High-production grand format printers aid many print service providers (PSPs). These 95-inch and greater devices allow for larger media used in grand scale projects and multi-up production jobs. Some print more square feet of output per hour than others, completing more work in less time, with minimal labor costs.
A poll of three successful print shops reveals the importance of increasing throughput by using a grand format printer. These PSPs provide a look at their businesses along with the equipment and strategies that help productivity
Promotional Screenprint & Digital, Inc.
Maximum throughput—processing more work in a given time—is an important factor at Promotional Screenprint & Digital, Inc. (PSP & Digital). “More speed equals higher efficiency and capability, which translates to on-time delivery to our customers,” comments Fernando Garcia, director of R&D, PSP & Digital.
Founded in 2002, PSP & Digital provides large format point of purchase (POP) signage to brick and mortar locations from the company’s Decatur, GA-based shop.
Its UV digital press lineup includes a Fujifilm North America Corporation Acuity HD 2504, an Inca Digital Printers’ Spyder 320, and a Hewlett-Packard (HP) Scitex FB700. The shop operates three shifts using production and quality modes on its grand format presses.
Garcia shares an example of a recent project where productivity was a major factor. PSP & Digital customer, Kroger, called at 8:00 a.m. and needed signage by noon. The shop printed the signs on a .040 styrene using the Inca Spyder 320 in production mode. “This still gave the client a quality product, but, most importantly, it was ready by 11:30 a.m.,” he shares.
With origins dating back to 1896, Rainier Displays is a manufacturer of fabric, display, and shelter products, based in Seattle, WA. The company uses a fleet of printers—a Durst Image Technology US LLC Rho 351R, 320R, 500R, 800 Presto, 800 HS; an EFI VUTEk QS3200; and two EFI VUTEk 3360 dye-sublimation printers, 75 percent of which is grand format. Currently Rainier runs shifts from 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Throughput is especially important for high-volume jobs, which Rainier typically ran on a screenprinter in the past. “As the digital printers get faster, we become competitive in markets that we weren’t competitive in before,” says Charlie Rueb, display division manager, Rainier.
He notes that most materials the shop works with have the ability to be rapidly printed. They do run some uncoated canvases a bit slower to get more ink density, since the material absorbs a lot of ink.
Mainly, slowdowns are more image-driven and less material-driven. Some image files require slower printing. “You can print images with a lot of lines and textures much faster than graphics with areas of solid dark color that might produce banding,” states Rueb.
BPgraphics, Inc., in Phoenix, AZ, celebrates 50 years as a print provider in 2011. The company began under the name Billboard Poster Company, exclusively producing traditional billboards with screenprinting equipment, but evolved into a full-service large format screen and digital print provider. BP still does screenprinting work, but the majority is now digital. The shop runs 24 hours a day, five—and sometimes up to seven—days a week, based on workload.
Print orders have changed over the years from billboards to POP projects, banners, and other graphics. Quantities also changed, with digital equipment as a major catalyst. “Before a customer would order 500 of one design, now they order 100 each of five designs or 50 each of ten designs. The shift to digital allows us to handle the printing side,” notes Curt Carpenter, president, BPgraphics.
Coming from a screenprinting world, speed is important to the company. Carpenter reveals it is essential the digital equipment keeps up with speed demands and matches, if not exceeds, the quality screenprinting offers. BPgraphics runs two HP Scitex TJ8300 solvent presses, two HP Scitex XLjet 1500 five-meter presses, an HP Scitex FB7500 grand format press, four HP Scitex XP5300 printers, and two HP Scitex LX600 latex printers.
The HP Scitex LX600 latex printers, in particular, assist BPgraphics in picking up the pace and operating a lights-out workflow. Carpenter says it is not uncommon for staff to load the printer with media, hit go, and come back four hours later to check on the complete job. “It is so reliable. There are no printhead strikes; the ink printheads do not dry up. If the press runs out of ink it just stops,” he comments.
Providers that possess the need and desire to quickly turnaround more print projects use several strategies to help achieve these goals. Those with a heat-drying solvent printer opt for media that dries quicker, for instance. They also alert designers to choose lighter colors printed at a lower resolution at a higher speed, without quality loss.
When possible, they print in production mode to pick up the pace. This is especially true when a project is viewed from a distance. “Once a material is color profiled for the type of printer, speed is no longer a factor. However, speed is determined by the intended viewing distance and application of the file printed. Items viewed up close print at a higher resolution,” states Garcia.
There is a balance between how fast a job needs to be printed and its resolution. “Speed and quality go together. At some point speed starts to deteriorate quality and quality brings down speed,” shares Rueb.
Considering the rapid, levels of graphics grand format presses produce, there can be bottlenecks after a project exits the printer and heads to the finishing stage. Steps such as laminating, routing, cutting, and sewing require careful handwork and labor.
Finishing is a complex and necessary part of grand format work and customers inquire about creative applications. “People are more sophisticated. They don’t just want a square, printed piece anymore. Digital allows customers to think outside the box and print small quantities,” comments Carpenter.
Grand Scale and Productivity
PSPs serve last minute client requests to generate repeat business. To do so, they must rely on their equipment’s productivity features. A grand format printer, with its high throughput, provides exceptional quality. However, the option to slow down a machine is also available when quality is the utmost concern. The PSPs profiled above are ideal examples of how grand format devices are utilized to their highest potential. Recognizing the limitations—and your expectations—of any digital printer allows for efficiency in the print shop.