specs that are very similar. The resolution of these images is high, the droplet size is small, and the color gamut is wide. Companies are looking for new ways to differentiate themselves within the industry.

Pricing in the industry continues to fall. This, plus improved print quality and added features, creates a much-needed value for users. POP continues to dominate as a key application. As the devices get faster, we are seeing a volume shift from offset.

It is clear that there are more uses for wide format printing than have ever been thought imaginable. Posters, photographs, and CAD drawings are just a small sample among the vast types of applications generated through these devices. Not only are these prints beneficial for almost any organization but for many facets within. Companies need a wide format printer that will produce the best output across the board in many types of applications. It seems to no longer be the printer alone that is the issue at hand but the entire solution to create, process, and print that makes the customer happy.

Christopher Howard
VP, sales and marketing, Large Format Imaging
Durst Image Technology U.S., LLC
We’ve been tracking several market trends in wide format imaging for some time—the growing homogenization among professional imagers in terms of output and services, application-driven innovation in output, customer migration to a single vendor solution, mass customization, shorter runs, and the popularity of UV inkjet printing because it addresses these wide format trends so well.

Professional imagers have always had to make trade-offs between productivity, image quality, and cost. UV inkjet has been an excellent option for getting the cost variable under control, but users still have had to make a choice between image quality and high volume production. Because the technology is progressive, the day isn’t far off when imagers won’t have to compromise anymore.

The primary enablers are going to be improved software-driven workflows and new approaches to print head design and ink application. Printers will be able to interpret the image more accurately and efficiently while the actual process of putting ink on a substrate will become much more sophisticated and precise. We can anticipate advances in drop modulation, firing frequency, nozzle reliability, and other key factors—all of which will change the long-standing either or printing equation in fundamental, positive ways. Ultimately, this will allow imaging companies to further utilize the UV inkjet platform for their businesses.

Robert Bond
marketing manager
Encad, Inc., a Kodak Company
The strongest trend in the wide format industry is solvent machines taking the place of inkjet machines in the 36- to 60-inch space. Because solvent printer prices have come down and the quality of the output has improved, solvent continues to take share from inkjet in many short-term applications. We see this trend continuing as customer needs in the market separate around 42 inches. In the 24- to 42-inch space, customers will care about quality over cost and in the 42-inch or greater space, customers will care about cost over quality.

The second part to this story is that as inkjet quality improves, customers will be able to produce higher quality work. The value of this to the customer is that they are able to produce output with lower fixed costs and on a variety of media. This on-demand, in-house solution will reduce advertising costs and increase flexibility.

Finally, the price of 8MB digital cameras has come down to the $1,000 range. The opportunity for wide format printer manufacturers and photo labs is that the professional photographer can now enlarge pictures without giving up quality. The question is will photographers or their customers, in large-scale, want to enlarge photography in mass scale?

The end result is that retail prices of wide format output will continue to erode at a five to ten percent pace, but the volume will grow three to five percent, thereby reducing but not destroying gross margins for those who retail the output. For the manufacturers, printer prices will continue to come down but ink and media prices should remain stable and the volumes should grow. The opportunity for the inkjet manufacturer is in the less than 42-inch space while in the greater than 42-inch space, solvent should continue to take share.

Scott Fisher
VP of marketing and advertising
Fisher Textiles, Inc.
The digital print market is growing, specifically the print market for textile products. Traditional printers are going digital, which is where some of the growth is, but in general, it seems as though there is simply more demand for the products the printers today can produce. Direct printing continues to grow with more solvent machines on the market and price of those machines coming down. Coated textiles for these machines are better than in past years, providing near dye-sub quality at an affordable price.

Pricing on textiles is going to rise as polyesters continue to go up along with oil prices. Imports on these products will not affect pricing as these products are specialized, and not in the commodities that are currently being sourced overseas.

We continue to develop new products to meet the demand of our printers. We have good relationships with our customers and seek feedback on what they need to generate more business.

Cindy Pilch
senior product manager, Industrial and Print Finishing Group
The rising cost of crude oil has been all over the news in the last year. People may not realize that oil is used in the production of plastics and therefore effects laminating costs. But oil isn’t the only factor having an impact. The other big news in the financial markets is the explosive growth occurring in China.

The result is soaring demand and limited supply for the raw materials used in the production of films and adhesives. The demand for polyester and polypropylene for China alone is growing more than 20 percent annually. Combine this demand with the weakness of the dollar, and the result is a supply shortage as well as increased pricing in the United States.

We do not expect these conditions to change in the course of 2005. As a result, GBC has a renewed emphasis to develop lower cost alternatives for both substrates and adhesives. We are also developing alternatives to traditional lamination products to insure that print providers have a competitive and value added solution.

I see the tight economy as an impetus to the development of exciting new products that will ensure the continuation of profits for our customers into the future.

Richard Codos
Leggett & Platt Digital Technologies, Inc.
In wide format digital printing, the market has become divided into two distinct markets, rigid and roll-to-roll flexible materials. With wide format roll-to-roll, we believe that the focus is now on textiles. This is largely market-driven due to the better look and feel of textiles over vinyl, as well as the environmental concerns in the disposal of vinyl materials. Our patented UV heat curing system for textile products offers the industry the only UV printer capable of printing uncoated textiles that are fully cured to ensure that the colors will never bleed and that the product is safe to the touch and without odor. Printing direct to uncoated textiles create products with a better feel and hand; and they are more cost-effective.

In the rigid area, customers are demanding increased printing widths and lengths. This capability is important to customers who produce oversized POP, light boxes, and billboard applications. The segment is being driven by the customer’s need to print oversized applications devoid of seams and without multiple pieces.

As prices for digital printing with conventional applications—ink to vinyl and small rigids—continue to come under pressure, opportunities and growth exist with textiles and in oversized rigids.

Tony Martin
Lyson Inc.
For this article last year, I began my contribution with "Solvent, solvent and more solvent with just a splash of UV curing." Has anything changed?

Well, the growth in the number of OEM’s offering solvent-based printers has certainly continued unabated. You only had to walk the floor at the recent ISA trade show in Las Vegas to see solvent printers in abundance by manufacturers from all corners of the globe. The one area that has changed in the last year is the wide scale acceptance of UV curing flat bed printers. There have been some remarkable improvements in UV technology, particularly in ink chemistry, that provide better color, better adhesion and longer ink shelf life. UV curing in inkjet is now a very workable proposition and the OEM’s have responded with some recently introduced, lower cost printers.

As for the future, I will stand by many of the points I made last year. The quest for output speed is still king and I believe we will see faster and faster machines come to the market. Solvent and UV curing will be the ink technologies for the foreseeable future and their performance will improve as pigment and polymer technologies improve. Last year, I mentioned some advances in water based ink technology that should enable there use on uncoated media. These developments are very close to fruition; watch this space.

Jeff Stadelman
technical marketing manager
Today is an exciting and hectic time for the graphics market, as it becomes more apparent that there is no stopping the solvent trend, and digital overall continues to grow. According to market studies, between 2003 and 2008, the number of installed solvent/UV systems will increase 23 percent. Media manufacturers will need to keep up with the technology, as new machines and sizes are being added every day.

Along with that, we are called to cater to many different levels of sophistication among our users, from the big, established digital shops to the smaller end-users who recently entered the market. We’ve discovered that many users are totally reliant on media manufacturers to help them calibrate their machines and produce the best print possible. To help meet those needs, we’ve invested in creating ICC profiles to maximize the value our media brings to the customer. Along the same lines, we believe that smart customers will look for companies that have created strategic alliances with other suppliers; for example, media suppliers that partner with ink and printer manufacturers to sell a system of products.

Application-wise, interior design presents a large opportunity for wide format as a market. We’re already seeing textured sheets and fabrics being formulated for wide format printers, and the creation of machines to print on substrates up to three inches thick. Total flatbed systems will increase 48 percent. That projection seems more probable than possible these days, as smaller, less costly machines are being introduced to entice the traditional sign shops and screen printers into entering the market. While this increases the amount of media sold, it presents a challenge for us.

Steve Urmano
marketing manager
Mimaki USA, Inc.
Growth of the wide format printing market is happening at different levels. One is a replacement market for the installed aqueous printer base established by such players as Encad, Epson, and HP. In the reprographic market, there seems to be an emerging interest in solvent- based printers for outside photorealistic renderings, as line drawings have become just a small but integral part of the plotter use.

A second level of explosive market growth is by small sign shops franchise, fueled by the expansion of Signs Now, Sign A Rama, and Signs By Tomorrow. This demand for adding solvent-based wide format printing has begun to cross over into the quick print arena where players such as Sir Speedy, Allegra’s acquisition of Sign Now, and even FedEx Kinko’s are beginning to play in this market space.

The market for solvent is still growing but at some point we should be experiencing a flattening of the growth curve. However, new aqueous areas, driven by the growth of soft signage by pigmented and even acid dyes, have shown growth potential.

Wide format printing using UV-curable inks show great promise to broaden into even more traditional silk screen markets such as high resolution instrument panels, membrane switch covers, and even printing directly onto glass and metal substrates.

Prices seem to be holding for the most part at current levels but there seems to be a bundling trend, which in effect is a lowering of price.

Itay Shalit
director of marketing
NUR Macroprinters Ltd.
Wide format production printing has gone through an impressive acceptance curve over the past few years and has now reached a point where it is considered a mainstream print production methodology that can cater to the needs of almost all applications.

This acceptance was fueled by a massive boost in the performance of the machines in terms of productivity, quality, and reliability. As shorter, on demand print runs become increasingly the norm, the benefits of inkjet printing become ever more apparent. As a result, these machines are now being adopted by a wide range of print service providers—from billboard printers to even commercial printers—enabling them to produce new print applications, approach new customers, and obtain more work from existing customers

Today, there’s yet another revolution going on in the wide format inkjet production printing arena—the UV revolution—and it will play a significant role in taking the industry into a new era.

It started a few years ago with the advent of flatbed inkjet printers, the majority of which are equipped with UV-curable inks. These machines are becoming increasingly popular in wide format print production environments of all kinds because of the flexibility and productivity they provide. They can print on a wide range of substrates—both rigid and flexible media.

The advantages of UV-curable inks have begun to extend beyond the flatbed printing paradigm. UV-curable inkjet printing is now poised to address roll-fed applications—primarily outdoor advertising, grand format printing, and high-throughput digital printing. Because of their obvious advantages, it is forecast that over the next few years, the wide format printing industry will witness multiple introductions of new roll-to-roll printers equipped with UV-curable inks. Early adopters of this technology are gaining a significant competitive edge, enabling them to increase their productivity, improve their cost structure, and develop new applications.

Sal Sheikh
VP, marketing,Océ Wide Format Printing Systems 
Océ North America, Inc.

The large format printers and services market saw a rise in 2005, primarily from growth in new applications spawned by digital flatbed printers and an increasing range of applications produced by outdoor durable printers. We expect to see significant growth in entry-level solvent printers as sign shops expand their businesses with digital inkjet printing technologies. We also anticipate a good growth opportunity for flatbeds at all levels, particularly the sub-$150,000 production and sub-$50,000 hybrid printers.

Technology advancements that combine good printing speed and high print quality, especially in the lower-volume and mild solvent printer markets, are seeing tremendous growth. Printer manufacturers will continue to further reduce solvent level in the eco- and mild-solvent printers while maintaining outdoor durability and the ability to print on uncoated media. In addition, we will see continued development of low cost UV-curable systems combining both roll-based and flatbed capabilities, and development of production flatbed printers (less than 200 feet-per-hour) for less than $150,000.

Shops that have weathered the recent economic downturn have learned that if they do not service their customer base with an ever-increasing range of applications, their customers will go elsewhere. For shops that have the marketing and financial expertise to make a move, this is a great time to add new capabilities that will keep them ahead of the competition.

Craig Campbell
product manager
Oracal USA
The far-reaching effects of the digital printing market growth can be seen on every street corner by glancing up at a billboard, across at a bus-stop terminal, and in the passing traffic. The world is alive with full-color creativity and innovative messaging, courtesy of your local sign shop or digital printer.

As a major manufacturer of PSA vinyl inkjet media, we have responded to this increasing dependence on wide format digital printing by introducing an even wider range of solvent inkjet media and laminating films for indoor and outdoor applications such as professional vehicle wrapping film, removable transit media, and translucent media for backlit signage.

With this increasing range of applications and products, we look for sign shops and digital printers to further leverage their investment in technology by offering their customers a wider variety of creative vinyl applications, leading to increased sales of wide format graphics.

As we build customer relationships, we should keep our eyes on the emerging economies of the Far East. As these economies grow, so does their demand for raw materials. Add to this the increasing costs of petroleum and it’s clear that media manufacturers will face increasing price pressures on materials and transportation in the future.

Early trends are already showing that the boom of 2004 is still gaining steam, which should set the stage for many sign shops and digital printers to increase their vinyl PSA sales and profitability in 2005 and beyond.

Andy Hatkoff
VP, Electronic Color Systems
Pantone, Inc.
Printer manufacturers are in a competitive battle for customer awareness and market share. The profit margin for printer hardware is notoriously slim. So how do these companies make money?

The real moneymaker is the ink, and the profit margins are enormous. The cost of ink for a desktop/photo printer becomes the largest expense of ownership for a consumer, with replacement inks costing about half as much as the printer itself. In the wide format printer market, a consumer can spend approximately $500 to $600 per set of refill ink cartridges.

According to IT Strategies, in 2003, the revenue generated for aqueous inks alone was $1.9 billion. By 2008, this is expected to increase to $2.6 billion. For this reason, printer OEMs guard this business as their crown jewel, doing everything they can to keep third-party ink developers who threaten their profit margins at bay.

OEMs have used tactics to ensure a constant revenue stream from ink sales. One such tactic is the attempt to discourage user choice by installing fear in the consumer that non-OEM inks will damage printers and void warranties. While there are some low-cost, low-quality third-party inks that have created a negative impression and tarnished the reputation of the non-OEM ink market, in general, there are just as many companies providing premium quality ink products that perform as well as, if not better than, OEM inks.

Industry analysts indicate a definite trend toward broader appeal for third-party inks, taking away market share from OEMs. Ink makers are losing sales to non-branded cartridge vendors. Generic ink has already grabbed 16 percent of the market and is expected to grow to 23 percent within four years—for both narrow and wide format printers—according to Jim Forrest, a senior analyst with digital imaging research firm, Lyra Research.

Saving money on a consumable such as ink is compelling for consumers. Users shouldn’t have to sacrifice quality at a lower price because of fear tactics used by OEM printer manufacturers. When it comes to the purchase of ink, the consumer should have freedom of choice.

Rak Kumar
Raster Printers Inc.
During the last year, the wide format market has seen a major shift from solvent ink systems to systems based on UV-curable inks. It has been driven primarily by the ability of UV-curable inks to print on just about any uncoated rigid or roll media. Also, VOC-free UV-curable inks are environmentally friendly. This trend will continue for the foreseeable future. We see a number of factors accelerating the growth of systems based on UV-curable inks at the expense of solvent ink systems.

First, the cost of entry level systems has come down from $150,000 to $60,000 and will continue to come down. Raster Printers is accomplishing this cost reduction without sacrificing quality by moving some of its manufacturing of non-critical components to China.

Second, the improvements in ink adhesion and cracking characteristics have improved dramatically, making UV-curable ink systems suitable for a much wider range of applications, including flexible substrates, than what was possible a few years ago.

Third, many of the environmental agencies are starting to demand that the industry clean up its act when it comes to VOC emissions from solvent inks. UV-curable inks address these environmental concerns by curing—drying—the printed image by a chemical reaction initiated by UV lamps instead of the release of VOC’s through evaporation used by solvent inks.

Traditionally, wide format printers were used by service bureaus to produce a variety of graphics applications. More recently, we are seeing many of these systems being acquired for a single application as a manufacturing machine. Examples range from printing on decorative glass to custom leather products.

In summary, we see the wide format market continuing to expand as UV-curable ink based systems become more affordable, offer significant work flow savings from direct to rigid media printing, and move into specialty manufacturing applications.

Dave Goward
senior VP/GM
Roland DGA Corporation
The wide format graphics market continues to grow and evolve in new directions. We are witnessing continuing growth in wide format signage and POP, driven by retail and event marketing. The vehicle graphics market is also exploding.

As the overall market matures, we see an increasing number of printing choices being offered to an increasingly large customer base. The profile of our target customer is changing as well. Many of today’s customers are entering the market for the first time without color management expertise or even digital expertise. The result is a demand for better plug-and-play operation and more reseller expertise. These are areas where Roland’s distribution channel, product know-how, and support are particularly strong.

Accordingly, demand for training, services, and support is on the rise. Roland resellers, in particular, are responding to this market dynamic by providing ever-greater levels of assistance to their customers.

One of the most defining trends we see for 2005 is the widespread adoption of integrated print/cut technology. The performance of these integrated printer/cutters continues to improve with the introduction of new technologies that increase speed, resolution, and versatility—all at ever-lower price points. Professional integrated printer/cutters are now available for under $15,000, making them more attractive than ever.

There are other factors shaping the market as well. The popularity of eco-solvent inks continues to grow due to their low operating costs, durability, and outdoor longevity. New White Eco-SOL INK has recently been released as well, opening up new applications for eco-solvent printers. The use of sublimation inks is also on the rise.

We believe the durable graphics market will continue its steady growth and we look forward to introducing new products and services to help our customers maximize their business potential.

Bob Linck
marketing director
Sericol, Inc.
One thing is for certain, large format digital printing is revolutionizing the POP industry in North America and abroad. From traditional screenprinters to commercial photo labs, companies are investing in digital printing capabilities to augment and enhance their existing capabilities. This is evidenced by the nearly 150 Inca UV digital flatbed presses Sericol has installed around the world in the past three years.

Compared to a few years ago, printers now have many more choices in the types of UV digital printing equipment available to them. While the Inca Columbia Turbo stands alone in the high speed/output end of the market, there are many competitive machines in the mid-range segment to choose from. Recent introductions, like the Zund 250-Combi and the Inca Spyder 320, offer a wide variety of features such as four, six, or eight colors, white ink for opacity, hybrid roll-fed/flatbed printing, and improved print speed-to-cost ratios.

With these versatile new digital press introductions comes the need for new, innovative UV digital ink systems. Inks will need to include improved adhesion on an even wider range of substrates, increased flexibility, a broader color gamut, and improved overall image quality.

In the past two years, we have seen a significant increase in the capabilities of wide format digital presses and UV digital inks. It is expected that the rate of future improvements will accelerate even further. All in all, this is an exciting time for the graphic printing industry and printers’ opportunities are limited only by their imagination.

Seth Ebarra
senior marketing coordinator
Transilwrap Company Inc.
The evolution of the wide format market has been primarily adopted by printers and sign shops. These new printing systems, roll or flatbed, produce graphics using either solvent or UV inks. Today’s wide format printers have created new application opportunities and the flexibility in choosing from a variety of print media. In regards to most media, the new ink systems have helped in offering the market more substrates because users no longer have to purchase top-coated materials, which were traditionally used for inkjet printing.

With the advent of the digital wide format market, Transilwrap Company Inc. has worked with several print engine manufacturers in testing its family of printable plastics—rigid plastics, cling plastics, and synthetics papers. Transilwrap has been primarily a media provider to the sheet fed litho and POP print industry, but now with these new digital printing systems, is attempting to offer the same product solutions to this market.

Jane Cedrone
marketing communications and public relations manager
VUTEk, Inc.
Out of home advertising continues to grow, with a $25 billion print opportunity worldwide. While the worlds of screenprintng and digital printing continue to converge, largely due to UV flatbed technology, photo labs and sign shops are now able to compete with screenprinters, and calling themselves image providers so as not to suggest limitation. Rigids account for over one third of the wide format print market, making it a sweet spot for these image providers. Nearly all of this volume is printed non-digitally today, making it a robust opportunity for digital flatbed devices.

Screenprinters are also under increasing pressure to meet customer requirements. Printers such as the VUTEk PressVu UV flatbed rigid/flexible family of printers as well as the UltraVu roll-to-rolls are now allowing screenprinters to produce the short runs that would otherwise be cost prohibitive. By adding this technology to their current process, they no longer need to outsource short runs, enabling them to stay competitive and become more profitable. This also allows for quick turnaround, less inventory, and reduced waste.

The resulting market growth has been quite strong. As the technology becomes more productive, new segments will be opened up, especially industrial printing and decorator applications. One of the challenges our market faces today is in educating and communicating the vast opportunities that this technology provides.

As leaders in superwide format digital inkjet technology, VUTEk offers the widest range of products for high quality, high-speed flexible printing in 1.5-, 2.3-, and 5-meter formats. Our UV digital inkjet flatbed printers can print on both rigid and flexible substrates, ideal for a wide range of applications including high margin POP displays. Our goal is to help our customers be more profitable, by enabling them to consistently produce high quality output, at high production speeds with the flexibility to print on almost anything. Our most successful customers are experimenting with unusual and exotic materials, expanding the possibilities of this technology by printing on glass, metal, wood, and ceramic tiles.

Charles Gonzalez
VP, Wide Format Business, Product Systems Group
Xerox Corporation
The future of the wide format market looks very bright. A key enabler in driving expanded use of wide format printing will be improved workflows that more easily integrate wide and narrow format printing.

We see this convergence as a trend that will continue. High-quality wide and narrow format output devices will share an on-demand, Web-enabled, industry-standard digital workflow that will streamline production and improve the effectiveness of all types of documents.

Print providers that will succeed in this competitive environment are those that can meet increasing customer demand for high-quality outputs, printed quickly, and in various formats. For example, a wide format poster and a narrow format marketing collateral might share a design theme, be produced with the same workflow, and be stored in the same repository for updating and printing on demand.

Jul2005, Digital Output

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