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WIDE-FORMAT PRINTING — Sizing Up a New Market

September 2004 By Mark Smith
Technology Editor
“It’s not rocket science.” That same reply was given by two players in the market when asked about the challenges facing a printer looking to diversify into digital wide-format printing services.

Adding this service seems like a natural extension of the printing industry’s digital evolution. Large-format ink-jet print engines have all but become the norm for some level of proofing, ranging from digital bluelines up to contract color. Putting aside the finishing requirements, digital color printing presents much the same proposition whether the output be an 8.5x11˝ sheet or large banner.

Why, then, have so relatively few commercial printers gotten into the business? “Less than 8 percent of all commercial printers currently offer large-format services of any kind, and 22 percent of that group only offers it for proofing purposes,” according to the “Large-Format Graphics: Supersizing the Market?” report update published earlier this year by the TrendWatch Graphic Arts research firm in New York City.

Some answers may be found in the insights of commercial printers that have successfully integrated digital large-format services.

Imaging Zone, in Springfield, VA, has a history of diversifying its service offerings. Mounir Murad founded the company as a PostScript-based prepress service bureau in 1987. When that market went into decline in the mid-1990s, Murad transformed the company into a full-service imaging center offering offset and digital printing, as well as large-format production services. It also expanded into CD duplication and replication.

Equipment Gets Wider

Today, the company’s pressroom features three (two-, five- and six-color) Heidelberg half-size and smaller sheetfed presses, and it also does color and black-and-white digital printing on Canon devices. Ink-jet printers in its wide-format department currently include a 54˝ HP and 44˝ Epson, but Murad says an equipment upgrade is pending. Imaging Zone serves the creative community in the greater Washington metro area, including corporate, institutional and professional organizations, design firms and ad agencies.

“I believe large-format digital printing is still a good service for commercial printers to offer as part of a diversification plan,’’ Murad says. However, he cautions against taking the “buy it and they will come” approach, since the business has certain requirements that must be met in order to achieve success. Obviously, the decision should be based on client needs and demands, the company president adds.

“Diversification is a double-edged sword,” Murad says. It expands the “basket of goodies” that a commercial printer has to offer, but may blur the company’s marketing position, he explains. Because of that risk, he doesn’t think large-format services should be set up as a separate division.

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