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Wide-Format Part 5: Super Wide-Format

In the final feature of this special series, Rob Fletcher casts an eye over the super wide-format market, analysing the opportunities for growth and picking out the latest technologies

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HP saw plenty of interest in the HP Stitch at The Print Show 2019 and also announced its first UK-based customer for the technology at the event

Supersize your business

As the wide-format print market becomes increasingly crowded, it is imperative that companies already established in this sector explore ways to expand their business in order to win new customers.

Over the last few months, we have looked at a number of different areas within this market, highlighting growth opportunities along the way. We’re ending this series with an in-depth look at super wide-format print, an area that will be of particular interest to sign-makers already knowledgeable of large-scale work.

How realistic is it for sign-making businesses and companies currently working with smaller-scale wide-format work to move into this market? What sort of kit is on offer to help them make the transition and is demand likely to continue to grow?

True service provider

First up to offer advice is HP and Phil Oakley, its regional business manager for large-format printing within its HP Graphics Solutions Business. Oakley says that with the shift to digital prints over the past 30 years, sign-maker remits now go far beyond traditional locations such as shop fronts.

“Such is the expansion, the term ‘sign-maker’ has probably become dated, in regards to what these businesses provide to customers today,” Oakley says, adding: “They have become a true service provider, delivering solutions across marketing, branding and merchandising solutions.

“Traditional high street shop and business signage will continue to be challenged with the exponential growth of the digital marketplace. This means that print -service-providers and sign-makers need to work harder to convince brands of the enduring value of print, proving how it can integrate and enhance their increasingly digital campaigns.”

However, he highlights a number of growth areas within the super wide-format sector that prove a move into this market may be of major benefit. Oakley singles out décor as a buoyant market, as well as textile print work such as furnishings, curtains, window blinds and soft signage.

“With customers demanding a more personal, customised product – and service offerings across almost every sector – digital printing still has a huge role to play,” he says.

So how can HP help sign-makers and other companies access opportunities in super wide-format? Oakley wastes little time in picking out the new HP Stitch portfolio, which launched in May of this year and was showcased to visitors at The Print Show 2019 in September.

O Factoid: Factoid Factoid HP used The Print Show 2019 to announce Manchester Print Services as the first UK customer for its new HP Stitch technology  O

“This is our first entry into the dye-sublimation market,” Oakley says, adding: “In the textile printing sector, one of the biggest challenges are the delays and wastage from colour testing, due to a lack of repeatability and consistency. HP has re-invented dye-sublimation to meet these challenges, creating the fastest colour matching technology in the market.”

The portfolio includes the 64” S300 and S500 printers, as well as the 3.2m S1000. Manchester Print Services was announced as the first UK customer for the HP Stitch at The Print Show 2019.

Oakley also highlights the green credentials of HP Stitch technology, saying: “Using environmentally friendly solutions, not just from the inks, but the media used will be something that customers demand more and more. HP Stitch Dye-Sublimation inks are Eco Passport certified, Energy Star certified and Epeat registered as an environmentally preferable product, while free cartridge and printhead recycling are also provided by HP.”

Reap the benefits

Next up, Hybrid Services, Mimaki’s exclusive distributor in the UK and Ireland, also had a busy few days at The Print Show 2019, where it hosted the European launch of the Mimaki SWJ-320EA 3.2m eco-solvent printer that can hit speeds of up to 137sq m/h.

Hybrid Services used The Print Show 2019 to host the European launch of the new Mimaki SWJ-320EA 3.2m eco-solvent printer

Brett Newman, chief operations manager at Hybrid Services, outlines some of the key attributes of this machine: “The new super-wide printer uses Mimaki CS100 eco-solvent based ink with a capacity of three litres per each of the four CMYK colours. These new inks have been developed to ensure lower consumption and increased weather and scratch resistance.

“The SWJ-320EA employs a raft of Mimaki’s proprietary Core Technologies that enhance print results and deliver optimum usability and with a twin-roll function, two wide-format jobs can be produced simultaneously, substantially improving productivity.”

Aside from the SWJ-320EA, Hybrid Services offers Mimaki’s UJV55-320 3.2m solution, which, using Mimaki’s LED UV curing inks, offers a high-quality print onto a broad range of roll-fed materials including banner, vinyl and backlit fabrics. With a front-mounted lightbox, backlit jobs can be inspected on the printer, ensuring quality and print results are as expected, reducing potential waste and time.

Mimaki’s UJV55-320 offers a high-quality print onto roll-fed materials including banner, vinyl and backlit fabrics

But why should sign-makers and print business consider super wide-format kit? Newman says this type of machinery brings obvious opportunities to deliver larger banners and seamless graphics, citing benefits such as reduced finishing and a higher quality overall result, with the need to join narrower graphics reduced or removed.

Newman expands: “Print companies expanding into the super-wide market will be able to bring large jobs in-house, thus reducing costs and lead times. It’s also beneficial in improving control over jobs, removing the need to put work out. Mimaki’s new SWJ-320EA eco-solvent printer offers significantly reduced ink costs over wide-format options, so profit can be improved as well.”

More affordable than ever

Elsewhere and Agfa Graphics says it is continuing to invest heavily in the sign and graphics segment as, together with industrial inkjet, it sees the sector as one of its major growth engines. Bobby Grauf, sales manager in the UK and Ireland for inkjet sales, says support from major manufacturers like Agfa will help sign-makers and wide-format printers make the move into super wide-format.

Grauf expands: “It is more affordable to print direct to substrate today than ever before. It’s faster, reduces the overall cost of materials, saves on floor space and requires fewer manual interventions.

“Mundane tasks can be automated in file creation, print production and finishing, which in turn frees up time and resources. At Agfa we complement the technical solution with attractive service options and flexible in-house financing to ensure that every investment is supported throughout and beyond its anticipated lifetime.

With this, Grauf flags up Agfa’s mix of Thin Ink Layer Technology, LED curing and fully integrated front-end, saying there is a case to go super wide-format at every level of investment. He adds that Agfa’s most recent additions came on either end of a PSP’s investment spectrum.

Grauf points to the Anapurna H1650i LED, which has a print width of 1.65m and is a direct derivative of the popular Anapurna hybrid (flatbed/RTR) LED family that previously covered sizes of 2.05m, 2.5m and 3.2m.

He says: “The Anapurna H1650i LED is the perfect step-up for PSPs and sign-makers looking to either make their first move into direct to substrate printing or upgrade an existing UV printer.”

Agfa says its Anapurna H1650i LED, which has a print width of 1.65m, is the perfect step-up for PSPs and sign-makers looking to make their first move into direct to substrate printing

Also available from Agfa are the Jeti Tauro H2500 LED and Jeti Tauro H3300 LED machines, which offer a print width of 2.5m and 3.3m, respectively. These are aimed at high-volume, high-quality PSPs, delivering speeds of up to 450sq m/h and can be extended with various automation options, such as automatic sheet loading and unloading. The Jeti Tauro LED series can also be enhanced with up to 12 white printheads, making it the fastest digital in-line UV LED white system in the market, according to Grauf.

Investments may look like they are beyond current means, but the cost effectiveness of today’s super
wide-format solutions is greater than most people think

He adds: “Investments may look like they are beyond current means, but the cost effectiveness of today’s super wide-format solutions is greater than most people think.”

Profitability and growth

Casting the net further still and EFI offers a range of solutions. Ken Hanulec, vice president worldwide marketing at EFI, says a number of advanced, specialty applications driving both innovation and opportunity in the super wide-format marketplace.

Ken Hanulec, vice president worldwide marketing at EFI, says specialty applications are driving innovation in the super wide-format market

Hanulec expands: “The pressure to lower costs, increase turnaround times and efficiently produce jobs is paramount today. Owning the latest super-wide, production-level printing technology allows you to lower your cost of operation, turn jobs work more quickly, and efficiently expand the range of capabilities – all of which is crucial to profitability and growth in today’s competitive markets.

“Technological advancements are creating important changes in signage and display graphics. EFI’s introduction of LED curing at production-level speeds has changed the way customers have been able to approach the market with more applications and substrates while lowering costs.”

EFI’s super wide-format printers are able to print roll-to-roll, flexible sheets and rigid substrates in a single footprint. Hanulec also says the changeover on this kit from flexible to rigid materials is fast, and, with the combination of LED-curing and hybrid printing, they will allow to provide a wide variety of substrates and applications to customers.

With this, he points to the new EFI VUTEk 32h hybrid printer, a 3.2m production level LED hybrid flatbed/roll-fed printer targeted at growing sign and display graphics providers that want to enter into high-volume, production-level superwide printing.

Hanulec adds: “The new VUTEk 32h from EFI offers all the versatility, ease of use, and environmentally friendly benefits that are only available from EFI VUTEk LED printers.

“We can definitely expect further growth in this market, as technology enables businesses to create new concepts and applications.”

Hanulec’s comments appropriately conclude what has been a rather eye-opening venture into the wide-format market. While this sector is often talked about on a much more broader scale, by picking out areas within the market, you are able to pinpoint the areas that offer the most realistic growth opportunities to you and your business.

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