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Wide-format Printing Widens the Market

August 1998
Greg and Scott share the same last name (Scinta). They share the same birthday (they're twin brothers). They share the same business (Smash Graphix in Louisville, KY). And they share the same opinion about wide-format printing (it's great).

"It certainly makes our life easier," says President Greg.

"Money-wise," Vice President Scott chimes in.

The Scinta brothers aren't alone in their thinking. When it comes to wide-format printing, many shops are discovering that the market is wide open.

When most people think of wide format, they think of signs. Granted, signage is a common, and profitable, application—but it's hardly the only one. With a little creativity and clever marketing, a shop can discover a whole world of wide-format opportunities.

Consider Insync.Media in California. With its Hewlett-Packard and ENCAD wide-format printers, the company has output everything from digital proofs to comps for boxes. Insync.Media even discovered an unmined vein in the annual report market.

During annual report season, top executives across the country line up to get their photos taken. Once developed, the photographs are often scanned, saved in a Quark document, then printed in annual reports. Afterwards, the original prints get filed away, the digital images are archived. The pictures have served their only purpose. What else can you do with them?

Print them on wide-format systems. That's what Insync.Media does.

Since photographs taken for annual reports tend to be high-quality, professional shots, they can yield impressive results on a wide-format printing system. Insync.Media has found that executives gladly pay for the larger-than-life portraits, which they hang in their homes and offices.

Bill Hobbs, the owner of Archetype in Riverside, CA, tried selling a similar service. Located on University of California's campus, Archetype, a provider of color copying and graphic design, offered to blow up graduation photos on its Hewlett-Packard DesignJet 2000CP. However, Hobbs quickly learned that recent college graduates don't carry as much disposal income as corporate executives.

"They don't have any spare cash," he says.

Apparently, they aren't alone. Hobbs admits that business has been rather slow for his wide-format machine, which he added in October. He points out that he has needed time to get accustomed to the system and its software.

Now, having grown slightly more comfortable with the machine, Hobbs is stepping up the intensity. He's finding new ways to market the service. For example, he is using the system to print mission statements for companies, which, in turn, post them on their walls. These huge displays grab attention and serve as reminders of the company's goals.

Hobbs is also considering other possible applications. He's printing wide-format samples for print brokers, whom he hopes will bring in new business. He sees a strong client base among printing companies, adding that most print shops still haven't invested in wide-format systems. That's why he installed his Hewlett- Packard in the first place.

"I wanted to widen my base, but didn't want to go into direct competition with printers," he says.

Academy Blue Printing in Beachwood, OH, is one printer that provides wide-format services. President Gary Laureno notes that many print jobs can be repurposed for wide format.

"The same customers that buy printing for marketing and promoting their products and services want wide format," he says. "They want it for trade shows, presentations, large pieces for their own office. Customers say, 'Take the same digital file you printed the process-color job from and give us a 25x33˝ piece for our lobby. Change a couple of things in the file, then print 10 more. We want to send them to all of our sales offices.' It complements the commercial printing that we do."

Academy Blue operates a 36˝ Hewlett-Packard model. At press time, the company was awaiting the arrival of Hewlett-Packard's latest wide-format product: the 54˝ DesignJet 3000CP series.

Hewlett-Packard isn't the only company selling systems wider than four feet. Raster Graphics offers a 54˝ model. ENCAD's NovaJet PROe and NovaJet PRO 600e both come in 60˝ versions. ColorSpan manufactures its DisplayMaker with a 62˝ width. And Xerox recently introduced the 54˝ Xpress 54.

These 54˝ Xerox machines have piqued the interest of Signs Now Corp. As part of an agreement with Xerox, Signs Now franchises will be able to trade in their 36˝ Xerox Vivagrafx wide-format systems for the newer 54˝ machines. All they need to do is pay the difference.

Based in Bradenton, FL, Signs Now Corp. has 308 locations worldwide. The organization got into the wide-format market, courtesy of Xerox, back in the summer of 1997.

At press time, 14 Signs Now franchise locations owned Xerox wide-format systems. Of those 14 sites, 11 are "hubs," and three are "spokes." Hubs operate Xerox 8954 and Vivagrafx systems, while spokes only use the Vivagrafx machines.

As the name implies, Signs Now outputs signage on its Xerox machines. However, the company defines signage broadly. Specifically, the company prints anything that delivers a message with graphics and text. This includes everything from bus wraps, to indoor and outdoor signs, to banners for trade shows.

"We're not just a sign company," explains Rick Baragar, director of research and vendor development for Signs Now Corp. "We're in the visual communications business. Anything that we can use to help the client get his message across to his customers is what we produce. If he can think it, we can create it."

Nowadays, when most clients think, they think color. People like to see color. Unfortunately, putting up color signs outdoors can cause problems. The sun's harsh rays can fade an unprotected printed piece quickly.

Before, screen printing was one of the only alternatives for creating outdoor signage, but the process wasn't cost-effective for short runs, according to Baragar. If you wanted a run under 500, you could go with cut vinyl, but you were limited to spot colors.

Wide format changed all that. This equipment delivers colorful products on materials that can stand up to the elements. And, like all digital printing systems, it handles short runs cost-effectively.

Wide-format's ability to deliver outdoor signage certainly attracted Signs Now. But, as Baragar points out, that wasn't the technology's only redeeming quality.

When deciding whether to add wide-format systems, Signs Now's R&D department considered two criteria: Does the technology reduce labor, and does it provide the franchises with a new product line for existing accounts? In both cases, the answer was yes. In fact, in Baragar's opinion, wide-format systems give print buyers a unique product that is too big to ignore.

"With wide-format printing, I'd have to say that it's a lot easier for a customer to get a message across with a picture and minimal amount of text," he offers.

—Jerry Janda

(Quick Printer News)

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