Wide-format Printing: Current trends in graphics

13 April 2016


Photo courtesy SAi

By Peter Saunders
The ability to place inks on an ever-broader range of substrates is driving the growth of the wide-format printing sector, according to research recently compiled by InfoTrends and released by the International Sign Association (ISA).

In a white paper titled Digital Print Substrates: An Overview for Sign and Graphics Companies, InfoTrends reported durable aqueous ‘latex’ inkjet printing has seen 35 per cent growth in adoption in 2013 and will continue to become more mainstream in the future. At the same time, the sign industry continues to install more ultraviolet-curing (UV-curing) inkjet printers. Together, these versatile technologies are overtaking market space once dominated by traditional aqueous and solvent-based inkjet printing systems, which cannot handle as broad a range of substrates.

The report further predicts overall wide-format print volumes across North America will continue to rise, experiencing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14 per cent throughout the period of 2014 to 2019. The most common applications are posters and indoor signs, followed by window graphics and outdoor signs.

Indeed, Mark Blundell, CEO of signmaking software developer SAi, says the general outlook for the large-format printing market in 2016 remains similarly positive as it was in 2015.

“Things will be pretty constant in North America,” he says. “Technology-wise, I expect to see solvent-based—and even eco-solvent—inkjet printers continue to give way to UV and latex, which will go hand-in-hand with steady growth in applications like textiles and ceramics.”

Expanding software capabilities
Software has been changing more rapidly, given the high level of competition within the development sector both to keep existing customers and attract news ones.

“Beyond the core technology offerings, large-format print-service providers (PSPs) are seeking advanced, feature-rich, productivity-enhancing software for their operations,” says Blundell. “They have diverse needs and priorities, whether it’s tracking their business through cloud-based software, monitoring production through their smartphone or smartwatch or accessing additional features via subscription packages. There’s something for everybody.”

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Looking ahead to future challenges, he also foresees a growing emphasis on ease of use and support for colour management.

“I envisage a continued need to build simplicity into software products,” he says. “Easy-to-use print-and-cut workflows mean greater throughput and fewer bottlenecks for users. And in line with this trend, there will be a focus on simplifying the whole process for colour. The current International Color Consortium (ICC) profile route works well for those who have a good understanding of colour and proofing, but it’s also going to be important to make things much simpler for other users who lack such proficiency, so those who might not be particularly familiar with profiles can still obtain precise colours.”

Window graphics are among the most common applications.  File photo

Window graphics are among the most common applications.
File photo

The 3-D printing effect
Another trend Blundell says will affect the wide-format graphics sector in 2016 is three-dimensional (3-D) printing, which has already allowed some types of manufacturing to move closer to what he refers to as “the point of consumption.”

“I believe we’ll start to see certain thing in our industry produced closer to that point,” he says. “With packaging and display applications, for example, this could give rise to some demand for short-run production. Right now, a short run to a packaging provider is still a few hundred thousand more than a designer needs when he or she is simply looking for a few prototype concepts. If these users could access printing, cutting and folding capabilities for shorter runs of packaging, they would be able to drive smaller devices self-sufficiently.”

Given such opportunities for specialized production, Blundell’s business advice to large-format PSPs and sign shops is to differentiate themselves from their competition by embracing less traditional graphic applications.

“Doing something a little different from the mainstream, like printing on wood or ceramics, will certain enhance their service offerings,” he says. “Marketing and brand managers are always looking to maximize the creative potential of their budgets, so suggesting something new that grabs their attention opens up dialogue and hopefully the opportunity to win their business.”

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With files from InfoTrends, ISA and SAi. For more information, visit www.infotrends.com, www.signs.org/research and www.thinksai.com[1].

  1. www.thinksai.com: http://www.thinksai.com

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