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Making the Media Marriage

Getting the Right Media For Your Wide Format Printing Needs

by Thomas Franklin

A good match is everything when it comes to media purchasing. While the purchase of a wide format digital printer narrows your ink options, there is still a staggering variety of media to choose from. It is important to properly align your media purchase with your printer and desired output.

"Buying media for wide format printers can often seem a daunting task, with an influx of new and relatively unknown Asian suppliers, changing print technology, and improvements in coating technology," says John Ford III, CEO of Charrette, a media distributor.

"There are some basic rules that most printers are familiar with," Ford notes. "Aqueous inkjet printers require coated media, solvent printers can print on uncoated media, and UV curable printers can print on, well, anything. Before any purchase, users must ask themselves a series of questions," Ford says. "Where will the media be displayed (indoors or out) and for how long; what printer/ink technology will be used; what are the quality and viewing requirements for the output; and last, but certainly not least, what is your budget?"

"Drilling down through these questions will yield further generalized guidelines," Ford continues. Dye-based inkjet printers and photo glossy papers can tackle indoor applications with demanding resolution requirements, but are prone to fading. For high-quality photo applications, resin-coated papers are typically the gold standard with barrier- and clay-coating economical alternatives. For vehicle applications, cast vinyl is superior to less-expensive calendared vinyl, which can crack in high temperatures.

Many printers on a budget look to trim costs in media, Ford says, but wind up getting burned in the end. "We had a client produce thousands of color-intensive graphics on bond paper, which buckles when it receives that much ink. They wound up having to laminate it to keep it flat. If they had gone with a photo base paper, they would have saved the money on lamination."

In the fine art realm, distributors say that purchasers tend to put a heavy emphasis on paper weight, with the heavier, more expensive stock commanding higher prices among the art-buying community. Yet less expensive alternatives, such as alpha cellulose, promise equivalent quality and archival longevity at a steeply reduced cost. In the end, the weight of the paper has less impact on the actual quality of the image reproduced but does offer some improved durability, distributors say. The added heft also conveys the feeling of permanence.

"Whatever media type you finally settle on, it must be profiled for your exact printer model," says Randy Carone, digital media manager, Beacon Graphics, a distributor. "Most media manufacturers worth their salt will offer extensive profiles on the Web-sites," he adds.

"Many digital printers stick with their printer manufacturer’s paper at first, comforted by the notion that they have been engineered to work harmoniously," Carone adds. "After they become comfortable on the machine, they begin to branch out in search of novel media types or lower prices, it’s then that guidance is important," Carone continues.

"People generally rely on word-of-mouth, but we always recommend seeing a printed sample from the media vendor," Carone notes. He says that a manufacturer’s discount fund allows Beacon to order print samples to send along to end-users. "Media providers that embrace this liberal sample policy will enjoy customer loyalty," Carone says.

Whatever media you choose, there is one significant upside. "Cost of media has dropped dramatically across the board," Ford concludes.

In part three of this four-part series on Media & Substrates, manufacturers will discuss their products in detail. Hear first-hand what their media is allowing customers to create.

Feb2006, Digital Output

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