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Large Format Viewpoint

A State-of-the-Industry Report

Throughout the large format market, there is constant discussion on software, hardware, ink, and media trends. For our annual Large Format Viewpoint, we have asked various industry leaders to share their thoughts on the development of the large format market, which we categorize as 24-inch products and higher.

Their knowledge and opinions provide us with a deeper understanding of market changes, and more specifically where their company positions itself. What these manufacturers see as important today, will most likely show up as equipment and consumables in the near future.

Steve Cutler, marketing manager, Sign, Screen and Displays
Agfa Corporation

Large format printing is the growing way to reach many of the increasingly fragmented segments that advertisers still crave. Printers and graphic artists never cease to astound me with the endless streams of creativity they can come up with while promoting something using large format printing as their medium.

In the past two years, Agfa has demonstrated a confidence in the large format printing industry by beefing up its own development and assortment of related products. With a series of new printers and Agfa-made inks, we believe large format has its greatest days yet to come. Printers and artists are not only concerned with bigger, faster, cheaper, but more innovative and more environmentally-friendly.

Vendors looking to fill the void are offering attractive financing options and providing the types of services along with the products that help maintain the niche’s viability.

With the growth in large format inkjet, the lowest price isn’t necessarily the main issue. When printers can compete on the merits of the finished product rather than low prices alone, everybody wins.

Tiffany Witham, senior marketing manager, Business Development Group, Graphics Division
Avery Dennison Corporation

As I reflect on the state of the industry report from 2005, the trends are similar in many ways for 2006. Printing speeds continue to advance, but so does the technology of the inks. However, a noticeable change in the ink industry is that we are seeing many alternatives to the stronger solvents of the past—eco-solvent, low-solvent, mild-solvent—and now corn-based inks. While each appear to be viable options, the latest corn-based inks open up the possibility that this ink chemistry could not only displace strong solvent inks but compete favorably with UV-curable printing.

The cost of entry into large format printing continues to remain low, allowing sign shops, screen printers, digital shops, quick printers, and the like to offer outdoor-durable and high quality interior graphics. This convergence allows many different types of shops to manufacture multiple types of graphics, opening up new markets for them. Additionally, this low cost of entry and the quality of the output have allowed the change from traditional printing technologies, especially four-color process screen, to happen at a faster rate than previously predicted.

Needless to say, the market for graphics continues to rapidly evolve. Staying quick on one’s feet is absolutely mandatory.

Craig Reid, director of new business development
DuPont Color Communication

DuPont agrees with many of the industry forecasters that predict strong growth in large format inkjet for the foreseeable future. Our new DuPont Cromaprint 22UV digital printing system enters the UV-curable area that we feel will see significant technology advancements.

Market trends we see include higher expectations for color performance, more emphasis on safety and environment, desire for greater ink/substrate compatibility, faster production speed requirements, and easier to use digital workflow. By taking a fully integrated systems approach, the company is already providing solutions for the above market trends. The DuPont Cromaprint and Cromalin Largo feature DuPont wide gamut environmentally friendly ink sets and are driven by DuPont Cromanet CS color control and digital workflow software.

As more and more applications are looking to convert from analog methods to digital printing, new and exciting systems will answer those needs. Specialty applications often require specialty designed equipment and inks. Continued technology advancements in print heads, drive electronics, fluids dynamics, along with color workflow software, will enable not only faster and faster print speeds, but also more applications.

Christopher Howard, VP, Packaging & Industrial Imaging Group
Durst Image Technology U.S., LLC

Digital large format printing has developed as a business onto itself. Output from flatbed or roll-to-roll printers, for example, defines two aspects of this business: volume growth of large format prints in the market as a whole, and efficiency as digital enables better workflow and innovative applications. Short-run and specialty work, marked by simple set-up and faster turnaround times, are especially well-suited digital print technologies, which give users a solution for more client requests, and do so at higher margins for the business.

But another trend we see is the integration of digital with traditional print technologies—such as screen printing, flexo, and litho. More long-standing commercial printers are now integrating digital large format devices onto their shop floor, and utilizing them where they best complement existing production workflow. For instance, the demands of package printing are increasingly being met with integrated output from flexo or litho print technologies and digital printers. We participate in such scenarios through our Durst Rhopac corrugate printer—in which the final product delivered to the customer incorporates multiple printing types to produce highly creative packaging or specialty displays to meet today’s demand for the most engaging applications.

Scott Fisher, VP of marketing and advertising
Fisher Textiles

Dye sublimation is seeing growth with grand format printers that can produce up to ten-foot-wide graphics. New solvent dye sublimation inks are making it easier to convert printers that were strictly printing vinyl to now producing paper for dye sublimation transfer onto textiles. Printing sublimation direct onto the textiles is also gaining interest. This eliminates the paper transfer and can provide a deeper image into the textile. We currently have a coating that we apply to some of our fabrics for this technology.

Fisher Textiles offers new fabrics for dye sublimation as the industry changes and grows. Flame retardant is still very important and fabrics that are both inherently flame retardant and topically coated are growing. Sheer fabrics are very popular as well as fabrics with stretch. These seem to be most popular with exhibit makers.

Solvent printers and inks are gaining popularity because the cost of printing is less expensive than other technologies. We offer solvent coated fabrics that give image quality that rivals dye sublimation. This same coating will soon be available in ten-foot widths. This will dramatically change the digital textile market with new printers being able to offer digitally printed textile products. These products will also offer an advantage over dye sublimated textiles. The UV resistance of solvent inks is far greater than dye sublimation therefore making them better for outdoor use.

Terry Amerine, market manager, Wide Format Graphics
Fujifilm Sericol

At Fujifilm Sericol, we have always had a strong focus on the development of UV-curable digital inks. The goal is to continue to improve the overall performance of the inks in terms of flexibility and overall adhesion. The speeds of the UV-curable equipment continues to increase as well.

We differentiate ourselves based upon our expertise in UV-curable ink technology and our unique combination of experience and knowledge of analog printing technologies, namely screen printing, and our knowledge and leadership in the area of UV curable digital technology.

The biggest trend with pricing, primarily of UV digital equipment is with the range of equipment and prices now available. Printers can now enter into the market with a UV-curable combination unit for under $100,000. The capacity of these units is relatively low but what it does result in is a significant proliferation of printers with UV-curable digital capacity. So, the competition for small volume work is more intense which will decrease pricing. The premiums that the early adapters of this equipment enjoyed have virtually disappeared. This makes the selection of the right equipment to meet your needs that much more important.

Patric S. Coldewey, sales and service, sales manager
Gandinnovations

The grand format digital printing industry is changing from the stand point of who is purchasing the equipment. Companies that once relied upon subcontracting grand format jobs are now looking to purchase their own equipment. This is made possible by better technology and lower maintenance. In addition, start up cost is much less than it was for similar equipment purchased only two to three years ago.

Today’s printing equipment allows faster processing of information which leads to better utilization of advanced print head technology. Combine the technology with an experienced equipment manufacturer and you get a better, more reliable machine. The machines are easier to use, the print quality is excellent, and more people can afford them. A good analogy of this would be to compare the DVD players available today on both price and quality to those available only five years ago.

The greatest opportunity is for a company that already has smaller printing equipment. These companies already have an understanding of the digital printing business. Now they can afford to have a piece of true production equipment—grand format—that can do the custom work but can also do the high volume work as well. This means greater profits without the dangers that often come from subcontracting.

Cindy Pilch, senior product manager, Industrial and Print Finishing Group
GBC

The market for lamination continues to grow. This trend may be a surprise for some readers considering the growth of solvent printers. The fact is that over 50 percent of shops using solvent-based printers continue to laminate their graphics.

Eco-solvent inks do not fully etch into vinyl substrates and therefore, have a tendency to scratch. This is an important consideration when customers first receive their printed graphics. In cases like this, laminated coatings are available to provide basic protection. In addition, solvent-based inks lack vibrancy that can be attained through the use of lamination.

Many people overlook the fact that laminates can differentiate graphics to attract attention. Typically, print providers choose a finish based on lighting conditions. They can increase their value-added proposition by recommending non-traditional products such as canvas and holographic finishes. Textures create an atmosphere that can be used for point-of-purchase as well as for photographic applications. Holography provides dimension and movement making it an ideal solution for retailers who want to attract attention to promotional displays.

As print providers realize the wide range of benefits that lamination provides, they will find their use of laminates increasing along with their solvent-based printing.

 

Sandy Gramley, business manager, HP Designjet Category Americas
Hewlett-Packard

Large format print buyers want to stand out with innovative concepts that require new types of prints with more graphics-intensive content. They are demanding smaller, more customized runs and shorter response times to better leverage market opportunities. That means print service providers need to have versatile and cost-efficient solutions covering a wider range of substrates and applications.

Against this backdrop, it is easy to see why large format digital printing is booming. Print service providers of all types have found digital more efficient than analog for a growing number of scenarios. Screen and commercial printers are regularly adopting high-performance digital devices to produce short or customized runs, while small shops are attracted to the falling prices for entry-level digital solutions for everything from vinyl signs to fine art reproductions.

Look for printer manufacturers to develop products with emphasis on greater productivity, continued advancement in image quality and substrate selection, lower supplies and printing costs, and improved total cost of ownership.

Shop for printing solutions that can deliver not just the fastest prints or the cheapest prints, but the most sellable prints for the price. Look for solutions that provide a stable, predictable digital color printing experience with products that consistently produce sellable results—backed by the professional support and services needed to be competitive in the print services business.

Richard Codos, executive director, North American Development
Leggett & Platt Digital Technologies

At Leggett & Platt Digital Technologies, we see the large format industry heading towards higher quality, improved throughput via higher speeds and automation, and wider width printers. We see a substantial textile market, including textile mills, secondary fabric producers, and those already using digital. New technology for superwide and grand format, such as the advancements in direct dye to textiles and the higher density inkjet heads, will open new markets and improve printing resolutions, speed, and throughput.

Recent growth has come from all market segments embracing the new higher speed digital technology. Product manufacturers have been looking at digital technology for years, and just recently are becoming convinced of the cost benefits and how it can change their whole manufacturing flow. In some cases, digital fills certain gaps in production, or is actually driving production in mass customized products.

Are there more opportunities in the future? I compare our industry to the evolution from conventional film to digital—eventually analog printing will not exist as digital’s costs and throughput becomes more competitive. At some point it all goes digital and prices are reduced.

Mark Nelson, digital OEM specialist, MACtac Graphic Products
MACtac

Digital media is dynamic, trendy, and growing. It is this continued growth that has created several opportunities among media manufacturers competing for market share. Although this influx of manufacturers has saturated the market with a number of printer, ink, and media suppliers, it has resulted in more competitive pricing for customers.

From a pressure-sensitive standpoint, this competition is potentially creating a commodity market, meaning it is more important than ever to work with customers on developing products for new applications that will set them apart.

One such example is the ever-evolving vehicle wrap market. For this, MACtac developed and launched its Bubble Free digital media, IMAGin JT5900, an easy-to-install film that is ideal for demanding, high-performance applications, such as bus and fleet graphics.

A non-product example of how companies can help customers differentiate themselves is through color management/profiling. In the beginning, digital printing requires a fair amount of training. To compensate, and offer value beyond mere product offering, MACtac has become more than a supplier, providing technical support, training seminars, and ICC profiles.

In addition, technicians are equipped to do onsite color management/workflow—all in a move to help customers become more profitable.

Steve Urmano, marketing manager
Mimaki USA, Inc.

At Mimaki USA, outdoor un-laminated demand for solvent printing, coupled along with the wide range of media options from solvent soft signage and photo quality media, have made the new-buyer solvent printer purchase decision much easier. Price of entry has dropped in some cases to 30 percent on the 30- to 64-inch large format printers and is appealing to an expanding entry level market.

Buyers who are upgrading will greatly benefit by an unbeatable combination of quality, speed, performance, and reliability. With two ink choices—Mimaki Eco-solvent ES-3 and Rugged Solvent HS-1—the HS-1 will give you print speeds of up to 475 square feet-per-hour using a new high quality close sign mode of 540x1080 dpi. The JV-5 has been long awaited by loyal Mimaki end users and will be a great addition to our expanding market presence.

On the UV-curable printer front we offer the Mimaki UJF-605C 24x20-inch Flatbed, UJV-110 42-inch roll-fed, and the UJF-605RH 24-inch roll-to-roll printers. These models are used in high end sign, instrumentation, and specialty graphics applications.

To differentiate ourselves from our competition, Mimaki USA offers a full range of products that range from sign graphics, industrial printing, and textile and apparel applications.

Guy Cipresso, VP/GM
Mutoh America Inc.

Mutoh has experienced double digit growth in the large format inkjet printer market over the last five years. Our company is unique in that we provide large format inkjet printer solutions for every market segment from entry level to industrial. The common denominator is faster, cheaper, and better. It is fair to say the trend in large format is clearly towards high resolution, outdoor durable printing.

We developed the new Mutoh Value Jet which has the look, feel, and operation much like an indoor printer, but with all the benefits and features of an outdoor printer. The Value Jet is compact, features a space saving design, and is capable of printing 100 square feet-per-hour at 720 dpi, and priced at $14,995. Its Mutoh Ultra inks do not require special ventilation and do not exceed OSHA limits for VOCs when the printer is located in an area with adequate air circulation.

UV is a buzz word in the industry today particularly in regards to printing directly onto rigid substrates. However, we have taken a different approach. MutohBIO ink is made from corn and is both environmentally and human safe. Availability of the ground breaking MutohBIO Jet and MutohBIO ink products is expected to be later this year.

David Reis, president & CEO
NUR AMERICA, INC.

We are witnessing the high end market segment of solvent roll-to-roll inkjet technology nearing the peak of its growth cycle. Adoption rates for UV roll-to-roll systems has been very good in some European and Latin American markets and we are starting to see strong movement in this direction in the U.S. and Canada as well.

The North American market for UV flatbed systems continues to be very strong. This rapid growth is creating a whole new layer of opportunity for print providers and buyers, as well as ink and equipment manufacturers. NUR’s Tempo flatbed UV system is enjoying tremendous success in this market because it offers terrific speed and great eight-color print quality, as well as the flexibility of a roll feed option and white ink on a fully upgradeable flexible platform.

NUR Macroprinters is building a new leadership position in the industry with our UV systems. We remain committed to support our very large install base of solvent printers and will continue to make new and improved solvent systems for the foreseeable future. Our customers are starting to appreciate the innovation of our new UV roll systems like the Expedio 5000 and the Expedio 3200. These systems are already capable of printing faster with better high-speed print quality than solvent systems. We are putting many efforts on developing new ink technologies that will be more economically viable for high volume applications.

If you consider these developments in conjunction with increasing regulations on the very high VOC content in the solvent systems and the opportunities for reducing substrate costs with UV technology, the future looks very promising for UV inkjet technology and NUR Macroprinters.

Craig Campbell, product applications manager
Oracal USA

As a major media provider to the graphics industry, we’re witnessing an incredible growth trend as technological advances in inks, hardware, software, and media come together to bring about countless new ways of communicating and advertising using pressure-sensitive materials. This is most apparent in markets such as fleet graphics and outdoor graphics.

In order to ride this wave of technology and all the benefits it has to offer, professionals in the graphics industry should ready themselves not only for today’s market, but for the even larger and more complex market looming on the horizon. For most, this is best accomplished by investing in new technology, education, and training to keep abreast of advances. As a company, we are seeing a huge demand from end-users for more hands-on training and product handling. We can expect this trend to continue well into the future as more demanding applications are developed.

Like savvy end users, smart manufacturers are taking the same approach by resisting the temptation to lower prices for immediate sales at the expense of longer-term growth. At Oracal USA, we’re practicing what we preach by heavily reinvesting in new technology to facilitate continuing improvements in both manufacturing and customer service.

Rak Kumar, CEO
Raster Printers, Inc.

During the past 12 months, the most significant development in the large format market has been the growth of printers based on UV-curable inks. These inks are environmentally friendly as they do not generate any VOC emissions. Furthermore, UV-curable inks can print on a wide variety of uncoated roll and rigid stock. The ability to print directly to uncoated rigid media is a major cost benefit for applications which were traditionally done by printing on roll stock, laminating, and then mounting the graphics onto rigid stock. Also, UV-curable inks have opened up a number of new applications such as printing on glass or wood which were simply not possible with roll printers.

Entry level UV printers are generally available as hybrid printers, meaning they can print on roll and rigid stock. The next generation of these hybrid printers will offer much higher image quality.

During the next 12 months, a number of entry level printers will also be available as true flatbed printers. Utilizing a fixed table to hold the media, one will be able to print very high quality graphics at resolutions of up to 1200 dpi. These lower cost flatbeds will further expand the use of large format printers into new applications such as packaging, label, tile, and fine art printing.

Dave Goward, executive VP/chief operating officer
Roland DGA Corporation

Signmakers and PFP providers are looking to do something unique. For a long time, large format printing devices were being bought to produce large format prints and nothing else. This worked out fine until more and more people had large format printers. No one likes to get involved in a price war and see margins evaporate, so the smart producers have become better inventors, better marketers, and in the end, better businesspeople.

The large format market will continue to grow as buyers continue to become familiar with unique large format output. White ink applications, unique vehicle wraps, print/cut specialties, POP, and even garment printing, are examples of why the industry will continue to grow beyond just the demand for large format printing.

Roland DGA wants to help producers come up with the unique applications that will help grow their business. Buyers have a lot of choices when it comes to selecting equipment and consumables and we want to be the company that helps them make money with it.

Philip Hursh, president
Sihl Digital Imaging

Do I foresee more opportunity? You bet. We’re 20 years into the commercial life-span of digital, large format graphic printing. What remains as true today as it was 20 years ago is that digital capture of a huge graphic printing market remains quite low. Whether capture is five, ten, or even 15 percent, the biggest piece of the pie is ahead of us, at least in terms of media.

Who or what wins in the next 20 years? The same things that created winners in other industries at this point in their life cycle—innovation and cost reduction. For Sihl, that means investment in both development and productivity. We launched nine new products in the first half, and will launch more in the second. As of April 15, we dropped prices on ten of more than eighty active products.

Does this differentiate us? We think so. We don’t see this rate of new product introduction from other media manufacturers. And, we’ve seen announcements of price increases and fuel surcharges from the paper, film, and chemical industries at large. Sihl, and our parent company, Diatec, remain very focused on long-term success.

Andrew Brown, senior VP/GM
VUTEk

The evolution of superwide format technology continues to change the requirements for success. Not only is it driving a whole new set of applications and opportunities, it is also re-defining competition. Where once there were only early-adopter digital print providers, there are now offset, flexo, photo labs, and screen printers. Succeeding in this competitive arena requires more than technology acquisition. 

To really stand out in the market, print providers must deliver differentiated solutions for their customers. Finding the right market or application niche is the first place to look. Traditional out-of-home advertising applications, such as building wraps, fleet graphics, rigid signage, billboards, POP, banners, and flags, are still going strong. But opportunities are also opening in non-advertising segments, such as the decorative markets.

Additionally, print providers have the opportunity to integrate more of their print shop infrastructure. As market segments continue to converge, the need for more efficient work processes and faster turnarounds is imperative. EFI engineers continue to work on our vision of a truly integrated end-to-end solution for customers. Better managed print jobs can improve workflow, reduce costs, and increase profit potential. Working seamlessly and efficiently together, the stunning output and profit-boosting productivity of VUTEk’s digital inkjet printers and EFI’s Print Management Information Systems (MIS) ensure that customers will be more efficient and profitable.

Jul2006, Digital Output

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