By Tom Wetjen In the National Association for Printing Leadership's state of the industry report for 2003 to 2004, wide-format printing was among the top 10 services cited for the fastest growth over the next two years July 26, 2005 -- The new frontier in wide-format printing is workflow. Now that most wide-format production is performed on digital systems, digital workflow tools can bring a new level of efficiency and flexibility to most print operations. Efficient, flexible systems can be the foundation for cost savings, for greater responsiveness to customers, and for development of the more strategic and profitable applications that keep businesses competitive. Incremental improvements in print technology also will continue to play a role in advancing the industry. And vendors will increasingly offer end-to-end solutions that address not only printing, but workflow, training and even marketing assistance, as well. Whether for producing posters and signs for graphic arts customers or for providing color renderings to the architecture, engineering and construction industries, many print providers have developed profitable niche businesses with wide format printing. In the National Association for Printing Leadership's state of the industry report for 2003 to 2004, wide-format printing was among the top 10 services cited for the fastest growth over the next two years, based upon input from 670 printers. More than 16 percent cited it, double the response for CD services. "Print -- particularly visually compelling color printing -- is still a big part of the communications mix," the report states. Three tracks make up workflow: production, work process management and business processes Workflow-- the path that print jobs follow from creation to final billing -- can take a wide-format offering to the next level. The production of the job -- including creating, preparing and printing the file, and distributing the output -- is just one of three tracks that make up workflow. A second is process management, which includes scheduling and tracking across multiple production systems, as well as remote and local storage and retrieval. The final piece is managing the business process and such customer interactions as job initiation, proof approval and billing. Providers of wide format printing have an opportunity not only to integrate these systems for automation-based productivity gains, but to integrate wide format printing workflow with their other digital communications services. Workflow tools are available today that enable management of many previously separate production processes, including color and monochrome printing, print and electronic output, and digital and offset printing. Print service providers should seek standards-based workflow systems that promise to operate with current and future printing systems. To achieve these breakthroughs, print service providers should seek standards-based workflow systems that promise to operate with current and future printing systems. Relevant standards include widespread graphic arts standards, such as PDF, as well as engineering, architecture and construction standards. These include DWF (Drawing Web Format) developed by AutoDesk, a file format analogous to PDF for technical/engineering documents; Xerox plans to support DWF in the future. Advances in printing technology will also offer competitive advantages Increasingly, however, print providers will gain competitive advantage from "beyond the box." Print service providers are well served to work with vendors that take a solutions approach, to provide not only the hardware, but workflow software, integration services, staff training and even marketing support, which was cited by the NAPL report as the greatest obstacle to growth among printers. Print service providers are well served to work with vendors that take a solutions approach This approach is the foundation for totally integrated print shops, in which jobs can be easily moved between -- and shared among -- print and electronic production devices to respond quickly to new opportunities. In today's fast-changing market, that's precisely where print service providers need to be.