By Digital Output Staff
Part 1 of 2
One segment of wide format that sets itself apart from others is technical printing. While many of these devices feature widths of over 24 inches, they are found in a variety of environments from design firms to reprographic houses. In addition to their necessity for technical printing, they are also outfitted with features desirable for other wide format applications, like posters and presentations.
The increased use and quality of color available on technical printers is a key driver of interest for segments beyond traditional architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC), computer aided design (CAD), and geographic information system (GIS) for which they are designed. Combine this with the attractive speeds, connectivity, durability, and affordability that these machines are known for and they are are ideal for many scenarios.
Technical Print Trends
The technical market is a mature print segment. It grows and adapts based on popular trends. One increasingly important feature is color, which plays a practical purpose for AEC/CAD/GIS applications. However, feature functions also open up more application potential.
Bob Honn, senior director marketing support, Canon Solutions America, believes the transition to color continues to be a big trend. “Color in large format technical documents is primarily used for presentation-quality sales and marketing applications, exhibits, and posters—namely to ease interpretation and comprehension for faster decision making.”
For example, GIS users are using more maps with color to help interpret a schematic, according to Honn. This includes relying on color in electronic drawings of chips and circuit boards where many levels, fine lines, and small elements partly overlap each other. In industrial designs, color is used to make products more realistic and assist with product evaluation. Color is also used for educational and training purposes, with color-coded views assisting in retaining the material.
“In short, color workflows can reduce error and improve decision making with clearer communication in the collaboration process,” adds Honn.
A technical printer with color also places the user in a unique position. Since many color printers feature high quality and can use a wide variety of media types, the printer’s application offerings extend past just technical documents. “So, it becomes easy to load multiple rolls of media, and of different sizes, simultaneously to use across departments in the organization for a variety of projects,” explains Honn.
Physical footprint of the device is trending towards the smaller side. The HP Inc. team accessed during the development of its newest technical printer portfolio that products needed to be workspace appropriate.
“Not only has the way we work changed, but the way our offices look has also changed. Office space has been reduced by 33 percent in the last five years, and again, now we have found a lot of clients with new office setups in their spare rooms at their homes,” says Danny Ionescu, NA large format design sales director, HP Inc.
Space plays into the need for multifunctional devices. “Teams who are working remote and across sites are now looking not just to print, but also scan, share, and copy with their vendors and clients. Engineering advances have allowed many multifunction printers to have some pretty small footprints and slick designs these days; making them more practical for the environments technical users are currently working in,” shares Jacob Hardin, product manager, professional imaging, Epson America, Inc.
Many of the technical printers out in the field are older models or if they are newer generations of a printer, they may not be being utilized to their fullest potential. It seems that there is a trend towards the former, and as such, these folks may not be understanding the true capabilities of a digital technical printer.
The technical printer market is full of durable products. At HP, it has customers in this segment with printers 12 years and older—still working. While this is huge benefit in terms of sustainability, Ionescu notes that some customers are not able to reach their full potential by using legacy equipment.
As such, he believes those users need to ask themselves a few simple questions to understand if they are appropriately using their devices and determine if there is room for improvement. Is it frustrating to wait by the printer because the files are too large or the printer is too slow? Are more A3 or smaller formats being used, but large format still plays a role? Since purchasing the printer, has office space been reduced and is the printer taking up too much space? Does the older printer appear too bulky and if so, are the newer models more aesthetically appealing?
“These questions will help you find out whether you need a new product and can also guide you towards which devices may be a better fit,” recommends Ionescu.
If clients, environment, work location, or users have changed in the organization, Hardin suggests considering updating a printer. “A good place to start is assessing both who is using the printer and who is receiving the documents. For example, your team may have grown to several departments who are now sharing a central printer. Or, you may need to exchange documents back and forth with team members who are now working from home.”
Legacy printers most likely don’t include many of the new bells and whistles. For example, some of the newer printers can print on a variety of media, meaning users are no longer limited to just bond paper. Also, this new equipment is faster and includes IT features to help with integration between networks, notes Hardin.
Products like the Canon PlotWave and Canon ColorWave families integrate into any WebDAV compliant cloud environment—public or private—which allows access to documents from the point of need directly at the printer’s user interface.
“These features enable users scattered across multiple locations to collaborate through the print device, which is especially important for printers that are located on a job site, when the convenience of using a computer is not available, but real time document distribution is paramount,” says Honn.
He believes that for the most part, customers are working with their devices appropriately, but admits there is room for improvement in the area of “better utilizing the device as an ‘on and off’ to the cloud to more efficiently share documents in real time.”
Top of Mind
Technical printers offer a host of features. One of the most prevalent is either a copier or scanner function—or both—thus making the printer actually a multifunction device. What do users in the technical market look for when it comes to choosing a system?
Honn breaks it down by scanning, copying, and printing. Scanning request features include scan length limitation when scanning to TIFF at a lower dpi and scanning to email with LDAP address book support. The former is an important requirement for well logs and GIS markets.
One copying feature Honn finds commonly requested is area to erase, as this allows users to highlight an area on the user interface touchscreen instead of X, Y, width, or height. Another feature is adding copy template options for copy jobs—similar to scanning templates for scanning jobs.
When it comes to the printing portion of the equation, some demands include wanting to know how much media is left on a roll and allowing for the option to interrupt a current print job to print another, according to Honn.
Technical printer users also want their printers to do more than just print line drawings.”Being able to print on a variety of media is very important. For example, we have some CAD printer models that can print directly onto a rigid poster board and are compatible with glossy medias. This is useful for users to print presentation-ready glossy drawings and renderings, even from a CAD printer,” explains Hardin.
“New application printing needs have developed in which customers are looking for versatile printers that can do both CAD and engineering prints as well as communication signage,” notes Ionescu. In general, he believes users look for solutions that help them print in an easier way, but also stay more productive—all while ensuring the quality of the print isn’t a tradeoff.
The technical market continues to be a viable channel for wide format printers—as well as multifunction devices. Today more than ever, smaller footprint models with connectivity features are essential as more people find themselves in lone offices of one, yet needing print in some capacity. These printers also offer high-quality images and brilliant color, allowing for the user to expand past technical documents and into signage and other promotional pieces.
The second article in this two-part series takes a look at some of the newest wide format technical printers on the market.
Feb21, Digital Output