IT’S ALWAYS INTERESTING to see which booths draw the crowds. Here in Miami Beach there was steady traffic at the purveyors of wide-format ink jet printers and at several smaller firms offering everything from economical custom imprinting, CD labeling and duplicating and very affordable binding systems for short-run, on-demand books.

Living Large
On the large side, ColorSpan, Hewlett-Packard, Océ, PosterJet, Scitex, and Vutek offered up an impressive range of choices for print providers seeking to break into the rapidly growing and very lucrative large-format printing market. These vendors offer a wide range of machines for quick and commercial printers and sign companies. The print widths shown here started at about four feet wide and run to twelve feet, with far larger machines available but not on display. Every booth was draped with a panoply of Brobdingnagian images of animals, landscapes, motorcycles, race cars and maps, many available for the asking.

"The market for these machines in Latin America is very strong," says Earnest Pulliam, owner of Florida Graphic Solutions in Miami, the Latin American distributor for Posterjet. "It’s a very well-flavored--meaning profitable--market."

Pulliam says there are different machines for the various applications, with dye-, pigment- and solvent-based inks available depending on the vendor. Some machines can use more than one ink type, providing flexibility for the owner. Dye and pigment inks are common for indoor applications and are often laminated to add longevity, for short duration outdoor use or where UV exposure is a concern. The more durable solvent inks are designed to last for up to five years in outdoor applications, even under the intense ultraviolet rays of the Latin American and Caribbean sun. Billboards, stadium signage, building and vehicle wraps are among the leading outdoor applications, while retailers, malls and restaurants are active customers for indoor apps. Where wide format resolutions once maxed out at about 300 dpi or so, that’s the bottom end these days. It’s still more than adequate for displays viewed at a distance, and still looks good up close. Some machines, like those from ColorSpan, sport resolutions as high as 1800 dpi, and use six and eight color inks to produce spectacular output. Prices begin at under $15,000 for some dye-based machines (including RIP) and range upwards of $250,000 for the fastest, most capable, industrial strength solvent-ink devices.

Image quality on all types and sizes of machine are improving but substrates are critical to the applications and the longevity of the big prints. InteliCoat showcased an broad range of its Magic brand of papers, fabrics and films purpose-designed for almost any imaginable application. The big draw in the booth was the Magic Bus, a 1967 Volkswagen Microbus wrapped in eye-catching graphics printed on a vinyl substrate using a Xerox electrostatic printer. InteliCoat announced a number of new products including a polycarbonate film, a complete line of media for solvent-based printers, a media for printing floor graphics, another for fabrics and fine art papers, and several others. InteliCoat develops coatings for the different media that assures they are compatible with the different inks used and the operating characteristics of the many different machines available.

Think Small
Meanwhile, smaller devices drew steady traffic to the booths of Forever, ExactBind and Impuls ID Systems. Much like the special coatings and substrates of InteliCoat, Forever is a German company that makes substrates that allow printers to print highly durable images onto everything from pens and butane lighters to wood, fabrics, plastics, glass, jigsaw puzzles, and ceramics. The substrates are imaged using a color laser printer or copier, then bonded to their new home using modestly priced heat sealing machines. The interest for GOTA attendees is the significant profit potential from producing short runs of customized advertising specialties and a broad range of decorative items that can be individualized for every customer. According to Onur Oz, International Sales Manager and son of company President Bulent Oz, a complete system (other than the color laser printer) can be assembled for about $5,000, from which most printers could realize a positive ROI in about three or four months.

It took a while to get into the IMPULS ID booth. The milling crowds were snapping up samples of freshly duplicated CDs, replete with full color printing on the CD instead of an adhesive label. Impuls, based in Fort Lauderdale, is a reseller for Primera and Fargo CD labelers and duplicators, HP ticket printers and Datamax ID card printers. Other booths had similar offerings, but Implus had the most complete solution sets and offered the best integration of these small format printing systems that provide painless, fast printing with a quick ROI.

There was also steady traffic at the ExactBind booth, a small space that could have been larger to accommodate the traffic coming to see what I’d be willing to bet is the most flexible, economical and practical binding system for short-run books. Pleasantly devoid of microprocessors, the company’s binders, creasers and hard-cover maker simplfies and compresses the steps required to produce hard and soft cover books and presentations in a variety of page counts and dimensions. The system is ideal for printers looking for an economical binding solution, as well as for corporate reprographics departments, in-plant printers, schools, independent publishers and more--anyplace where high-quality binding and low entry and operating costs are essential. Frank Millis, company president demoed each part of the system part of which included showing just how securely the pages become attached to the cover. Giving a solid yank on any page tears the page while the bound edge stays where it belongs. A manual system consisting of a binder, creaser and hard cover maker can be had for under $5,000. When teamed with any laser printer, book production can be a fast way to profits.