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Wide-format Digital Printing : Wide Open to the Opportunities

October 2009
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BEAUTY IS in the eye of the beholder, but so too can be opportunity. Graph Expo 2003 was the first show at which the Graphic Arts Show Co. dedicated a portion of the show floor to digital wide-format printing and designated it the Wide Format Pavilion. While this featured area has been a staple ever since, only a minority of commercial printing operations have pursued the business sector as of yet.

PRINT 09 offered an array of wide-format printing systems and highlighted a number of industry trends that could present opportunities for commercial printers. The size and number of grand-format printers on the show floor was striking, but may have been a response to the larger, international character of the exhibition more so than a reflection of demand in the marketplace.

Even with the momentum behind sustainability in printing having ebbed in other areas, it was embraced by a number of wide-format printing system vendors. Océ North America and Agfa Graphics both put a somewhat whimsical spin on the topic by producing cut-out pieces from heavy-duty, 100 percent recycled paperboard.

Océ produced functional table and chair sets printed with a greenery motif that were set up in its booth and in the special GREENspace area of the show floor focusing on sustainable printing. The company said the project was a proof of concept of new "sustainable display graphics" applications for the Océ Arizona 350 XT UV flatbed printer, which can handle rigid materials up to 98.4x120˝, and the Océ ProCut digital cutting table.

Agfa manufactured its own crowd for its booth by printing and cutting out life-size images of groups of people shot from behind and placing them into stands. It produced a crowd large enough to encircle the entire booth at night and then was able to reposition the panels during the day to create temporary privacy areas for conversations with potential customers.

Agfa's Anapurna Mw (white ink) 63˝ roll-to-roll and rigid media UV printer was shown in North America for the first time, along with the high-speed Anapurna M2 and economically priced Anapurna M4f models.

Meeting the needs of environmentally conscious wide-format customers for durable outdoor and indoor graphics is the market HP is targeting with its HP Latex Ink technology. It held the official launch for the VISCOM show in Germany, but at PRINT 09 HP did offer backroom looks at a new addition to the product family—the HP Designjet L25500 printer. Available in 42˝ and 60˝ models, the rollfed printer is said to offer the "Designjet experience" in terms of its ease of use and replaceable print heads.

High-volume point-of-purchase (POP) display production via flatbed ink-jet presses that can be equipped with sophisticated material handling systems has been an expanding subset of the market. Commercial printers doing POP work via offset are seen as candidates for installing such systems, but their up to seven-figure price tags means it may only be a practical option for fairly large shops.

Multiple vendors at the show noted that there is growing interest in color matching wide-format ink-jet printing to offset, particularly through the use of the G7 process.

Sheetfed and web offset printer HGI Co. made a splash at last year's Graph Expo by ordering an Inca Onset digital UV press from Fujifilm, and subsequently set up its Tempt in-store production division. A scaled down version (in terms of price and speed) of the same technology—the new Inca Onset S20—was shown publicly for the first time this year. It outputs 50 full bed (63x123.6˝) sph on substrates up to 2˝ thick.

Agfa also showed a new version of its offering in this category, the M-Press Tiger. It has a maximum speed of 90 to 185 sph (62x102˝ maximum), depending on quality setting.

Fujifilm teamed up with HumanEyes Technologies at the show to demonstrate another market specialty, lenticular (3D) printing on a wide-format device. Its Acuity Advance HD 2545 flatbed UV printer output LensFree prints using HumanEyes' lenticular software solution.

Technology innovation of a different sort was introduced by Screen (USA) in the new Truepress Jet1600 UV-F ink-jet printer. It produces up to 63x120˝ prints at 1,200 dpi using LED curing technology for faster start up and longer lamp life. The device offers a lower cost of entry than the Truepress Jet2500UV and Screen is offering a two-year upgrade plan.

Roland DGA also introduced a printer that utilizes LED technology, the 30˝ VersaUV LEC-330 ink-jet printer/cutter. It prints roll-to-roll at speeds up to 101 square feet/hr.

Among the other new product at the show was EFI's VUTEk GS5000 UV roll-to-roll, 5m-wide printer, which is set to ship in the next few months. Its 60˝ VUTEk GS3200, which is said to be 2.6 times faster than the previous model, just started shipping at show time, and EFI also showed two new Rastek models for the first time in the United States—the T660 UV 60˝ wide flatbed and H650 UV hybrid printers.

One other development of note at the show was the introduction of Rap City, a demonstration area for vehicle wrap applications. Earlier this year, the City of Philadelphia was able to tie this application back into the sustainability movement by having vehicle wraps produced for its "recycling" (re: garbage) trucks for an Earth Day parade. PI

—Mark Smith



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