By Melissa Donovan
Web to print (W2P) solutions from entry level to complex continue to appear in wide format, persuading print service providers (PSPs) to implement a system. Looking beyond the solution, print providers considering online ordering capabilities must realize that the right system can act as an extension of the PSP, just in Web form. It is an added value.
Mainstream commercial print utilizes W2P, and a portion of the features and functionality found in these solutions translate to the wide side, but there are differences due to the nature of the wide format business model. Differences are influenced by the variability found throughout a wide format print order, from sizing to media used and finishing techniques.
Despite the nuances, commercial narrow format printers and their wide format counterparts can agree on the benefits of integrating a W2P solution with other workflow components, whether those are a RIP, job costing, scheduling, or color management. A true end-to-end workflow is ideal, but scalability is an attractive option for many PSPs looking to smart small.
Unique to the wide format space is the number of untraditional applications coming into their own. In addition to banners and signage, more PSPs offer solutions that encompass everything from home décor to canvas prints or even tile decoration. Each application presents its own challenges in conjunction with a W2P system, from the options present at the ordering page to how it will be proofed or shipped.
W2P vendors introduce new products at a rapid pace. Benefits beyond increased efficiency are apparent.
“The large format printer needs to look not only at W2P as an incremental business from customers that find them online, but as a solution to increase existing customer fidelity or satisfaction,” recommends Sebastien Hanssens, VP marketing, Caldera.
Ellen Faith Hurwitch, director of operations – the Americas, RedTie Ltd., agrees, saying PSPs need to realize that W2P is an opportunity to offer extra value to their current and prospective customers.
According to David Cranage, display graphics workflow product specialist, EFI, there is an inherent “stickiness” to W2P. “It’s an inexpensive tool that allows a business to reach a large audience while simultaneously retaining existing customers.”
W2P also represents convenience. “It should be the goal of every organization to provide clients with a meaningful and relevant buying experience—online. Customers demand convenience more than ever. They expect local businesses to be online and have the ability to purchase products from them when, where, and how they want,” add Patrick George, EVP sales, and Corey Puklus, VP customer experience, PrintSites.
Options include standalone W2P solutions to fully integrated products, which automate the entire workflow. Major challenges include adaptability by an in-house team and end clients, consistent support and upgrades, and flexibility to customize solutions or migrate in the future, lists Naresh Bordia, VP of sales, OnPrintShop.
A solution is only as good as people that leverage it. “Driving traffic to your site is just as important in overall success. You’ll need to become good at search engine optimization and continually work this angle,” recommends Scott St. Cyr, principal, Cyrious Software.
W2P solutions targeted at wide format require specific features. For example, Cyrious wide format customers look for a user-friendly interface; easy generation of pixel-perfect PDF rendering; multiple templates per product; native CMYK, PMS, and spot color handling; and an online designer that balances simplicity with sufficient design capabilities.
Steve Ciesemier, account manager, Aleyant Systems, LLC, gives a usage example of the Pressero system. Submitted files were required to be preflighted automatically based on specific width and height requirements.
“Prepress was manually opening customer-submitted files to determine if they fit the dimensions as specified by the customer. Ordering a 2×4-foot banner for example, but sending a file sized for 3.5×3.5 feet would create problems and delays. Our W2P solution replaced that approach with one that included an automated preflighting capability to save time and increase productivity,” he adds.
These are some of the top considerations when it comes to W2P in wide format. Flexibility is a common theme. “Large format printers build unique products day in and day out. Material sizes, types of products, and finishing sizes can be and usually are unique on every job. This constant customization in building a product forces providers to offer a pallet of tools to suit this,” shares David J. Rudolph, found, Pixta, Inc.
Compared to a narrow format, commercial or in-plant printer, a wide format shop requires an in-depth quoting mechanism, a quick and easy ordering process that can handle large files and incorporates multiple templates for different types of products, and a robust fulfillment mechanism.
Wide format projects vary from sizing to finishing. “As more wide format printers adopt W2P, some will have the opportunity to cross-sell many different product types within their customer base. They need a solution that supports ‘turning on’ products,” explain George and Puklus.
A different check box in the quoting interface of a system needs to be toggled on or off depending on the needs of the PSP. Options include whether a project is laminated or not, if mounting is required, and whether seaming, sewing, or welding needs to be done.
Predetermined products like a 3×2-foot poster include certain levels of differentiation. “Pricing is calculated at cost per square foot of a specific media. There are more media types in large format, which makes the shop set up a little more complicated,” outlines Hanssens.
Customization at the quoting stage of the process is necessary, continues Cranage. Print providers might want to include price breaks on various quantities of a product. For example one poster may cost $95, whereas if five where ordered, they would come out to $85 each.
A customer expects a user-friendly ordering process. “Your customers don’t have time to get ‘stuck’ somewhere trying to figure out what to click next. It should allow users to place quick reorders and view order history reports,” says Gil Newsom, operations manager, Rocketprint Software, LLC.
“It must handle large files but still be user friendly for online shoppers allowing them to view the product on their computer or mobile screen,” agrees Niro Barom, sales channel manager, B2C Print USA.
File uploads and laying out a graphic in a predetermined template are important to the wide format user. Templates are something that the narrow format side of the market have at their advantage due to how much longer they have been around, according to David Conrad, director of marketing, Mutoh America, Inc. But, more templates will appear in the wide format space as time goes on.
Wilson Zehr, founder/CEO, Cendix, believes that any templates used today or in the future should be built with the tools to post, modify, and personalize without vendor assistance. “Not only will that assure responsiveness, it will keep costs down.”
“Wide format printers need a solution that can easily handle the varied file types and sizes that must be processed, and that can preflight customer-uploaded artwork appropriately to identify serious problems without discouraging the buyer with unnecessary warnings,” says Gallucci.
Convenience and straightforwardness is necessary in all interactions, whether narrow or large format. Multiple orders with varying imagery, sizing, and shipment locations create room for error.
“Where things become complicated is printing signage for an entire chain of stores. The retailer creates the graphics and it is the software’s job to determine which images go to each of the stores; resize the images as needed by each store; cost the job; lay out the printing for lowest cost, least amount of waste, or easiest packing; provide crop/cut marks if needed; create the jobs; and send directly to the RIP for printing,” explains Tom Wittenberg, large format marketing manager, sign & display, the Americas, Hewlett-Packard.
W2P integrates with additional aspects of an automated workflow, such as the RIP, job costing, scheduling, and color management. The result is minimized opportunity for error throughout the print process and a gain in efficiencies from end to end.
“The less an order is manually touched, the more efficient and profitable that job is. Taking orders from point of entry into production as seamlessly as possible is key. Sales representatives, CSRs, or customers should be able to generate quotes and once approved, turn them into electronic job tickets, which flow through the shop without the need for re-keying data,” says Tony Tarpey, VP, marketing, SmartSoft Inc.
“An integrated solution can help reduce order management time up to 87 percent and reduce manpower requirement up to 60 percent on a project,” adds Bordia.
Most PSPs want a full solution, assuming it is easy to setup. “An important consideration for efficiency is not to undertake disjointed software that does not work with the rest of a system,” recommends Alex Ravari, VP, Cloud 7 Systems Inc.
“The easiest piece of the workflow puzzle is the storefront. The large format printer needs to be aware that it takes time, organization, and budget to setup a good W2P solution,” advises Hanssens.
Integration isn’t something that needs to happen right away, it depends on the PSP. Barom says B2C Print recommends integration based on the size and volume of the shop. “Automated workflow is a tool we recommend to print providers who get over 50 orders per day,” he continues.
“Integration is a crucial factor. But start simple and then expand,” shares Digesh Thakore, business manager, Yemo Connect & Interact B.V.
“The integration should be part of an overall plan, but all aspects do not need to be completed at the same time. It is more important to have a well-reasoned plan and to execute it on time,” explains Ciesemier.
This first part of the integration process varies depending on the printer, but some features are more important than others. “From our point of view, it should not be a question of when a combination of a RIP and a W2P solution is connected, it should be right at the start. The RIP should be scalable, which gives the PSP the freedom to grow organically. Functions like cost calculation or print and cut can be added at the time when it is suitable for the PSP,” shares Catherine Kirschner, marcom manager, ColorGATE Digital Output Solutions GmbH.
“The ideal situation would be to automate as much of the customer service operation as possible—include job costing and scheduling, bypass prepress, and go straight to the RIP. The purpose is to lower costs and become highly competitive in the market,” adds Wittenberg.
Wide format digital print is more than just signs and banners. Today this technology prints to textiles used in apparel and home décor, ceramics, packaging, and prototypes. W2P is on trend to keep up with this evolution.
“Remember, W2P has been used for years on promotional items such as coffee mugs and other non-traditional print. Just as every W2P solution has its own way of addressing specific scenarios, it is no different for applying it to different product types,” advises Hurwitch.
Hanssens has noticed several W2P solutions that “surf the wave of innovation” and work with printing onto wood, ceramic, glass, and smartphone cases.
“The need for individualized products is present in industrial printing, which means that an interface between a company and its potential buyers can easily be obtained via W2P. Self-decorated tiles for instance via a W2P shop or self-designed bottles, all this can and will be done via W2P,” agrees Kirschner.
Gallucci explains that a flexible W2P system should have no problem facilitating more than banners and signs. The ability to customize products like clothing, textiles, décor items, packaging, and prototypes adds tremendous value.
Thakore says online price calculation allows these applications to thrive in W2P.
“The systems I have seen are material agnostic and with open architecture, adding printers to the software solution can be done relatively easily. So yes, the systems are keeping up with the evolution of materials,” explains Wittenberg.
EFI Digital StoreFront has a new Matrix product functionality that handles apparel and embroidery. Users can include multiple variables to determine the correct product, whether it is a specific red, a cotton t-shirt, or an item number.
“These types of orders drive the eventual need for automation as popularity grows. The only way to truly automate them is to push them upstream to the end buyer. This dictates the needed functionality within a W2P solution and drives where the technology is heading,” explains Cranage.
Admittedly, it’s the burden of the software provider to know their product and what it can handle, all a PSP need to do is ask. “Most W2P can handle the user input of these alternative print technologies, provided the UI is flexible for non-linear transformations,” admits St. Cyr. “The real difficulty with these alternative print technologies is the manual handling/loading that is still often required on the back end.”
Rao Meka, co-founder, ShopVox, warns of the challenges with niche products. “Pricing can get complicated, especially if every job requires custom pricing—once you go to one offs with different shapes and sizes of the item that you will be printing on. Then it has to be simplified for the end user to price, provide graphics, and place the order. Alternatively, by making it easy, you may lose the allure of the niche.”
Capitalizing on the Web
A PSP adds a new service, product, hardware, or solution with one goal—to grow business, whether physically or monetarily, but hopefully both simultaneously. Choosing a W2P solution is no different.
Today’s W2P solutions are robust to handle more than necessary in most cases. Identify what the goals of your W2P are first and expand from there. While each individual PSP may offer different applications, widths, colors, finishes, and sizes; one thing remains the same—the W2P system chosen must add value to a business.
Feb2015, Digital Output