Commentary & Analysis
Wide-Format’s Expanded Presence at Graph Expo 2015
If it jets ink, it’s a hot technology, and while production inkjet got the bulk of the buzz at last week’s Graph Expo, wide-format and specialty printing continue to play a much larger role.
By Richard Romano
Published: September 23, 2015
I had mentioned in my Graph Expo preview feature that wide-format was not a primary focus, but was a growing presence, at the Chicago show, and that certainly ended up being the case. If you have been following our regular coverage and recaps, you know that inkjet dominated; “Inkjet! Inkjet! Inkjet!” screamed page 1 of Day 1’s Show Daily, and that was an excitable, but not inaccurate summary of the enthusiasm surrounding inkjet technologies. The interesting thing about inkjet, though, it that it is inkjet in all its myriad incarnations that dominated the show. Production inkjet, yes, but also inkjet wide-format, inkjet packaging, and inkjet labels. If it jets ink, it’s hot.
I hit the salient products on display in my preview, but one happy surprise was this year’s Inkjet Candy Store. Launched two years ago at Print 13, the Inkjet Candy Store is a centrally located show floor pavilion that juxtaposes a broad cross-section of wide-format vendors, models, technologies, and applications. In its first two incarnations, I felt that it failed to live up to its potential, but that has decidedly changed, and this year I felt it did a very good job of having working models and product demonstrations. Let’s hope they keep it up after the move to Orlando next year.
The advantages of inkjet are perhaps best exemplified in the concept—introduced last February at EFI Connect—that EFI is calling “the Imaging of Things,” a play on “the Internet of Things.” In the latter case, the idea is to make all the various objects in our lives Internet-enabled and communicating with each other. In “the Imaging of Things,” which EFI CEO Guy Gecht reiterated in a press conference on Day 3 of Graph Expo, the idea is that, thanks to UV flatbed printers, you can print on virtually anything, which, as I have pointed out many times in this space, enables myriad new high-value applications. At one point, Gecht quipped, “No company in Silicon Valley is considered a leader in the industry unless their product is being used in the bathroom,” prefacing a shout-out to EFI’s Cretaprint ceramic printing system that can print bathroom tiles. (On a side note, over at The Digital Nirvana, my discovery of an old Cretaprint tile inspires a discursive trek through the developments—beginning with advances in ceramics—that led to the advent of inkjet technology.) Technology is all well and good, but Gecht also emphasized another point that really makes these applications of high value to customers: the creativity of companies and individuals in the industry. “There is no more creative industry than the printing industry,” he said.
It’s important for the industry to be creative, because end users—printers’ customers—can now potentially do an end run around the commercial printer and, with a modest investment in, say, a table-top UV printer, print their own specialty items. In Mutoh’s booth, the company was featuring examples from Phoenix, Ariz.’s HJ Trophies & Awards, a trophy company that purchased a Mutoh ValueJet 426UF tabletop UV-LED printer and now custom-prints a wide variety of objects that open up their product offerings beyond traditional awards. It has enabled the trophy company to expand their business, and offer new products that make them more money, said David Conrad, Director of Sales and Marketing for Mutoh.
One company that has embraced all the myriad aspects of inkjet—from high-speed production inkjet, to wide-format, to packaging, is HP. HP was “showcasing a fleet of cross-segment digital printing solutions from our broad graphics portfolio, including HP Indigo, PageWide Web Press, Latex and PageWide XL solutions, to help educate customers and expand their market opportunity across photo specialty, design, sign and display, direct mail, publishing, labels, packaging, and decoration segments in addition to general commercial printing,” said Mike Salfity, HP’s VP and General Manager, Graphics Solutions Business. “According to Caslon, digitally printed applications are growing approximately three times faster than conventionally printed applications.” This opens up opportunities across the board for companies willing to pursue then.
(By the way, it’s tempting to think that everything is inkjet, but Canon was making waves, as it were, with the new Océ ColorWave 700, launched earlier this year. The ColorWave 700 is a toner-based 42-inch printing system designed for color graphics and CAD/GIS applications. Interest in toner may be toned down compared to inkjet, but rumors of its death…etc. etc.)
For obvious reasons, we tend to focus on wide-format hardware, but software is equally, if not more, important than hardware, or at least is becoming so. In wide-format printing, workflows have yet to be automated, certainly to the extent they have become automated in general commercial printing. Part of the challenge is that wide-format and specialty graphics printing are seen as more “craft” or hands-on kinds of workflows, and an automated approach implies, to some extent, a commoditization of printing products. But even certain types of high-value print products can benefit from some degree of automation. Enfocus Software recently partnered with Caldera to allow Switch, Enfocus’ workflow automation tool, to work with Caldera’s wide-format RIP. Other software solutions for workflow automation, MIS, estimating, and other production and management functions—like Ricoh’s Avanti Slingshot (whose Grand Format Estimating Module garnered a Must See ’Em Award)—are also starting to take into account wide-format printing.
As Cary Sherburne wrote, inkjet was on fire at Graph Expo, but wide-format was also radiating its own intense heat.