By Cassandra Balentine
Grand format printing equipment offers many features that attract exhibit and display graphic providers. Speed and quality are top concerns for this market, and these devices include key options such as bulk ink tanks, large roll capacity, and increased ease of use.
While roll to roll (RTR) configurations dominate this segment, depending on a shop’s typical workload and environment, hybrid and flatbed devices are sometimes employed.
Digital Output segments the large format print industry into wide and grand format segments. Grand format devices offer print widths of 95 inches or higher, enabling print service providers (PSPs) to produce multiple-up prints and grand graphics without seams.
Exhibit and display graphic providers look to grand format for speed, quality, and durability requirements.
Speed and Quality Demands
For grand format work, the balance between speed and quality is achieved based on a PSP’s preference and job requirements. The latest advancements address these points and incorporate functions to encourage versatility.
When singling out the exhibit and display market serviced with grand format devices, speed is a top priority, although exact speed demands vary greatly and can be determined by the production scale of the PSP.
Ricardo Augusto Lie, business director, Ampla Digital, stresses the variety of speed demands. “Some national players may request a very high-speed machine with more than 1,000 square feet per hour (sf/h) production, and some smaller to medium local players may be good with up to 500 sf/h. It is much more related to the size and the sales volumes of each company,” he notes.
“Due to the extremely tight turnaround times between exhibitions, these types of PSPs are typically looking for speeds that can produce same-day results in case their client has a last-minute request or need for a reprint,” points out Michael Maxwell, senior manager, marketing and business development, Sign and Graphics, Mimaki USA.
Maxwell believes that many PSPs gravitate towards faster production speeds because of the nature of the customer’s demands. He explains that printer architecture improvements and the incorporation of features—such as Mimaki’s Core Technologies—give exhibit and display graphic producers the ability to utilize these lower resolution production speeds while in some cases, improving apparent quality.
Quality is a top priority for those utilizing grand format printers for the exhibit and display market.
Tom Wittenberg, marketing segment manager, sign and display, graphic solutions business, the Americas, HP Inc., adds that as the exhibit and display market continues to grow, owners request even faster speeds to get more out of the printers and lower total costs. “However, quality must not be lost as a result of speed,” he stresses.
Thomas Krumm, product marketing manager, EFI Inkjet, agrees, pointing out that print providers don’t really want to compromise quality for speed and vice versa. “As printers get faster, our customers expect the quality to follow.”
“These customers cannot afford inconsistent prints or loss of production,” comments Maxwell, stating that many PSPs that provide exhibit and display graphics need fast turnaround with sharp image quality and an expanded color gamut to properly represent corporate logo guidelines and brand consistency requirements.
Javier Mahmoud, VP of sales and marketing, CET Color, says the level of quality requested for exhibits and displays may not be museum artwork, but they do request pleasing quality at a normal viewing distance. “We are reminded that these prints are for exhibit display, so the number of passes per print may be lower than normal.”
Larry Salomon, VP, wide format, Agfa Graphics, points out that these producers require an inkjet device that offers both high resolution and high speeds since the application dictates the process. “They need high-quality output for any work that will be viewed at a close distance. Images must be crisp and vibrant, which means a grand format printer needs to offer high resolution and a wide color gamut.”
He finds that there is a visible difference between an image produced with four and six colors, particularly with images that feature skin tones. “There is a current trend in exhibit displays to show more human images. The ability to produce skin tones requires an inkjet with six colors, CMYK with light cyan and light magenta,” offers Salomon. “On the flip side, there are graphics that hang 20 feet above an exhibit hall and they can be produced at a lower quality and higher speed. Being able to sell clients high resolution and high speed means more business.”
In addition to image quality, the reduction and elimination of seams are another quality and production benefit served with grand format printing equipment. “When you’re printing large jobs on smaller machines, you have to print the job off in sections. If you can print one panel, a lot of the manual work after printing is eliminated,” states Michelle Johnson, advertising and events manager, Mutoh.
Most PSPs don’t want to sacrifice quality for speed, but cost does play a role and ultimately, the decision is based on client demands. In many cases, higher quality often equates to higher operating costs.
Augusto Lie states that higher printing costs are associated with higher resolution. These jobs will consume more ink and produce less sf/h to dilute the energy, labor, depreciation, and other operational costs.
Wittenberg agrees, noting that very simply, the price more than likely increases at lower speeds and decreases at higher speeds. “Ultimately, the end customer is the driver. That said, end users are getting very selective with their quality and expect speed and quality together with excellent pricing.”
Salomon says price is always going to be a function of the quality since high quality equals high resolution and slower speeds. “If you have a printer that can output 100 of something, 50 of something, 25 of something, running the machine is time in the shop with labor costs, overhead expenses, and hard consumable costs related to ink and media,” he offers, adding that PSPs should analyze their ink costs because low ink consumption translates to higher profits.
Maxwell suggests that the pricing between speed- and quality-driven grand format models is fairly small. “However, in a high production, high turnaround environment, exhibit and display graphic PSPs can enjoy lower operating costs. Higher resolution images utilize more drops per square foot or inch, which increases these costs,” he adds.
Mahmoud argues that because the market is so competitive, “an up-charge on higher resolution print is not the norm.” To put it into perspective, he points out that the demonstrations done at its corporate office, and where final assembly happens, most of its customer orders fall under the faster speed/lower resolution category. “Per their feedback, this is happening because of the way the final print will be used.”
One Versus Many
PSPs must determine whether it is best to invest in a fleet of smaller devices or one grand format device for their particular production needs.
“Choosing a single, higher-speed grand format printer over multiple, smaller printers really pays off in terms of capacity—especially burst capacity, as well as capital equipment and labor costs,” states Krumm.
Maxwell suggests that a grand format, roll-based printer can produce superwide output without the need for seaming, “which is not only unattractive for the exhibitor, it also reduces labor for the PSP in the finishing step.”
He explains that some roll-based UV printers can also print directly to fabric materials that can be rolled for easy transport and used as soft signage, displays, and backlits that otherwise cannot be seamed.
Some machines are configured with a dual-roll capacity, where two sets of graphics on narrower rolls can be printed at the same time, adds Maxwell.
He says roll-based printers dominate the space due to their ability to achieve the width needed without restrictions on length, or the need to reload the printer as often. “The ability of PSPs to set a machine up for a production, and queue up multiple jobs for production without physical interaction greatly improves production capabilities while reducing costs.
The Role of Flatbed
Once it is determined grand format is the way to go, typically PSPs involved in exhibit and display work veer towards RTR versus flatbed, but for those with rigid needs, flatbed grand format devices are available.
The decision to select a R2R device over a flatbed is largely based on media versatility. Specific to display and exhibit graphics, Wittenberg says the vast majority of these providers utilize flexible materials.
Hybrid offerings are a way to improve versatility for those with a need to print onto both flexible and rigid media.
Augusto Lie believes RTR grand format solutions are popular because it is where the biggest volumes are. He says this will be true for a long time. However, he sees a growing demand for displays that use flatbed or hybrid printers.
Salomon says high-volume shops employ purposeful machines. They have RTR for RTR work and either a flatbed or hybrid for rigid jobs. He warns there are compromises in speed and quality in how they operate. “In the shops that have three to five machines, some can do both, but generally they have dedicated machines.”
On the other hand, smaller shops may only have one printing device and a hybrid offers the versatility to do both rigid and flexible jobs.
Grand Format Solutions
A variety of grand format printers are available for PSPs targeting the exhibit and display market. Here, we highlight offerings from those quoted in this article. For a comprehensive overview of grand format devices, please visit the chart following this article.
Agfa offers a number of grand format printers suited for the exhibit and display market, including the Anapurna M3200i RTR, Jeti Titan, Jeti Mira, Jeti Tauro, and the newly introduced hybrid Anapurna H3200i LED. According to Salomon, the RTR and hybrid offerings can print flexible media to any length. All of the machines are UV curable.
Additionally, Agfa’s grand format systems “use less ink yet produce high quality images,” says Salomon. Agfa Graphics’ inks are developed using a unique dispersion technology that enables a wide color gamut and a high pigment load, which translates to low ink consumption and lower costs. This is a key differentiator, especially with high production output.
Salomon explains that UV-LED curing technology from Agfa Graphics offers display producers improved lamp life and stability, UV-LED inks also provide fast dry times on a variety of materials and a wide color gamut.
Ampla provides solvent-based grand format printers in RTR configurations and RTR and flatbed configurations of UV curable grand format printers. The company says the main attractiveness of its equipment is to bring in an affordable price level and industrial manufacturing concept machine that adopts high reliability industrial systems, allowing them to produce on long cycles. Some examples of these industrial systems are the adoption of PLC controls, industrial computers, magnetic encoders, planetary gearboxes, digital touchscreen IHM interface, and single-block chassis construction.
CET Color currently offers printers with two types of printheads, the Ricoh Gen5 or Kyocera printhead. “When one buys our printer, they like the fact that it can be field upgradable to add a second row of heads. By doing this, the speed can increase about 85 percent without buying an entirely new machine,” says Mahmoud.
Because speed, quality, and curing technologies are top priorities for many PSPs in the grand format space, CET Color offers ink formulations and LED curing systems that work hand in hand to ensure that speed is not sacrificed.
The company’s 125-inch grand format printer features a five picoliter drop size, which Mahmoud says is a differentiator for them.
The EFI VUTEk LX3 Pro is a 3.2 meter, eight color hybrid roll/flatbed printer, and is one of the company’s most popular offerings for the exhibit and display market, according to Krumm. “It is a high-volume printer with fast speeds—up to 96 boards per hour—and it has a superior LED ink set that allows many of our customers to produce point of purchase-quality work in four-color modes,” he offers.
EFI also offers a popular three and five meter VUTEk GS dedicated roll-to-roll grand format LED printers, as well as solutions more targeted toward entry-level in roll-to-roll, the three- and five-meter EFI Quantum LX LED printer series.
“Customers that are looking to migrate sizable portions of analog screen or offset work to a digital printer also like to use our 3.2-meter VUTEk HS Series. Like the hybrid VUTEk HS125 Pro inkjet press, which runs 125 boards per hour,” adds Krumm.
Wittenberg says HP Latex technology is a hot seller in this category, offering a variety of features including speed and versatility. Specifically, the company says the inks dry instantly. “Customers can move directly into secondary processing for the product or ship immediately. The time reduction means quicker turns for end users.” These inks also provide environmental benefits.
Mimaki has several Core Technologies that are part of its grand format portfolio of products. These technologies alleviate common issues that PSPs often experience with grand format printers. They are designed to create confidence in the image quality, repeatability, and reliability of its products. Based on the focus and application relevance of the product in question, these Core Technologies are matched to improve user experience.
Mimaki Core Technologies include various solutions such as Waveform Control, Mimaki Intelligent Heaters, Mimaki Fine Diffusion, Mimaki Advanced Pass System, Nozzle Check Unit, Nozzle Recovery Function, Mimaki Circulation Technology, Mimaki Bulk Ink System, and Uninterrupted Ink Supply System.
Mutoh’s ValueJet 2638X Eco-Ultra printer is a dual head machine, enabling users to print at very fast speeds. Ideal for high production shops creating indoor and outdoor applications, it gives users the option for two sets of CMYK or CMYK plus light cyan, light magenta, and light black. The company’s Smart Printing Technologies are also included and are one of a kind, including DropMaster, which is a dot placement technology that eliminates manual printhead adjustments.
Achieving a Balance
PSPs look to grand format printers to solve width and production demands. Exhibit and display providers seek a balance between speed and quality that equipment vendors consistently address in terms of faster speeds and better quality capabilities. DO
Dec2016, Digital Output