By Melissa Donovan
Superwide or grand format printers provide print shops with the right combination of efficiency and quality to get jobs done. Digital Output considers grand format anything over 95 inches in width. These ginormous devices are used for multiple reasons and despite the big investment in space as well as cost, they are pivotal players in the market when it comes to point of purchase (POP) signage—indoors and out, event graphics, and even interior design.
Above: Serigraph, based out of West Bend, WI, owns a 126-inch swissQprint Nyala 4S, which it chose for its print quality.
Print service providers (PSPs) profit from grand format printers in a number of ways.
For starters, they offer productivity and efficiency at a time when turnaround is growing ever shorter. “Customers need to be able to adjust to the demands of the market to remain profitable. Print runs are getting smaller and the expectation on turnaround times are rising. Reliable and versatile equipment is key to meet these demands, expand the customer base, and have a good margin on the products produced. It is best to have a machine where you can say ‘yes we can do it’ on every inquiry that comes in,” explains Michael Hemmelgarn, territory manager, swissQprint America.
“The right investment can set you on the path to profit and establish your business among the leaders in wide format print, so first and foremost the choice of printer is of supreme importance. For example, some machines are designed for specialist applications and niche work, while other devices are more versatile and handle a range of popular and widespread work such as posters and textile products,” advises Sohil Singh, VP, StratoJet USA.
The application versatility these size devices afford the end user is an attractive feature. Some popular applications include eight-foot banners, larger POP displays, and outdoor soft signage, according to Tony Simmering, product manager, Mutoh America, Inc.
Another segment benefiting from grand format—interior design. “Buildings, hospitals, homes, and offices are all getting a refresh with customized interiors. Wallpapers, wallcoverings, partitions, sound absorbing elements, and wall art,” are all printed off of grand format devices, says Hemmelgarn.
“Grand format printers are also commonly used to create trade show displays. Businesses use these printers to create eye-catching banners and signs that are sure to attract attention. Within this category, soft signage has a lot of momentum for the ease of transport and the excellent finish it gives any graphic,” adds Singh.
Technology advancements make superwide printers more accessible to PSPs. “Today’s machines are far more reliable, quicker, and have a better resolution than previously, whereas before, grand format devices were only good for longer viewing distances making themselves useful for banners and large signage. Given the increase in speed, quality, and performance, the price also dropped. This means the cost for entry has come down from large print shops to medium size PSPs who can get a return on investment (ROI) over three to five years instead of five to seven. With the improved quality and speed these machines can now be used for on far more applications,” shares Shaun Holdom, marketing manager, Ultra Products, FUJIFILM Corporation, WFIJ System Business Headquarters.
Variations on Ink
Grand format printers don’t play favorites when it comes to ink. Everything from solvent to dye-sublimation (dye-sub) are run through these devices.
Larry D’Amico, director of sales, wide format and textile, Durst Image Technology, adheres that UV inks are most common and they come in a variety of formulations that allow them to be used for numerous applications like vinyl banners, retail signage, and coroplast yard signs.
swissQprint offers multiple UV LED ink sets and “generally speaking the big advantage of UV ink is that it adheres to a large number of different media. This gives the PSP more confidence to accept new jobs. UV ink is dried instantly and can therefore be processed without any waiting times,” notes Hemmelgarn.
Holdom points out that within UV, the addition of white ink is important. “By adding this color, a new dimension of applications can be printed. This work is typically very high margin and opens up opportunities to the existing customer base of the print provider. It can be used to print on clear and back up color inks offering depth to an image, which previously would require difficult print-and-cut application. Also, by multi-layering print and sandwiching these images with black means two-sided applications can be easily done in one printing application, halving the material requirement.”
Eco-solvent ink is seen for its “great outdoor durability, color gamut, as well as ease of print,” shares Simmering.
“Solvent pigment inks and UV cured inks are two of the most common choices for grand format printers, as these huge prints are generally used for outdoor applications. Both of these inks have high tolerance to weather and sun making them a suitable choice for outdoor applications,” notes Singh.
Dye-sub is a popular option today because of the recent interest in silicone edge graphic signage and even outdoor signage. This is due to the durability of the ink, says Simmering.
Filling in the Blanks
With minimal buzz for superwide devices, it’s interesting to see how many are purchased every year and if that number has increased or decreased.
swissQprint works with market research institute, infosource, which collects statistics for Eastern and Western Europe on the number of grand format printers sold. “There was a decrease of numbers sold in 2020. The beginning of 2021 was still slow. Towards the end of 2021 and throughout 2022 the numbers of purchased machines increased, with the numbers even above the pre-pandemic year 2019,” according to Hemmelgarn.
“I can’t comment specifically on the number of units we have sold but I can indicate that our sales have been very robust the last few years despite the challenges created by the COVID-19 epidemic. This has been a result of market momentum we have created with the release of numerous new and successful products that has allowed us to build many new customer reference accounts,” notes D’Amico.
With how large these printers are, it might be cause for speculation on the topic of turnover. Is there extra legacy superwide equipment out in the field versus wide format?
“There is always increased legacy in grand format as purely the cost of these machines when originally purchased was huge. Customers like to maximize their ROI, so there is also quite an optimistic market in second user machines,” says Holdom.
Based on Simmering’s experience, grand format legacy equipment isn’t out in the field any more than wide format.
Serigraph, in business since 1952, is home to a collection of wide and grand format digital printers. A full-time staff of 145 employees works out of three locations, all in West Bend, WI. With a focus on QSR, c-store, retail, retail merchandising, and event markets, the PSP offers print product, finishing, kit pack, and fulfillment to customers throughout the lower 48 states.
For over ten years its instituted wide and grand format digital printing and today the service takes up approximately 60 percent of its business. It averages around 90,000 square feet of digital print per week. Its main printer is a 126-inch swissQprint Nyala 4S, which Mark Heimerl, director of sales and marketing, Serigraph, says was chosen primarily for its print quality.
All of Serigraphic’s work involves matching brand standards. “Our retail clients feature apparel, jewelry, and cosmetics, so high quality is a number one consideration. Food print requires very balanced and high print quality. Nobody wants green meat or gray buns, so again, quality is a number one factor,” continues Heimerl.
With print quality first on the feature list, speed follows closely behind. “Speed is important. We are seeing more local market customization and more versioning, plus most of this comes with needs to react with short lead times,” he shares.
swissQprint boasts that the Nyala 4S is the most productive printer in its range, achieving top speeds of up to 3,982 square feet per hour (sf/h). In quality mode, it is capable of 1,087 sf/h.
Serigraph turns to its grand format printer not for its size, but the efficiency and quality it brings to the table. It relies on the device to meet its clients’ brand standards.
Grand format printers are still utilized across print shops. It isn’t their size that is the topic of conversation, but more so the efficiencies gained by running a wider than 95-inch device in shop. For example, less or no seaming for wider job requests, which eliminates finishing like sewing or welding, thus getting a job out of the door quicker and with less touches. These devices also can run two rolls in tandem, which picks up the pace exponentially when multiple jobs need to be run at once.
Finally, it’s important to note that advancements in recent years have led to a rise in these printers’ output quality, making it possible for more than just far away graphics—like banners—to be printed. PSPs like Serigraph turn to grand format printers for efficiency and quality.
Dec2022, Digital Output