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Focus On

Wide-Format Applications

Cited as a profitable expansion market for some time now, wide-format printing offers many opportunities to commercial print companies. Rob Fletcher takes a closer look at the work on offer

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Examples of some of the applications produced using print technology from Epson

Applying yourself to wide-format

It is no secret that diversification into other markets is critical if print-service-providers (PSPs) are to remain both competitive and successful in the modern industry. Wide-format print has often been suggested as one realistic sector for commercial print companies to target, with work in this area both plentiful and wide-ranging.

However, in order to make a successful transition into wide-format print, you first need to consider if you are capable of producing the type work available in the sector and if there is a demand for this material from your customers.

With such an array of work on offer in the wide-format print sector, what sort of applications should you be looking at and how realistic is it for your business to begin competing in these markets?

Keepers of the brand

One of the leading names in wide-format print is Epson, which has tech options of offer for entry-level, right up to high-end production. Phil McMullin, sales manager of Epson UK, says the only constraint on wide-format printing is the imagination of the user, adding that by experimenting with different substrates and ink sets, PSPs of all sizes can find new, stand-out products that can generate profit.

Epson’s SureColor range is the umbrella brand for its portfolio of solutions for the wide-format print sector. Pictured: the SC-P20000

“Printers must see themselves more as keepers of the brand rather than manufacturers,” McMullin says, adding: “It is so much easier to extend the services offered to an existing customer than to find a new customer.

“Wide-format printers can do so much now, including signage; textiles; promotional products; photography standard prints; car wraps; décor and upholstery; and labels.”

In terms of the areas with most potential, McMullin picks out fashion and décor, which have benefitted greatly from advances in digital print development. He says dye-sublimation tech is loved for its flexibility and responsiveness, thus allowing fashion and décor designers to create short-run high value work and also respond quickly to changes in their market or customer needs.

“Fast fashion is all the rage right now,” he says, adding: “Using a different oven, this technology can also be harnessed for a wide range of promotional products, from jewellery and jugs to phone cases and fobs.”

Epson has cited fashion and décor as two key areas of growth within the wide-format print sector

As to the kit available to support work in such markets, SureColor is the umbrella brand for Epson in wide-format. The SureColor SC-F is best suited to fabric, textile, décor, upholstery or promotional products, while the SureColor SC-P can be used for photographic quality posters and backlit products or proofing.

Epson also has the SureColor SC-T for technical drawings for users that include architects, engineers and educational users, whereas the SureColor SC-S is a good option for signage, POS, canvas, wallpaper and a huge array of other specialist applications.

At FESPA 2019, Epson will reveal a new application, in tandem with Ecotex and Dev Studio. Using an Epson SureColor S, there will be a demonstration of printing onto synthetic leather, which McMullin says will open up opportunities not only in fashion, furniture and promotional products, but also car and motorcycle upholstery.

Build up your business

Elsewhere and Hybrid Services, the exclusive distributor of Mimaki kit in the UK and Ireland, is also able to offer advice and solutions to companies seeking new growth opportunities in wide-format.

Brett Newman, chief operations manager at Hybrid, says that the wide-format industry moves at quite a pace, with new hardware ink and software technology continually coming to market, and it can be challenging to pick out the work that is best suited to your ability. However, he also says that investment in the right equipment can allow print companies to build on their established, commercial offering.

Newman says: “Commercial print companies already have the printing, colour management and finishing knowledge to smoothly transition into wide-format print and they can immediately sell these new application streams to their existing customers and attract new ones in.

The Mimaki UCJV300 printer/cutter allows users to expand into work such as fabric printing for light box displays

“If you’re already offering a small-format print service, it’s likely that many of your customers will have a wide-format requirement too, for pull up banners, signage and decals. Investing in wide-format technology, such as Mimaki’s UCJV series UV printer/cutter, you can upsell and ensure you retain your existing customer base.”

The Mimaki UCJV300 is one option available to printers from Hybrid and Mimaki, with Newman saying that this printer/cutter gives users both the speed and quality to take on a range of work, such as fabric printing for light box displays.

Hybrid Services says the Mimaki UJV55-320 could allow print firms to potentially launch a trade service for this market

Combined printer/cutters such as the Mimaki UCJV300, give you the speed and quality for a diverse range of commercial print applications, and increase the range you can offer across the board, allowing diversification into other areas, such as fabric printing for light box displays.

Another option is the Mimaki UJV55-320 grand-format, roll-to-roll, UV printer, enabling users to diversify into super-wide printing up to 3.2m wide. Newman says a twin roll feature makes conventional wide-format print output very easy, but its print quality, size and productivity lend itself to larger output in high quantities, thus broadening the users’ options for new business or even offering a trade print service.

Understand your business

Elsewhere and Antalis puts forward other opportunities for PSPs looking to move into this sector, or bolster their wide-format offering, in the form of interior décor and personalisation. Chris Green, head of channel visual communications and hardware for Antalis UK, says a rise in demand for easy-apply is good news for PSPs.

Wide-format still represents a fantastic opportunity for commercial printers to complement their output to existing clients, diversify and develop new customers

Green expands: “Wide-format still represents a fantastic opportunity for commercial printers to complement their output to existing clients, diversify and develop new customers in existing or new markets, or just to increase their profile of existing business in the wide-format sector.

“With the cost of investment in hardware becoming more accessible, the ROI is definitely eye catching, meaning very favourable economics for those printers currently outsourcing their wide-format work or for those looking to enter the market and develop their business organically.”

Chris Green, head of channel visual communications and hardware for Antalis UK

Green advises PSPs to look at wide-format work they are currently outsourcing as an indication of the markets to move into. However, he also says commercial printers should give serious consideration on what is required to successfully transition this business back in-house.

Is the outsourced work a commodity, niche, or added value? Do you have the necessary kit or the premises large enough to house new kit? Do your staff have the right level of skill to produce this work?

Green says: “There are lots of areas to target but it all starts with understanding your business, your values and brand, your capabilities and your proposition to the market, once you have this concept and understanding you will not starve through lack of opportunity.”

With over 1,750 lines of rigid and flexible media for walls, floors, signage and vehicle graphics, Antalis is able to assist PSPs with work across many wide-format markets. Brand ranges such as Xanita, Coala, Orafol, 3A and Drytac offer solutions across interior décor, personalisation, textile products and sustainable work.

Trading up your business

Wide-format may offer plenty of opportunities for growth, but some companies may find the level of investment to move into the sector too high, and this is where trade suppliers such as RMC Digital Print can help. A specialist in wide-format print, RMC works with companies across the UK sector.

RMC Digital Print has taken on a new Durst Rho 512R UV roll-to-roll device, allowing it to support its trade customers with profitable work such as exhibition graphics

Nicole Spencer, operations director at RMC, says although margins are perhaps not as good as they used to be, there are still plenty of projects on offer. Spencer says: “Our work is with trade clients from signage, exhibition and set design industries.

We’ve noticed that there has been a big demand for hoarding in the signage sector so far this year

“We’ve noticed that there has been a big demand for hoarding in the signage sector so far this year. Within exhibition and display clients are asking for high quality backlit graphics; we’ve produced a number of block-out and colour enhanced textiles for shows.”

RMC has produced a lot of this work on its new Durst Rho 512R, a UV roll-to-roll device that Spencer says that, as a UV solution, allows the company to block out sections and colour enhance others: “Our clients like the versatility of this kind of print which allows the product to stand out from the crowd in a busy graphics heavy environment.”

Aside from the signage sector, Spencer says RMC has noted a rise in demand for soft signage, due to textiles replacing more traditional rigid applications.

O Factoid: RMC Digital Print’s new Durst Rho 512R UV roll-to-roll device has a top speed of 350sq m/h and can print at a quality of 800dpi. O

Spencer comments: “Textile graphics stretched into a frame are fast becoming the graphic of choice in both signage and exhibition markets. They are easy to replace and update with the idea being that anyone can fit them, although this isn’t always the case in practice.

“We’ve also seen an increase in other printed interior work which has been big across the industry.”

The message here is seemingly clear; yes, there are plenty of opportunities for growth in the wide-format sector, but success in the market comes down to if you can establish the type of work that are you a) able to produce and b) is in demand from your customer base. Consideration of your current services and discussions with those with knowledge of the market could set you up for a bright future in wide-format. 

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