The latest figures show grand format inkjet print still enjoying a surging growth, Wayne Robinson looks at the latest discussionsProbably the most spectacular area of growth in print over the last decade has been in wide format, and within that sector the grand format print area. What people mean by grand format differs, to some it is only the 5m wide machines, to others all those systems from 2.5m-5m wide and that has been in supersonic growth mode. And despite the fact that it seems wide format print is virtually everywhere these days all the indicators are that the growth is not going to slow down, indeed it is more likely to increase further.
The NSW state traffic authority for instance has just given the all clear for huge billboards on the sides of major roads, in a bid to get extra funding for the roads, and if successful it is highly likely that other states will follow suit. Building wraps, stadium graphics, sporting events, there is no piece of today's world that is immune from the charms of the big graphic display.
Not surprisingly the grand format solutions developers concur with this positive outlook. Garry Muratore at Agfa says, “Grand format is growing rapidly, it seems almost every day new applications are being found, and we don’t see that slowing down. Australia has been a particularly fruitful field for Agfa, with around ten per cent of the company’s :Anapaurnas sold into this country Shane Lucas director for HP Graphic Arts Imaging & Printing Group South Pacific says, “The grand format market is still growing at an impressive rate and we expect this growth to continue as demand for super wide signage increases. Media buyers and agencies are becoming more aware of the options this super wide printing category provides and are getting more creative in their campaigns utilising this category. Tom Reilly, vice president of marketing and advertising at Gandi Innovations, which is now supplied by Adkotes in this country is even more bullish, saying, “It is growing at a 25 per cent a year rate. I think the market will always grow for those who innovate, and address other markets. Mark Brown at Fujifilm Sericol says, This market is still growing at a steady rate and will continue to for some time. As speed and quality of the machinery developed has improved, new markets for the printers have been created.
Adrian Morris, product manager, Display Graphics/Imaging Supplies at Océ Australia says, “The grand format market, five metre, is actually shrinking, according to a recent Info Trends report. They predict no more than 700 machines will be sold world wide in 2008 and around only 200 by 2010.
The reason is that most printers able to afford them already have them and there’s not much potential for upgrade. We see it as a declining market, they are being bypassed by smaller, higher quality printers, such as our own Océ Arizona 250 GT.”
With the demand for big print increasing year after year will printers soon be looking at machines that are wider than five metres. Unlikely as five metres covers the majority of applications, and welding banners together has never been simpler. What is more likely is developments in different inkjet applications.
For HP it believes that with Scitex, NUR and Colorspan now under the HP brand, it has the worlds best solvent and UV curable ink technologies. Shane Lucas says, “Our latest releases including the HP Scitex XP2700 printer provide quality not seen before in production UV Curable machines. Our upcoming Latex inks in the new HP Designjet L65500 will ignite the environmentally friendly printing revolution.”
The Agfa :Anapurna range is a family, so the innovations of the family are include the fact that all are hybrids, meaning they can be roll to roll or rigids, giving application flexibility. Muratore says choice is a big factor with :Anapurna, choice of speeds, choice of quality levels, choice of investment, choice of media, and further options including a white colour option on Anapurna XL2 and a varnish option on Anapurna Mv.
Mark Brown says, “With increased speed and quality, the bottle-neck in production changes. With our Inca Onset printing at well over 1000sqm per hour, materials handling becomes the primary concern for our customers. Fujifilm Sericol and Inca are focusing on materials handling mechanisms to further increase print productivity.”
This drupa, EFI gave the world its first look at the high speed UV printer touted to take large screen printers and digital print providers to the next level. Eric Holtsmark, director of sales, EFI Asia Pacific Operations says, “The EFI VUTEk DS Series is a new category of superwide format printers that complements and extends today’s VUTEk systems for the production of large rigid and flexible applications such as POP graphics, billboards and building wraps. It enables the cost-effective production of higher volume jobs than ever before possible using a digital press. We’re looking back on a very successful show. This is reflected in the high-quality leads captured and the many deals closed, with exceptionally strong sales. We've also secured our first beta customer in Western Europe for the DS Series digital screen printer. We expect the DS Series to be available to customers in the first half of 2009. Morris says, “Océ VariaDot technology offers users some important economy advantages. Because of the efficiency of the technology in varying the size of the ink drops used within the job, our printers are able to print simply in CMYK, rather than six colours, with no loss of quality and presenting big savings in consumables. Both our Océ Arizona 250 GT and our Océ CS9000 series use this type of technology.”
Gandi Innovations, as its name suggests, has a number of innovations currently appearing on the market, including four different flatbeds from super fast to NanoJet.
So what are the benefits of flatbed versus reel to reel. Well clearly the big advantage of flatbed printers is the ability to print directly to the finished substrate. This reduces the need for a mounted material, such as self adhesive PVC, therefore reducing material costs, waste and impact on the environment. Equally important for flat-bed printing equipment is registration and print quality. Reel to reel and hybrid machines can't compete as material tends to stretch and drift under tension during the print process. Previously reel to reel was less labour intensive as you could set the job and forget it. Mark Brown says, “With materials handling systems now being introduced to flat-bed machinery, there is little difference in labour between the processes. Flatbed is also a lot faster than reel to reel in terms of production speed – more than twice the speed now.” Agfa approaches the situation simply enough, its wide format presses are all hybrid machines, with both reel to reel and flat bed options.
Environmental concerns are impacting buying decisions, and there has been a massive shift towards more environmentally friendly technology, both with inks and media. Shane Lucas says, “The shift towards the more environmentally friendly UV curable inks, along with HP’s exciting new Latex inks, is a great example of ink advances. Also, with the awareness of carbon footprints and increased corporate social responsibility, many companies are moving away from PVC towards more environmentally friendly media. HP is also moving in this direction and is soon to launch a range of recyclable materials with our new Latex inks.” Garry Muratore says, “Agfa is very thorough in regard to the environment. This means we are VOC free. It is also worth noting that as wide format printing is digital there is no waste, you print exactly what you want, not like the old days of offset Mark Brown says, “There is quite a focus on environmental considerations which is affecting machinery specification and ink technology particularly. In place of solvent inks there are now either bio-inks (made from renewable resources such as corn) as well as UV inks with much better adhesion and flexibility. The result is a less harmful environment for the printer.
While UV Curable inks have advanced significantly over the last few years, solvent inks still have a slight edge where significant flexibility is required. UV curable inks are more than flexible enough for banners and rollup displays, but solvent inks still provide better stretch and conformity for applications like wrapping cars with delicate curves etc. For Agfa the future is clear, Muratore says, “UV curable is the way to go. The colours are brighter and more vibrant, les sink is used and there are no issues with emissions.” At Oce Morris says, “We are finding environmental considerations are very important. Océ printers use UV and eco solvent inks. We see this as the way the market must move.”
Tom Reilly says, “There is a need for both at this time but in three to five years I think solvents will disappear, right now UV have some restrictions on all applications and solvent has the same.” Brown says, “Solvent inks and UV inks each have their niche, though given a preference most companies would prefer to use a UV ink. Although solvent inks have previously had better lightfastness, adhesion and flexibility, UV inks are improving all the time and there aren’t too many applications now that can't be done with a UV ink.”
Eric Holtsmark says, “VUTEk BioVu from EFI is the first solvent-based ink made from a renewable resource (derived from corn), thereby establishing an entirely new category of environmentally friendly inks. EFI’s BioVu ink is made from food-grade ingredients yet delivers the benefits of traditional solvent inks without the compromises inherent in eco-solvent and aqueous inks. This includes the same colour gamut as traditional solvent inks so that users can seamlessly switch to these environmentally conscious inks with no workflow or prepress process modifications.
“Traditional solvent remains a viable market but we have seen a crossover from the amount of solvent vs. UV. We continue to see the market in transition from solvent to UV printers. We expect solvent to continue to decline as UV technology develops and advance to include more applications and a wider range of compatible substrates.”