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Wide-format Graphics: How 3-D printing is shaping up

Photos courtesy Massivit 3D

By Lilach Sapir
With three-dimensional (3-D) printing processes, a new object is created synthetically through additive manufacturing. To accomplish this, a series of layers of a binding material are deposited via inkjet printheads, as per the instructions contained in a computer file, allowing nearly any shape or size of product to be produced.

It is certainly understandable if 3-D printing seems like a relatively new phenomenon, given the many attention-grabbing headlines that have recently showcased how the technology is changing the world of manufacturing for the aerospace, automotive and medical industries, among others, but it has actually been around for more than 30 years. Over that time, it has evolved from short-run prototyping to play an increasingly important role in a wider variety of production processes, to the point where it now has viable implications for the sign and large-
format graphics industry.

Indeed, some sign companies have already become early adopters of 3-D printing, after recognizing its potential to enhance their business. For them, the technology is an enabler, unlocking the door to new projects, whereby vibrant, eye-catching displays can go beyond the visual impact achieved with two-dimensional (2-D) large-format printing.

Fashion retailer Louis Vuitton recently commissioned what may be the world’s first 3-D printed pop-up store.

The wow factor
More than ever, today’s brand marketing managers are seeking to maximize the ‘wow’ factor of their signage and graphics. Retailers, too, are looking to transform their environments to better engage and entertain their customers. Research shows 3-D printed ads have five times more ‘stopping power’ and four times more ‘staying power’ than 2-D posters, making them a great tool for exhibitry, point-of-purchase (POP) displays, billboards, bus wraps and other attention-grabbing graphics.

The ‘traditional’ large-format digital printing industry is still growing, but can nevertheless be a difficult arena in which to compete, particularly as customers continue to demand faster speeds, improved quality of output and an ever-expanding range of substrates. And to some extent, the level of opportunity in this sector has already reached its peak, with regard to print speeds, output quality, the range of achievable projects and the profits they can generate.

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To help increase their profitability further, some signs shops are expanding their processes to embrace 3-D printing with systems that now offer the flexibility, speed and price point necessary to support new, creative opportunities and add value for their customers.

To date, educating the market has been the main barrier to the uptake of this technology. For most of the aforementioned 30-plus years of 3-D printing, there has been a lack of mainstream awareness of the technology and how it works.

In recent years, more people have acknowledged and appreciated the wide-ranging benefits offered by 3-D printing, but it has not yet been broadly used for the production of signs and graphics. As with any new technology, further education and strong support will be fundamental to broader adoption. Ensuring 3-D printing technology is readily available to print service providers (PSPs), they are aware of it and they can quickly and easily integrate it into workflow will all be key to its success.

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