Wide Format Suppliers Talk Media Basics
by Thomas Franklin
There is a distinctly unsubtle rivalry between universal media makers and those who produce and sell media primarily to support their own printers. Yet for all their competitive differences, there is unanimity on one issue–not all papers are created, or marketed, equally. Differences in coating, chemistry, and consistency, not to mention the technical data available on each specific media, all serve to differentiate media suppliers and their growing portfolios.
"Everyone is always looking for a universal media but it just isn’t there," says Phil Hursh, president, Sihl Digital Imaging. "The truth is, there is just one specific media that will do the job you want." For this reason, Hursh says the company is aggressively introducing new products.
"We concentrate on providing complete solutions for our customers," says John Gowan, director, large format supplies, Hewlett-Packard. While the company offers universal media for third party printers, its packages are targeted at, "helping HP customers expand their usage potentials and go after new markets," Gowan adds.
Users of dye-based printers tend to rely more on printer OEM-supplied paper because of the nature of the ink set, says Mark Radogna, group product manager, Epson Professional Imaging. Particularly in photo printing, dye-based printers require swellable paper, while pigment printers do not, he says. While swellable media has improved its resistance to light fade, it still lags in resistance to ozone and water versus its micro-porous competition, Radogna adds.
Media suppliers agree that thanks to improvements in coating technology, fine art and photo reproduction are the hot markets where dollars are increasingly invested.
"In this business there is always a focus on niche markets, but they tend to go nowhere," says Kevin Shimamoto, worldwide marketing, Encad. The one exception, he says, is fine art printing. "Fine art is promising, we’re excited about fine art."
There is a large demand for inkjet-receptive canvas media, states Ed McCarron, marketing manager, InteliCoat. Unlike uncoated media for solvent printers, fine art and photo reproduction are applications where coating companies can add the most value, McCarron adds.
In fact, a multitude of vendors have concentrated on building out a portfolio of media dedicated to the digital reproduction of fine art and what Sihl’s Hursh calls, "not so fine art"–artwork that would be mass reproduced for hotels or other businesses.
Wherever the end-user chooses to purchase media from, the key is education, education, and more education, vendors say. Purchasing decisions are often prompted by word-of-mouth recommendations, user forums on Web-sites, or guided by the printer OEM, manufacturers state. Even in this environment, it’s important for printers to stay informed.
To aid that education and to help differentiate the company’s offerings, Encad takes a two-step approach, Shimamoto comments. The first is to provide the routine data as to compatibility, longevity, and applications. The second is to incorporate, "extensive technical data," involving everything from laminate compatibility to color gamut, white point, and archivability under a variety of environmental conditions. The goal, Shimamoto says, is, "to take the guess work out of making the right printer match."
In the fourth and final part of this series on Media & Substrates, media buyers will share about the products they use and it how it benefits them application and cost wise.