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Where's the money?
By Deborah Hutcheson

For printers today, being profitable isn't always about making money.

Often, it's also about saving money. Large-format inkjet printing, by its very definition, tends to use significant amounts of media and ink. But if the system being used isn't comprised of precision technology, software, and consumables, it might gobble up far too much media, and far too much ink. The result?

Either printers will have to raise prices, which may cause them to lose customers, or their profits will be minimised, which will result in many nervous meetings to discuss the bottom line. That's why a key element for turning large-format inkjet printing into a lucrative proposition is in selecting the most efficient equipment, software, and consumables on the market.

Large-format inkjet is one of the definitive money-makers for printers and other graphic communications professionals nationwide. The digital options that are commonplace today were distant promises just a few short years ago. Now they are a reality with a combination of speed and high quality that almost any printer can take advantage of without compromising on any other aspect of the processes or services they provide.

As an industry, we are still undergoing a technological evolution toward faster printers, improved print heads, more cost-efficient inks and media, and highly advanced software. This will result in further growth of wide-format inkjet printing, fueled by client interest in what the technology can do for them. There will be revenue opportunities in the near future of which we're not even aware today—new applications for wide-format inkjet printing, new media on which to print, and new locations at which to display the results, making printers more excited than ever to be part of this business—and making clients very happy to have hooked up with those printers in the first place.

We already know the applications for which wide-format comes in particularly handy: trade shows displays, billboards, signs, posters, banners, vehicle graphics and more. Inkjet is the choice for these applications because of the versatility of the technology and the nature of the ink. The inks today are far more versatile, extending beyond CMYK to include other creative alternatives, as well as varnish and UV Clear Coat. Such resourcefulness opens up new and dramatic worlds for clients, giving their exhibits, signs, displays, and vehicles the kind of innovative and boundless palette they didn't have access to before. Furthermore, the work is entirely customisable, not to mention beautiful and eye-catching.

Industry forecasters predict it will be UV-curable ink technology that will continue to gain market share worldwide. The ability to print directly on rigid and flexible media is becoming an essential service. Environmental consideration is also increasingly responsible for the growing investments in this more environmentally-friendly technology.

With wide-format inkjet we've taken tried-and-true concepts and blown them up to sizes of epic proportions. One benefit of printing directly on rigid surfaces, such as on glass and wood, which the technology allows, is the elimination of the need to mount, which increases productivity and saves money. Another is the encouragement of new creative possibilities. No longer are we limited to a white background of either paper or vinyl.

Industry forecasters are also observing that wide-format digital printing has actually unlocked creativity throughout the production chain. And while the creativity is running rampant in their shops, shop management is realising that wide-format inkjet is a technology that is not driven by high investment prices. Furthermore, it's an industry segment where everyone who may be involved in one way or another—from photographers and fine artists to screen printers and offset managers—can output high-quality, large-format images with unprecedented speed and reliability.

In addition, a growing number of wide-format inkjet machines accept oversized rolls of media, which in turn allow for large print jobs that are fairly easy to set up and to keep running. That, too, saves time and money. With the latest equipment, cleaning frequently is automatic and ink buildup is a problem of the past. Faster printing cycles improve production.

We have already begun to look at those old days as severely limiting and creatively stagnant. Printers who are looking toward wide-format inkjet as the economic savior of the future should start looking into both the current options as well as the possibilities that may be just around the corner. If wide-format inkjet is so valuable today, just imagine what it will be like in a few years, as the technology advances even more. Agfa is very excited to be at the vanguard of those advances.

As a result of the technological evolution that has taken place in the development of printheads, inks, software and hardware, it is clear that wide-format inkjet is poised to be one of the leading money makers in the printing industry.
The list of customers who have eagerly and profitably jumped on the wide-format inkjet bandwagon is growing.

‘This is a fast-paced industry, and in order to grow and become more competitive, we knew we had to venture out and purchase a flat bed printer,’ says Doug Brauer, owner of Fastsigns in Appleton, Wis. ‘Once we started producing jobs on the :Anapurna, sales went up and the cost of materials and overtime labor went down. We did our homework and investigated all the equipment out on the market. We chose the :Anapurna M because of its excellent print quality and versatility, which allows us to produce and sell a broad range of products to all of our clients.’

Brauer adds that the :Anapurna M is very easy to use and maintain and that he and his staff appreciate how it switches from roll material to flat rigid stock in just minutes.

Like Fastsigns, printers who wish to move decisively into wide-format inkjet will need to research, recognise, understand, and ultimately plan for the kind of product portfolio that speaks volumes about outdoor versatility and durability. The technology already exists. When we scan the industry news, profiles, case studies and reports, we easily come across some very interesting new projects that wide-format inkjet is now making possible, such as wrapping automobiles to promote sporting events, wrapping buildings to promote indoor exhibits, developing retail displays that are more than a dozen yards long to help direct consumers to specific sections of the store, and much more.

Despite a challenging economy, next year will see all areas of wide-format inkjet continue to grow. Increasingly, print providers will need to extend their services. Investing sensibly in the most suitable type of wide-format inkjet technology may be the most valuable ticket for a fast-track ride in 21st century graphic communications.

By Deborah Hutcheson
Deborah Hutcheson is the senior marketing manager, Digital Solutions, for Agfa Graphics, North America.

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