By Melissa Donovan
Part 1 of 2
Wide format printers enable print service providers (PSPs) to produce more applications with just one investment. With so many options to consider, those new to wide format needs should factor in variables such as ink type, whether a printer is a roll versus a hybrid, ink configurations, and maximum print width before deciding which machine is best suited to its needs.
There are pros and cons to many of the key specifications found on entry-level wide format devices. For this article, we consider entry level as those printers with an MSRP of $20K or less.
New to Wide Format
A print provider just considering wide format for the first time should determine customer demand, applications intending on being run, and the bandwidth of the operator(s). Each factor into the eventual decision of which entry-level wide format printer to purchase.
According to Tom Wittenberg, large format marketing manager – sign and display segment, Americas, HP Inc., PSPs need to decide on three things initially. “What applications to pursue, what type of printing technology best meets their needs and its ramifications, and their budget to purchase the equipment.”
Ease of use or a minimal learning curve is important as well. “A printer that is easily operated is a must. A shop should consider current customer demands and what jobs they are turning away,” recommends Edward J. LaManna, senior manager, large format solutions division, business imaging solutions group, Canon U.S.A., Inc.
Application versatility is key, specifically if you are thinking years down the road. A printer able to do a bit more than initially intended is a worthwhile investment. “If you have a printer with an ink set that is too specialized, you may end up losing a lot of the simple, inexpensive signage production jobs,” cautions Daniel Valade, product manager, color products, Roland DGA Corporation.
Michelle Johnson, advertising and events manager, Mutoh America, Inc., categorizes application versatility based on ink set. “If you want to focus on wraps and banners you need an eco-solvent machine, if you want to get into soft signage or apparel, you need a direct to textile or dye-sublimation (dye-sub) machine, if you want to do rigid signs or promotional items, you need to focus on a flatbed.”
“Understanding the capability range of each technology and how it relates to the expected output are most important,” agrees Michael Maxwell, senior manager, sign and graphics business development and marketing, Mimaki USA, Inc. “Solvent and UV-curable technologies are relatively mature and are safe for starters; however, based on clients’ needs other technologies such as dye-sub or latex may be more suitable.”
Budget and staff time is important to examine as well. “Operators’ time has been one of the top reasons given for cutsheet shops not adopting wide format in the past. However, some vendors have started focusing heavily on ease-of-use and operator training to help streamline the transition into wide format. That means taking less of operators’ attention away from other jobs and accepting more jobs of all types, keeping revenue healthy and growing,” says Chris Wysong, senior manager, product marketing – production print business group, wide format and finishing solutions, Ricoh.
“Know your budget for equipment and really understand the costs of the technologies. There is a lot of hype in the market, so do your own research and make the choice that is right for you, remembering that additional costs can come into play depending on the technology chosen. Finally, trade shows are a great place to get a discount,” adds Wittenberg.
The Benefits in the Options
Printer providers new to wide format refer to ink type, printer configuration—roll versus flatbed, ink configuration, and print width when deciding on a printer. Combining these features with customer demand, intended application, and budget can help a PSP really narrow down its choices.
There are a variety of ink types, from aqueous to latex, solvent, and UV-curable. Vendors share common application uses and recent advancements. “The ability to produce photo-like quality is key. Aqueous pigment prints provide the high quality that users in photography, proofing, signage, and fine art expect. Plus, the archival properties of pigment ink satisfies the longevity needs of these markets,” shares LaManna.
“Latex has made great strides in recent years to meet solvent on high-quality color. As a result, it has started to take off, because once the quality got there, its low cure times and lack of unpleasant, OSHA-regulated vapors have helped launch latex into the spotlight,” says Wysong.
“Solvent inks are still the most durable and versatile,” argues Maxwell. “Solvent printers account for the largest installed segment of wide format printing worldwide due to its exterior durability without lamination. With the addition of expanded colors, solvent continues to be the go-to technology for the majority of PSPs.”
UV-curable ink continues to increase in popularity. “It offers more functionality for direct-to-substrate printing such as PVC or corrugated plastic, and has traditionally been offered on a flatbed architecture due to the rigid nature of most inks,” continues Maxwell.
Printer configuration, whether roll or flatbed, depends on the amount of flat or rigid substrates that may be processed on a given day—which is also dictated by the type of applications a print provider may be thinking of producing. “If you’re looking at printing banners, decals, wraps, and general signage you’d probably want to start with a roll machine, but if you’re looking to print on more rigid substrates for things such as yard signs and packaging prototypes, a flatbed printer would appeal more to a PSP’s needs,” recommends Johnson.
“Print providers new to wide format should consider, if they have to choose between flatbed and roll fed, whether they place a higher premium on volume or off-the-wall substrate options. And that’s not to say roll-fed devices don’t offer media variety; you can print on all various stocks on a roll-fed device, but it does have to fit in the machine. A roll-fed device may be a better option for shops just getting into wide format, because they require less constant attention and can drive high volumes without additional investments,” shares Wysong.
Ink configuration isn’t as widely discussed, but depending on whether a PSP is looking to offer higher quality applications, say for fine art, versus graphics that are viewed from further away, it might be something to look into. “There are usually four, six, or eight inks in printers, however, there can be many more depending on the make and end use. Typically, the fewer the number of inks the less of a color gamut the printer has,” adds Wittenberg.
Wide format printers come in a variety of sizes, starting at 24 inches and go all the way up to 100. Widths is important in regards to the type of applications that may be printed and also whether a shop even has the physical room to house such a device.
“Most print providers will find that a 54- to 64-inch print/cut device provides not only the versatility to print on an array of substrates, but also a print width that’s ideal for full-sized banners and larger vehicle wrap panels as well as smaller print jobs,” suggests Valade.
Productivity levels differ depending on the width. “Take car wrapping for example—if printing wrap panels on a 48-inch machine, you’re going to need to print and install more panels than you would on a 64-inch machine,” explains Johnson.
A lot goes into making a decision on which wide format printer is right for a business. Weighing current and future demand in relation to specifications such as ink type, printer configuration, ink configuration, and width can help a PSP not familiar with wide format devices find the correct piece of hardware for their shop.
In part two of this series learn about new and popular entry-level wide format printers currently available.
Sept2016, DPS Magazine