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Wide-Format Print Part One

With wide-format print having been regarded as a popular expansion market for some time, Rob Fletcher finds out what opportunities remain for sign-makers

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How can sign-makers enter the world of wide-format with entry-level equipment?

Enter the arena

There has been no escaping the significant growth of wide-format print in recent years. Whether it’s traipsing the halls of events like The Print Show and seeing first-hand the kit on offer, or flicking through the pages of SignLink and reading headlines about new releases, the wide-format market continues to expand.

Many sign-makers have already taken advantage of this ongoing trend by moving outside of their traditional remit, investing in new kit and taking on wide-format print work of all kinds.

But with so many making the move, is there room for more competition? And if so, what sort of kit does your business need to make a successful transition into the wide-format print arena?

Myriad of opportunities

One of the major names in wide-format print technology is Epson. Phil McMullin, sales manager, ProGraphics, at Epson UK, says an in-house wide-format printing capability is essential in the modern market for any proactive sign-maker.

“There are myriad branding opportunities to be had in end customers, often at very short notice, so outsourcing is no longer an effective or profitable mode of operation,” McMullin comments, adding: “Having your own printer allows you complete control over colour matching, image quality and response times, while also retaining the maximum available profit in a job.

“If you choose the right print manufacturer to partner with, you can unlock a whole world of profitable applications from vehicle wraps, billboards and soft signage to décor, wallpaper, floor graphics, window graphics, point-of-sale and much more.”

With this in mind, McMullin draws attention to some of the entry-level printers available from Epson to help sign-makers establish their own wide-format print offering. For indoor work, McMullin says aqueous inks are a solid choice, citing the SureColor SC-T3100 A1 poster printer as a suitable hardware solution, being priced at just over £1,000 plus VAT.

For more serious signage applications, outdoor durable prints and larger POS work, McMullin says the eco-solvent SureColor SC-S40600 offers good value at around £10,000 plus VAT. In terms of textile print work, small soft signage and personalised gifts, McMullin cites the SureColor SC-F500 with dye-sublimation inks, with a ticket price of less than £1,800 plus VAT.

For signage applications, outdoor durable prints and larger POS work, Epson recommends its eco-solvent SureColor SC-S40600

Cost effective

Elsewhere, Agfa Graphics also has a number of entry-level options on offer to the market. Bobby Grauf, sales manager for the UK and Ireland, says investment in such kit will help create new revenue streams through new applications, thanks to the ability to print on a wider range of materials.

Grauf expands: “Investments may look like they are beyond current means, but the cost effectiveness of today’s UV wide-format systems is far greater than most people think.”

Grauf draws attention to the new Anapurna H1650i LED, a 1.65m UV LED system that, due to its small footprint and low investment point, he says makes it a good choice as a production press for sign-makers looking to expand their wide-format offering, enhance quality and lower overall production costs.

Grauf expands: “The Anapurna H1650i LED is a direct derivative of the high-end Anapurna LED Series, and therefore includes all the unique Agfa benefits, such as our Thin Ink Layer Technology that delivers the highest print quality at the lowest cost of ownership in its class.”

The solutions do not stop at hardware for Agfa, with the manufacturer having also adapted its Asanti workflow solution to the entry-level segment, without losing any of its benefits, according to Grauf.

Flexible solutions

Meanwhile, Mike Lewis, Latex channel account manager at HP, says now is an “excellent” time for sign-makers to step into wide-format print, saying new technology is opening up a wealth of markets, applications and materials.

Lewis expands: “The flexibility of today’s wide-format printing systems allows sign-makers to really innovate, create and respond to unique customer demands and quickly manoeuvre with current trends. Customisation, short runs and one-off projects are simple and affordable using digital printing systems, while there is an extensive choice of compatible materials to make work stand out.”

There are so many different applications that sign-makers can explore to win new business

HP has a number of solutions that Lewis bills as ideal for sign-makers entering wide-format. The HP Stitch S300 and S500 platforms both use dye-sublimation technology, which Lewis says offers predictable colour quickly and allows users to match brand colours on fabrics and print unique interior design products.

For indoor graphics and art, the HP Designjet Z9 24” and 44” models produce professional photo-quality prints with fewer inks, while both machines are now available with a vertical trimmer option.

Further still, for applications such as outdoor graphics, signage, retail POS, the HP Latex 115 provides what Lewis describes as an “affordable and easy-to-use entry point”. In addition, the HP Latex 315 with its separate cutting solution is also billed as an entry-level printer to help grow a wide-format business, with the ability to produce work such as floor graphics, wall decals, vehicle graphics and customisable clothing.

HP sees its HP Latex 315 with a separate cutting solution as an effective entry-level device for sign-makers seeking to move into wide-format print

Take control

Elsewhere, Rob Goleniowski, head of sales for the UK and Ireland at Roland DG, says that provided they invest in versatile equipment, sign-makers should look to diversify their product offering as much as possible.

Goleniowski expands: “In our experience, the most successful sign businesses are those which can act as a one-stop-shop for their customers, providing stickers, labels and even garments as well as quality signage.

“With wide-format digital print, users have control over the print quality and the consistency of the output, which isn’t always the case when outsourcing work to third parties.”

As to how Roland DG can help, Goleniowski explains that due to the larger range of possible applications, Roland DG would recommend a large-format digital printer with integrated cutting functionality. With this, he draws attention to the manufacturer’s new TrueVIS SG2 series, saying that it is ideal for sign-makers branching into digital print markets such as wide-format.

Roland DG recommends that sign-makers invest in a large-format digital printer with integrated cutting functionality, such as its new TrueVIS SG2 series

Goleniowski adds: “The SG2 produces excellent quality print quickly and reliably and, with a very attractive price point, this printer/cutter makes a very wise investment.”

Many target markets

Delving further into the market and EFI has a number of entry-level options to offer to sign-makers seeking a move into wide-format. Dani Alkalay, product manager at EFI, says investing in this kit will enable sign-makers to capture more work from existing customers.

Alkalay expands: “It will allow them to expand their customer base, and provide them with the capabilities to offer higher-value, premium-margin applications, such as point-of-purchase signs and display, tradeshow and event graphics, backlit graphics and much more.

“There are many target markets to consider for wide-format printing, including event marketers, trade show organisers, malls and retail businesses, as well as other businesses and organisations that often need exterior signage and indoor décor.”

Looking at what is available from EFI, Alkalay picks out the Pro 16h LED hybrid roll-to-roll/flatbed printer, which enables four colours plus white ink printing as well as single-layer, multi-pass printing for what he describes as “greater profit opportunity”.

Also on offer is the 3.2m EFI VUTEk 32r+ roll-to-roll LED printer that, according to Alkalay, allows users to offer more applications – including white, textiles, and double-sided – on a wider range of substrates. The machine is capable of printing at a speed of up to 265sq m/h.

The EFI VUTEk 32r+ roll-to-roll LED printer can print at speeds of up to 265sq m/h

In addition, EFI’s new Pro 30f LED flatbed printer can handle flexible and rigid substrates up to 10cm thick, making it suitable for many wide-format jobs.

Business springboard

Also weighing in on the debate is Hybrid Services, the exclusive distributor of Mimaki kit in the UK and Ireland. Chief operations manager Brett Newman says investing in a Mimaki can be the ideal springboard for companies looking at moving up a gear.

Newman expands: “All Mimaki printers are supplied with easy to use software that simplifies the design to print workflow and with a demonstration available with one of Hybrid’s reseller partners around the country, it’s never been easier to select the perfect Mimaki for your business.

“With Mimaki’s printers and printer/cutters, the choice of applications is almost endless, ranging from cut stickers and labels to high value vehicle wraps, window graphics, backlit signs and outdoor banners.”

Newman draws attention to Mimaki’s CJV150 Series integrated printer/cutters, which offer print speeds of up to 56sq m/h. He says that while these devices are “anything but entry-level”, as they start at a price of £6,995 for the 80cm-wide CJV150-75 model, they are affordable to most sign-makers.

He adds: “The CJV150 range brings state of the art productivity and ease of use to any business and delivers low cost of ownership combined with spectacular output quality.”

Trade approach

For some sign-making businesses, purchasing a new printing press may not be an option and they may have to look at another route into wide-format print. One such approach is working with a trade company such as Very Displays, which specialises in portable exhibition systems.

Andrew Burdett, managing director at Very Displays says that by working with a market specialist such as Very Displays, newcomers to wide-format will have greater insight into the sector.

Burdett says: “If you’re considering making a move into the arena, you’ve chosen a sector in the display market where you can buy starter kits for a relatively low amount of money but offering maximum impact for promoting your business. Very Displays stock a wide range of signage products from simple standoffs to illuminated frames and displays.”

As Burdett explains, Very Displays specialises in the materials to accompany the printed products and offers a range of entry kits. These include standoffs for a variety of rigid substrates, as well as poster snap rails, poster snap frames and lockable notice boards.

O Factoid: According to research by Global Industry Analysts, the global market for wide-format print is expected to be worth $4.3bn (£3.3bn) by the year 2024 O

Also available from Very Displays are freestanding snap frames, 15mm tension graphic frames, SEG freestanding frames, magnetic freestanding frames and PVC LED lightboxes. In addition, the LED SEG lightbox offers a sleek frame that will illuminate a display using 6,000k bright white lighting.

Wide-format print is a subject that will continue to be discussed among sign-makers as a realistic expansion market. Backed by quality entry-level kit from some of the biggest brands in the market, companies that opt to make the move, or upgrade their existing offering, will have plenty of support along the way.

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