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Wide-format Color Printers--Riding the (Tidal) Wave of Profits

March 1998
What does an artist, advertiser, attorney, author, architectural engineer, fashion designer, grocer, manufacturer, photographer, promoter and retailer have in common? They produce top-quality products using the same "medium"—wide-format printing (WFP).

Which makes all of these professionals (and countless others) potential print customers. Commercial and quick printers, copy shops and service bureaus are turning to wide-format printing for low-volume, high-profit business—and they're doing it in record numbers.

Last year, more than 15,000 WFP systems were installed nationwide, with another 50,000-plus units projected for installation by the year 2000. Furthermore, industry experts predict that by the turn of the century, sales will reach an estimated $19 billion.

Business is booming due, in part, to continuous improvements in WFP's resolution, speed, color, digital capabilities and substrates. While not a "plug-and-go" system, wide-format printers are now capable of running hundreds of square feet per hour, using up to eight color heads, in 62˝ widths, with 1,200 dpi, on a multitude of new substrates.

Traditionally, WFP products weren't meant for closeup viewing, so the marble-sized dots on billboards looked perfectly fine as you passed them on the freeway. However, as resolution increased so has WFP's ability to withstand a more critical, closer-range eye.

These humongous high-quality products are not only opening eyes, but new business doors.

Take, for example, San Diego-based Tiger ReproGraphics, which reports a 35- to 40-percent increase in business since installing ENCAD Pro 36 and Pro 50 printers.

"Wide-format printing has drastically expanded our other services," says Assistant Manager Barry Calabrese. "We do a lot of life-size celebrity cutouts, which puts our mounting and laminating equipment to work eight hours a day. We had to upgrade our mounting machine and add another Mac just to keep up with business."

Michael Type & Graphics, of Media, PA, started out with a 36˝ LaserMaster in 1995, bought an identical unit in '96, then installed a 62˝ ColorSpan (formerly LaserMaster) DisplayMaker last fall.

"It took us a year to decide on our first wide-format printer," recalls General Manager Jim Stockman. "Our second one was installed in 24 hours. The 62˝ was making money before the lease was even signed."

Fred Dietsch, vice president of Media Works, in Jacksonville, FL, has been doing WFP for about four years. His company started with a 36˝ ColorSpan unit and recently added a 62˝ DisplayMaker.

"Work was always backed up on the 36˝ printer," says Dietsch. "When we got the 62˝ press, work was already waiting for it."

"On a scale of one to 10, wide-format is an 11," says Scott Stewart, president of Nebraska Printing Center in Lincoln. Since his 36˝ and 54˝ Raster Graphics Piezo 5000 printers were installed early last year, his existing clients have been monopolizing the printers' time. So much so, Stewart says he has to add new staff to keep up with business.

Big Opportunities
As wide-format business grows to gargantuan proportions, so does the sea of possibilities. In an ocean of opportunity, applications are limited only by the user's imagination.

Some of these applications are revolutionizing the fields they're being used in. For example, Media Works is taking its products into the courtroom, where huge, full-color graphics are being used by attorneys to emphasize evidence.

"Graphics help drive a point home to the jury," says Dietsch, who does similar work for engineers, turning proposals into public presentations.

Nebraska Printing Center is also involved in a unique wide-format application: rotating signage. (You know, those signs that surround the court in athletic arenas and change advertisers every few minutes?) NPC makes the signage for a client who builds the rotating equipment, which, notes Stewart, is being used in collegiate arenas across the U.S.

As applications expand, wide-format is taking the country by storm. And printers that haven't invested in the technology may be left out in the rain, says MT&G's Stockman: "Wide-format is definitely a technology that if the competition has it, you need it, too. We didn't want to miss the boat."

Word is getting around about WFP, and that word is becoming the printer's best friend (via repeat customers). It's also a printer's best sales and marketing tool (via new customers). Wide-format's ability to produce high-quality products at a relatively inexpensive price is a testimonial in itself. "Wide-format is selling itself," says Dietsch. "It's blowing the customers away."

"You can't be all things to all people," says Stockman, "but with wide-format printing, you come pretty darn close."

—Cheryl A. Adams

DPI Members Get Digital Dollar's Worth

Wide-format printing (WPF) is just one of the many digital technologies available today. In fact, the sheer number of choices can leave a potential user befuddled. After all, new technologies come with new issues, new questions, new concerns. Where can a printer go for insight?

The Digital Printing & Imaging Association (DPI).

DPI offers a vast array of information, services, resources, and technological and user support, ultimately giving its members their digital dollar's worth.

DPI hosts an annual conference and exhibition, as well as an awards competition that showcases the best in digital printing and imaging. (DPI's 1998 conference, "Visions of Digital Excellence," will be held March 25 in Orlando, FL.)

DPI members are listed in the Membership Directory, which contains complete member contact information and other resource material. Members also receive DPI's quarterly membership newsletter, featuring industry news and updates, as well as a monthly "factoid"-packed tip sheet that is published and distributed electronically.

DPI offers a Web site, with member-only access to DPI's databases and technical support programs, as well as a fax-on-demand service that provides free info about DPI's member services. One of those services is an employment-exchange program where "position available" and "position wanted" ads are posted and accessed via Web site or fax. The association also provides business promotion and referral opportunities for member companies. Additionally, market research and special reports help keep DPI members abreast—and ahead—of progressive industry developments and trends.

DPI's Center for Digital Imaging (CDI) studies various subjects, such as new technologies, computer platforms, output devices, alternative media applications and software packages. DPI also has a government affairs department that provides member companies with both the tools and support they need to comply with government regulations.

You can contact the association at 10015 Main St., Fairfax, VA 22031; phone (703) 385-1339; fax (703) 359-1336; e-mail:; or on the Web:

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