By Lisa Cross, Eve Padula, and Steve Urmano
Sign, display, and specialty graphic applications are powerful communication tools, compelling marketing vehicles, and effective decor enhancers. Ongoing innovations in inkjet printing technologies, inks, and substrates are expanding application opportunities and driving the revenue growth of wide-format providers.
Wide-format printing applications are everywhere, and their use is growing all the time. Traditional applications that most people are familiar with include banners, vehicle graphics, signs, window graphics, and backlit displays, to name a few. Newer applications include wallpaper, fabric soft signage, industrial products, and apparel, and this list of profitable applications continues to grow.
Understanding key opportunities
Wide-format applications dominate the visual landscape. With today’s technologies, nearly every surface can carry a message or image that was printed on a digital wide-format device. Although the application possibilities are endless, they can be classified into the following broad areas: outdoor graphics, indoor graphics, and point-of-purchase (POP) displays.
Outdoor graphics encompass a wide variety of applications that are used outside and must, therefore, be able to withstand the elements. Typical applications include:
- Building coverings and wraps.
- Flex-face billboards.
- Backlit signage (day and night).
- Banners/fleet graphics.
- Vehicle wraps.
- Transit/informational signage.
Indoor graphics, as the name implies, are used in indoor environments and include a wide variety of applications that fall into the following categories:
- Branding promotions.
- Pop-up displays.
- Backlit signage (day and night).
- Exhibition/event graphics.
- Floor/window graphics.
- Backdrops for theatre/TV.
- Photographic reproductions.
Point-of-purchase (POP) displays are marketing or advertising vehicles placed next to the merchandise they are promoting. POP displays come in many varieties, including:
- Rigid POP displays.
- 3D POP displays.
- Open-box packages/displays; in-store promotions.
- Short-run packaging for prototyping.
- Short-run packaging for seasonal promotions and one-off events.
Ongoing innovations in inkjet printing devices, inks, coatings, substrates, and finishing equipment are enabling many new and attractive application opportunities. The applications that can be produced on wide-format printers encompass a seemingly endless variety of uses and span many industries. Here is a summary of trending applications:
Printed direct or via a transfer process to fabric soft signage is becoming increasingly appealing to customers because of the higher-end look and feel of the finished graphics. It’s easier to handle/hang, costs less to ship, can be easily reused, and can be used with curved or framed structures.
Short-run packaging and prototyping
The combination of digital wide-format printing with digital cutting has enabled the cost-effective production of short-run packaging and prototypes. Digitally printed packages and labels offer brand managers the flexibility to run smaller quantities for test markets, regional/ethnic products, and seasonal offerings. Digital production eliminates expensive setup costs as well as long lead times for short-run specialized versions or one-to-one personalized packages.
This is another area that is generating interest. With thermoforming, a plastic substrate is heated to a pliable temperature and formed to a specific shape using a mold. It is cooled and trimmed to a usable product. Brand owners, retailers, and manufacturers can use thermoforming to create custom-formed 3D signs, packages, POP displays, vending panels, gaming kiosks, and much more. Digitally printing directly to these materials is much quicker and more cost-effective—it eliminates costly and time-consuming screen/hand painting processes or pre-printing and laminating to formable plastics.
Applications like wallpaper, flooring, furniture, and tiles are growing as customers become more familiar with digital wide-format printing’s ability to accommodate shorter runs and faster delivery times for custom and “small-batch” requests.