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Grand Gestures

Investing in a Grand Format Printer

By Kim Crowley

Grand format printers reach beyond 200 inches. Digital Output considers grand format anything over 95 inches or 2.4 meters wide. These devices utilize a variety of inks—from aqueous to UV-curable, solvent, and latex. Price tags range from about $15,000 into the hundreds of thousands.


Grand format has evolved into a fast, high-quality technology that supports an unlimited range of creative applications. “We are living in an exciting time where the sky is the limit,” states Tom Leibrandt, product manager, Screen USA. “The gamut of applications range from backlit cosmetic displays that were traditionally produced photographically, to the explosion of quality membrane switch production.”


The size and scope of what grand format printers can accomplish is impressive. “A building wrap is produced in a couple hours; it used to be a day long project. The remarkable speed of these machines allows customers to do things once impossible,” says Jeffrey Nelson, product marketing manager, inkjet equipment and software, graphic systems division, Fujifilm North America Corp.


A Large Investment

A grand format printer is no small investment. It should meet the current and expected needs of a shop. For some, this means increasing speed and productivity. For others, it is the elimination of labor and crude piecing processes. Finally, some shops add the equipment to grow business with new applications.


In virtually every market, businesses look to operate quicker with less labor costs. PSPs may find the solution with a grand format printer. They can impress clients with quicker turnarounds, process more work, and save money. “Part of this is due to growth in their own business, and the need to implement systems that allow for output production in the most effective way possible,” notes Chris Howard, VP of marketing and sales, Durst Image Technology US LLC.


Ken VanHorn, product marketing manager, EFI, says some PSPs use grand format to supplement or completely migrate analog output to digital for greater efficiencies on short-run, localized, or premium-margin applications.


Commercial offset printers and screenprinters make inroads into digital with the addition of a grand format printer. The last few years were difficult for commercial offset and screenprinters. Equipment didn’t run at full capacity. Simultaneously, “their customer base hit them with smaller runs, quicker turnaround times, and pricing pressures. They are searching for revenue streams. Grand format offers an average margin of 40 to 50 percent, depending on vertical markets,” explains Don Knox, U.S. director of sales, Scitex, Hewlett-Packard (HP).


When evaluating the economics and workflow, a PSP may wonder if it is more sensible to invest in two wide format devices instead of one grand format printer.  “For customers producing smaller runs that include a disparate mix of materials, the flexibility in scheduling with two machines makes sense to meet production needs. Most clients opt for a single, higher speed platform that allows them to manufacture the longer length work at the best efficiency in their cost model,” notes Howard.


Grand format may save money in the long run. “It all depends on the print shop’s capacity need,” states Nelson, “but grand format makes sense because printers produce more for less since cost per square foot is lower.”


Transition to the Benefits

Some shops enter large format digital inkjet with a low-end, small-width printer. As they build their business, they soon find a need for a grand format device. Output cost is much higher on smaller units, even though the cost of entry is lower.


When deciding between several wide format units or one grand format unit, PSPs should look closely at continued labor costs. “The true cost impact of a printer is not just the hardware but the labor involved in producing the final product. The printer will be paid for, but the labor cost to produce the work never ends,” explains Randy Paar, display graphics product manager, Océ North America.


PSPs that look to the future know that grand format can mean new offerings. Many make the investment in a grand format printer to diversify into point of purchase, movie backdrops, building wraps, vehicles wraps, banners, trade show graphics, and more. These applications mean large graphics and without a grand format printer, size is limited.


Tiling, sewing, taping, and other time-consuming methods are used to piece smaller prints together. Labor time and costs are extended, and the finished product may show unsightly seams. “Grand format printers minimize or completely eliminate the labor intensive and less efficient components of production,” notes Michael White, :M Press and wide format manager, Agfa Graphics.


Not all grand format output is supersized. PSPs also increase productivity by nesting smaller prints and producing multi-up jobs simultaneously.


Traditional methods for proofing, prototyping, or fixing damaged pieces are costly and time consuming. “The biggest benefit of a grand format printer is the ability to perform limited run projects without jeopardizing production,” shares Willis Reese, global director business development, INX Digital International Co.


Grand Art

According to analyst firm, InfoTrends, the North American grand format market is changing. Many PSPs are transitioning from solvent printers to UV. The reason isn’t just eco-friendly, but also based on cycle times. “The grand format solvent inkjet market is declining in the U.S. by about 18 percent per year while the UV-curable segment is growing at about the same rate. With the additional ink flexibility for working on roll media and the growth of third party ink manufacturers that help drive down the running cost per square foot, UV is increasingly suited to replace solvent even for billboard-type applications,” shares Tim Greene, director, wide format, InfoTrends.


Fine art publisher and manufacturer New Era Portfolio of Austin, TX recently transferred from a lineup of 18 large format solvent and aqueous printers to a complete portfolio of HP printers. The company, which recently celebrated its ten year anniversary, now operates two HP Scitex LX800 126-inch printers, two LX600 104-inch printers, two HP Designjet L25500 60-inch printers, and a HP Scitex FB6100 UV flatbed.


“Grand format is fantastic for increasing throughput, and latex ink is great for lowering costs. Those are the primary advantages that we leverage,” says Joseph L. Garcia, CEO/president, New Era.


The initial reason for the switch was environmental. “We wanted to stop using solvent inks completely—more for our staff; but also our design clients were looking for environmentally friendly inks. The latex technology allowed us to do that. In fact, the plant is equipped with an elaborate ventilation system and we haven’t used it since the switch to latex,” he shares.


New Era prints mostly on canvas, in addition to paper, acrylic, aluminum, glass, mirror, and wood. Grand format printers allow the company to process 15,000 to 20,000 framed pieces of artwork each month for resellers such as Crate & Barrel and Ethan Allen, interior designers, resorts, and hotels.


An interior artwork project for Morgan Design Group and Fairoaks is one of approximately 300 jobs processed each day by New Era. In a two day turnaround, the art was printed on the HP Scitex LX800 utilizing HP Latex ink and Tara Materials Inc.’s Fredrix Print Canvas. Cutting was performed on a Zünd G3 cutting system.


“People are looking for bigger output,” states Garcia. “We just received an order for a ten-foot by 72-inch canvas for a corporate client. We couldn’t do that kind of thing in the past.”

A+ Production

Rainier Displays is an manufacturer of fabric and display products, based in Seattle, WA. With over a century’s experience in selling fabric products for business and consumer use, Rainier diversified into providing display products, wallcoverings, retail displays, and sewn appliqué banners.


Approximately 75 percent of the company’s output is grand format, printed with either Durst Rho 351R, 320R, 500R, 800 Presto, and 800HS; or EFI VUTEk QS3200 and VUTEk 3360 printers.


The University of North Carolina uses large format graphics printed by Rainier for its newly built baseball stadium. “They needed graphics that made a high-impact impression inside a very large stadium. The only way to achieve it was with grand format printing,” says Charlie Rueb, display division manager, Rainier.


Design, manufacture, and install were completed within a few weeks of winning the bid. Years of experience and the speed of the grand format printers allowed Rainier to complete the job on time and to the university’s high satisfaction.


Part of the project required the Durst 800 Presto to print directly on four- by eight-foot dibond. This piece was installed using a custom bracket and hanging sign system manufactured by Rainier. Double-sided banners were also printed using the Durst 351R on mesh and 22-ounce vinyl.


What’s Available?

Agfa’s high-volume production :Jeti systems include the four-color, 198-inch :Jeti 5048 UV JetSpeed XL RTR, which prints at up to 5,000 square feet per hour (sf/h) and offers true 300 dpi resolution. Agfa :Anapurna entry models include the 100-inch :Anapurna 2500 LED. The industrial :M Press Tiger handles media up to three inches thick and 102 inches wide.


DGI has two new grand format printers—the 104-inch PS-2504 and the 126-inch PS-3204S. The PS-3204S features a resolution of 360x360 dpi, and reaches up to 645 sf/h. It can be configured as four-, six-, or eight-color, with a bulk ink refill system, automatic printhead cleaning, and a bundled RIP.


Durst offers its Rho platform. The Rho 1000 UV printer outputs on sheets, boards, or roll media. It prints at speeds of up to 6,240 sf/h in production mode, and up to 600 four- by six-foot boards per hour.


EFI’s UV-curable 3.2-meter GS3200 and five-meter GS5000r printers feature resolutions of 600 or 1,000 dpi. The GS3200 offers eight colors plus white, changeable to fast5—four color plus white. The GS5000r features eight colors switchable to fast4.


Fujifilm’s UVISTAR series of roll printers are available in 150- and 209-inch sizes, with true 600 dpi resolution and up to 1,200 dpi apparent. Print speeds reach up to 3,800 sf/h. With a flatbed option, one-inch-thick rigid media is printable. The UVISTAR features a multi-roll option.


GCC offers the StellarJET 250UV and StellarJET K100UV UV-curable hybrids, which start at $14,500 and $17,500. The StellarJET K100UV prints at up to 100 inches and 1,440 dpi, and features a maximum speed of 538 sf/h.


Hollanders Printing Systems’ ColorBooster XL 320v and 320s textile devices print at widths of up 130 inches. The direct to textile printers reach speeds of up to 430 and 968 sf/h, respectively.


HP Scitex LX600’s resolution is up to 1,200 dpi. It handles single- and dual-roll media and prints up to 169 sf/h in draft mode. The wider, 126-inch, LX800 also features a resolution up to 1,200 dpi. In draft mode its speed is 1,905 sf/h. The HP Scitex FB700 UV-curable printer handles rigid, sheet, and roll media up to 2.5 inches thick and 98.4 inches wide.


INX Digital’s UV flatbed solvent printer, the MD1000, features a four- by eight-foot table and handles media up to two inches. The six-printhead machine prints CMYK plus white between 300 and 1,200 dpi.


Mimaki USA, Inc.’s 98-inch JV33-260 prints up to 185 sf/h. Its maximum resolution is 1,440 dpi. It can use both aqueous and solvent inks for dye-sublimation and vinyl printing. The suggested retail price is $49,995. White and silver ES3 inks are compatible with the printer, allowing for metallic effects such as gold or bronze.


Mutoh America, Inc.’s 100-inch ValueJet 2628TD and ValueJet 2606 both feature a resolution up to 1,440 dpi and Mutoh’s Intelligent Interweaving Printing Technique. The ValueJet 2628TD reaches 154 sf/h in production mode and 447 sf/h in draft mode. The ValueJet 2606—retail price $47,495—reaches up to 185 sf/h.


Océ’s most recent releases are the Arizona 550 GT and Arizona 550 XT. Both printers offer up to 1,440 dpi equivalent resolution on media up to two inches thick and a true flatbed table with roll media option, as well as a white ink option. The Océ Arizona 550 XT—suggested retail price less than $250,000—prints at a maximum of 98.4x120 inches. Its production speed is up to 462 sf/h or 709 sf/h express mode.


Polytype America Corp. manufactures the Virtu RS 25, RS 35, and RR 50 UV-curable grand format printers with 1,200 dpi resolution. It also sells and supports the swissQprint Oryx and Impala in the U.S. Oryx features a maximum fixed bed width of 99x59 inches and handles media up to 1.95 inches thick. It reaches up to 828 sf/h in draft mode, and offers a resolution of 720x720 dpi. The suggested retail price ranges from $197,000 to $325,000.


Roland DGA Corporation manufactures two eco-solvent printers up to 102 inches wide. The AdvancedJET AJ-1000i prints at up to 720x720 dpi resolution and at a maximum print speed of 968 sf/h. Its list price is $62,995. The SOLJET SJ-1045 prints at up to 1,440x1,440 dpi in artistic mode at speeds up to 484 sf/h. The list price is $59,995.


Screen’s Truepress Jet 2500UV uses an eight-level grayscale in a roll and rigid combination printer. It prints at up to 98.4 inches wide on media up to 1.96 inches thick. It reaches up to 726 sf/h in 300 dpi draft mode. Resolution can reach up to 1,500 dpi.


Seiko I Infotech Inc.’s ColorPainter H-104s has a maximum print width of 104 inches, speed of up to 1,075 sf/h, and true 720x720 dpi resolution. Priced at $79,999.95, the H-104s is equipped with eight exclusive Seiko industrial piezo printheads. It uses eight-color EG-Outdoor GX low-solvent inks and it includes Smart Pass Technology to eliminate banding.


Teckwin International’s TeckStorm TS600 is a flatbed and roll-to-roll device with a resolution of 800 dpi and print speed over 900 sf/h. It prints on almost any rigid or flexible substrate from glass to metal, coated and uncoated media. The flatbed prints on media up to two inches thick and 118 inches wide. Specialty inks are also available.


Grand Expansion

Speed and print quality continue to change. Other developments center on media handling and eco-friendly ink. There is a push for automation and customization in specific vertical markets.


With a grand format printer, PSPs have the flexibility to do more, better. “Grand format printers expand the range of output you can produce on one machine, thereby enlarging the size of the market and customers,” states Pat Ryan, GM, Seiko.


The initial investment may be costly, but based on vendor insight, worthwhile. Labor costs decrease, time-consuming piecing together of media is eliminated, efficiency increases, and application offerings widen. It may not happen overnight, but the benefits of owning a grand format printer pay off in the long run.   


Oct2010, Digital Output

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