The How and Why of Wide Format Printing

The How and Why of Wide Format Printing

The How and Why of Wide Format Printing

Ask any printer about how his industry has changed over the past two decades and he’s likely to shake his head and tell you how much the demand for commercial printing has decreased. Newspapers, books, and magazines, for example, have reverted to online options or have been severely reduced in size. Furthermore, consumers resort to do-it-yourself jobs using their PC and home printers in hopes of saving money on small jobs like fliers, brochures, business cards, and more. The tools are available to perform these printing tasks for a lot less money than if one were to hire a printing company.

wide format printing signageHowever, commercial printers report that the one area of printing that continues to increase is in the field of wide format graphics, and many have turned their businesses in that direction in order to recoup losses felt with the demise of small format jobs.

What is Wide Format Printing?

Wide format printing is not an invention of the Millennium. In fact, looking back, wide format printers have been around since the late 1980s/early 1990s. At that time, printer manufacturers were making some ink jet and electrostatic printers that measured about a meter wide (36 inches). But the general public really wasn’t using them with any regularity. They were the realm of architectural firms who needed to make large-scale blueprints or engineers who required print-outs of complicated schematics. Also, early wide format printers only produced black and white images. Large format color printers didn’t really become popular until the mid-1990s.

As the Millennium approached, more and more commercial printing services acquired wide format equipment, though they often didn’t use these printers on a regular basis. They likely received orders for the occasion poster or similar, though they found it worthwhile to keep these relatively easy-to-operate printers on hand just in case.

So, what constitutes wide format? That answer has changed over the years. As previously mentioned, early wide format printers were generally about a meter in length but the term really refers to anything larger than what a standard printer can produce (usually about 28 x 43 cm or 11 x 17 inches). Most of the large format printers on the market today measure more than 60 cm (24 inches) and can be as large as about a 1.6 meters (64 inches). Some wide format printing specialists even offer super-wide output, with width up to 2 meters or 6 feet.

Most wide format digital printers use software to accomplish their tasks. In the last decade or so, there’s been a huge increase in software programs available for the wide format printer. This has made printing in a large format easier and more cost-effective. These programs take all the text and graphics for a particular project and convert them into the dots needed to send the project through the actual printing device. Some are better than others, but printing technicians can experiment to see which work best.

Who Uses Wide Format Printing?

While the average person will find an occasional use for wide format printing – perhaps for school projects or similar – retailers are by far the largest users of this type of printing. Just look around as you enter a store, restaurant, mall, supermarket, or other retail establishment and you’ll no doubt spy plenty of items that popped out of a large format printer. Some of these might include:

Point-of-sale (POS) displays – Point-of-sale displays are usually temporary displays that tout a particular product or line of products that the retailer wishes to promote. These displays often use attention-getting graphics that’ll catch the eye of the consumer and prompt a last-minute impulse purchase. Wide format printing is ideal for POS display designs.

Posters/banners – Retailers use posters and banners frequently. They might be a regular fixture in a particular department or can be used to promote sales or other specials. They often change seasonally or when new inventory arrives, so retailers look to spend as little as possible for a quality product. Wide format digital printing fits the bill.

Window displays – Store owners that have spaces that include large windows often spend time dressing up those spaces. Wide format pieces can add a little extra pizzazz to those areas and are easy to install and change, when necessary.

Wallcoverings – Items such as murals and other wallcoverings can be manufactured on a wide format printer. These are ideal for changing the look of a retail shop without investing in a new paint job or other costly project.

Vehicle wraps – For retailers who have a fleet of vehicles, wide format printing can be used to make wraps for those vehicles. These provide a uniform look for all their vehicles and are easily installed and removed.

Trade show displays – Taking your act on the road? Chances are you’ll need something to catch the attention of show goers. Wide format printing can help with this task and can produce pieces that can stand up to the packing and unpacking that goes with taking your items from trade show to trade show.

Backlit signs and films – Backlit signs are exactly as the name implies. They are signs that sit in front of a light box and are lit from behind for a vibrant and easy-to-read look, especially in a darker environment. Large format printers can produce “decals” that are adhered to a rigid backlit surface.

Floor graphics – Certain wide format printers can produce vinyl floor decals and graphics that stand up to foot traffic yet are intriguing to the customer. These are great for in-store promotions and sales.

Specific Applications for Wide Format Printing

Of course, every shop owner knows that signs are important when it comes to not only announcing the name of your store but also giving directions, advertising specials, and determining your style. Customers remember signs and logos and can often identify a shop by recalling its signs – you know, “the store on the corner that has the sign with the big purple letters”, etc.

Large stores with lots of wall space use plenty of signage and are especially interested in wide format digital signs. It gives their space extra character and – very often – can also be used to tell a story, so to speak.

As previously mentioned, large format printing includes items such as posters and banners and even custom wallpaper. These can be printed on paper but also materials such as styrene, foamcore, gatorboard, vinyl, and other long-lasting products. Often, it’s also possible to print on recycled material as well, a great option for those interested in remaining “green”.

Banners, specifically, can be used both inside and outside a shop or other establishment, can be hung on walls or in windows, and even on lampposts. Sizeable banners can be printed to include a lot of information, so they’re ideal for things like special promotions. Because a wide variety of materials are available for banner making, you can choose one that’s extra durable and will hold up to harsh outdoor conditions, or choose something less expensive that won’t break the budget.

For shop owners that have a particularly uninteresting wall in their space, one that needs much more than just a few signs or a picture or two, consideration should be given to adding a unique wallpaper-type design. The possibilities are for this are many. For example, shops that sell beach wear can have a sunny beach scene printed for their space, encompassing the entire wall. For a food store, one might consider custom made wallpaper that includes fruit trees or maybe a farm. Murals are fun as well and can be produced in the same manner with no need to invest in hiring someone to paint the wall.

For those not looking for something as extensive as full-wall wallpaper, retailers can still take advantage of the items produced by wide format digital printing machines. They may want just a few large photographs that fit the mood or theme of the shop, or perhaps large signs on stanchions advertising specials or anything else the retailer might want to bring to the attention of his customers.

Wide format printing is also ideal for events outside of the store, as noted. For example, those hosting a meeting or conference or participating in a trade show will find that the banners, posters, and other large items produced via wide format digital printing are ideal for on-the-go displays and can be designed to attract attention, even in a big convention space.

Overall, wide format digital printing is the retailer’s best friend. Even small shops need the occasional attention-getter, and using some of the above-mentioned options, but on a smaller scale, is still a wise marketing idea.

But What about the Cost?

The idea of delving into the world of wide format digital printing options for their space may frighten some retailers. After all, any machine that produces a high-quality product that can be described as anywhere from large to huge has to be expensive, right?

Not necessarily, say the experts. While it’s impossible to quote a specific price for all wide format printing, given the unlimited options and the particulars of each project, pricing will depend on many different factors, not the least of which is the experience of the company doing the printing and their printing capabilities.

If, as a retailer, you head down the street to the local office supply store and ask them to make 10 posters of 1m x 2m in size for your upcoming sale, you’ll probably pay top dollar for your items. However, if you bring that same request to a company that has long been in the wide format digital printing business and/or who owns multiple printers that accomplish various tasks, you’ll likely pay less money and wind up with a better-produced product with results overseen by someone who specializes in the industry.

Of course, a lot of other factors determine price as well. Naturally, size is a major cost consideration, as well as the material on which the graphic/text is printed, whether the pieces need to be laminated or dry mounted, and if some other finishing process is required to achieve the desired look.

Production time will also vary according to not only the product desired but also the chosen printing company. Companies with more and better machines and a larger and more experienced staff will get your wide format items completed more quickly and – likely – they’ll be of higher quality as well.

It’s always wise to ask for samples before you select the printer who will craft your wide format projects. When examining them, look for clarity of graphic/text and the quality of the materials used. Do the pictures look good both close up and far away? Is the paper (or other material) on which it’s printed seem durable or will it have difficulty withstanding high traffic?

Once you’re pleased that the quality is what you seek and the cost is one you can handle with your budget, go ahead and give wide format printing a try.

Find out more about wide format printing.  Call 03 9794 1000

About the Author