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Grand Format Printers

Part 1 of 2

By Melissa Donovan

Constant innovation is essential to the graphic arts. Historically known as time-saving, cost-cutting devices used for signage seen from faraway, technological advances now allow grand format printers to create high-quality output for even the most unique niches. Digital Output considers anything over 95 inches in width a grand format printer.

Today’s grand format devices have a hand in the creation of a number of applications including billboards, vehicle graphics, banners, trade show graphics, point of purchase, backlits, building wraps, wallpaper, street furniture, packaging, sidewalk graphics, home décor, and fine art.

"Opportunity is found by going beyond the boundaries of printing traditional posters and banners. New applications provide new revenue streams. Products yield greater margins than just prints. Shops with entrepreneurial spirit should consider current generation flatbed printers as manufacturing tools that allow them to produce a product," explains Randy Paar, display graphics product manager, Océ North America.

Several manufacturers and their distributors believe that a combination of the evolution of UV printing, image quality, and the consistent need for speed, are reasons these printers continue to expand their reach.

Measuring Up
The wider the printer, the less post-finishing techniques are employed. For instance, sewing two sheets of fabric together or welding rigid media, are task avoided with grand format printers. Additionally, concerns over color matching multiple pieces are no more. Less hands-on time and worry equals more money in the minds of many.

Costly labor and time consuming preparation are certainly two issues avoided with the use of grand format printers, according to Deborah Hutcheson, director of marketing, Agfa Graphics. Large applications, such as billboards or building wraps, require the speed and functionality associated with these types of devices. That way, print operators can focus on more important things—like getting more jobs in and out the door.

Large sheets of media are printable with grand format printers using very little labor, says Jeffrey Nelson, product marketing manager, Fujifilm Sericol U.S.A., Inc.

The sheer size and productivity levels gained from a grand format printer make them well suited for traditional superwide applications, explains Mike Wozny, strategic product manager, EFI. But, as technology continues to evolve, the capability to print multiple-up boards and multi-rolls simultaneously make these devices ideal for higher quality, premium-margin applications, he continues.

"Wider width media reduces job turnaround and post finishing, since it requires less manual labor to finish them prior installation. This affects job costs and makes for easier and faster final installation," agrees Lou Laurent, digital wide format printer sales, INX Digital International Co.

Advances in UV technology caught the attention of many, and this is no exception with grand format print. More media types are compatible. As Nelson points out, polyethylene materials are gaining widespread appeal for grand format applications due to low material weight and recyclability. "UV printers print on polyethylene where solvent printers cannot," he says.

Tom Leibrandt, product manager POD solutions, Screen (USA), explains an added UV benefit, that many grand format systems are able to print directly onto the final substrate, minimizing turnaround time.

Swift Printing
Time is of the essence in the print world. Although size is an important factor when choosing a grand format printer, if it isn’t fast enough—it negates the entire purchase. Customers demand one day, sometimes even 12 hour turnarounds, and print service providers (PSP) must be willing and able to meet these requirements. If not, they lose the job to competition.

"Speed plays an integral part from a productivity standpoint, for a quick turnaround time. Customers still want top-quality printing at the lowest possible cost no matter what," admits David Robinson, North American sales, d.gen.

Speed improvements are not to be overlooked when it comes to grand format. Manufacturers constantly push the bar to enhance production and high-quality print modes to satisfy a range of users. Part two of this series includes information on over 30 grand format printers and their speeds.

As previously stated, the main characteristic of building wraps, banners, wallpaper, billboards, and other grand format applications is the width of the print. "To produce these wide applications efficiently, a printer needs to operate at a high printing speed so the PSP prints the job quickly and cost effectively," adds Udi Nachmany, partnerships & business development manager, Scitex division, Hewlett-Packard.

Quality Over Proportion
Print buyers demand high-quality graphics, and this includes grand format print. Today’s devices offer print modes that enable PSPs to create rich, colorful, massive-sized graphics viewed up close, such as wallpaper or backlit signage.

"Image quality and color density are critical factors for backlit banner signs and for graphics that are viewed in bright, outdoor daylight conditions. Because grand format printers can be operated in higher quality modes, they produce images viewed up close," shares Robert Ozankan, senior product manager, Roland DGA Corporation.

David J. Cich, VP of sales and marketing, CET Color, agrees that image quality is becoming more important, not only for closely viewed applications, but also because of the competition. In the past, low-resolution images or hand painted signs were shrugged off in comparison to the ability of digital print. But now, according to Cich, grand format must now compete with digital displays.

"We live in an high-definition (HD) world. Consumer studies show that the level of print quality directly affects the consumer’s perception of the product’s quality. While consumers may not appreciate or understand the technology, the explosion of HD viewing has sensitized the consumer eye to pick up the subtle differences in printed pieces. This sensitivity is not lost with the print buyer," adds Leibrandt.

With these high-quality capabilities, which leads to high-end applications, a broader range of venues to house applications follow. "104-inch printing allows companies to provide large, more effective graphics for venues such as sports facilities, shopping malls, entertainment events, and transportation facilities—where customers see the image from both faraway or up close," explains Pat Ryan, GM, Seiko I Infotech.

Media versatility is also brought into play. Christopher Howard, senior VP sales and marketing, Durst Image Technology US LLC, shares that "grand format roll-to-roll printers enable PSPs to print onto meshes, fabrics, and more." This provides customers with a platform to not only address the long-run market, like building wraps, providing them with flexibility in other industries such as home décor, he says.

Grand Graphics
Speed, image quality, and even inevitable large widths, enable grand format printers to reach outside of their comfort zones—billboards—to creating flawless, eye-catching graphics. PSPs looking to expand into other applications might find that the hardware they need is sitting right in front of them. Those hoping to save money in post-production costs might find it an added bonus that superwide printers aren’t just for standard grand format signage any longer.

"Due to the current size of printers available today, you can eliminate finishing steps such as seaming, which in turn lowers the cost of manufacturing a graphic. Faster production speeds, combined with the higher quality, make grand format printers the choice of many organizations including smaller and mid-size shops looking to enter into grand format," conclude Bill Grambsch, Western regional sales manager and Wes Kidd, Eastern regional sales manager, WP Digital AG.

The second part of this series includes a roundup on grand format printers. Look for it in next week’s Digital Queue.


Click on the link above to get more information on the vendors mentioned in this article.

Apr2010, Digital Output
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