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Size Issues: Implementing Grand-Format Digital Imaging
Width: Here’s a topic open to discussion! Some believe that inkjet devices more than 183 cm (72 inches) wide should be labeled grand format. Others, however, don’t believe “grand” applies at less than 248.9 cm (98 inches) wide. In my mind, 183 cm wide (72 inch) printers are simply large-format printers that grew over the years (from 152.4 cm (60 inches)) so they could capture a segment of the grand-format market.
Inks: Grand-Format printers typically use solvent-based inks; and at one time purchasing a grand-format printer was the only way to achieve solvent-ink printing capability. Today, however, the inkjet market has experienced a recent upsurge in solvent-based inkjets that are not in the “grand zone,” range in size from 122 cm (48 inches) to 183 cm (72 inches). You can also buy flatbeds with roll-to-roll and rigid capabilities.
Speed: Grand-Format printers typically print more square meters (square feet) per hour than large-format printers. When creating large graphics with grand-format printing, it’s less likely that you’ll need to seam the image — the largest grand-format devices can even print billboards seamlessly. Printing speed production of grand-format printers is one of the most important factors that differentiates manufacturers and models in this crowded arena. The speeds achieved are a combination of multiple head configurations combined with lower overall printing resolutions. While speed may be of interest when purchasing a printer, it does not, in and of itself, contribute to the definition of grand-format.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll define grand-format output devices as solvent-based, roll-to-roll printers 248.9 cm (98 inches) or more in width.
Defining and Defined by Markets Served In some cases, “grand-format” output devices may be best defined by the products they create, and the markets they serve. Clients for grand-format printing commonly include advertising and media companies representing public transportation, hotels and resorts, retail outlets, restaurants, automotive dealers, financial institutions and special events. Here are some of the most common:
Billboards a Prime Market
Wrap it Up to Go
Building & Construction Wraps are Big
Indoors or Out — Banner Applications
Showing Off at Conventions and Trade Shows
The Inside Track
Getting Started: Q&A with James Gill
What are some of the important points to consider when purchasing a grand-format output device?
Ink properties like adhesion, weatherability and color gamut are also factors, depending on the market you plan to enter. For instance, a weatherability warranty is important for a fleet customer, but ink gamut is important for a POP customer. Know before you buy.
How does this differ from smaller units?
Is there an easy and reliable way to determine the return on investment for these units? How is this done?
Media, Growth & Other Challenges
Expect China to become a dominant player in the media market, complete with media prices that impinge upon domestic suppliers. This might materialize as a consolidation of suppliers, a drop in media prices, or some companies getting out of the business of media altogether.
One of the major challenges facing grand-format imagers is the prospect of over-capacity. Currently, there are nearly 3,000 grand-format printers in the installed base worldwide. According to SGIA estimates, there could be 1.5 to 2 times that number (i.e., 4,500 to 6,000) installed by 2006, each machine capable of producing between 74.3 square meters (800 square feet) and 186 square meters (2,000 square feet) per hour. That’s a lot of printing. At that rate, the growth in grand-format capacity could likely outpace the growth in demand for outdoor advertising, the primary application for grand-format printers.
About the Inks
Commonly, a solvent-based printer uses a heating element (dryer) to evaporate the solvents from the print. Though the print may look and feel dry, it is generally not fully dried at this point. It may be several hours before you can finish or laminate the product. Typically, the print is laid out on the floor to dry, because solvent prints will not dry when spooled up on a core.
On average, solvent-based inks are designed to last 2 to 5 years in outdoor conditions without additional protection from over-laminates or coatings. However, durability hinges on where and how the digital prints are displayed. Sun exposure, humidity and other factors significantly affect longevity.
Grand Format, Grand Files
Permits (or, Can I See Your License?)
US companies that use products containing a regulated chemical are required to provide engineering controls to reduce employee exposure. In the graphic arts industry, ventilation is the key engineering control; with ventilation comes air permits. An air permit is essentially a license to emit pollutants into the atmosphere. The amount a facility may emit is based on its geographic location. Pollutants include volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants. Based on your facility's potential to pollute, permits may be required for each piece of equipment, or for the entire facility. The type and complexity of your permit is determined by the location of your facility - requirements are handed down by the state and often by separate air quality management districts. Each has distinct requirements for permitting manufacturing equipment.
Last, let's say you or your client has a large sign project going up. Will your local city ordinances require you to obtain a permit? Do the research before you take the job!
Once the Print is Done
You need to have the room to roll out the graphics on the floor for last-minute, preshipping checks, and to make sure panels match up correctly. More often than not, seaming together of multiple strips is required, usually done using vinyl-welding machinery. Grommets or sewing are also a common part of grand-format finishing, as is liquid lamination for added print protection.
During production and installation, it's critical to match panels and seams. You must understand what it takes to create such large-sized graphics, and the care required when matching up panels.
Let's consider for a moment something truly huge, like a building wrap. Building wraps typically use a mesh vinyl material. Since the vinyl has a relatively open weave, being roughly one- third opaque, wind can easily pass through it. As a result, occupants of the building are able to see outside, outsiders cannot see in, the design appears as a solid image and the wrap is wind resistant.
In the overall cost of a grand-format job, the installation of the print is definitely a key factor. Every machine is unique, as are every job and every installation. Many jobs are installed by outside firms that obtain the proper permits and have a staff dedicated to installation. (Some printers have added installation to their services.) Other types of installation might include vehicle wrapping, billboard installation, banners, flags etc.
For help with installation, DPI maintains a listing of graphics installers at DPIA.org. For training in installation procedures, you can contact either the Professional Decal Application Association, Inc. (www.pdaa.com) or the United Applications Standards Group (www.uasg.org) for more information.
Investigate Choices in Grand Format
This article was originally published in the 2004 Volume Eight, Third Quarter SGIA Journal magazine and is being reprinted with permission. Photos courtesy of VUTEk.
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