By Olivia Cahoon
Part 1 of 2
Grand format printers allow print service providers (PSPs) to offer superwide graphics at competitive prices and high speeds. Demands for advancements in grand format devices stem from both the customer and the direction of the market. Key enhancements include faster printing speeds, higher print quality, and media handling optimization.
Digital Output considers grand format printers anything over 95 inches in width.
The Latest Advancements
Traditionally, grand format production capabilities were addressed by adding more technology to the printer and as a result, creating more expensive and more technically complicated devices, says Michael Maxwell, senior manager, Mimaki USA, Inc. Today’s manufacturers take a different approach and develop more cost-effective products that include features not traditionally offered by grand format devices.
“This new generation of products allows grand format printing to become more accessible to more PSPs than before, which expands the grand format space,” says Maxwell. New grand format printers offer ease of use for small- to mid-sized shops and offer more consistent results through advanced maintenance features and printing techniques. “These cost effective, yet feature-rich products allow PSPs to bid on work that they may have declined in the past, all while delivering the same work as before without an investment that would have otherwise been too restrictive.”
The latest advancements and enhancements found on grand format devices include features for faster printing speeds. Increased printing speeds ensure PSPs are as productive as possible with less cost and the ability to take on more jobs.
Mike Kyritsi, president, swissQprint, believes finding the optimal balance between speed and quality is key for a more productive grand format device. In addition to increased speeds, efficient media handling optimizes productivity and return on investment. According to Kyritsi, a tandem functionality in print mode eliminates idle times. “While printing is underway on the one side of the print bed, the operator loads media onto the other side—the printer is working non-stop,” he explains. Some devices also offer an optional robotic feature that automates media loading and unloading for unattended additional shifts.
“The ability to create prints in the highest quality is a differentiator for PSPs who position themselves in an according market segment,” says Kyritsi. He advises PSPs to obtain equipment that delivers the finest details at adequate print speeds. “If versatility is added, the PSP is likely to achieve a competitive advantage.”
Key enhancements for grand format devices also include features to prevent material buckling. Material buckling occurs when rolled goods are moved through a machine. “If it buckles, you not only get a printhead strike, but you will need to start over,” explains Javier Mahmoud, VP of sales and marketing, CET Color. Grand format devices are especially prone to material buckling due to the high volume of materials.
Customers Drive the Market
Advancements for grand format devices are based on customer demand and the direction of the market. “Customer demand drives the direction of the market—these are both the fuel for advancements and enhancements to grand format printers,” shares Becky McConnell, product marketing manager, graphic systems division, Fujifilm North America Corporation. “Customer and PSPs go hand in hand; print providers strive to create solutions for clients and their clients strive to create solutions for the end user.”
As run lengths decrease, more applications are pushed toward digital inkjet, which results in more demand for printing equipment and inks. McConnell believes the end user’s demands drive the latest advancements found on grand format devices as they are pushed by the market. “Shorter, more customized campaigns result in infinite versions of point of purchase jobs and artwork, as well as customization in packaging and industrial applications.”
Larry D’Amico, director of sales, large format, Durst Image Technology US LLC, believes basic enhancements like speed and quality are expected as technology continues to evolve. However, larger and more defined projects are generally driven by customer demands.
For example, Durst recently announced its new P5 printer based on customer feedback. “We went through an extensive feedback session with some of our most important customers as part of the development for this new printer,” says D’Amico. The company also invited a large group to the Durst factory along with its research and development team to help formulate the product features and direction.
According to Marilu Lopez, marketing manager, Paradigm Imaging Group, customer demand always drives the direction of the market. “Customers are demanding better quality prints at lower upfront costs, lower cost ink, and lower production costs,” she reveals. They also seek bulk ink systems to save on ink costs and maximize return on investment, faster job turnaround, and personalization features.
Work to be Done
While customers and market demands influence the latest advancements in grand format technology, there are still needs that haven’t been met.
Mark A. Rugen, director of product marketing and education, Mutoh America, Inc., believes most unmet needs in the grand format space are based on emerging ink technologies and media. As the market sees more versatility in inks and how they perform on substrates, he predicts more applications that may not require superwide grand format widths of 15 feet or more.
Rugen offers, “as inks and media develop, I believe we will find even the shops with the 16-foot grand format machine turning to a narrower grand format device to accommodate more demand in production and less overhead such as maintenance.”
There is also room for improvement regarding workflow automation. According to Todd Murphy, digital imaging specialist, Agfa Graphics, current RIP systems are designed to use one file at a time with additional manual intervention. But PSPs seek streamlined workflow with the ability to avoid errors, minimize manual interventions, and shorten prepress procedures.
While media handling features have advanced, there is still room for development. Hybrid printers can now hold media edges down to avoid the carriage hitting the media but loading and unloading is still manual or partially manual, says Hary Gandy, president, Gandy Digital. He believes media handling is becoming more important because it requires labor, which substantially increases costs. “To expand into different applications, media handling is always an issue,” he reveals.
As customers demand improvements for grand format solutions, PSPs drive efficiency from software and hardware manufactures to satisfy those demands. In response, grand format devices are now designed with features to improving printing speeds, quality, and media handling.
Part two of this two-part series provides a roundup of available grand format devices.
May2018, Digital Output