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Go Wide

Explore your current vertical markets. You’ll gain insight into whether you have prospects for wide-format printing.

A pitch, shot, or field goal that goes wide is a miss. But in the print industry, some savvy printers are finding that their choice to go wide—enter the wide-format market—was spot on. Firehouse Image Center, a 45-year-old company that started out as a small photo lab, survived a flood, a fire, and the onset of digital photography; evolved into a wide-format printer more than a decade ago; and emerged as a leading supplier of in-store graphics for numerous national and global clients. In 2015, the company doubled its production space. “We stayed focused on quality and productivity rather than growing for the sake of growth,” explains longtime Firehouse CEO Terry Corman.

Continuing rapid advances in digital technology accompanied by the ongoing evolution of print heads, inks, and substrates are creating more efficient end-to-end workflows and, subsequently, more new opportunities in the wide-format market. In an industry that has experienced tremendous contraction in recent years, the prospect of double-digit growth in this market has many small-format printing company executives seriously running the numbers and kicking the tires on the newest wide-format machines.

If you are one of the printers pacing the sidelines and thinking of entering the wide-format field, here are a few considerations besides roll-fed, hybrid, or flat-bed to ponder.

 Go deep

In the print industry, the “build it, and they will come” business model is becoming as outdated as a dial-up modem or floppy disk. Instead, companies are basing their business strategies on solid value propositions that are centered on providing their customers with solutions.

While you are perusing the features offered by the leading wide-format printers, also explore your existing vertical markets in depth. “Chances are your current customers are using wide-format products—tradeshow graphics, training posters, signage—and are possibly buying it from someone else now. Find out what they are doing, what they would like to do more of, and how you can help them do it for less,” suggests Mike Barrett, a large-format specialist at Millcraft.

Perhaps you are printing brochures for a retail client who also needs point-of-purchase signage and exterior signage to announce new product lines or other special promotions. Or maybe one of your clients is in the process of rebranding or redesigning his business, and he needs new interior and exterior signage along with new marketing collateral. You may have customers who want to create an outdoor advertising campaign, but they just don’t know what their options are and don’t know you can now print directly on a wide range of surfaces besides paper. If you can offer them wide-format options in addition to the products you are already providing, you can potentially make it more cost-effective and efficient for them.

“You are no longer selling products—you are selling a service. You are using your knowledge, tools, and materials to help your customers succeed in their respective businesses by creating engaging print graphics, small and large,” Barrett explains.

Go big?

A wide range of wide-format equipment is available today with measurable differences in versatility, quality, speed, ease of use, and, accordingly, price. But is newer-faster-easier the better choice for your business? How do you figure out what equipment you should invest in to ensure that every order is finished on time, meets the quality of output required, and is completed at an acceptable price?

Barrett suggests that assessing your current customers’ needs before you invest in equipment will help you determine what wide-format applications you have a ready market for so that you are buying the right equipment to meet that demand. “You don’t want to invest small if you already have the clients to go big,” explains Barrett. “It would be a mistake to go in with entry-level equipment if you or your clients are currently outsourcing $300,000 to $400,000 in wide-format printing already. If you buy the next level up, you can increase your output and get a bigger return on investment,” he says. “Wide format is not going away; it’s only going to get bigger.”

Go outside

Outside the box, that is. Users of digital wide-format can enjoy experimenting with a variety of new inks and substrates because of fast setup and changeover, the ease of the pre-press process, and the ability to produce one-offs or low volumes that were not feasible before. “The new technology allows you to do so much more with what you have. It used to be an ink-on-paper mindset, but these days, it’s ink-on-anything,” says Barrett, a 23-year-veteran of wide-format printing. “It’s like arts and crafts day every day; it’s creative outside-the-box thinking. From tissue-paper-thin substrates to two-inch- thick doors, ceramics to wood, glass to metal—just about anything you can imagine can be done.”

One of Barrett’s wide-format clients, Chris Frogale, is the pre-press coordinator for Ohio University Printing Centers, which provides the signage for the main campus in Athens as well as all the regional campuses. “We have fun all the time, especially when we get the difficult or out-of-the ordinary job and we have to figure out the best way to do it. We do a lot of projects now that we could not do before: indoor signs, temporary displays, wall murals, canvas prints, floor graphics, and various other signage using a variety of products such as Blox-Lite®, Mac-Tac, and Sihl,” he says.

Barrett introduced him to the new Blox-Lite two-side print, blockout banner material, and Frogale says it has allowed the university to expand on its temporary signs, posters, and point-of-sale displays. “We primarily use it for menu boards and daily special displays for our dining services division,” says Frogale. “Blox-Lite has saved us considerable time and money since we no longer have to run these types of signs on a vinyl product that would then be mounted on a PVC substrate.”

Go around

If you want to find out more about wide-format products that can help your customers save time and money, then go around to the trade shows and explore the new equipment, inks, and substrates that have recently been developed, urges Corman, who is on the board of directors of Specialty Graphics International Association, one of the largest print trade associations in North America. “I encourage printers to go to the trade shows, see the offerings, talk with the experts, ask questions—put your finger on the pulse of the industry. There’s a lot of energy, a lot of dynamic stuff happening, and there is no greater resource than trade shows,” he says. “There’s nothing like collaborating with your colleagues around the world who are all dealing with the same challenges.”

By Lorrie Bryan