By Nancy Ingalls May 9 , 2006 -- Wide format printing, once a curiosity, has grown steadily over the past decade to become an established digital print technology. Everything from fine art to cars to signage to proofs and more all come off a wide range of inkjet wide format printers. And as in any digital print market, technology is shaping what comes next. With 2005 behind us, sales of flatbed printers increased at a much lower rate than predicted. One cause could be that the screen printing market still is resisting the new digital technology, even though several new applications including: printing on glass, corrugated packaging and the printing of ceramic tiles have been introduced. As we look at what is printed, posters, fine art and POP account for over half of what printers are producing, according to a survey by Digital Output magazine, the leading industry publication for wide format printing and graphics. Mergers & Acquisitions are a Good Thing If nothing else, 2005 will be remembered as a year of acquisitions in the wide format sector. Consider the digital print mergers and acquisitions such as: Vutek by EFI, Inca by Dainippon Screen, and Scitex by HP. With Digital FESPA 2006 being the main exhibition for the digital printing industry, it is anticipated 2006 to be an fruitful year filled with innovative technology. If Durst did not introduce its innovative Quadro Array print head technology in 2005 the year would have been a yawn from a technology perspective. Many companies announced white print capabilities but were unable to effectively demonstrate the feature. Ground was broken in 2005 with UV ink technology--not only in flatbeds but also with roll-to-roll printing. NUR introduced the Expedio and the Durst Rho 350R indicates the end of electrostatic printers. What's Up for 2006 The atmosphere is optimistic for 2006. IT strategies predicts the world wide large format market will grow by approximately 17 percent. When one digs deeper into the equipment, media and ink segments the media and ink segments seem to be on the rise for strong growth, whereas equipment will only grow at an annual rate of 4 percent. Even though product installation rates are relatively low, print volumes continue to increase exponentially do to faster output speed and improved equipment reliability. 40 percent of the digital print market will invest this year; 26 percent of this investment will be aqueous inkjet printers, 22.8 percent solvent, 16.7 percent UV inkjet. Due to the advantages of uncoated media, lower ink consumption (approximately half of the consumption of solvent inks), and the ability to fulfill the increasingly stringent EU health and safety regulations, 2006 will see some 65 percent of the installed base of 98-feet-plus roll printers more than 3 years old will be replaced with new UV curing ink printers. In the for-what-it's-worth department, the rumor mill indicates there will be a technological breakthrough in single-pass inkjet development. What was started four years ago by Dotrix and followed by Kerajet (in the ceramic industry) was shown at the Drupa exhibition in 2004 by SunChemical-Coates and Inca as prototypes; will become a reality in 2006. The trend in technological development for higher quality (resolution), faster speed and increased reliability, will continue this year. We have already seen ink technology advancements with the introduction of cationic ink by Durst for its Rho 350R, which offers the benefits of no smell, wider color gamut and ink flexibility. With the development of special inks the door opens to new markets and niche applications. Markets producing industrial applications, such as ceramic tile printing, where, for the first time, Durst uses a specially formulated pigmented ceramic inks in piezo print heads is just one example. Finally, 2006, digital printing will steadily advance--the advantages of personalization, one off production and the savings attributed to just in time print manufacturing will conquer more industry segments outside the large format graphic market. "Most importantly, UV Digital Flatbed printers will enable a printer to provide the best possible service and direct-to-media printing that can be turned around quickly, when needed. Whatever the device or application, the competitive edge comes from being able to supply what the clients want, when they want it, at the right price and, of course, of the highest possible quality. The technology delivers the capabilities. It's up to the print provider to take advantage of it.