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Apr 1, 2006 12:00 AM

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Go ahead. Try something new. After all, commercial printers need all the tools they can find in order to be innovative and service oriented. Digital wide-format printing is an area ripe for development, and commercial printers can create new revenue centers by using digital imaging.

In 2004, retail value of wide-format graphic prints was forecasted to reach $16 billion, according to I.T. Strategies (Hanover, MA) Of that, 75 percent came from indoor applications and 25 percent from outdoor applications. The growth numbers have been expanding in 2006. InfoTrends (Weymouth, MA) expects total wide-format solvent-based inkjet production to increase from 1.1 billion sq. ft. in 2003 to more than 3.1 billion sq. ft. in 2008, demonstrating a compound annual growth rate of 22.7 percent.

This is a market commercial printers cannot afford to ignore. After all, your customers might already be buying wide-format graphics. What does that mean? Exhibition graphics, point-of-purchase or point-of sale materials, vehicle graphics and wraps, promotional signage, wall murals, banners and other intriguing applications are being produced. It’s unfortunate that commercial printers are not grabbing a bigger slice of this wide-format pie.

Commercial printers have expertise in digital imaging and diverse digital workflows. Plus, they are comfortable producing quality color with fast turnaround and an emphasis on customer service. These are the skills that allow printers to grab and hold digital wide-format market share.

The production environment
For the commercial printer, the best opportunities tend to lie in robust production environments in which fast turnaround times and short runs are common. With this in mind, wide-format vendors provide a range of devices. Digital imaging can be done on flatbed, roll-to-roll and hybrid machines that can accommodate a wide variety of substrates.

Wide-format equipment can deliver resolutions up to 720 dpi and often uses eight colors (CMYK plus light CMYK inks) for expanded color gamuts. These units can operate at speeds to 1600 sq. ft. per hour in widths ranging from five to 16 ft. Various equipment designs even permit printing on both rigid and flexible substrates (paper, mesh, vinyl, even ceramic tiles).

New technology abounds in production equipment. However, careful business planning will play a key role in success, along with an understanding of customer needs and innovative marketing skills.

According to the Specialty Graphic Imaging Assn.’s (SGIA) August 2005 “Industry Market Survey,” point-of-purchase products, posters and banners generate the largest percentage of wide-format revenue (along with garments and textiles). Outdoor signage, exhibits and displays also are finding larger markets. New products are being developed that can solve customer problems, helping commercial printers maximize the power of their businesses and take advantage of opportunities to enter new markets.

Get out more
Out-of-home advertising represents a big growth market for digital wide-format players. Out-of-home isn’t just billboards anymore. It now encompasses a wide range of printed materials, including backlit displays, banners, building wraps, exhibition displays and signage, point-of-purchase, posters, shopping mall signage, transit posters, truck side advertisements, scaffolding covers and wall murals. This market is growing as advertising moves closer to the location in which the purchase decision is made (retail stores, buildings, etc.).

Multi-application advertising campaigns provide coordinated materials for both indoor and outdoor installation, with consistent branding across the board. A wider variety of coordinated materials also is leading to shorter print runs produced with fast turnaround times.

Some commercial printers already have taken advantage of the opportunities changes in advertising offer. They provide proofs, samples and short-run work. This also can be done on wide-format printers, using lithography for longer runs, making these businesses more competitive with screen printers.

According to the Outdoor Advertising Assn. of America (OAAA), the outdoor advertising industry remains competitive as a result of local sales. Both national and regional brands have shifted a significant portion of advertising dollars to local and regional promotions.

The customers for whom commercial printers produce print ads, brochures, catalogs, fliers, direct mail and sell sheets also are spending heavily on outdoor advertising materials. According to InfoTrends, the wide-format outdoor graphics market is one of the fastest-growing areas with an expected 12 percent CAGR between 2003 and 2008. This represents a substantial opportunity in terms of retail value for the traditional signage market, but also an excellent opportunity for commercial printers. It is now possible to grow revenues based on the availability of new outdoor graphics technologies, including UV-curable inkjet printing.

A study sponsored by the Graphic Arts Marketing Information Service (GAMIS), now renamed the Print Industries Market Information and Research Organization (PRIMIR), found that although commercial printing represents a substantial and growing market for wide-format products, it is rare for printers to offer more than proofing. Customers are not asking for wide-format work, because they don’t know the printer has the capability. Printers are not soliciting that type of work, because they have not seen the opportunity.

Wide-format digital color printing is an opportunity that is being missed. It is a chance for commercial printers to diversify and differentiate themselves in the marketplace. And in the years ahead, it is likely to be one of the highest growth segments of the graphic arts industry.

Editor’s Note: This article was based, in part, on a white paper available from NUR Macroprinters titled “Wide-Format Inkjet Production Printing: The Opportunity for Commercial Printers.” Contact NUR America at or call (201)708-2100.

Want to get started learning more about digital wide-format opportunities? Visit SGIA is the Specialty Printing Intl. Assn., based in Fairfax, VA. With workshops, conferences and an annual exhibition, SGIA is centered around helping all types of printers gain the knowledge required to run their businesses more efficiently.

Jill Roth is special projects editor for AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at