Growth opportunities and trends in digital wide format printing

According to marketing research leader InfoTrends, one of the growth areas in the printing industry right now is digital wide format. Best of all, a number of important advances are bringing exciting new opportunities to printers in, or wishing to enter, this sector. InfoTrends expects print volumes to see a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 6.5% between 2015 and 2020. This continued growth is the result of increased adoption, new technologies, an expanding range of applications (soft signage, rigid panel printing, textiles, backlit displays, etc.), as well as more efficient workflow solutions. It’s also spurred in part by advances in materials sciences and curing/drying processes that enable new applications on a much broader range of substrates.

InfoTrends’ 2015-2020 wide format forecast

As volumes increase and new ink types are adopted, digital wide format is seeing a worldwide rise of new substrates and applications, each with their own unique challenges. More printers are also investing in print and related production software. They’re looking to enter new markets and are relying on a strong software backend for successful management of the increasingly complex workflows in their shops. Quick-to-market capabilities and on-demand mass customization are now realities which enable printers to produce rich applications with very little downtime. Previously untapped markets are now seeing an increase in wide format printing solutions that are driving profitable growth for many commercial printers. Also, the range of digital wide format applications has increased dramatically over the past two years, and digital wide format ownership is at an all-time-high.

Here are more key findings from the forecast for the graphics category:

The two largest growth areas for North America in wide format are dye sublimation (textile) printing, with a CAGR from 2015-2020 of 32%, and aqueous inkjet, with 26% growth expected in the same period. Both UV and latex machines are seeing double-digit growth as well.

The range of digital wide format print applications has increased dramatically over the past two years. An increase in UV, latex, and sublimation printers has enabled print service providers to produce prints on an even broader array of materials including metals, wood, textiles, vinyl and more.

As many other print areas are in decline, wide format continues to grow at a steady pace. The types of wide format machines purchased are changing to include scanning head as well as single-pass systems, but the number of total placements continues on a positive CAGR through 2020.

Print providers are continuing to invest in print software to support and facilitate web-to-print, prepress, MIS and estimating. Printers are using software to help move into new markets with new products or services. These, augmented with a growing range of finishing solutions – from cutters, routers, sewing and robotic loading and offloading materials – enable effective turnkey solutions.

To further explore industry trends and understand end-user preferences, InfoTrends collaborated with NAPCO (publisher of Printing Impressions) to conduct end-user surveys in 2013 and 2015. During 2015, it received responses from 177 print providers. The majority of 2015 respondents were commercial printers (45%), predominantly presidents and CEOs, general managers and prepress/production managers. They were using digital wide format as a value-added service, which enabled them to break into new markets and produce a wide range of applications. Survey participants were questioned on their views, participation and interest in the digital wide format sector.

End-user perspectives

Of the 177 total respondents, 78% offered wide format printing services similar to 2013. Almost 30% of respondents planned to buy or lease a new digital wide format printer next year – a 5% increase over 2013. The average number of units owned by printers has risen from 2.3 in 2013 to 3.2 in 2015 (a 40% increase). InfoTrends’ research also uncovered a 41% increase in wide format volumes. Respondents reported printing and outsourcing an average of 18,380 sq. ft. per month in 2013, compared to 27,831 sq. ft. per month in 2015.

Application growth and changes

Wide format equipment acquisitions saw steady growth in 2015. There were also significant changes in ink and machine preferences. UV-curable machines are becoming more widely adopted, and their placements are now on path to overtake aqueous and solvent inkjet printing systems. Combined UV-curable inkjet printer ownership has increased by 35% over the past two years, while aqueous inkjet has decreased by 19%. “This shift is no coincidence,” said Steve Urmano, Director of Wide Format Printing Service at InfoTrends, “as the range of UV-cured print applications has greatly increased in the past few years.”

“Although investments in primary aqueous print have seen some decline, this print method is not going away,” Urmano added. There’s a push in the wide format sector to print on a wider range of substrates. Two inks at the forefront are UV and latex. These new UV-cured inks are proving to be a suitable solution on a wide range of substrates. Latex ink has also seen an increase in adoption since 2013. It provides permanency and is a fast-curing solution for a range of applications – from wallpapers to industrial materials. Latex-based inkjet has seen substantial growth in the past two years. Also, latex inks are similar to UV inks in that they can adhere to many more substrates for indoor and outdoor use. The trend toward UV-cured and latex printing is apparent in applications such as window graphics, decals and vehicle graphics. All have shown substantial growth since 2013. These changes also influenced buying decisions in 2015.

Production workflow

As wide format printing technology advanced with new inks and media, the need to efficiently prepare files has been driving the adoption of advanced workflow solutions. These, combined with cloud-based, web-to-print solutions, enable a more efficient supply chain and smoother interaction between design agencies, print providers and their customers. In a recent study InfoTrends conducted with FESPA 2015 participants, software preferences of many printers revealed that they consider web-to-print their top investment, with over 53% currently using web-to-print software, and over 30% intending to purchase it in the future. Of the 382 respondents, 45% saw this as a way to help move into new markets with new products or services. InfoTrends also noted that digital finishing solutions are becoming more popular. Finishing’s value-added benefits also allow printers to develop consultative relations with clients well beyond just print alone.

Major OEMs leading the way

The original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in the digital wide format sector have unveiled new devices this year that are improving print quality, reducing downtime, expanding substrate range, opening up new markets, and above all, boosting profits. Here are a few examples:

Agfa Graphics

Agfa has developed the Jeti Tauro, Jeti Mira and Anapurna wide format solutions. Its latest printer, the Anapurna H3200i LED for printing on both rigid and flexible media, was introduced at SGIA. This new 3.2 metre wide printer completes the Agfa family of hybrid Anapurnas (2.05m, 2.5m and 3.2m). At SGIA, the Anapurna H3200i LED, Anapurna FB2540i LED (flatbed) and Anapurna RTR3200i LED (roll-to-roll) were on display next to the flatbed Jeti Mira with dockable roll-to-roll, and high-end hybrid Jeti Tauro in a ¾ automation setup. Adding to its line of Anapurna i printers is a new, air-cooled LED UV curing system as an alternative to mercury lamp curing – enabling printing on a broader range of media, saving energy, increasing up-time and reducing operating expenses. Its white ink function is built-in and includes pre, post, spot and sandwich white. The Anapurna H3200i LED is driven by Asanti 3.0 workflow, specifically designed for wide format.

Canon

Canon USA continues to expand its ImagePrograf Pro Series. One of its more recent is the 8-colour, 60” imagePrograf Pro-6000S for production signage and commercial photography. The use of a new 1.28” wide, 12-channel integrated compact printhead, Lucia Pro inkset, a high-precision mechanical platform, and its L-Coa Pro high-speed image processing engine, achieves a good balance between printing speed and quality. The new ink set uses pigments that enhance reds, reduce graininess and improve dark areas. Canon’s newest launch is the Canon Océ PlotWave 550 monochrome printer aimed at the AEC, manufacturing, CAD and commercial printing sectors. It was developed to handle a larger amount of technical documents with better security. It features B&W prints with sharp details, accurate curves and smooth grayscales. Its Waterfast technology is designed for heavy use. Océ Image Logic facilitates copying and scanning by compensating for wrinkles and paper folds on originals.

Fujifilm

Two recent solutions are the OEM’s Acuity Select 20 Series and its Onset X Series. The Acuity series features up to eight colour channels including white, varnish and light inks. Printing graphics at 1,200-dpi+ on rigid, flexible and roll media gives print service providers the ability to expand business opportunities. Performance is further optimized by Fujifilm’s unique Uvijet inks, that use proprietary Micro-V dispersion technology to deliver wide adhesion, superb colour vibrancy and excellent durability. Fujifilm’s Onset X Series includes the Onset X3 that’s capable of printing 9,600 ft.2/hour (180 beds/hour). It features 3 x CMYK ink channels plus the choice of white or orange. With this printer, users of analogue screen printing devices can take the digital route, confident they can print long runs of high-quality print with consistency and reliability. The Onset X3 also features Fujifilm Dimatix drop-on-demand printheads, ideal for production of high-volume, quality images onto a wide variety of media.

Mimaki

Mimaki introduced three solutions this year:  its UJV55-320 Superwide (single or dual-roll) Printer, JFX200-2531 Dual-Flatbed Printer, and UJF MkII Series of tabletop printers. Let’s look at the UJV55-320. This 128” roll-to-roll features seven colours including white, for printing on transparent or coloured media. It’s ideal for creating oversized graphics with a high degree of opacity in day or night applications. Instant-curing UV inks enable high quality, multi-layer printing. It’s also equipped with an LED light for checking backlit signage during printing. The UJV55-320 can also print simultaneously onto two rolls up to 60” wide each. This can double the productivity of a shop, with both rolls printing the same set of graphics, or completely different jobs. It prints up to 1,184 sq. ft./hr. and supports a variety of uncoated media that don’t require drying time. It uses Mimaki original LUS-120 UV-LED inks that offer excellent scratch resistance and up to 170% flexibility – ideal for foldable banners.

Mutoh

The ValueJet 1638UH 64” hybrid printer provides production capabilities using UV-LED curing. Its staggered dual printhead design provides high print speeds and the dual UV lamps, on either side of the printheads, provides effective cure times to meet production needs. Because it’s a hybrid, it gives users the ability to print on rigid substrates as well as roll media. It can print on material up to a half-inch thick and save valuable floor space with its dual function and multiple application design. The CMYK plus white and varnish ink options are ideal for print packaging prototypes, POP displays and indoor signage. The VJ1638UH also comes with Mutoh’s VSM (ValueJet Status Monitor) app for remote printer management and offers an optional SpectroVUE VM-10 spectrophotometer for colour management. Two other notable wide format solutions are Mimaki’s 1938TX textile printer and its award-winning ValueJet 1638X high-speed sign printer.

Customized workflow: Avanti Slingshot

We’ve discussed the importance of wide format workflow solutions. One that’s specifically designed for this sector is Avanti Slingshot’s award-winning Grand Format Estimating Module. Using complex estimating algorithms, it provides real-time views of all job costing, job tracking and billing information. It automatically calculates materials, run times and optimal imposition/layout to reduce the number of touchpoints. Unlike conventional offset or digital, it takes into consideration unique imposition/layouts (number across/number along), material requirements, edge sealing, grommet placement, ink coverage, square inch/feet calculations, and substrate utilization to optimize workflow. It accounts for all aspects of the process – tiling, handling multiple rolls across the bed, ganging, logistics (e.g., finishing, assembly, installation and multi-location shipping) and more. For example, its Automated Press Sheet Optimizer automatically processes ganging criteria and calculates the best layout for an estimate and sales order. This is ideal for commercial and in-plant shops looking to streamline optimal sheet requirements for the same and/or different finished sizes. The outcome is better press-sheet utilization, optimized scheduling and estimating, and more efficient production runs.

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