Wide horizons

For the commercial printer, franchise or copyshop, wide format represents probably the best opportunity to generate an extra revenue stream. It is a relatively small investment, wide format printers are starting at less than $20,000 with a half decent rip. Printers already have the customers, the prepress, colour management and file management skills. It seems like easy money, but is it? Can it really be that straightforward?

Wide format has almost become the ‘support act’ of choice in any number of sheetfed enterprises scanning the markets for new opportunities as their core activity in offset plateaus or declines.

But of course there are traps for the unwary and war stories. In December 2014, we saw the spectacular collapse of Sumo Visual. The display printing company was squarely decked and out for the count – with administrators predicting they do not expect any returns for its 341 trade creditors, the last on the list to be repaid from debts amounting to around $12.6m.

But delving into wide format inkjet also has its success stories, particularly for companies with traditional core technologies to fall back on and, yes, sometimes the requisite deep pockets.


Offset to inkjet at JFP

Sydney’s John Fisher Printing (JFP) is a classic case study of a more than 60-year-old offset print company, with some 13 staff, diversifying into wide format to tap into a new revenue stream. Tony Fisher, a director of JFP, and grandson of company founder John Fisher, tells ProPrint that the company has expanded its services, not only into paper-based inkjet printing, but into non-paper technologies that give it a point of difference from typical wide-format operations or copyshops offering wide-format posters.

Summing up the Marrickville company’s menu of services at the end of 2014, Fisher tells ProPrint: “We do offset printing to standard boards and papers, expanding with wide-format inkjet printing into markets to synthetics with conventionally cured UV inkjet printing, then upgraded to LED cool-cured inkjet printing (the curing technology significantly reduces drying times, ramping up productivity). We have used existing sales resources to increase existing business. We handle prepress enabled file set-up for inkjet print as well as offset — and colour profiling to match offset and digital presses.”

JFP first tried wide format with an EFI Vutek GS3200, and a Vutek GS3250LX later joined it on the floor. Both are eight-colour machines with an opaque white capability. When used as flatbeds, both printers can handle as thick as 50mm-gauge, which enables decorative work on melamine benchtops, doors and x-board.

Meanwhile, core activity in the sheetfed realm remains strong, using JFP’s line up of a Mitsubishi with inline aqueous coating, a half-size Heidelberg Speedmaster, a two-colour SM52, a Cylinder, diecutting and a Polar cutting line.

Tony Fisher, who handles sales and marketing for the family company (with his brother John a litho operator, and cousin, Toby Friend, as a director, managing the operations) identifies some promising markets in synthetic inkjet printing, all of them ably handled by the company’s GS3250LX, which comes equipped with LED UV ‘Cool Cure’, a technology that cures at almost half the temperature of mercury lamps. This has enabled JFP to make further headway — into lightweight plastic, fabrics, mirror reflective surfaces, foils, electronic membranes, bubblewrap, and corrugated fluted boards.

The results for JFP are an increase in existing business, as well as expansion into temporary signage and displays (new business). In the five years since it was introduced at the company, wide format has claimed a 35 per cent stake of printing activity at JFP, he says.

There is a bit of a learning curve, not so much for digital press operators who have been trained specially for the Vuteks, but for prepress personnel who need to modify their skillsets from the litho space, argues Fisher.


Glass with class

Glass Australia (Graphic Glass WA) is a Perth-based company printing solely on glass surfaces. The company began in 1990 as a decorative sand etcher to the window and door industries and is now located at Malaga in a mega-warehouse holding a comprehensive range of flat-glass stocks. It uses a ScreenTruepress Jet 2500UV inkjet press to print designs and patterns exclusively on glass.

Screen Australia managing director Peter Scott says most innovation on non-traditional printing surfaces appears to be using flatbed UV equipment with the exception of textiles, where roll-to-roll and dye sublimation are more common. “Perhaps the most exciting prospect for flatbed UV is in short run packaging on cartonboard and corrugated. This needs to be coupled with die-cutting of course.”

Scott’s advice for printers considering a tilt at decorative inkjet? “As with all business, the first thing that is needed is a business plan. Who are your customers? Where is the growth potential? What is the ROI? Charging into wide format on a wing and a prayer is unwise. Next, I believe coverage of both roll-to-toll and flatbed UV is needed. Finishing should not be overlooked, with CAD cutting tables perhaps the most important, followed by lamination — and hiring staff who understand all processes. Offset sheetfed printers are a good prospect for expansion into flatbed UV production as the mentality is similar; machines can be colour matched to each other and large format short-run POP, displays and signage are a good value-add for existing customers.”


A feel for fabric

Meanwhile, Roland DG has strengthened its textile hand – supplying the Australian market with Roland’s first dedicated digital fabric printer, the Texart RT-640. The press diversifies Roland’s line-up in textiles, which has previously included multi-purpose machines that feature certain textile solutions in soft signage, polyester banners and flags, and decorations on sportswear.

Yuko Maeda, general manager of Roland’s textile market development department, says the time has come for it to introduce a customised textile printer, due to growing demand in short-volume fashion apparel, interior decor, gifts and promotional goods. Says Maeda: “The digital printing market for textiles shows great promise with research showing an expected surge in demand and double-digit growth rates for the coming years.”

It is an astute call from Roland DG, as market statistics show textile printing to be on the boil. An InfoTrends study indicates that profitable short runs and personalisation are set to drive the digital textile printing industry to double in size every two years. Of the global textile industry, valued at a trillion dollars, the research has shown that digitally printed textile garments, décor and industrial products was valued at $US10.3bn in 2012. Rapid growth is predicted, with sales of digital textile equipment and ink projected to rise at a compound annual growth rate of almost 40 per cent, doubling the market annually.

Epson has come to fabric printing with its SureColor dyesub range, including the SC-F2000, a 406x508mm desktop fabric printer, the SC F6000, a 1118mm floor model for sheet printing, and the jumbo SC-F7100, a 1625mm roll printer.

And in 2014, Next Printing in Sydney became the first Australian site for a Durst Rhotex 322 fabric printer. The Rhotex 322, the largest fabric printer in Australia, can take a jumbo fabric roll and runs unattended for long periods, including overnight. According to Durst’s local distributor, it has automated media loading to speed up media changes, automated cleaning to cut downtime and a closed drier system to minimise energy consumption.

Next’s general manager Romeo Sanuri says the ten-year-old St Peters company with some 40 staff now has a combined textile printing capacity of almost 100,000 sqm a month, making it the largest fabric production house in Australia. “Fabrics is still a difficult market to get in to, so if you have gained the experience you might as well accelerate before the market catches up with you.”

Meanwhile, Next has stormed the POS market with Mactac lamination of Re-board, a recycled substrate made from post-consumer waste, printing 10mm and 16mm Re-board on its HP Scitex FB7600 flatbed, and laminating with Mactac wood-grain and brushed aluminium-look substrates to create display furniture.


New opportunities

Versatile Melbourne wide-format operation, Visual Solutions, was an early adopter of the GS3250LX, and has been using the Vutek technology to come up with business opportunities, according to managing director Marshall Beaumont. Early on the Moorabbin company partnered with a Melbourne plastics developer to trial extra-thick substrate printable with the Vutek, which was then vacuum-formed for mouldings to create products such as counter displays and 3D signage.

Print Bound, now part of print entrepreneur Naresh Gulati’s OCA company, has become the first Australian installation site for the Vutek GS3250LX Pro, brought in to underpin its burgeoning point-of-sale activity, which has grown by 150 per cent, according to Gulati, OCA’s chief executive. The Pro configuration adds Vutek’s new, super-efficient UltraDrop inkjet head technology.

Sydney wide-format business Flash Graphics opened its doors to the industry late last year to view its newest hardware, the first Australian installation of a Truepress Jet W3200UV-HS, a UV-cured flatbed inkjet press that can produce 85sqm an hour with the standard model, on substrates up to 3200mm wide and 50mm thick at 600dpi. The HS upgrade, which Flash opted for, enables as much as 150sqm per hour productivity, automatic head cleaning and nozzle mapping, and seven-colour printing.

Fredrik Uden, Flash Graphics director, tells ProPrint that his company (part of the nationwide Flash Photobition network, with some 100 staff and offices in Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra and internationally) has made a transition into wide format from its origins in photographic processing, earning it two nominations in Australia’s Top 100 fastest growing businesses.

Its photographic heritage has left a legacy in terms of the quality sought from the kit – and delivered to customers. Says Uden: “A lot of people who work here are photographers, we are passionate about imaging, so we are genuinely interested in producing a result that we are proud of. It is not just ink on paper, it is meant to get that emotive response. We want to make sure our clients achieve the results they are looking for.”

Flash has become an innovative player in services such as retail fit-outs, trade shows, exhibitions and museums, posters, billboards and point-of-sale. Service technology – such as an electronic job management system which ensures all jobs are tracked at all stages of production – completes the circle of support for customers.

Projects so far have included an inventive mural at Westmead Children’s Hospital, the new Sony Central retail outlet and a refurbishment of a Westfield shopping centre.

At Chatswood, a new Roland Pro4 XR-640 wide-format printer/cutter has enabled Signarama Chatswood to up production by 100 per cent and look for additional staff.

The XR-640, with maximum resolution of 1440dpi, works with as wide as 1625mm (64 inches) on eight-colour ink settings, using Roland’s Eco- Sol Max 2 inks. Rated speed is 49sqm an hour, with four ink configurations to choose from, including white, metallic or light black. Printing is on uncoated and coated stocks, with a claimed life of as long as three years outdoors without the need to laminate.

Franchisees Marlin and Flora Wang bought into the network late in 2013 with no background in sign printing and literally doorknocked the suburb to raise work for their Rastek H652 UV hybrid printer. Marlin Wang says the store’s sales growth has been at a steady rate, much of it due to the addition of the new Roland, which allowed greater capacity and a more diversity.

The franchise couple, who come from the fields of IT and mathematics, make training a priority when shopping for new hardware. Says Flora Wang: “We wanted to do something other than sit in front of a computer. We chose the signage industry because signage is different, and we like that it makes life more colourful.”

Melbourne display printer Stadium Signs has acquired a new Mimaki JFX 200 flatbed from Spicers, the first Australian site for the JFX 200. Stadium Signs managing director Pamela Hammond says the company printed 27 nine-metre-long displays on the new Mimaki ahead of the 2014 AFL Grand Final at the MCG.

And Agfa now offers consumables under its A-Sign banner, with substrates such as monomeric and polymeric vinyls, casting vinyl, tarps and fabric for flags, for printers working in glass, appliances and décor.


New challenges outdoors

Printers in sheetfed looking to expand into wider formats and inkjet printing have a showcase company they can try to emulate. Cactus Imaging, Australia’s largest grand-format printer, is a bespoke wide-format operation exploring new markets in that format. The 22-year-old company, with more than 50 staff, founded in New Zealand by Warwick Spicer and Keith Ferrel in 1992 and set up in Australia the following year, is now part of Opus.

Ferrel, who is general manager, strategic business development, tells ProPrint the company is responding to increased competition in its core outdoor activities of PVC-printed display advertising by testing new substrates that are ‘lighter, less expensive and recyclable’ – much of it for POS applications. Organic fabric substrates that have been in R&D at Cactus were launched this month (February), and he describes the move as ‘a game changer’ for Cactus, and for the industry.

Some of the work on the new stocks will be to service the emerging requirements of existing clients but the move has also drawn in some 30 new customers. The new substrates will be printable on Cactus Imaging’s existing fleet of presses, so no new hardware will be needed, he explains.

At its Silverwater, NSW facility, it runs five HP 5m presses – two 5500s and three 5100s — as well as two 3.2m 2700s and two TJ8550s. Much of the new work will be performed on its HP Latex 3000, acquired last year, and Australia’s first eight-colour 5m UV Star Pro8 from Fujifilm, which prints at 350sqm per hr and has a white-ink feature for clear vinyls and double-sided work.

Cactus took an order for 200 billboards on a Thursday in January and they were already installed by the following Monday. Much of the lightning pace has been set by electronic digital signage. Non-printed signage has grown out of the industry’s need to respond to rapidly shrinking change-out cycles in outdoor advertising. Ferrel says that in 1995, there were typically two change-outs per site per year, which has risen up to 11 at present, with predictions of as many as 26 per year. Digital print processes have had to innovate to keep up, using lighter and recyclable stocks, while screen printing has departed the sector altogether in Australia, it is still used in high volume markets overseas.


Signage with playlists

Meanwhile, Roland DG is banking on printers diversifying into non-printed digital signage. Greg Stone, sales manager for Roland DG Australia says dynamic digital signage is in high demand, and a natural complement to wide-format printed graphics. “Print providers that embrace this business opportunity can increase their revenues while better serving their customers.”

Its solution includes content management software, a digital media player and mounting hardware. The content management software includes a drag-and-drop interface that makes it easy to both produce presentations and organise them into playlists. Several file formats are supported, including MOV, WMV, JPEG, PNG, PPT, PDF and MP4. The software includes templates that allow the user to combine images, text and logos into dynamic digital presentations that drive home marketing and branding messages.

The graphic presentations can be altered on demand and managed remotely from any PC/Mac. Roland DG offers a palette of Samsung commercial LCD displays as part of the DisplayStudio solution, from 32 to 55 inches for up to 16-hour-per-day applications, and 32 to 65 inches for up to 24-hour-per-day applications. And for end users who already have a monitor, the system also comes as software-only.


150 digital screens

The Outdoor Media Association (OMA) predicts a major push to electronic displays, with more than 150 new digital screens launched across Australia last year. Looking back at the past year, OMA found the outdoor industry underwent phenomenal change in 2014, says its CEO Charmaine Moldrich, growing digital out-of-home (DOOH) inventory to 18.8 per cent of revenue, up more than two-thirds over 2013.

Outdoor media giant APN was on target to have 34 DOOH sites up and running by the end of this past year and plans to add one a week during 2015, then double that total figure over the coming years. This will mean around a quarter of APN’s sites will be digital. Tellingly, APN says it has no plans to increase the number of printed outdoor media sites. While a sizeably heavier investment than static (printed) sites, the DOOH inventory offers APN the opportunity to sell far more space, and offer video, including at its train station sites.

So the gauntlet is down to printers — whether that means adapting their inkjet product to compete with DOOH, or integrating some DOOH services into their offerings or opting for a mix of strategies.


The wide format technology to suit your new market

  • Dye-Sub = Fabrics
  • Solvent = High quality posters and vinyl substrates
  • UV inkjet Print (Mercury Vapour lamp cured) = 8-colour variable grayscale + white inks. All substrates except heat-sensitive substrates
  • UV Inkjet Print (LED ‘Cool Cure’) = 8-colour variable grayscale + white inks. High proportion of substrates printable. All substrates including heat-sensitive substrates, an alternative to solvent and more environmentally friendly (no VOCs) than solvent inkjet and even conventionally cured inkjet
  • Latex = Poster printing. Alternative to solvent and more environmentally friendly
  • Memjet print = High-speed inkjet (aqueous inks), high quality but smaller variety of substrates than UV inkjet. Suited to bigger-run inkjet poster prints.

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