The large format market is dynamic and constantly evolving with new hardware, software, and substrates. April’s International Sign Expo displayed an abundance of new technology.
Our annual Large Format Viewpoint looks at the market from the manufacturers’ perspective. We asked various industry leaders to share their thoughts on the state of the large format market, which we categorize as 24-inch output and higher.
Their knowledge and forecasts provide us with a deeper understanding of market changes, and more specifically where their company positions itself. What these individuals see as important today, will most likely show up as the next generation of technology in the graphic arts.
Thomas W. Black, marketing operations manager
3M Graphics Market Center
I see a couple of major trends developing—one I would call horizontal; the other vertical. Technological breakthroughs are making wide format digital printing available to smaller graphic manufacturers resulting in major new business opportunities. Now they are in a position to provide wraps and other small-volume digital signage to local and regional customers. One caution is that newer users of wide format technology need to pay very close attention to the quality of films, overlaminates, and other products they select. Mistakes and/or poor quality can be very costly—particularly for the smaller graphics provider.
The vertical trend I see is the need being expressed by large graphics end users—particularly when they are engaged in major branding activities—to have access to a one-source, turn-key solution to coordinating and executing these big projects.
And one can’t overlook increasing interest in active digital signage. While I don’t see digital signage replacing printed graphics, it does offer a powerful complement to graphics—particularly in retail. And new approaches to lighting are also coming online—fiber optics and greatly improved LEDs, for example, that will add to the retail experience.
3M continues to make it easier to meet increasing demand for vehicle wraps. 3M’s Controltac Plus Graphic Films with new Comply v2 Adhesive, for example, delivers the benefits of easy installation and non-visible air release channels for a smoother appearance and higher gloss.
Wall and building wraps are an up-and-coming opportunity. But, much potential display space is unusable because of rough textured surfaces—concrete block, brick, tile, etc. 3M’s new Scotchcal Graphic Film for Textured Surfaces IJ8624 opens up that valuable real estate for photo-realistic images that can be easily installed and removed. This is certainly one industry that never sits still and it’s an exciting time to be a player.
Steve Cutler, business development manager, inkjet segment
Agfa entered the inkjet market believing that its versatility brings the greatest potential for the growth of the digital printing marketplace. However, it will take more than being a leader in research and development to be successful in this fast paced and increasingly competitive marketplace.
Considering the investment for a UV printer, one must realize that this investment involves more than just the purchase of the printer. Agfa has taken the opportunity to assess what is truly needed in order for digital printers to maximize their potential, and the result is a strategy we have named C3—Complete Integration, Complete Service, and Complete Benefits.
After all, it is not just about manufacturing a printer. It’s about the integration of the complete system—the print engine, inks, printheads, and software, plus servicing and supporting your customers before, during, and after their purchase. By focusing on these three key elements, we have produced a model for what is needed for digital printers to be successful.
To succeed, vendors and suppliers must help ease their customers’ transition into digital technology, as well as assist them in maximizing the potential for their own customers. Those vendors offering a complete package of integration, service, and benefits will find themselves in the strongest position in both today’s and tomorrow’s competitive and ever-changing inkjet market.
Tom Durner, strategic alliance manager
Avery Dennison Graphics & Reflective Products Division
Select wide format media manufacturers offer digital warranty coverage that goes above and beyond the original selling price of the media, especially in solvent and eco-solvent printing. This extended coverage can represent significant claim exposure to the media vendor, so fairly extensive outdoor durability and compatibility testing is conducted to mitigate risk associated with graphics failure.
With printer and ink manufacturers constantly looking for a competitive edge, many are claiming broader color gamut. And while historically most solvent-based inks tested to a five-year outdoor standard—with the proper graphics protection such as an overlaminate or clearcoat—our technicians have found that some new versions with expanded gamut are not as stout when it comes to UV exposure. This is not always the case, but it has been common enough for Avery Graphics’ warranty program managers to consider it a trend.
As printer and ink manufacturers work to enhance gamut in an effort to print more sign and corporate colors, they tend to boost or modify magenta. Magenta is one of the first inks to fade when exposed to UV rays. The result of faded magenta, especially if it fades disproportionately faster than other colors, is that flesh tones go yellow or greenish, and memory colors such as fruits and vegetables start to look unnatural. In an outdoor image, grass and leaves start to lose contrast and shadows fade.
This is not always a bad thing as most of us would rather graphics users buy product more often than every five years, but in some cases the change is demonstrable, so warranties—and expectations—need to be amended.
Media vendors can no longer offer a broad-based five-year outdoor durability warranty across all solvent-based platforms. In Avery Graphics’ case, we will no longer insist that all ink sets meet the five-year outdoor criteria to be included on our warranty program, but rather we will customize durability expectations for each ink set tested.
Rich Reamer, senior manager, product marketing, large format group
Canon U.S.A., Inc.
Large format printing is becoming a more commonly used technology. Large format printing software mimics the familiar office software applications people use everyday to easily create and print large format materials in general office environments. Businesses are investing in large format printers and creating posters and presentation materials in-house at considerable savings. Quite a number of Canon’s imagePROGRAF large format units are placed in office environments attached to Canon imageRUNNER MFPs. This allows the ability to create enormous enlargements when copying from an imageRUNNER as well as print from the network.
There is also an increase in large format photography from consumers. The creation of posters and large photo prints by retail outlets, super-stores, and print-for-pay companies is growing as retailers are exploring new ways to capitalize on the digital photo age. With consumers having the ability to print at home, by offering the ability to create posters or large format photographs retail outlets are able to bring customers back into their stores with memory cards in hand.
Due to the ease of use of large format printing and layout software, more and more businesses are incorporating large format printers into their offices. Presentation materials, in-house informational posters, and office signage are all able to be produced in-house at a fraction of the cost of outsourcing such materials.
Canon is differentiating itself in the marketplace by acknowledging the difference in large format print applications and providing two specialized lines to the market—a graphics line of pigment-based imagePROGRAF inkjet printers and a corporate/CAD line of dye-based imagePROGRAF inkjet printers.
Another way Canon is differentiating itself in the market is with easy-to-use software solutions such as Canon’s PosterArtist, which enables users from novice to professional to create posters from scratch quickly and easily.
Craig Reid,director new business development
DuPont Digital Printing
Large format inkjet continues to show significant growth, specifically in the area of UV-curable digital print applications. The simple ability of UV cure inkjet to print directly to such a wide range of substrates without the need for expensive pre-coating makes it the most versatile digital print method for large format. Direct-to-textile fabric digital printing is moving from an emerging technology to a long term growth industry. Trends include environmental concerns, operational safety, and color fidelity.
With new rules and regulations coming from some countries that are cracking down on VOCs and requiring proper disposal of printed polyvinyl media, more and more people are looking to soft signage applications printed via UV cure or direct-to-textile aqueous-based ink sets. UV ink sets, such as the DuPont Cromaprint UV, provide affordable alternatives to solvent on vinyl, by being directly printable to a growing number of synthetic, high strength, light weight, indoor/outdoor durable banner, flag, and signage media.
Some of the early, and some still for sale, UV-curable inkjet systems lacked a number of safety considerations, such as direct ventilation, UV lamp light protection, and other operational safeguards. Fortunately, more of the new models being introduced do provide the appropriate user safety experience. All DuPont systems are already built with the highest safety standards.
Good-enough color is quickly being replaced with expectations for highly predictable color, the result of expanded gamut ink sets that are truly color managed, providing the ability to print color any way you want it. Whether your application is printing to rigid boards or producing the highest quality tradeshow soft signage graphics, more customers are demanding accurate color. We are pleased that our complete integrated digital printing solutions of Cromaprint UV and Artistri provide a unique combination of speed, versatility, and quality color.
A. Ron Waters, president and CEO
Durst Image Technology U.S., LLC
Our customers are telling us they have more work than they can handle. Many of them are adding Durst Rho printers, or adding print heads to their existing Rho’s so they can run more jobs. If I’m a large format print provider, I’m feeling very good about my business and its prospects. Consumer and business spending remain fairly strong. Advertising is up. Printing is up. Margins are healthy for most types of output. One trend that was expected to adversely affect printing—the Internet and online shopping—hasn’t. Retail POP activity remains very strong.
Technology advances have made large format printers much easier to operate and integrate into an existing workflow. Plus they’ll print at a high quality level on virtually any surface, which makes whole new imaging applications possible. The glass decorating system Durst introduced at FESPA is an excellent example of this, and it’s due to advances in inkjet print head technology like the Quadro Array system. It’s also due to improvements in the color, adhesion, and flexibility of the inks these platforms use.
We see growth in inkjet printing on textiles, glass, and specialty media, and in industrial applications—especially using UV inkjet technology, which is where most of the innovation is occurring.
The move to environmentally friendly UV inkjet systems will continue. Shops today are replacing solvent printers with UV printers. Overall, image quality is more than acceptable, so the focus will be on improving productivity, like Durst recently did with the new Rho 800 Presto and Rho 351R.
Success shouldn’t be measured narrowly by printer speed or how many dpi it puts down, but by how much output you ship at the end of the day. That principle will guide this industry more and more.
Chuck Dourlet, VP of marketing
We view the wide format market—particularly the grand format segment—as an extremely exciting and dynamic space. The entire printing industry is undergoing an analog to digital transition, and we see significant growth opportunity resulting in the grand format segment.
There are a number of market and technology trends driving the transformation in grand format. First, the printers continue to improve in terms of print quality and output speed. Image quality, once a barrier for many applications, is no longer an issue—today’s printers deliver high definition quality that satisfies even the most particular buyers. In addition, the overall productivity of the printers continues to drive economies, and breakeven points that will further accelerate digital adoption.
From an application standpoint, the business is not just about banners and billboards anymore; new inks, substrates, and applications continue to open up new revenue streams for service providers. Flatbed printers print directly to rigid substrates, eliminating costly adhesives, laminates, and the cost associated with mounting flexible substrates on a rigid surface. Textile printing, using products like the VUTEk FabriVu and the 3360 with UltraTex inks, is easier and more cost effective than ever before, opening up this high margin service to a wider range of print service providers. With new inks like EFI’s UV Series 50, it is possible to print directly on glass, acrylic, and a wide range of substrates without the need for coatings or special preparation. Bio-friendly inks like EFI’s BioVu combined with bio-friendly substrates offer the ability to produce display graphic solutions with minimal environmental footprints.
For companies that adopt digital printing technologies in the wide format space, the next big challenge will be migrating to an integrated, end-to-end digital workflow, from order entry through invoicing, that optimizes operational and business process efficiency. This step will be essential to fully leverage the analog to digital transformation, and to have a competitive advantage in an increasingly fast-paced business environment.
Scott Fisher, VP, sales & marketing
Fisher Textiles Inc.
The market for fabric in the wide format imaging industry continues to grow. Many believed that dye sublimation printing would lose market share to direct printing using aqueous-based, solvent-based, and UV printing. However, while those technologies have made great gains in printing on textiles, dye sublimation remains the preferred way to print fabric. Printing dye sublimation direct onto the textiles then fixing or blooming the inks afterwards is gaining acceptance, but traditional transfer still rules the market.
We have experienced a steady increase in cost for raw materials and energy as worldwide demand grows, therefore one can expect products that consume energy related products to increase in price. Environmentally friendly products are getting more attention and Fisher Textiles is going to introduce several green products in the coming year. Recycled polyester is good for the environment and consumes less energy than virgin polyester, however, it is more expensive at the moment. So going green will have its cost.
Terry Amerine, market manager, wide format graphics
At Fujifilm, we are focusing on expanding our portfolio of digital equipment and inks to address a broader base of our customer needs. In the past year, we added the Vybrant solvent roll platform and the high resolution Acuity UV flatbed to our existing selection of Inca UV flatbed printers.
As the digital market matures, the biggest trend we have noticed is that customers are addressing more specific output needs with their choices. We seek to fulfill those needs by partnering with select OEM equipment partners and formulating unique ink solutions.
Recently, the Inca Onset redefined digital flatbed printing with a production speed in excess of 5,000 square feet per hour. The complete load/print/unload/print process time is less than 40 seconds—enabling the Onset to produce over 100 beds of material per hour. This throughput and output cost will enable digital printing to compete with screen and offset printing for run lengths never seen before.
The market continues to grow at a rapid rate. There are lots of opportunities for printers to obtain good return on their digital investments. The key is to understand the specific needs you are addressing and choosing the equipment best suited to address those needs.
Pricing continues to move in both directions. The key is to understand the true cost of output on each platform. It is not about the initial price tag or the price per liter of ink. This can be a challenge to determine but asking the right questions and measuring and observing the total process with each unit will enable end users to quantify this important number.
Fujifilm Sericol differentiates itself by working closely with a select group of OEM manufacturers to develop digital platforms and ink systems that are optimized for specific applications and needs within the commercial graphics industry.
Cory Brock, director of marketing
Our customers understand the technology and equipment they use and have turned that understanding into dynamic output.
Around the world, our industry seems to be secure. In the past couple of years, the Jeti 3150 UV Flatbed gained momentum in Europe because our customers who received the first machines put pressure on the market. South America and Mexico are seeing more roll-to-roll installations than ever before. Our sales are exceeding expectations for both types of machines but there is faster growth with flatbed and UV printers, considering that technology is newer and higher resolution can be achieved.
The print shops in North America are hungry for UV technology. We introduced two new flatbeds this year to offer our customers a different option. The technology has been so popular the past couple years, it has taken some steam away from the UV roll-to-roll machines.
In the next few years we’ll see new technology enter the industry, but the question is—will that be eclipsed by the red hot flatbed market?
Tom Snooks, wide format marketing manager
GBC Commercial Laminating Solutions Group
Innovations in lamination continue to be welcomed and demanded by the large format market. These graphic providers are looking for ways to differentiate their offerings while reducing waste and saving on labor costs.
Laminating products with unique properties continues to grow in popularity. For instance, GBC has added a light management feature to its low-melting films. Graphic providers choose these films because, in addition to providing protection, they reduce color shift while whitening the white areas of the image. Not only does this help differentiate the graphic provider’s products, but it allows them to serve a broader customer base and demand a higher price.
Great strides are being made in inkjet media technology. The market is demanding coatings that dry faster and bond well with thermal overlaminates. With innovations like GBC’s instant-dry hybrid coating technology, a graphic provider can laminate an inkjet image immediately after printing.
Another reason the market for lamination has grown is that more companies are bringing wide format production in-house. The affordability of 24-inch printers has lead small sign shops, photo studios, and even corporations to venture into the 24-inch-plus arena.
In the future, graphic providers can look forward to specialty textures and surfaces beyond the traditional gloss, lustre, and matte finishes. The use of thermal films will continue to grow as shops and corporate users learn its cost-saving benefits and select easy-to-use thermal equipment for entry-level users.
Rudy Herrera, print service provider segment manager
Leadership, innovation, and growth opportunities for customers drive HP’s short- and long-term plans. Specific to the large format portions of the graphic arts industry, photography, signage, and technical markets represent key areas. Across all of the markets there continues to be an increased demand in high quality images and the ability to produce high impact materials in shorter turnaround periods.
We are extending our legacy of innovation with the new HP Designjet T printers. These printers are designed for CAD and GIS users, and have enhancements to offer speed and productivity, image quality, and reliability.
For the professional photography, creative, digital fine art, and other markets, the HP Designjet Z series printers offer rapid, reliable, color-accurate solutions that enable users to print more applications and grow their businesses. These prints also offer a breakthrough in the trend of color consistency and intuitive color management with their inclusion of an embedded spectrophotometer. With the new HP DreamColor technologies and the embedded Eye-One spectrophotometer built on X-Rite technology, customers can achieve consistent, accurate color every time, regardless of time and changing environmental conditions.
In the signage market, we are seeing that PSPs want to offer both indoor and outdoor applications and become more of a one-stop shop. This is due in part to client demands of multi-faceted outdoor advertising campaigns, more customization, and other emerging trends. HP has built out a portfolio of solutions that span both the Designjet and Scitex brands to meet these needs.
For durable, vibrant, high-quality outdoor signage in 64- and 104-inch widths, for instance, HP has the Designjet 8000s, 9000s, and 10000s printer series. For high-volume outdoor signage and other industrial wide format solutions, the HP Scitex TJ8300 and TJ8500 printers.