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Wide-format printing comes of age

Jan 1, 2002 12:00 AM


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As we approach Ipex 2002, wide-format printing is coming of age. Interest in and implementation of wide-format printing is clearly on the rise, if recent vendor activity is any indication.

Shortly after Print 01, Océ N.V. (Venlo, Netherlands) announced its acquisition of Gretag's Professional Imaging Division (Costa Mesa, CA), which develops, produces and sells products for the wide-format display graphics market. The acquired division includes Raster Graphics (San Jose, CA), Onyx Graphics (Salt Lake City), Cymbolic Sciences (Vancouver, BC) and ANAgraph (Costa Mesa, CA), with a product portfolio of color inkjet and photo laser printers and RIPs for indoor and outdoor applications.

Then, Eastman Kodak (Rochester, NY) announced it would acquire ENCAD, Inc. (San Diego), another manufacturer of wide-format inkjet printers. The acquisition makes Kodak one of the top three sellers of wide-format inkjet products, reportedly a $2.4 billion market growing at approximately 15 percent annually.

OUTPUT ADVANCES

There have also been many recent wide-format introductions. Focus has been on integrated drying and inline laminating systems for faster turnaround and increased profit margins. Today's systems also offer increased levels of quality, productivity, reliability and — thanks to new color calibration and matching techniques — consistency.

Among the notable new launches and enhanced product offerings are machines from Roland DGA Corp., NUR Macroprinters, Epson and Hewlett-Packard.

Sign makers with limited space will appreciate Roland DGA's (Irvine, CA) CX PRO cutter, which can feed media from the front as well as the rear. It can also feed media backward for a specified page distance, then cut and feed the page forward. The CX PRO is available in three models: the 30-inch CX-300, 40-inch CX-400 and 48-inch CX-500. A digitally controlled servomotor, curve-smoothing function and 32-bit RISC CPU provide high-speed cutting, with a maximum cutting speed of 33 inches per second. Three standard cutting modes — normal, heavy and high — provide optimum versatility. The CX PRO cuts with a down force between 20 grams and 350 grams, which is said to provide high agility and precision.

NUR Macroprinters' (Lod, Israel) new NUR Fresco HiQ series includes the 3200 (3.2m) and 1800 (1.8m) digital, screenless-production printing presses. The machines provide a production-oriented solution for short- to medium-run wide-format print jobs, including fleet graphics, 30-sheet posters, bus shelters and self-adhesive vehicle graphics. The presses' full printhead warranty helps eliminate the variable cost of semi-consumables. Other features include double-density printing for producing backlit output, PrinTop 1.3 printer control software, an improved ink system and electronics, and NUR's Flash 1.0 RIP.

The HiQ 3200 and 1800 replace the original versions of the NUR Fresco. A field-installable upgrade kit for original machines is also available.

Also new from NUR is the Salsa Ultima series of wide-format digital printers, which are claimed to be the fastest photorealistic printers in the market. Printing speeds up to 60 sq. meters per hour, eight-color printing and resolutions up to 600 dpi make the Salsa Ultima ideal for point-of-purchase (POP) displays, posters, flags, banners and event graphics.

OTHER DEVICES

Epson's (Long Beach, CA) Stylus Pro 10000 creates detailed images up to 44 inches wide on a broad selection of media at true 1440 × 720-dpi resolution. Its engine features a micropiezo DX3 printhead that creates variable-sized droplets as small as five picoliters to produce text and line art comparable to a final press sheet.

It is said to be six times faster than the Stylus Pro 9000 and 9500. Images can be printed up to 231 sq. ft. per hour using the printer's fastest settings and approximately 72 sq. ft. per hour when printing photographic output. Users have two ink choices, archival or photographic dye.

The pigment-based archival ink protects against fading or damage caused by light or moisture. The photographic dye ink can be used for proofs, indoor signs with lower cost-per-sq.-ft. requirements.

Hewlett-Packard's (HP) (Palo Alto, CA) portfolio of large-format printing systems includes three families of HP DesignJet printers: the 500, 800 and 5000 series; three printing materials: HP photo imaging glass, satin poster paper and photo imaging satin; and ink supplies, including a UV solution for the 5000 series printers.

Available in 60-inch and 42-inch models, the HP DesignJet 5000 series includes the 5000 printer with existing RIP solutions and the DesignJet 5000 PS printer, with an embedded Adobe PostScript 3 RIP. The 5000 series printing systems offer production speeds of up to 569 sq. ft. per hour, and image quality with a maximum print resolution of 1200 × 600 dpi.

The HP DesignJet 500/800 series encompasses four printing systems: the HP DesignJet 800, 500, 800 PS and 500 PS. Each DesignJet printer comes in 42-inch or 24-inch sizes.

SUBSTRATE CHOICES

In addition to output-device choices, substrate choices have grown. Kodak Professional's (Rochester, NY) new Reverse Print Backlit Film/6 mil, the second reverse-print backlit film in the company's media portfolio, has a translucent, polyester view-through base for durability and quick drying. Developed primarily for piezo printers, this medium also is compatible with thermal inkjet printers, and accepts dye or pigment inks. The product introduction broadens the already diverse family of Kodak Professional inkjet media that are compatible with a variety of wide-format printers, including the new Kodak Professional 5260 inkjet printer.

Scitex Corp. Ltd. (Herzlia, Israel) maintains a foothold in wide-format digital printing through Scitex Vision Ltd. (Herzlia, Israel). Its consumables business unit, Scitex Printer's World, has a new medium, Scitex Vision Yupo, for its digital multi-array systems (the Scitex Pressjet and the Idanit Novo). Scitex Vision Yupo offers UV and water resistance, and is fully recyclable. When used with Scitex Vision inks, the medium reportedly achieves impeccable image quality with vivid colors.

Lastly, new from Roland DGA are Photobase gloss and Photobase semi-gloss papers. Both are true photobase, high-performance papers certified for use on the Roland Hi-Fi JET and JET PRO printers, and the CAMMJET printer/cutters. They are ideal for photographic reproductions, trade-show graphics and POP displays.

NEW LEVELS OF PRODUCTS

These new waves of digital color output devices and substrate enhancements have improved the quality, texture, viability and life of wide-format applications. Media innovations will elevate wide-format printing to new levels of performance — whether the end result be fleet signage, billboards or indoor POP displays.

Billion-dollar demand

The total demand for wide-format printed output will reach more than $22.5 billion in 2005, according to I.T. Strategies' (Hanover, MA) “Wide Format Graphics Forecast 2001.” According to the report, inkjet will dominate the market with almost $22 billion of the $22.5 billion. Growth is largely attributed to the increase in print quality, speed and the reduction in acquisition costs of these wide-format systems.

Ink is the major payoff for vendors. Wide-format printers, at an average of 38 liters per year, reportedly consume about seven times more ink per hardware dollar than narrow-format printers. In general, the printer vendors have been successful in locking users in to their proprietary inks. More than 70 percent of media, on the other hand, is supplied by third-party players.

For more information on the “Wide Format Graphics Forecast 2001” report, see www.it-strategies.com.

What's ahead for wide format?

“Wide-format end-user demand has been growing for 10 years and continues to grow at a healthy rate,” says Mark Hanley, a consultant at I.T. Strategies (Hanover, MA).

Hanley attributes this growth to wide-format's advertising capabilities. “Wide-format printers allow people to display graphics in support of the sale and distribution of goods, in small quantities. That's the breakthrough — nothing could do that before,” he explains.

The consultant further notes that the market has outpaced its channels — companies specializing in wide-format work — as well as its suppliers. “Until now, most of this technology has been in small, local print shops,” claims Hanley. “Growth has been fragmented but widespread. These small channels have reached maturity. The suppliers have had to grow very fast. They've reached a critical point where they have to invest large amounts of capital to take the technology forward and expand the market. Now, bigger companies such as Kodak and Océ are coming in with large capital resources.”

The consultant predicts that wide-format opportunities may entice previously reluctant commercial printers who “used to think of wide-format work as a nuisance to be farmed out to a service bureau.” He notes that small operations can't handle high-volume work. “If [a national company like] Coca-Cola or Gap wants hundreds of something, rather than 10, it couldn't go to these channels,” he says.