Wide Horizons

Wide Horizons
As wide format hardware and inks develop, the number of new applications for printers to target is increasing, and business opportunities are beckoning
There are some attractive new horizons for wide format printing in Australia, and the sun is rising on all sorts of new business opportunities, in fields such as personalised wallpapers, printing on glass, and in soft signage.
 
ProPrint has profiled numerous experiences of Australian print houses leveraging the latest wide format technology into innovative and lucrative applications within their business.
 
For example, Pronto Direct, a 26-year-old business in Southport, Queensland, expanded from A1 poster printing and coreflute signage into areas such as one-way vision material for car windows, low and high-grade fence scrims for construction sites, promotional banners, and 2.4m coreflute signs and canvasses. 
 
In Sydney, John Fisher Printing has broadened its offerings to include paper-based and a wide range of non-paper-based inkjet printing, and printing on lightweight plastic, fabrics, mirror and reflective surfaces, foils, electronic membranes, bubblewrap, and corrugated fluted boards, as well as signage and displays. 
 
And in Perth, Glass Australia (Graphic Glass WA) is printing solely on glass surfaces. The company, which began in 1990 as a decorative sand etcher to the window and door industries, now prints designs and patterns exclusively on glass.
 
Melbourne’s Visual Solutions Australia partnered with a Melbourne plastics developer to trial extra-thick substrate which was then vacuum-formed for mouldings to create products such as counter displays and 3D signage. Sydney’s Flash Graphics has made a transition into wide format from its origins in photographic processing, earning it two nominations in Australia’s Top 100 fastest growing businesses.
 
Cactus Imaging, which was acquired by Ooh! Media from the Opus Group in July this year, is countering the growing competitiveness of its core outdoor activities of PVC-printed display advertising with R&D on new substrates, including organic fabrics, which are lighter, less expensive and recyclable.
 
The list goes on. At this year’s drupa, acclaimed Melbourne trade embellisher Avon Graphics further enhanced its expansion into trade wide format by adding to its stable of Mimaki devices. The company, the world’s largest JFX500 series site, bought a JFX500-2131 and a JV300-160 wide format inkjet. Avon also bought a TS300P-1800 dye-sublimation press for fabric printing. The Mimakis have helped Avon into wide format printing to the trade in various sectors, a considerable departure from its core activity of trade embellishing, but a worthwhile one, according to the company.
 
Minuteman Press, a digital print business in the Perth CBD, installed a Fuji Film Acuity LED 1600 wide format hybrid roll and rigid media printer, yielding near-photographic results at impressive speeds. The machine will help enhance Minuteman’s multi-layered service, which includes variable-data printing and Australia Post communications with their customers, shareholders and communities.
 
Vendors have their say
According to Jeremy Brew, large-format application specialist at HP Australia, brand owners are increasingly looking for new ways to appeal to an evolving customer base, which provides many new opportunities for print service providers (PSPs) in sign and display.
 
He says, “They need to respond quickly to market factors, so campaign turnaround time has never been more key. And we see brands increasingly aware of their environmental impact, requesting more environmentally friendly or recyclable substrate options.  HP technologies deliver on both – with prints that are ready to finish and dispatch immediately from the printer, without outgassing. As well as being able to print on recyclable papers and banner materials, HP also offers our media take-back programme, closing the loop on material going to landfill.”
 
Brew believes that for astute PSPs, innovative wide format printing beckons strongly. “You cannot turn the TV on without seeing some type of home renovation or decoration show. Wide format digital printing is perfectly placed to take advantage of this trend in personalised decoration.  Whereas once you could only see your favourite photos or patterns in a photobook or small canvas, you can now turn this into an entire feature wall, superwide canvas, or even custom furniture item.”  
 
“With HP UV, we see customers printing on a range of rigid surfaces for decoration – like glass for kitchen splashbacks or high-impact decoration highlights– or timber for a rustic appearance and a true ‘country’ feel.  With the HP Scitex FB550 and FB750 UV printers, you can print on materials up to 63mm thick, meaning the only real limit to which surfaces you can decorate is your imagination,” he says.
 
Meanwhile, HP Latex is the perfect solution for digitally printed wall coverings, canvas, posters and wall decals, says Brew. “When you are installing a wall covering in a sensitive environment like a bedroom, hospital, school or restaurant, safety and comfort is a key consideration for designers, decorators and consumers.”
 
Underpinning the HP Latex offering is the HP WallArt software solution, which enables PSPs to target new customers by offering an easy-to-use, cloud-based design tool for wall coverings, canvas, posters and wall decals.  
 
For owners of wide-format technology, and for intending owners, opportunities abound, according to Craig Heckenberg, general manager, business division, at Epson Australia.
 
He lists just some of these as large-format backlit (‘Electronic cannot compete in terms of cost or presentation quality’, he adds); window signage for short-term promotional advertising; vehicle and product decals and wraps (personalisation and branding); short-run label production for promotional activity and custom and specialised product requirements; décor; home, office and shop fitting, such as custom wallpapers and finishes; large-format photographic and fine-art imaging; decorative and custom cabinetry, and specialised hard signage).
 
Then there is fabric printing, he says - fabric; custom upholstery, curtains and merchandise; soft signage; promotional flags and banners, and sun shades and temporary barriers in canvas. ‘Many aspects of textile and hard-surface printing are very similar to signage. It is a natural progression’.
Heckenberg describes two technologies from Epson that can help printers use new applications in wide format printing. In the signage sector, there is Epson’s SureColor Signage, for durable high-colour, high-gloss, high-resolution eco-solvent imaging on vinyl, film, canvas and paper. “This is perfect for premium backlit and window signage, wall and product decals, vehicle wraps, labels, wallpapers, canvas, and more. Low-cost, quick-dry inks enable cost effective production with same-day job turnaround.”
 
In the emerging field of display fabric printing, Epson offers its SureColor Fabric, enabling high Dmax (maximum black tone) dye-sublimation and high-resolution direct-to-garment (DTG) printing. “This technology produces hard signage, soft signage, custom fabrics, T-shirts and merchandise,” Heckenberg explains.
 
According to Jacob Higgins, marketing and event coordinator at Roland DG Australia, there are a range of new opportunities available to wide format print businesses using UV and dye sublimation technology. “UV ink technology allows you to print directly to the surface of objects, opening up a broad range of items that can be printed to, as there is no need for specially coated substrates. With a desktop UV printer, you can easily handle one-offs and short-runs of personalised items, gifts and merchandise at a low cost. These items would traditionally need to be produced using pad or screen printing methods, which have time consuming set-up processes, and are only cost effective for large print runs.
 
“Businesses with large-format and flatbed UV printers are able to take advantage of opportunities in the increasingly popular interior décor and architectural markets,” explains Higgins. “Items such as cushions, furniture and upholstery, divider screens, glass splashbacks and wall hangings can be produced using large format UV technology. Similarly to UV printing, dye sublimation printing is replacing printing methods such as screen printing. 
 
“Due to high costs and limitations of traditional print processes, it is only since the advent of digital dye sublimation that high quality photographic images have been able to be printed onto everyday items. 
 
“Dye sublimation offers businesses a quick and cost effective method of producing decorative applications such as furnishings, fashion items and personalised goods.”
With UV printing, the technology required to expand into the decorative sector ranges from desktop printers, to hybrid roll-to-roll, and flatbed printers, he says. “This technology allows you to more accurately meet customers’ demands, with the production of personalised items and short-run original goods on demand produced with minimal set up costs – opening up multiple business opportunities.” 
 
For dye sublimation, the printing technology once again ranges from desktop printers to wide format equipment, states Higgins. “With this process however, users require a heat press – and these range from small format ‘clamshell’ and 3D vacuum heat presses, to larger calender units and flatbed heat presses. Businesses are able to personalise pre-treated or polymer-suitable custom objects, and also produce a range of high-value textile, soft signage, fashion, sportswear and furnishing applications.” 
 
UV inkjet technology, as found in Roland DG’s VersaUV LEC, LEF and LEJ range, uses long lasting, energy efficient UV-LED lamps to cure ink directly to the surface of the media. “In addition to personalised goods, interior décor, and architectural applications, this technology allows for the creation of product prototypes, labels, decals, packaging prototypes and also sign and display applications,” notes Higgins.
 
Inkjet dye sublimation, as in Roland DG’s Texart XT-640 and RT-640 devices, uses specially manufactured inks, containing heat activated ‘dye sublimation’ dyes. These are fixed by heat and pressure into a polyester substrate, such as a polyester fabric or polyester coated surface. “This process requires the graphics to be printed on to special transfer paper, then a heat press is required to transfer the ink on to the item that you want to decorate. 
 
Once again, in addition to producing decorative applications such as fashion items, interior décor and personalised goods, users can deliver additional applications including flags, banners, backlit displays, and sportswear.”
 
Mark Fletcher, EFI’s associate marketing specialist, APAC, reminds us that not so long ago digital flatbed or roll-to-roll was seen as just a complimentary niche technology, suitable only for extremely short runs. “But with ever decreasing high-volume work, today it’s hard to envisage how a sign shop could compete without having some form of digital printing capability.
 
“To gain a foothold in this rapidly evolving market, businesses must find a way to be responsive as well as nimble. Although the opportunities are plentiful, they all come at a cost—businesses must be willing to invest the money and time to learn about the different textile printing methods.” 
 
Fletcher notes that digital textile printing, as a concept, has not yet reached its full potential, both for interior and exterior applications. Firstly, there is the increased learning curve essential to get the best results possible from the process while, secondly, for industrial strength environments, the printer manufacturer’s experience of the fabric sector is of vital importance. 
 
The acquisition by EFI of established fabric printer manufacturer Reggiani has led not only to new opportunities in industrial production, but has also broadened the scope for businesses wanting to enter the soft signage and related markets, he says. “The combination of experience and expertise from both companies now means that digital textile production can be taken to a new level for users in the display segment who want a green yet versatile substitute for flexible graphics.” 
 
 
 Although UV-curable inks can be used successfully across a vast range of roll-fed media, with many options that successfully emulate traditional fabric printing, Fletcher believes there are many benefits to be gained from using dye sublimation as an alternative. “Primarily, durability and ‘hand’ or feel are both very important factors in applications where the result needs to drape or hang naturally, and this is not easy to achieve realistically without a dedicated textile platform.” 
 
Rachael Hunter, marketing manager, graphics solutions business, at HP Australia, says that while wide format print has traditionally been used to produce outdoor banners, vehicle wraps, site wraps, architectural signage, real estate boards and retail POS posters, wide format printers are now discovering new, innovative, creative and high value applications. 
 
“The ability to customise and enhance wide format print capability, combined with comprehensive roll-to-roll and rigid substrate options, means that wide format can be used for applications such as pavement or foyer graphics, interior wall murals, custom wallpapers, wall decals, fine art and photo reproduction, window coverings and soft furnishing, glass graphics, office partition decoration, packaging, creative POS or trade show displays.
 
“The ability to print directly to rigid substrates, such as flute boards, foam board, cardboard, acrylic, ACM, wood, and various types of plastics, as well as the less common materials such as glass and tiles, offers both a cost and time saving on finishing processes. 
 
The ability to print using white, clear and metallic inks, coupled with multi-layer printing to highlight or enhance certain parts of an image or create tactile, textural effects gives wide format print providers another high-value option to offer customers and differentiate from the competition.”
Fuji Xerox Australia offers a range 
 
of eco solvent printers for roll-to-roll, hybrid LED and UV flatbed printers with roll-to-roll capability, as well as a range of wide format finishing equipment. including vinyl cutters and flatbed cutting tables, says Hunter.
 
The 64” (1625mm) roll-to-roll, solvent outdoor printer, the SureColor S-series, consists of three models – the SC-S40600 for flexible lower cost production, the SC-S60600 for high-speed continuous production and the flagship SC-S80600 for high colour production with maximum application support. FXA supports the S-series with Caldera rip software and contour vinyl cutters for contour cutting of self-adhesive vinyl.
 
Phya Leong, Neopost Australia’s marketing manager, says she finds an increasing number of printer customers taking advantage of niche markets previously not addressed, such as interior decorating, digitally printed wallpaper, custom printed blinds and window furnishings, custom printed lamp shades and couch cushions. “By digitally printing interior décor, businesses can offer customers new products and services. By printing digitally, customers can take the worry out of predicting what design or style will sell by printing on demand and customised one-offs or short runs. This helps to save on warehousing and stock costs.”
 
A variety of technologies can be employed to enter the textile and decoration markets, says Leong. “Matching the correct equipment and technology to the correct application is vital. With UL Ecologo and UL Greenguard Gold certifications for fully decorated office/interior wall coverings, we find the HP Latex technology is hard to beat. New wallpaper materials, such as the Neopost-supplied Ahlstrom EasyLife Spray & Up, makes installation even easier. Spray & Up is a PVC-free, digitally printable wall covering eliminating the need for conventional wall covering paste. Simply spray the wall with water and then apply directly, reducing application time by up to 60 per cent,” she explains, summing it up as ‘quick, easy and clean’.
 
Neopost offers HP’s Latex technology, which Leong describes as “an excellent medium for printers to address a variety of applications -- from their traditional self-adhesive vinyl and banner work through to backlit films, textiles, wall coverings and digitally printed interior décor”. HP Latex offers the widest range of addressable applications, she adds, and customers can utilise their existing HP Latex machines to enter into the decorative printing market.
 
Brad Creighton, national sales & marketing manager at Mimaki Australia, advises two new models are now available locally. The Mimaki TX300P-1800 eight-colour inkjet printer features a new printhead that ejects ink droplets at high speed to ensure accurate ink droplet placement with a high head gap. This makes the printer ideal for printing high-quality images on all types of fabrics, including thicker and textured materials. 
 
Meanwhile, with the new TX300P-1800B printer, steaming and washing processes for cotton and hemp base textile is no longer required. “Large space for installation of steaming and washing equipment is substantially reduced and on-demand production can be easily made. Moreover, the belt type transportation equipment makes printing on thick and elastic textile a stable reality.”
The new TX300P-1800B employs a new printhead that achieves high-quality and beautiful print in high gap setting on thick or raised fibre surfaces. Free from head troubles, the new model allows various dyes, such as reactive dye, sublimation dye, acid dye, and disperse dye inks  -- with printing on cotton, silk, linen and rayon now possible, says Creighton.
 
“This trend allows customer to order their favourite design and makes possible high-mix, low volume products,” he says. “Mimaki predicts that customers will begin to regularly create custom design once they have grown weary of ordinary design options in the market, and to accommodate this progressive trend, the TX300P-1800B models offers this option.”
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