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The Many Faces of Wide Format

3 Nov, 2008 By: Editorial Staff

The Many Faces of Wide Format

There is a lot of talk about “widening” a dealer’s portfolio in order to
capture more business. If you are considering adding wide-format printers to
your portfolio there are quite a few things you need to know.

The wide-format market is large (pun intended) and (we believe) very
profitable, but there are some challenges to selling wide-format that other
office products may not present at first. The first thing you might want to do
when a client asks you about wide-format printers is to ask them just what they
intend to do with them. Honestly, the reason for this is simple: different
applications require different equipment. The first thing you need to establish
is what type of company will be doing the printing. If it is a company that is
technically oriented, they may only want to print black-and-white technical
documents. A corporate user may want to produce marketing materials like
presentation graphics and posters. A print-for-pay establishment may want to do
all different types of printing, including outdoor durable graphics or textiles.
There is such a wide variety of wide-format printing equipment on the market
today that no matter what types of applications your customers want to produce,
there is a solution for everybody.


The wide-format technical document production market includes companies and
facilities that are architects, engineers, construction companies, utilities,
transportation and communications companies as well as government and
educational institutions. For technical document producing companies, there are
basically two primary printing technologies employed: LED and aqueous inkjet.
LED printers are fast and feature low running costs, but they are all monochrome
only. There have been two rather exciting developments in the wide-format LED
printer business recently. The first is the development of smart low-end digital
LED printing systems like the Xerox 6204, the KIP 3000 series, the Ricoh Aficio
240W and the Océ TDS320. These systems are all intelligently designed with
functionality, modularity, and scale in mind, ready to be more easily deployed
in construction trailers and other job sites where wide-format technical
documents are used but where space is limited. The KIP Color 80, a
first-of-its-kind wide-format color LED printer has the speed and low running
costs of an LED printer but provide the color capabilities that today are
available only from inkjet printers.

Aqueous inkjet is the other primary technology used in the wide-format
technical document production market. The aqueous inkjet market is certainly
dominated by Hewlett-Packard’s popular DesignJet product line, and in fact HP
has refreshed its wide-format technical inkjet printer line with new models
called the T-series. These are low priced (starting at around $2,600) 24-inch
and 44-inch wide printers that are up to three times faster than previous
DesignJet technical printer models. In addition to HP printers, there have also
been other products that should breathe life into a large but relatively
slow-growing technical inkjet market. Canon USA’s imagePROGRAF 610 and 710
printers are designed for the corporate and CAD markets. Canon has had quite a
bit of success selling these as standalone printers, but there are also
companies that have integrated a color scanner on top of the Canon inkjet
printer engine to create a wide format color copier that is selling for
approximately $18,000, which has also been pretty successful and profitable.

At the production end of the technical inkjet market are Oce’s TCS series
color inkjet printers. Oce’s printers are not typically configured for
head-to-head speeds and feeds comparisons because Océ likes to sell solutions,
including scanners and software.

Whereas HP and Canon start off in the low thousands, Oce’s solutions, which
are designed for higher volume environments, are typically priced between
$30,000 and $40,000. Many new printers are currently in the works or being
launched at various price points, including most companies mentioned in this
article, etc.

InfoTrends believes that shipments of wide format technical inkjet and
low-end LED printers in the U.S. will grow at a modest 4% over the forecast


The wide-format digital graphics business is one of the most dynamic parts of
the overall printing industry. InfoTrends tracks three inkjet technologies that
make up the vast majority of digital graphics printing systems sold annually,
aqueous inkjet, solvent inkjet, and UV-curable inkjet.

Aqueous inkjet is probably the easiest entry point for those just thinking of
entering the wide-format market because it is the most flexible printing
technology. By flexible, I mean having the ability to print technical documents
as well as graphics and even high-end photographic and fine art prints. Aqueous
inkjet also represents the lowest entry point from an initial investment
standpoint, with prices starting at just a few thousand dollars for low-end
systems ranging up to $15-$18K for a wider, more robust system. Additionally,
companies just starting out might be attracted to aqueous inkjet printers
because the output typically has relatively higher average selling prices
compared to other graphics printing technologies. There have recently been a
number of major product introductions in the wide-format digital graphics market
that will have an important, and we think positive impact on the wide-format
market as a whole. Just in the past six months, the leaders in the aqueous
inkjet printer market have all refreshed their product lines with new systems
that are more versatile, easier to use, and provide much greater overall value
than previous models.

A year ago at the 2007 Graph Expo, Epson introduced a series of new products
it calls the 880 series, which are 17-inches, 24-inches, and 44-inches wide and
represent replacements for the company’s existing 800 series. The new 880 series
also included Epson’s first 64-inch wide model which is based on a new Epson
print head platform and new Epson ink set. Epson indicated that the color gamut
of the new printers is considerably better than its former UltraChrome K3 ink
set and that these printers are up to twice as fast as the 800 series they

Canon’s imagePROGRAF 8000s and imagePROGRAF 9000s sell for nearly the same
price as their forerunners (which are still available for users who want
12-color printing) but the new S-series use an 8-color ink system and 2 1-inch
wide print heads to provide up to 40% greater print speed than the 12-color
versions. Hewlett-Packard has wide-format graphics printers called the Z-series
that come in 24 and 44-inch wide versions. The HP Z-2100 and Z3100 are designed
for the photographic and prepress market. These printers feature an integrated
spectrophotometer and an available 12-color ink set. HP added to the Z-series by
launching the DesignJet Z6100, a replacement for the DesignJet 5500 which was
arguably the most successful product in the wide-format market. The Z6100
produces excellent quality wide-format graphics prints and has a rated speed up
to almost 1,000 square feet per hour. So, basically, all three of the major
wide-format aqueous inkjet system vendors have increased the speed and overall
value of their printers dramatically in the last few years.

Solvent – Eco-solvent – Light Solvent – Mild Solvent

From a dealer standpoint there are four major wide-format solvent inkjet
brands to be aware of: Roland, Mimaki, Mutoh, and HP. I say “from a dealer
standpoint” because these are all low-end and mid-range solvent inkjet system
providers; whereas, high-end systems suppliers typically sell direct to end
users. Solvent inkjet printers provide excellent value because they can reduce
printing costs in several ways. First, solvent ink is less expensive than
aqueous ink. Second, solvent inks work well even with uncoated print media, so
less expensive materials can be used. Third, outdoor graphics printed with
solvent-based inks do not typically need to be laminated to be resistant to the
elements, which further reduces materials cost plus time and labor costs.
Similar to the aqueous inkjet market, the leading solutions providers have all
improved their system offerings or modified their products to appeal to a wide
audience. Roland DGA is a good example, with their low-end version of its
VersaCAMM integrated printing and cutting system that is successful with small
sign shops. Roland has a 74-inch wide version of its AdvancedJet, which
originally came in a 104-inch wide configuration. With this product, Roland took
a robust system and made it smaller, but still very productive, to broaden its
appeal to smaller printing establishments. Mimaki, Mutoh, and HP have all added
to their solvent inkjet product lines with different products that are wide,
have improved image quality, are lower priced, or feature new ink chemistries
that may make solvent inkjet more of a mainstream wide-format technology.
Solvent inkjet printers have selling prices starting at around $15,000 and range
up to about $125,000 in this class of equipment.


UV-curable inkjet is coming on strong as a wide-format inkjet graphics
production technology. Originally, almost all of the wide-format UV-curable
inkjet printers sold were configured as flatbed inkjet printers that were
designed for printing directly onto rigid substrates. Now though, UV-curable
inkjet printers are increasingly being configured for both rigid substrate and
flatbed printing. UV-curable inkjet printers have selling prices starting at
around $40,000 for the absolute lowest-priced models and range up to $150,000
for printers still sold through dealers. MacDermid ColorSpan, which came under
agreement to be acquired by Hewlett-Packard is the leading brand of UV-curable
inkjet printer in the U.S. market. MacDermid ColorSpan had launched narrower
versions of its UV-curable inkjet printer line which brought the initial
investment price from about $75,000 to under $55,000, again making UV-curable
more interesting to a broader set of users. All prices are approximate of

U.S. Wide-Format Graphics Printer Shipments

InfoTrends expects healthy annual growth of wide-format digital graphics
printer shipments over the forecast period as market like outdoor advertising,
point-of-purchase graphics, vehicle graphics, fine art, and real estate signage
all provide growing demand for wide-format digital production capacity. For
dealers who are considering wide-format as a growth option, I would suggest
contacting the manufacturers you presently represent, most of which have some
wide-format alternatives. Wide-format is a large and dynamic market, but one
that requires a more consultative sales effort because there are many
technologies and product options.

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