By Melissa Donovan
Part 1 of 2
Architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC), computer aided design (CAD), and geographic information system (GIS) is the traditional makeup of the technical document market. Engineers, architects, construction companies, and city/town municipal offices are among the users in this segment. Historically, their technical wide format printers needed to offer speed and durability—efficiency with archival-like quality.
These requirements are still very much in play, however the introduction of color—at an attractive price point—has increased the expectations of the end user and their customer. In addition, connectivity is a must to cater to on-the-go employees and dispersed workspaces.
Reaching beyond the traditional needs of technical work, the printers of today are positioned to output more than just traditional maps, blueprints, and vectors. These machines are designed and capable of creating high-end graphics for signage or presentations as well.
Technical Print Trends
The technical market is a mature print segment. It grows and adapts based on popular trends.
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 rely on more maps with color to help interpret a schematic, according to Honn. This includes 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 by 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 technical documents. “It becomes easy to load multiple rolls of media and different sizesza 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 technical printer placements are older models or newer generations that may not be being utilized to their fullest potential. It seems that there is a trend towards the former, and as such, these folks don’t understand the true capabilities of a digital technical printer.
The technical printer market is full of durable products. HP 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 or 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 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 allow users to access 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 located on a job site, when the convenience of using a computer is not available, but real time document distribution is paramount,” says Honn.
For the most part, he believes that customers are utilizing their devices appropriately, but sees 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. While the many functions of a technical printer is commonly utilized, there are other requested features.
One feature is a scanner for capturing documents. “Scanning is usually for immediate use copies to share/distribute or digital scanning for archival purposes. Having a high-quality scanner that is capable of cleaning up old distorted documents is critical for this application,” shares Honn.
Utilized features are one thing—but what about requested features? 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.
When it comes to the printing, some user needs 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. The ability to print on a variety of media is very important. “For example, we have some CAD printer models that 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.
Thinking About the Current Climate
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to influence the way we go about our daily lives.
In the technical market, digitalization and decentralization of documents was accelerated due to COVID-19. “Printing is now done at the point of need, so the vast majority of large format print devices sold are for low-volume applications, and due to digitalization, users are printing fewer documents,” explains Honn.
Many users work in their home offices and even more so now than before—working from more than one place. As such, all the tools may not be physically with us at all locations. “We need to ensure our clients have the right tools to stay productive from more than one place,” shares Ionescu.
Using the HP Print anywhere functionality, for example, larger AEC companies with production wide format needs that are still not able to make it into their offices can use HP DesignJet T200/T600 models for the critical engineers that need to get prints out while staying home.
“Without access to an office printer, many look to invest in an affordable, wide format desktop technical printer that can easily and efficiently print wide format technical drawings and blueprints at home,” says Hardin.
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 highlights some of the newest wide format technical printers on the market.
Jan2021, DPS Magazine