(Wide-Format) Signs of The Times
The term "finishing" can apply a rather large spectrum of products that are printed. Among these are signage of all types. Signs (unlike much printed material) are designed to quickly convey directions or information to the viewer. And the market for signage is vast, incorporating everything from highway, to retail, to institutional, and much more.
As wide-format printers have grown into grand-format systems, the process of finishing the printed piece into usable signage of all dimensions has led to new finishing systems. The added complexity is the new crop of printer’s ability to print on heavier and rigid and semi-rigid materials such as Coroplast and Sintra, cardboard, wood, corrugated, and reboard. The number of materials that needed this type of finishing tripled from 2002 to 2015. Added to this is the amazing “grand format.” Whereas early cutting tables were adapted from pen plotters, today’s grand-format tables can be truly gargantuan, with some sized at 16 feet in width and 20 feet long. The first-gen. cutting tables used knives, both drag and oscillating knives. But a knife had some difficulty navigating corners. It would have to be lifted and turned, which cost time and throughput. This is where both router and laser technology shine.
We are now in the era of powerful routers mounted on X and Y moving platforms, as well as lasers. These are coupled with sophisticated vision systems which guarantee accuracy. The router heads are equipped with vacuum systems to clear the material debris in the routing channel, are either air, or water-cooled, and may feature automatic change out of the various tool heads needed. The input for these systems can be a simple .PDF, a CAD file (.dxf, or .dwg) or other format. At the very top end of the market, these systems may incorporate all three technologies, routing, laser, and knives, and may sell for as much as $300,000.
One of the latest applications is for online dress making and other clothing. The piece is ordered online, then the fabric for same is cut by a laser cutting system. In fact, the fastest-growing segment of grand-format finishing is for textiles. This is a very large market and finishing opportunity, with routing and cutting machines that range from $30,000 to many times more. And as the wide- and grand-format printer evolve in both size and speed, it is a market that will see many more finishing opportunities. My thanks to Steve Aranoff of MCT Digital for help in compiling this piece.