The cutter stole the show. 

The “show” was the May 16 Wilmington, Mass., stop on the 14-city xpedx Wide-Format Printer Summit road show, offering a combination of hard data and hands-on demonstrations for commercial print providers looking to move into the wide-format printing space. The “cutter” was the Esko Kongsberg XN24 cutting table. In the xpedx demo room, an EFI Rastek H652 UV flatbed printer was pumping out rigid boards featuring baseballs and baseball bats. The finished boards were carried across the aisle to the cutter and, even when placed at a random angle, the cutter could flawlessly identify the image areas and automatically cut out the appropriate shapes. More complex contours—such as fish—were also handled with ease. The 25–30 commercial printing professionals in attendance were spellbound, reminding me of the Arthur C. Clarke quote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” It wasn’t magic, of course, just hardware and software, but one of the themes of the event was to demonstrate just what the possibilities of wide-format printing are, both in terms of technology and of business. 

The equipment demonstration—HP’s DesignJet L26500 Latex printer and Epson’s  SureColor S70670 solvent printer were also on display, offering just about the full range of ink technologies—was the second part of the half-day event, punctuating a presentation by InfoTrends’ Tim Greene entitled “Wide-Format: A BIG Opportunity for Your Business.” Despite the demo—and the captivating cutter—the emphasis throughout the event was really not on the equipment per se. When it comes to wide-format printing, said Dennis Killion, xpedx’s Director of Marketing, Graphics, “marketing and selling is the big issue, not the technology.” We’ve all seen wide-format printers—and most of us have seen cutting equipment—but how to grow a successful wide-format printing business often remains to be seen. And that’s where the value of events like this one lies. 

Greene’s presentation offered a mix of data and case studies highlighting not only how wide-format is a growth market for the printing industry, but also offering detailed strategies for successfully moving into the wide-format space. “Don’t just buy a wide-format printer and assume people will come,” Greene advised. The goal is to integrate into the business you already have and size it up accordingly. Understanding customers’ total marketing needs is also part of a successful wide-format strategy. Greene’s presentation also offered a variety of resources to ferret out cutting-edge trends, network with potential customers, and price, market, and sell wide-format output. 

After the presentation, the group moved to the demonstration room which, in addition to the printing and cutting equipment, also included just over half a dozen substrate vendors including MacTac, 3M, InteliCoat, Catalina Graphic Films, Gilman Brothers, UltraFlexx, and Interplast. 

About half of those in attendance were already involved in wide-format printing, either directly or by outsourcing wide-format projects, and the presentation and demonstrations gave ample food for thought. 

The Wilmington event was the third in the series of 14 Wide-Format Printer Summits which will continue through the summer. Check here for a list of dates and venues.