The growth factor
Wide-format printing is destined to rise with ever more applications
January 6, 2023 By Sabine Slaughter
The wide- and super wide-format market has undergone its digital transition while certain analogue printing technologies, such as screen-printing, continue to complement the overall mix offered by large format print service providers (PSPs).
COVID-19 has changed a lot within the printing industry and many new applications, even a new category—social distancing signage—have evolved. The latest developments at key manufacturers, such as Canon, Epson, HP, Mimaki, Roland DG, Konica Minolta, and Agfa are all aimed at driving new business opportunities for PSPs. Predicted to reach a volume of USD11.2 billion by 2025 (Markets and Markets), the wide-format printing market is mature, but it has certainly not yet reached its heyday.
Hand-painted signage was always a rare sight and is even more so nowadays. Developments in digital technologies, starting with the first digital wide-format printer introduced in 1999, have since accelerated and come a long way. Even so, for PSPs today there are more and more new feats to be accomplished as client-demand increases for more surprising, more individual means of communication, faster turnaround and for even more applications to be created. You could say, in this sense, inkjet has no limit.
While long print runs are still more viable overall on analogue machinery, they are not being ordered as often as in former times. The digital transition means more and more applications will become digital and this itself leads to highly specialized wide and super wide printers. Such printers can deal with traditional applications, but, more interestingly, they enable innovative PSPs to showcase their ability to cater for new and unexpected market-niche jobs, as well as viably produce short runs, personalized and customized projects—even one-offs—that help brand owners to do things not previously possible so that their marketing efforts reach their full potential.
Another big growth factor in this sector is, of course, the environmental agenda. As the world tries to reduce its negative climate impact, printer manufacturers, PSPs and clients are all considering how they can contribute to the environmental imperative. The global pandemic has accelerated these client-driven requirements. Many brands are willing to pay the extra dollar to obtain a more sustainable product. This trend will continue and is likely to be reinforced by new regulations.
Wide- and super wide-format printers have been mainly developed to cater to the signage, advertising, marketing, and communications industries. However, they can also make an entrance or even a slight dent in other markets, thanks to their versatility, which enables certain (mainly short run) jobs within the commercial, packaging and label industries, as well as proofing jobs later to be carried out on analogue machinery. Some can even make forays into areas formerly covered by lithographic equipment such as solar, printed electronics, RFID, and all kinds of conductive products.
For the digital printing community and those considering entering the large-format market, it is important to understand this market is based on a myriad of unique applications requiring specialized know-how. The list is long and varied, be it vehicle wraps, posters, art, interior or exterior signage, PoP and PoS, decor printing, directional way-finding, home furnishings, wallpapers, murals, displays, event and floor graphics, or one-off signage from a large order that must be customized to fit the exact location where it will be installed (e.g. bus stops with specific directions, info or offers). Digital printing enables cost-effective, fast turnaround of orders while at the same time offering environmentally friendly solutions with no or next-to-no waste. Additionally, it is starting to make inroads into the industrial printing sector, and there is no sign yet that it is slowing down.
Social distancing signage as a new category within the wide-format sector developed rapidly during the pandemic. In many cases it meant and still means that certain jobs must be produced immediately at short lead times, quite often with regional or individual customization. Those kinds of jobs will continue to be in demand for some time as the world battles the SARS-COV-2 virus and subvariants.
Even the individual home consumer is not excluded or overlooked when it comes to digital printing applications. PSPs already offer web-based order portals—the so-called online print services—not only for companies, advertising agencies etc., but also for the end consumer who can order individual one-off prints, such as murals, posters, wallpapers, and floor graphics.
Printers are also stretching their own boundaries within the specific area of embellishment, traditionally referred to as the finishing sector. Options include matt, gloss, haptic surface, spot colouring, digital embossing, cutting, and cross-cutting. Nowadays it is not an issue as many PSPs have embraced these abilities.
Within the digital wide-format printing market and distinct from the printer’s very own abilities, inks and consumables are playing another decisive role. Should it be UV or UV LED, aqueous, latex, solvent or even pigment inks? Here the context of the application and its use will decide the ink.
The biggest advantage of a wide or super wide digital printer lies is in its application versatility whether in terms of customization, personalization, individualization (when still viable and cost effective) and its efficiency, all together delivering a final customer impact that conventional technologies cannot achieve.
The boundaries of what digital wide- and super wide-format printing can do is being pushed constantly. The market is ripe for innovation, new applications and new machinery with associated technological enhancements in speed, colours, inks and substrates.
Sabine Slaughter is a consultant who works closely with printer manufacturers, brand owners and PSPs. This article was originally published as part of Drupa’s Essentials of Print Series. An edited version of this article originally appeared in the November/December 2022 issue of PrintAction.
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