Wide format: A post-COVID comeback

This Technology Focus on wide format printing by Peter Kohn was published in the August 2020 edition of ProPrint.

With the COVID-19 pandemic rendering large segments of Australia’s printing and graphics industries into lockdown, forward-looking visionaries are already war-gaming the future. This involves putting in place the stepping stones their company will take in a post-coronavirus world to restore dynamism, and dare we think it, take them to new heights of productivity and prosperity.

In this new reality, one of the keys to a company surviving – and, beyond that, excelling – is redoubling its strategies to transition to profitable growth sectors, taking the foot slightly off the accelerator in traditional areas such as documents, forms and flyers, and moving into industry segments that have shown themselves to be more adaptable to the generational change in information data we see all around us.

Pundits often speak about package printing, pointing to food and pharmaceuticals and mail-order consumer durables as a hedge against obsolescence.

But another bright new horizon for printers is the sunrise sector of decorative printing, with wide format technologies becoming more exacting and sophisticated each year.

Once the technology that generated short-term signage or wall art, wide format is now graduating to semi-permanent and permanent decorative applications, such as personalised wallpaper and promotional furniture.

We only need to look around to see an array of posters, pullups and point-of-sale material competing for our attention in the out-of-home (OOH) space. The wide format game is nowadays so much more about visuals, often outsized ones. Beyond signage is the lucrative new realm of printing on the fixed infrastructure – from bus shelters and building wraps to semi-permanent wall menus and wallpaper at restaurants.

It may be an overused phrase, but the potential to reap the rewards are limited only by the imagination. To prove that point, ProPrint spoke with Australia’s top vendors of wide format technology.

Canon Production Printing

“To stand out from the crowd, print service providers (PSPs) need to be able to offer a point of difference,” asserts Steven Badger, senior business development manager, Asia Pacific, at Canon Production Printing.

Badger sees printed décor as a creative, high-growth, high-value market with low but growing conversion from analogue printing.

“The capability of digital inkjet technology to print to almost any surface, with longevity, along with an explosion in the development of new digital media and the trend for personalisation, is driving volume growth in this sector,” He said.

“Trends in décor are constantly changing. Whether for commercial interiors such as offices, retail spaces and hospitality suites, or for individual consumers, movements in interior design call for interiors to be more adaptable, personable and dynamic than ever before.

“In today’s personalised, customised world, digitally printed interior décor is transforming the spaces we live, work and play in and no one stands to benefit more from this than PSPs. To succeed in digital printed décor, PSPs must be willing to invest in and grow their offering with the right technologies, and the right consultancy. Without the appropriate tools, it’s hard to keep pace with demand or offer the freedom and flexibility that today’s design specifiers increasingly expect.”

Badger says PSPs looking for new opportunities could look at moving into textured wallcoverings, which offer great growth potential. Also, printed raised signage that includes braille offers exciting opportunities, he notes.

“With the growing competition on mainstream display graphics and printed applications, the need for PSPs to generate higher-value products becomes critical. The growth in digital printed interior décor is expanding the scope of high-value opportunities for PSPs.”

To help printers maximise their opportunities in this space, Canon has partnered its Canon Touchstone software with its Canon Arizona flatbed printer. “Together they enable the production of stunning textured interior décor elements and designs with minimum efforts. It opens up opportunities to easily generate high-value and unique products elevating the business potential of PSPs.”

Badger says the Canon Arizona 1200, 1300 and 2200 series offer the ability to print textured interior décor and the Canon Colorado 1650 with FLX finish offers robust, vibrant, dimensionally stable printing to flexible material such as wall graphics.

Durst Oceania

So, where should printers be looking for opportunities in wide format printing in a sector that, let’s face it, is becoming crowded with new players keen to embrace a lucrative new revenue stream?

Matt Ashman, managing director of Durst Oceania, reflects, “In a crowded room, you need to do something that makes you stand out in the crowd, that’s the key. PSPs need to listen to what their customers need and deliver — not only great print, but awesome service and support for their customers. It’s about getting an edge, that can be appealing to the masses, or finding a niche.”

Ashman says there are huge opportunities in decorating substrates.

“I have always been an advocate of the word ‘decorating’ rather than ‘printing’; the word ‘printing’ can have a low-rent, mass-produced connotation, whereas decorating, is adding value to something already useful.”

Versatile UV flatbed printer — the Durst Rho 1312

On Durst’s up-to-date range, Ashman says it is “fast efficient and reliable, but just as importantly the software to drive the equipment and workflow reduces touch points”.

The Durst P5 Range of true hybrid flatbed and roll-to-roll UV DTM printers offers amazing quality, speed and versatility, he states. Meanwhile, the Durst Delta WT, a breakthrough water-based flatbed DTM printer, creates “stunning quality and good speed, with food-safe ink, and a very low environmental impact when using eco paper-based media,” he explains.

EFI

Printing companies should be looking for versatility, says Rodd Harrison, vice president, APAC sales, at EFI. They need solutions that help them diversify and address a broader range of markets. “That is a primary reason EFI’s UV LED printers have been so useful for growth-minded display graphics companies. The ability to print on nearly any substrate opens the door to new opportunities.

“EFI VUTEk users that do a lot of out-of-home signage on our roll-to-roll printers, for example, can create new business in interior décor, producing wallcoverings with our Greenguard certified inks. Similarly, our hybrid roll/flatbed and dedicated flatbed printers have helped users enter any number of new market applications.”

EFI VUTEk UV LED printing – which operates with a ‘cool cure’ that enables printing on a wider range of substrates – opening the door to specialty applications, explains Harrison.

For example, says Harrison, the multi-layered printing capability on the VUTEk h5 hybrid LED printer is able to produce interior and exterior building materials through textured printing and application of EFI Armor Coatings.

EFI VUTEK range offers both hybrid roll-to-roll and flatbed capabilities

“Our highly opaque, high quality white ink gives users much more capability in premium products, such as high-end awards and plaques printed on acrylic, signage displays printed on glass, aluminium composite material and more,” he said.

“There are many emerging and growing opportunities where our digital technology has helped our customers do things that were difficult or impossible to achieve in the past.

“There are dozens of EFI printers operating worldwide producing thermoformed displays using EFI printers and our award winning SuperDraw inks.

“They create a huge competitive advantage for our customers compared with analogue. An analogue thermoformed sign may take ten hours or more to produce, while a digitally thermoformed sign can be printed in less than an hour.”

Harrison says EFI customers are taking advantage of the ‘Divisional Graphics’ opportunity. He says nearly every retail location, office or other place where groups of people congregate needs barriers – and digital printing graphics or messages for those barriers is a new market for many.

With the onset of the COVID pandemic, EFI customers are also creating ‘Distancing Graphics’, for example, floor decals showing consumers where to stand in a queue to maintain social distance, he explains.

“Many of our textile customers are also producing masks and face coverings.

“While these markets do not replace the overall print volume from traditional display graphics, these types of applications may be mainstays for printing companies well into the future. There are other areas, such as packaging and textiles, where electronic signage is not a suitable replacement. Again, the advantage in packaging with EFI’s UV LED platform is its ability to efficiently print on brown kraft board using a cool-cure system that does not affect the board, plus using a white ink under colour inks on the printer gives corrugated applications significant visual appeal.”

Harrison says that in the very high-volume industrial corrugated packaging applications, EFI has the top-draw single-pass inkjet corrugated printer, the EFI Nozomi C18000.

A Nozomi printer is operating at Opal, in the former Orora plant in Melbourne’s Oakleigh South, and at many other leading corrugated packaging companies worldwide.

“Beyond printers, EFI has the unique advantage of a complete ecosystem of products around the printer which help ensure overall productivity, efficiency and quality,” Harrison said.

“In the display graphics space, there is a fully featured Midmarket Print Suite MIS/ERP with capabilities that address display graphics producers’ specific needs for scheduling, planning, fulfilment, accounting and much more, including streamlined web-to-print design and order submission for signage products.

“Our Fiery digital front end (DFE) technology is the world-class RIP and digital print management solution that drives superior results with fast processing to handle even highly complex jobs.”

EFI’s VUTEk D3r and D5r UV LED roll-to-roll inkjet printers are its newest releases.

These leverage many of the advanced capabilities from EFI’s VUTEk 3r+ and 5r+ printers, offering a mid-range solution that uses a combination of white and clear inks, and features ‘museum quality’ print mode.

EFI’s newest hybrid printer, the EFI VUTEk 32h, is a versatile, 3.2m wide UV LED inkjet device ideal for superwide-format production.

Another relatively recent release, the EFI Pro 30f dedicated flatbed printer, has a large 3.05 x 2.05m bed and is the first EFI printer that can print on media up to 10cm thick.

Epson Australia

New formats and mediums, soft and hard signage, film and fabric – these are the frontiers for PSPs identified by Gordon Kerr, business marketing manager, professional print solutions, at Epson Australia. He says opportunities exist in applications including décor, awnings, sunshades, wall finishes and cabinetry, merchandise, phone covers and photo imaging, as well as POS, displays, wall and floor decals and automotive vehicle decals and skins.

“What producers need to do is ensure their product remains relevant; they need to use images that excite – and print using inks that are bright and punchy,” Kerr said.

“They need to ensure their product remains cost effective, and they need to look at their equipment and workflow to ensure production costs are minimised.

“They also need to look at new mediums to ensure their product is attractive and different, to transition from board to reflective film, from paper to backlit film, from SAV to canvas and fabric.”

Kerr says one of the fastest transitions is away from print proofing.

“It is becoming increasingly important that producers adopt a colour-managed workflow, so that the electronic proof that their customer is referencing can be accurately reproduced,” he said.

“Each print needs to look exactly as it was intended; everywhere from the small in-store poster or piece of POP, to a large window decal, to an outdoor bus or billboard display.

“Producers should also be looking for ways to extend and value-add their customers’ messaging. If a customer comes knocking, asking to produce some posters, ask whether they want a matching window decal or a banner, a decal for the floor near the cash register, or some T-shirts for the sales staff.”

Kerr says Epson is finding large format to be “surprisingly buoyant”.

“Fabric is showing strong growth. We are seeing growth in the POS, poster and business segments; A4 and A3 colour laser prints just don’t cut it anymore,” Kerr said.

“While the overall number of machines going into the signage segment seems to have been trending flat recently, the machine sizes are growing as are their print volumes.”

He says Epson has one of the widest ranges in the large format market.

“We provide equipment to enable production of everything from boutique photo and fine art to precision colour graphics, from indoor POS and posters to durable outdoor signage, from merchandise and T-shirts to high-volume roll-to-roll fabric,” he said.

In the DTG space, Epson offers the F2160 press for low-to-medium volumes on light and dark shirts, with the F3060 model for the high-volume producer.

In dye sublimation, Epson has the F560 for merchandise and hard surface imaging; the compact F6360 for 44 inch roll-based media – for medium-volume garment and hard surface imaging; the F7200 for medium-volume fabric and soft signage producers, with roll-based media up to 64 inches; the F9460 / F9460H for high-volume fabric and soft signage production up to 64 inches, and a soon to be launched very high speed production model with roll support up to 76 inches.

Fujifilm

Fujifilm believes there are growing opportunities for wide format printing in niche markets such as glass and plastic printing. These opportunities will only increase as ink chemistry advances allowing a wide range of traditional substrates to be printed on, the company said.

Globally, Fujifilm is examining new and emerging markets where print can be used to improve processes and increase profitability. In the US, Fujifilm has installed an Inca Onset industrial UV flatbed printer in the middle of a chipboard wood mill. This installation has enabled the client to take a relatively low-value product and apply a high-value print or finish directly onto it. At a site in Europe, UV printing is being used to produce bespoke shoes.

Fujifilm’s offerings provide cost effective solutions for wide format printers, the company says.

Its product range includes Inca Onset X Series; the Acuity Ultra, a superwide-format UV roll-to-roll printer; the Acuity B1, a specialty B1 sheetfed UV press for industrial and niche applications; the Vybrant UF10 and Acuity Select series low-end flatbed printers; and the Acuity F, a mid-range flatbed printer.

HP

The HP Scitex 17000 has advanced the widely acclaimed 15000, with greater levels of productivity and a rated speed up to 1,000 square metres per hour. It uses HP’s HDR technology and prints on coated media using HDR Scitex inks for cost effective corrugated packaging printing. Hands-free operation, automated feed and zero setup add even more to the productivity. HP says the press operates smoothly on industrial-grade corrugated board with the addition of a HP Scitex Corrugated Grip solving the issue of warped media. Hands-free and stack-to-stack operation plus automatic loading are other features which add to the appeal of the 17000.

Mimaki Australia

Mimaki has three wide format core markets – signage graphics, industrial products and textiles/apparel – and all are seeing positive growth in Australia, says national marketing manager Brad Creighton.

“When it comes to new applications and diversity of print, industrial printing and textile solutions are opening lots of new opportunities for the print industry. But in general, we see opportunities across the board in the sign, graphics and visual communications market: soft signage (fabrics), digital labels, interior décor and home furnishings, architectural applications, and so on,” Creighton says.

“In our industrial printing market, we are seeing a wide range of applications. To cover this market, you need equipment solutions that cover a wide gamut of the digitisation area. For example, control panels, keypads for electronics market (whitegoods etc) high accuracy and ink durability are a must to achieve longevity and reliability.

“To cover these various applications, ink chemistry and development is key to market success. At Mimaki, we have the most comprehensive LED UV ink choice to suit application needs.”

Creighton says Mimaki’s LED UV inkjet equipment – in roll-to-roll solutions or flatbed technologies – is perfect for new applications.

“In recent years, the business area for original and customised items using LED UV inkjet printing has been expanding for low-volume, high-mix, on-demand production,” he said.

Creighton says the LED UV inkjet range does not require a print plate, saving time and money.

“The new feature of LED UV inkjet printing enables printing only what is needed and when, creating an economic advantage,” he said.

Creighton says Mimaki has a range of inks including: the scratch-resistant Rigid LH-100 ink; Flexible LUS-120 ink, which can print on soft materials; versatile Flexible LUS-150 ink and the LUS-200 ink for automotive applications; LUS-350 for beautiful prints on hollow products wrap; and PR-200, a primer that increases ink adhesion.

“With the innovation of new print technologies comes the diversity of new printing applications,” he states.

“We are seeing a huge growth in window finishing. Not just signage on glass windows but investment from professional tinting companies wanting to produce brilliant pattern designs on frosted translucent films.”

Creighton says Mimaki’s roll-to-roll UCJV300 Series can print flexible opaque white inks which suits this application.

“Our UCJV300 Series printer/cutter LED UV with flexible ink has been our most dynamic technology of the last two years,” Creighton said.

The UCJV300 series has been installed at Melbourne’s Tint Design where digital print manager Tyler Golding said it was “half the investment” for twice the output. Display Systems Australia in Banksmeadow, NSW, owner John Privitera says the Mimaki machine replaced two eco-solvent printers.

In Queensland, Bear Signs & Designs owner Garry Miller says recent trials of multi-layer printing has resulted in increases in trade printing from other sign shops.

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