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The Widening Reach

A Look at Who’s Using Wide Format Printers

by Thomas Franklin

Part 1 of a 4-part exclusive online series

Most technologies follow a predictable curve, and wide format printers are no exception. What is initially an expensive piece of hardware employed by a select few businesses, inevitably widens to incorporate a variety of businesses and applications as the technology improves and competition drives costs down.

Wide format printers, defined as those capable of producing output from 24 to 100 inches wide, are being deployed by a broad spectrum of businesses such as sign shops, print-for-pay, service bureaus, commercial printers, prepress firms, and even in-plant printers for producing posters, tradeshow graphics, and retail signage. While wide format printers are an established technology, for many businesses they can still represent a considerable investment.

When Scott Snoyer opened his Fast Signs, Inc. franchise in Nashville, TN in 1994, "there was no wide format to speak of." The company purchased electro-static equipment in 1999 but has since moved to an inkjet environment. Today, the quick print company owns several wide format printers from HP and Sieko. The firm’s most recent purchase was a VUTEk QS 2000 UV flatbed by EFI, Inc. in the Fall. The company invested in the QS 2000 for its "speed and capacity" Snoyer relates.

Snoyer’s Fast Signs is located in a strip mall in Nashville. They produce signage for the commercial real estate market, which he describes as the foundation of his business. It also specializes in tradeshow graphics, banners, dimensional letters, laser engraving, vehicle graphics, and full color digital displays.

According to Snoyer, the company is moving aggressively to flex its newly acquired technological muscles.

"We look to grow our business aggressively," Snoyer says. He notes that he bought the printer earlier in its lifecycle than past purchases because of the need to stay at the cutting edge. "A QS is a big investment for someone in the quick sign business," he adds.

Springfield, VA-based Imaging Zone describes itself as "a fusion of printing and high technology." The company provides an array of printing services, including offset, to designers, agencies, design and marketing firms, photographers, illustrators, corporations, and, since it services the Washington, DC area, government agencies. According to president Mounir Murad, the firm has always relied on outsourcing wide format output to a printer directly next door. "It didn't make sense for us to bring the equipment in-house because of our relationship with this neighbor," Murad says.

That company, however, was forced to merge and relocate in the wake of financial difficulties, leaving Murad with a choice–—find a new partner or bring wide format capability in house.

"It would have been a difficult task to continue outsourcing" without the neighborly proximity, he says. So instead, Murad went shopping. "What I was looking for was a device that manufactured by a reputable company with a service track record, used eco-solvent inks with excellent image quality, reliable heads, a reasonable price, and the ability to handle indoor and outdoor graphics."

He purchased an Agfa Sherpa Universal 90 in 2005 on the floor of Graph Expo. Since then he has been using the printer for a variety of output–—including wall paper. Murad, like Snoyer, plans to promote his new capabilities aggressively. "We know that the demand is quite good in the Washington Metro Area as evidenced by the growth of competing companies. As a result, we will be employing in 2007 an outside sales staff for both offset printing and large format."

The next installation of Digital Queue will feature Part 2 of this series. Look for the March issue of Digital Output for a full feature article.

Feb2007, Digital Output

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