Investing In Large-format Technology: Different approaches

By Bob Honn

According to a report by InfoTrends, more than 50 per cent of large-format commercial print providers are unable to produce the applications requested by their customers, either due to a lack of time or the inability to print the application using their existing equipment.
As a result, they have to turn away business or outsource customer requests to a third party. These options represent massive margin hits to a print provider, as well as run the risk of damaging customer relationships—or losing business to competitors.

As commercial print providers look to expand their customer base and establish a competitive differentiation, it is imperative to have the right large-format printing solutions and technologies in place to meet customers’ requirements quickly and economically.

As the world of large-format printing continues to evolve and experience rapid growth and change as new technologies come to market, demands for these solutions are also increasing.

Understanding which of these new technologies are most appropriate for one’s current and future business needs can be a time-consuming and complex process. Therefore, understanding the differences of each technology is critical. This article will take a closer look at the pros and cons of different large-format printing technologies, including aqueous, solvent, and latex inkjets, ultraviolet (UV), and water-fast, proprietary direct-dry prints.

Aqueous inkjet printing

Aqueous refers to the liquid that carries the colourant—in this case, water. Water-based inks come in two varieties—dye and pigment. Dye inks are suitable for dry environments, short-term use in UV light, or indoor lighting only. Therefore, they are primarily used for short-run promotional work and portable indoor displays such as pop-up stands where image quality and striking colour are critical. With certain coated media, a degree of water resistance can be realized with dye-based inks.

Pigment inks are best thought of as chalk dust suspended in water. The colourant particles are bigger than those of dye inks, but not by a great deal. They remain small enough to give a small dot size, and a good high-resolution image. However, when light hits this rough surface, it is scattered, which leads to a slightly muted colour response. So why use pigment inks over dye? Once dry, if water is poured over pigment inks, the particles will largely remain behind on the surface—meaning the print is considered short term water-resistant. However, neither dye- nor pigment-based aqueous inks can be considered waterproof due to their inherent nature of being water-based.


Aqueous printers use a water-based ink that is environmentally friendly (i.e. they do not emit harmful fumes). These printers plug into a regular electrical outlet and require no special ventilation. Aqueous printing still produces the finest resolution with superb quality due to smaller droplet size. Pigment inks boast the largest colour gamut available in all of the printing technologies. Additionally, these printers are relatively inexpensive to purchase.


Aqueous printers require a special coating on the media for ink to adhere properly for graphics applications, and paper and ink can be slightly more expensive.

There are also long dry times associated with this technology, especially on higher coverage prints, making stacking and finishing cumbersome. It can also lead to users damaging the prints if the inks are not completely dry.

Key applications

  • promotional, point-of-sale, and backlit displays;
  • floor graphics, stickers, repositionable graphics, and window graphics;
  • textiles, fine art, canvas, interior decoration, photography, and wallcoverings; and
  • geographic information system (GIS) maps, architectural and manufacturing drawings, renderings, or schematics.

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