Signs of the times

Signs of the times
With out-of-home advertising booming, what are the new marketing opportunities that warrant an investment in large-format inkjet or other display printing gear?
Wide format is a fertile field for printers looking to enhance their offerings and to outpace the curse of electronic attrition. The co-location of PacPrint with the Visual Impact show, staged in Melbourne in May, perhaps reflects the growing view of mainstream offset and other commercial printers that greener pastures exist in display printing.
But what is the best option? Should commercial print enterprises competing in the wide-format market be looking beyond the mainstream posters and pull-ups for decent margins? Micro-runs, even personalised runs of wall coverings are a new boom prospect, one of many ideas for drawing in added revenues.
Electronic edge
For Rocky Cassaniti, there are no challenges – only opportunities. Cassaniti founded Valley Design in 1989 and in 2002 moved it into large-format work through the acquisition of S&K Signs and its offset printing gear. In fact, the visionary managing director of Queensland wide-format house, Valley Edge Group, is ever ready for further expansion, he says “Valley Edge is always on the lookout for growth opportunities through merger or acquisition with Brisbane large format or printing businesses.”
When Digital Out-Of-Home (DOOH) signage technology threw down its electronic gauntlet, Cassaniti was ready for a joust – and, at last report, he is winning the tournament, Cassaniti reports increased uptake on an electronic billboard service that Valley Edge introduced in 2015.
Valley Edge, an operation with seven staff, located at Newstead in Brisbane, has invaded the lion’s den of outdoor printing’s feared electronic competitor. While purists might question why a print provider would stray into electronic signage, Cassaniti sees it as a great response to DOOH - in the ‘if you can’t beat em, join em’ mould. 
Its billboard service is filled to capacity with third-party client advertising each week, featuring a menu of clients including Qantas, YMCA, Ray White, Mater Children’s Hospital and MIFQ. Inhouse promotions round out the digital video service displayed on advanced LED screens, and Valley Edge also promotes its services in a static display on the reverse of the screen. Advertising spots run at one advert per eight seconds, with seven adverts per minute.
Cassaniti says it took Valley Edge a year to research its foray into DOOH and another year to implement it, but the service has been valuable in unlocking further print orders from these clients. 
“I don’t think electronic display will interfere with large-format printing. Generally those clients are looking to advertise for a short term in a shopping centre, airport or roadside.
“If anything, our billboard clients want posters and flyers and even large-format graphics for their exhibition they are advertising,” he observes.
Valley Edge prints all types of signage, including building and vehicle signage, using its fleet of Roland DG presses, most notably its Roland XF 640, says Cassaniti, and the company also performs installation of the signage. “Our other core offerings include display and exhibition signage, together with posters and vinyl decals.” 
Billboard shows the way
There are exciting times at Melbourne grand-format business Billboard Media, with the acquisition of an HP Scitex 17000 digital press designed for corrugated and cardboard printing.
In the face of growing competition from DOOH signage, the 35-year-old grand-format enterprise, located at Sandringham in Melbourne’s southeast, has made a name for itself in the retail, POS, exhibitions and media industries. The company houses more grand format printers than any other business in Australia, in fact it has the most this side of the equator.
Billboard Media’s managing director David Zeunert tells ProPrint that in recent years, the focus has been on the advertising and media industries’ demand for outdoor media, with work including street furniture for bus and tram stops, shopping centre panels, and the like; for transit (buses, trams, trains, mobile billboards and airport media) and for large-format billboards.
The company prints signage for commercial applications, for schools and for the growing events market.
Billboard skins are printed digitally, with speed and at high dpi. The company also prints on self-adhesive vinyls for internal and external retail use on walls, partitions, columns, floors, in fact any solid surface. See-through printing on one-way vision material is another specialty of Billboard Media.
Billboard Media was pivotal in printing the display media promoting the redevelopment of Chadstone Shopping Centre, the largest retail complex in the southern hemisphere. Promotional signage guiding patrons throughout the centre’s redevelopment phase and on the launch day of the revamped precinct earned the company plaudits from Chadstone manager Scott Sullivan.
“I’ve always said to you that the $6,000 hoarding always attracts more focus than the $600 million development, and you nailed it in the most timely manner every time,” Sullivan wrote to Billboard Media.
However, the company has this year diversified, taking on digital corrugated/cardboard printing on a brand-new HP Scitex 17000 press.
The new HP Scitex 17000 joins an array of technology on Billboard’s production floor, including three HP Scitex XP5500 billboard presses, two XP2700s, two Durst Rho 900 UV digital machines, and two Kongsberg i-XL finishing systems for cutting, milling, routing, drilling and engraving.
What the vendors say
“Fitting comfortably within the signage, commercial, POS, exhibition and screen markets” is how Michael Culver, inkjet manager Oceania, at Agfa describes the Anapurna H3200i shown at the recent PacPrint show. The hybrid device is a 3200mm wide, six-colour- plus-white LED system, capable of printing onto heat-sensitive boards and roll materials up to 129 sqm per hour.
“The outdoor market continues to play a big part in our future,” says Culver. “As with most industries, the larger players will take the lion’s share. However, there is still a high percentage of clients that demand a more personal service, better quality, greater flexibility and shorter runs, so there will always be a place for the smaller outfit in the printing of outdoor media.
“The billboard market segment continues to be price sensitive. As companies’ costs continue to rise, it is important to diversify. Moving away from the norm is important and to generate additional revenue streams is a must to survive,” states Culver.
He notes that several Agfa print-provider clients have entered the home furnishing industry. But he says there is a challenge coming from the other direction. “Due to the availability of the latest printing technology, an exhibition company can now compete in the POS and signage markets, vice-versa.”
The trend for printers to look for new fields such as decorative or industrial applications has been picked up by the vendors – and PacPrint offered evidence of this, with purveyors of wide-format devices skewing their presentations away from posters and towards the broader canvas of wall art, décor, and supersized signage requirements.
Industry veteran Garry Muratore, now Canon’s product manager, display graphics, says much of the productivity required to make wide-format printing a successful business model, particularly the new growth areas of décor and wall coverings, depends on combining quality output devices, such as the Océ Colorado 1640 and Arizona ranges, with finishing kit such as ProCut cutting tables, Oki Colorpainter printers, Onyx, Procut and Engview workflow solutions, and a versatile line-up of consumables.
Canon says that with print volumes continuing to grow in the wide-format marketplace and turnaround times continuing to shrink, figures show that more than 40 per cent of production jobs need to be turned around within 24 hours, and a majority of those are same-day. The relentless rise in time-dependancy in wide-format work is handled by the Colorado 1640 and its high levels of automation, versatile applications, low operating cost and robust production platform, says Muratore.
The new UVgel technology on the Colorado 1640, which was a focal point of Canon’s PacPrint stand, uses a process in which ink begins as gel, is then heated to liquid, jetted, then cooled to re-gel for the laying down of ink. This process addresses issues of adhesion and feathering that come with laying down liquid ink in inkjets, he explains.
ProPrint sat down with US PacPrint visitor Ken Hanulec, EFI’s vice-president, marketing, inkjet solutions, to talk display signage. Hanulec outlined the innovative company’s latest offerings in Vutek wide, superwide and industrial inkjet, as well as printing technologies for ceramics (Cretaprint), and textiles and fabrics (Reggiani and Vutek FabriVu).
“The litho and screen printers are talking to us now because their margins are under attack, their run lengths are in decline, they’re looking for new revenue streams and to satisfy their brand manager clients with solutions -- and inkjet is the answer,” says Hanulec.
Asked for his advice for that cohort - seeking new opportunities in short-run digital display work - Hanulec says EFI’s entry-level hybrid devices in 1.6m, 2m and 3m formats enables printing on flexible substrates, boards, up to 1.2x3.2m, from thin paper-based stock to board up to 5cm thick.
“So for those wanting to be involved in digital, particularly inkjet, we believe a hybrid printer gives them the most flexibility and latitude. The range depends on price and performance. If you tell me you want 10 boards an hour, we have that, if you want to print 125 boards an hour, we have that too.”
Inkjet’s applications are bounded only by innovation and imagination, states Hanulec. “What we love about inkjet is it is a contactless printing process. If I can put media underneath that inkjet head, I can jet ink onto the surface, and if I have a good jetting and curing technology, I can print on just about anything. We have single-pass tile printing, we have single-pass narrow-web label printing -- and the seats we’re now sitting on were printed by our Reggiani textile printer.”
With its eye on the big canvas, EFI is emphasising compatibility with corrugated sheets, chipboard, foam and acrylics as the drawcard of its new Vutek LX3 Pro 3.2m hybrid flatbed/rollfed printer, says Andy Yarrow, director EFI, Asia-Pacific. Mark Fletcher, EFI’s associate marketing specialist, Asia-Pacific, notes that “one third of the print-provider market tends to innovate – and it is this one-third we are targeting with our range of solutions.”
Epson Australia’s general manager Craig Heckenberg says the barriers to entry for a lot of printing technology for out-of-home display have probably never been lower and he sees a clear ongoing shift to highly customised, short-run applications. “If a business can respond flexibly and manage costs effectively – which modern digital printing technologies allow them to do – there are still a lot of opportunities. 
“Applications such as customised wall coverings, backlit fabric signage, outdoor banners and vehicle and other object wrappings are just some of the applications that can be produced at a higher level of quality and lower cost than ever before,” says Heckenberg.
Epson’s eco-solvent, aqueous and textile printers feature compact design with flexible networking, suit installation in a wide variety of operational environments, run off a standard 240V power supply, and can be driven by a variety of third- party rip applications. They can be loaded by a single operator with auto media set-up and skew correction, upgraded control panels and new Epson control dashboard management software.
At Epson Australia’s PacPrint stand, the vendor showed ProPrint its comprehensive display signage portfolio, much if it targeting commercial providers seeking new horizons. The SureColor F-series, comprises one aqueous and three dye-sub devices, printing hard and soft signage, décor and soft furnishings. Gordon Kerr, Epson Australia’s business manager, says the dye-sub range prints “anything from furniture, to awnings, to custom fabric production”. 
The SureColor S-series of ecosolvent machines offers durable signage, wallpaper, décor and vehicle wraps. Specifically, the SureColor S60600 and 80600 signage and décor printers generate indoor and outdoor applications such as wallpapers, posters, window decorations, backlit displays, vehicle decors and banners. And the SureColor T-series provides an aqueous solution for poster and POS printing.
Printers looking to branch out into wide format will be drawn to Fuji Xerox’s offerings – in fact, many will already be Fuji Xerox print-provider customers. They can start on the Acuity range, then upgrade into Inca flatbed range, says Quentin Sandery, national manager, production services business at Fuji Xerox Australia, which is partnering with Fujifilm Graphic Solutions for inkjet technologies. (Fujifilm of Japan has a 75 per cent stake in Fuji Xerox).
Fujifilm is offering its super-scaled flatbed UV Inca range, which uses Fujifilm heads and Fuji Sericol inks, says Sandery. UK-developed Inca’s Onset X series can be upgraded in modular format from X1 through to X3 models. 
Brett Maishman, Fuji Xerox national sales manager, channels production, says Fuji Xerox, as Fujifilm’s reseller, is seeking to migrate its production digital clients into wide format, responding to printers searching for new opportunities in display markets that are less threatened by electronic attrition than their core markets. But printers seeking to broaden their services might initially want to work with Fujifilm’s Acuity flatbeds before considering the larger-scale Incas.
Jeremy Brew, HP’s sign-and-display applications specialist, says commercial printers can add a web-to-print (W2P) portal to their websites, automating basic design and prepress for customised wall-art projects and digital corrugated work. At PacPrint, HP showcased the synergies that flow from harnessing W2P, well known in commercial printing, to the production of large-format printing. The vendor showcased its popular HP WallArt Suite and Signage Suite, which bring the end-user into the frame by allowing them to customise their projects with supplied photography and other design elements through a W2P portal.
HP DesignJet large-format printers can be the key to customising a temporary retail POP/POS display, with in-store displays promoting products and sales offers generated on demand. These include decorative graphics, pricing signage, sales and promotional signs and banners, information signs, window and door signage, promotional and event signage and supersized menus.
Meanwhile, HP’s Latex range, such as the HP Latex 3600, is said to be the “UV beater” for larger print providers printing signage, decoration, and displays.
Printers looking to add a touch of metallic flair to signage and packaging will be inspired by products from Leonhard Kurz Australia. ProPrint caught up with Kurz Australia’s managing director Stephen Pratt on Kurz’s PacPrint stand, where the innovative DM Liner press was being demonstrated. The DM Liner produces black-area templates that are subsequently run through for one-pass foiling, after which they can be overprinted in four-colour on virtually any digital or offset output device. Available in SRA3 and B2 formats, and at a speed of 2,000 sheets per hour, the DM Liner lifts signage and packaging 

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