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Wide-format Printing: Considerations for equipment expansions

Photos courtesy Agfa Graphics

By Steve Fournier
There is a broad industry trend today where commercial print service providers (PSPs) are entering the wide-format graphics market. This trend is growing for a number of reasons, including a decline in many traditional print revenue streams, a high level of commoditization for digital small-format printing, newer technologies eating away at profits and the demand among many clients for mass personalization.

By diversifying and adding new services to their business, these print professionals are hoping to establish new revenue streams and ensure their long-term success. A study by the International Sign Association (ISA) found 50 per cent of commercial PSPs have already invested in wide-format systems. This means there are many more yet to make the transition.

Another ‘pull’ factor is the health of the wide-format printing market which, according to an industry forecast by research firm InfoTrends (now part of Keypoint Intelligence), continues to experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19 per cent. Every year, new applications and new clients make wide-format graphic production an exciting, evolving business to be in. The market is still wide open.

That said, for those professionals—including signmakers—who are just starting their wide-format journey, there are a number of important considerations as they get into the process. Fortunately, there are also many resources available to help them.

Vendors well-versed in inks and hardware can help a PSP set realistic goals for entering the wide-format market.

Cost of entry and customer strategy
Too frequently, prospective wide-format printing professionals focus on the financial strategy to purchase an expensive piece of equipment without giving equal thought to their customer strategy. They research their hardware options, attend trade shows, visit manufacturers and existing wide-format print shops, view product demonstrations and undertake benchmark testing before making any decisions.

This capital equipment purchase process can take a year or longer, with the cost of entry for the wide-format market ranging from US$350,000 to US$1.7 million when considering the whole picture, including printing and finishing equipment, plus operations. The undertaking is certainly significant and a highly educational experience for the first-timer.

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The learning curve ends up continuing after the equipment is installed, however, once the shop’s staff determines how to optimize its use and, most importantly, how to sell wide-format graphics to customers.

PSPs are counselled instead to put forethought into their customer strategy for wide-format graphics, long before any new equipment is installed. One major difference from commercial printing, for example, is the increasing degree of post-print finishing demanded by clients, a trend that is likely to continue. As such, a new sales strategy will need to be developed, with staff trained to understand which finished products are planned to be produced in which volumes, so as to hit the ground running once the new equipment is operating.

By way of example, a commercial PSP may be looking to purchase a roll-to-roll (RTR) inkjet printer to produce vinyl graphics for point-of-purchase (POP) and outdoor applications. Even if this plan is a great fit for the needs of the shop’s current customer base, aligns with its existing product line and is feasible at the right price point, there is the issue of ensuring a successful post-printing process.

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