By Olivia Cahoon
Part 1 of 2
Print service providers (PSPs) with superwide requests consider grand format printers for graphics printed in record time. The grand format market advances to provide customers with the newest models and features. Digital Output considers anything over 95 inches in width to be grand format. Part one of this two-part series discusses grand format trends and what PSPs should consider before purchasing a grand format printer.
Backlit and soft signage applications are common for grand format dye-sublimation (dye-sub) and UV printing. These are used in point of purchase, retail, and exhibit spaces.
“The ability to easily produce and ship soft printable graphics for varied applications addresses ever-changing needs while minimizing impact on the environment,” explains Michael Maxwell, senior manager, sign graphics business development and marketing, Mimaki USA, Inc. Because soft signage is lightweight, it reduces shipping costs and is packaged efficiently.
Ken Hanulec, marketing VP, EFI, also finds signage and display work to be a strong focus areas for grand format customers. However, he still sees demands for high-volume, roll to roll (R2R) applications, including out-of-home work.
Grand format printers with three- and five-meter R2R LED devices offer high image quality and fast run times. “The speeds, plus integrated finishing options, give users lower running costs so they are preserving margins even on price-sensitive work,” says Hanulec.
According to Michelle Johnson, advertising and events manager, Mutoh America Inc., popular applications for grand format include banners, trade show graphics, and billboards. Trade show graphics and billboards require large printing capabilities for noticeable advertisements.
Other popular applications created with grand format printers include window graphics, decals, vehicle graphics, floor graphics, and photography. Tom Wittenberg, market segment manager, HP, Inc., shares that grand format printers handle these applications with production-level speed, media handling capabilities, and higher quality print modes. “Customers are demanding higher quality, which is driving the increase in higher quality print modes,” he adds.
PSPs want faster and wider capabilities to increase profits. UV inkjet technology provides speed by allowing operators to handle and finish prints directly from the printer.
Heather Roden, product marketing manager, graphic systems division, Fujifilm North America Corporation, says that LED curing technology is a continued desire. It is cost effective and includes instant startup. It uses a fourth of the power usage of conventional UV lamps and has five times the lifetime, according to Roden. Low heat output allows printing on thin gauge media and PVC substitutes.
Christopher Guyett, sales and marketing coordinator, Durst Image Technology US LLC, sees a great upswing in textile and fabric printing. With these trends comes the need for production speed high-quality print modes.
“It’s not just about smaller droplets, manufacturers continue to refine the output quality on large format printers,” he explains. Improved output quality includes ink changes, droplet placement, overlap modes, and techniques to provide constantly improving quality.
Most grand format advancements are the result of the need to streamline the printing process and workflow. Grand format printers include functions to assess print quality with quick visual checks to avoid print inspection.
Trends for grand format printers go beyond traditional expectations of speed and quality and extend into onboard LED lights for testing backlit applications during printing, textile printing capability, automated maintenance procedures, larger ink containers, and mobile applications. “Mobile applications work in conjunction with the printers to increase productivity by allowing operators to manage multiple printers or service customers while printing,” shares Wittenberg.
Grand format printers are usually intended for large production environments. This creates a gap for small to medium businesses to cost-effectively produce short-run work.
Maxwell says grand format printing platforms that don’t address these production environments make it difficult for PSPs to scale up to larger production capabilities without a sizable investment.
Wittenberg believes printing textiles is a key challenge in the grand format space. PSPs must purchase dye-sub technology in addition to latex, UV, and solvent or eco-solvent printers. “It potentially means having two technologies instead of one at the extra cost of not only the equipment, but space and inventory.” Depending on the media printed, Wittenberg says this issue is not being adequately addressed.
Nathan Collins, digital solutions specialist, Agfa Graphics, explains that PSPs want versatility to do flat work and roll without expensive changeover. This includes the ability to print white on demand at competitive costs per square foot.
To avoid major conflicts with grand format printers, it’s important that press operators completely understand the entire print process. “It goes beyond ensuring the footprint space and size of the grand format printer, PSPs also need to look at media handling, loading and unloading, along with finishing and shipping,” admits Guyett.
Seeking Super Wide
PSPs considering grand format printers should be aware of print quality versus the total throughput of the machine. “Machines today should have no issue producing amazing looking prints at speeds like never before,” says Jim Peterson, founding partner, Vanguard Digital Printing Systems. He believes expensive machines with high output are not a benefit if the quality isn’t acceptable for today’s demanding market.
It’s also important for grand format printers’ systems to run with minimal operator interventions. Maxwell advises PSPs question if the printer includes nozzle check functionality and recovery. “Without this, a nozzle outage can halt or ruin an entire run.”
Mark Schlimme, marketing director, Screen Americas, advises PSPs to consider 1,000 square feet per hour (sf/h) printing for sheet fed substrates at sellable quality for any production-class printing. “Anything faster can be a challenge for material handling by a single operator without some kind of semi or full automation for loading and unloading with either a hybrid or true flatbed design.” For roll printing, PSPs should consider 1,800 sf/h and double it for distance viewing, like banners.
PSPs should consider printheads, ink, and a curing system, says Javier Mahmoud, marketing and sales VP, CET Color. “These three items need to and must work hand in hand,” he adds. Inks should properly jet through printheads and printers that cure at any speed are an additional benefit.
“Look for a printer that meets the specific needs for your business production workflow and market niche,” recommends Hanulec. PSPs that start with a proper device that fits the shop’s production level find the greatest return on investment and grow into higher volume printers.
Joe Garcia, managing director, Stratojet USA, agrees. He says a one-size-fits-all printer is no longer the option. Most PSPs require some degree of customization to meet clients’ specific needs. PSPs should consider customer demands for specific features. These features include doubling the white printheads for flooding, adding software and hardware to add depth perception, and choosing between printheads and UV curing lamps.
Carmen Eicher, marketing VP, swissQprint, advises PSPs to keep the future in mind. “Their grand format printer should be able to grow with the business. A scalable printer that has retrofittable options is a solution,” she says. As the business grows, the PSP may upgrade to a second row of printheads to double the speed, increasing production without the need to buy an additional printer.
PSPs considering grand format need to consider production-level printing, client demands, and specific features for future purchases. A grand format printer allows shops to offer super wide graphics for billboards, vehicles, floors, and trade shows.
Part two of this series provides a roundup of available grand format printers.
May2017, Digital Output