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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.

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