The DLR (Docklands Light Rail) train wended its way through London’s East End and the Docklands and pulled into the station for London’s ExCel Centre. The conductor announced, “Customs House for the ExCel Centre. If you’re going to FESPA 2013, please alight here.” In all my years of attending trade shows and riding public transit, that has to be the first time an announcement about an industry trade event replaced “mind the gap” or “stand clear of the closing doors.”

“We pulled some strings,” says Neil Felton, FESPA’s Managing Director, Exhibitions and Events.

When I caught up with Mr. Felton, it was the third day of the five-day event, and so far attendance has been up over previous events. “We’re very pleased,” he said.

It’s become rather a cliché at this point to discuss the large, excited crowds attending shows in the sign, display, and wide-format markets, but there it is. And whilst several exhibitors who have been to recent U.S. shows like SGIA and ISA said that the enthusiasm on this side of the Atlantic was a bit muted in comparison, everyone universally commented on what a successful show it has been for them. Even if Friday afternoon got a little slow—“beating traffic” is perhaps a universal constant—the rest of the days more than made up for it. FESPA London also tends to draw a more of an international crowd, largely Europeans who may be inclined to travel across the Atlantic. “It’s more cosmopolitan,” one exhibitor remarked to me, “and I like to smell all the spices.” “Fewer gamblers,” said another whom I had last run into in Las Vegas.

FESPA was celebrating its 50th anniversary, as well, and many exhibitors took the opportunity to make various product announcements, both big and small.

New Equipment

You’ve seen one of them already in my time-traveling video interview—the HP Scitex FB10000 Industrial Press, boasting a bed size of 1.6 x 3.2m (that’s 63 x 126 in to us Yanks) and a maximum speed of 625 m2/hr (6,727 ft2/hr) or 125 full-size sheets per hour, which of course depends upon mode, what you’re printing, etc. The FB10000 also introduces HP’s new HDR (High Dynamic Range) Printing Technology, a combination of new printhead design, inks, and software algorithms that carefully vary the dot size and placement in shadows, highlights, and mid-tones to boost the quality and resolution of fine detail and eliminate issues such as banding. HP is seeking to take on both offset and flexography with the new press. The FB10000 got no small amount of attention, as did the also recently announced Latex 3000 wide-format printer.

Xerox was showcasing one of its most recent announcements, the IJP 2000, certainly one of the fastest poster printers I’ve ever seen. Being a single-pass device with stationary printheads, it’s capable of speeds of (says the spec sheet) up to 420 m2/hr. (4,520 ft2/hr), pumping out a color sign in as little as five seconds, a 30 foot banner in about a minute, and a run of 200 prints in about 20 minutes. Actual mileage will vary, of course, but it’s still much faster than the average wide-format device on the market today. Its width is 42 in (1.1m) and it can print a maximum length of 98 ft (30m). “It’s an indoor signage printer with high productivity and high image quality, when fast turnaround is a big issue,” says Geoffrey Rummel, Xerox’s Wide-Format Manager, Graphic Communication Business Group. Xerox has already had their first sale of the IJP 2000, to a Danish bank looking to produce its own internal signage.

At the last few shows, Canon had been demonstrating the prototype or proof-of-concept model of a new wide-format printer based on Memjet printhead technology, code-named Project Velocity. Here at FESPA, it made its official debut as the Océ ColorWave 900, boasting a print resolution of 1600 dpi and a delivery of 3.4 billion (with a b) 1.2-picoliter (pl) ink droplets per second, for a quoted maximum output speed of 1,100 m2/hr—or, says Canon Europe’s Anne-Marie van der Laan-Geluk, Marketing Manager Technical Document Systems & Display Graphic Solutions, “enough sheets to reach to the top of the Eiffel Tower and back, in an hour.” Mon dieu! Canon also announced the new Arizona 600 series of UV flatbed printers, comprising the 640 and 660, a four-color and six-color machine, respectively. Each also has a CT and XT version, the latter of which features an extra-large table size. The six-color models also take advantage of a new technology Canon is calling CM2, whereby the fifth and sixth channels use extra cyan and magenta to boost print speed.

Like all the equipment vendors, the Canon booth also featured an impressive application “gallery”—some really cool, sometimes crazy, stuff their customers were doing. In one, suspended above the center (or centre, if you prefer) of the Canon booth, a photographer has gone to the top of the BT Tower and took a number of shots—with a Canon camera, natch—of a 360-degree view of London, stitched them all together with panorama software, and had the resulting “diorama” output on a Canon wide-format printer. Very cool. As I point out in all my show coverage, the emphasis isn’t necessarily on reciting spec sheet details (despite my tendency to do so above), but to highlight to print service providers the possibilities that these devices can offer. Not every printer is going to jump in and start printing on acrylics or digitally printed kitchen sink backsplashes, but knowing the what is possible has the potential to open up entirely new conversations between printers and customers. To that end, Canon also has compiled a “Look Book” of unique applications, a mere fraction of which appeared in the booth’s application gallery. The amount of creativity out there is what makes covering the wide-format market so exciting.

Across the show floor, EFI has brought to the UK, for the first time, the VUTEk HS100 Pro, a 3.2m hybrid flatbed/rollfed printer that implements EFI’s Pin & Cure technology for precision ink lay-down. EFI was also celebrating 100 installations of its VUTEk LED-cured devices, which I wrote about several weeks ago. EFI also announced its new UV-cured thermoforming inks, which can be printed on plastic, then placed into a thermoforming oven and molded into a three-dimensional shape without cracking or discoloring. EFI also took advantage of the opportunity to show its SmartSign Analytics. Here’s how it works: a POS display has a tiny camera in it that captures pictures of people reading the display. Facial recognition software can then be used to analyze the images of gawkers to gauge things like age, gender, and how long they stayed there, ultimately gathering data on how effective the display was. (The obligatory qualification to add here is that the system does not record or save video, images, or personal information of any kind; they’ll leave that to the NSA).

A few steps down the aisle in the Fujifilm booth, Inca Digital was launching and showing the Inca Onset Q40i. (Inca, by the way, was one of the pioneers in the area of flatbed printers, whose Eagle, Turbo, and Spyder models were seminal devices. Inca Digital was acquired in 2005 by Dainippon Screen and now operates as part of the Print on Demand Division of Dainippon Screen Group—and the Screen Truepress Jet W3200UV, shown across the hall, is a joint development with Inca, and uses Fujifilm Dimatix heads. Speaking of Fujifilm, they partnered with Inca early on—via Sericol—and developed UV inks for the Inca models. Fujifilm eventually took over the distribution of the Inca printers. Ya got all that? We may need to get Peter Frame to do one of those Rock Family Tree-like charts to clarify all this.) Anyway, the Onset is 3.14 x 1.6m (123.6 x 63 in) and can handle media up to 50mm (2 in) thick. It is being touted as ideal for backlit cosmetics displays, fashion imagery, and other closely-viewed graphics. The phrase “comparable to offset lithography” has also been bandied about, not for the first or last time at this show.

Durst had long carved out a niche in the photoprinting market—continuous-tone laser-based wide-format output. They have been moving toward inkjet as of late, and at FESPA were showing their new product portfolio comprising the Rho 1012, Rhotex 322, and Rho 512R, the former a high-speed industrial flatbed, the latter two fast rollfed devices, which are based on Durst’s new Variodrop Technology. The machines are targeted predominantly for the retail POP market and, indeed, it was announced at FESPA that UK retailer Debenhams bought a Durst Rho P10 320R and a Rho 320 HS for its refitted in-house printing operation, and to generate all-new graphics for its Oxford Street flagship store which is currently under renovation.

One RIP to Rule Them All?

Wide-format printing is not just about hardware. It’s also about software. “Right after they visit the equipment manufacturers, they come over to see us,” says Kevin Murphy, President of Onyx Graphics. A growing trend, which several “RIP” vendors pointed out, is foe the software component to be seen as “more than just a RIP,” or a simple device or application to make dots. Indeed, I get the general sense that the term “RIP” should in fact “rest in peace.” Today, “RIP” software is about managing the entire workflow, controlling not just the output device, but all aspects of production from input to output. “Automating and simplifying,” says Murphy. Part of this evolution of the RIP itself is the evolution of the software company. Onyx, for example, built itself over the decades as a predominantly color profiling and management company, but their new Thrive workflow software offers a scalable print production system, whose hallmark is that it’s based 100% on Adobe technologies. It enables a soup-to-nuts PDF-based workflow that starts at digital file submission, proceeds through color management and printing, and finishes with finishing. Onyx is also introducing individual plug-in modules customized for specific applications, such as vehicle wraps or signs and banners.

France-based Caldera is also striving to cast itself as more than just a RIP company, to be seen as “the new Caldera,” says Joseph Mergui, President and CEO. Caldera is also taking software beyond the RIP and into workflow automation, MIS, Web-to-print, and controlling finishing operations. Mergui also anticipates being able to use software to aid in integrating both the print and electronic elements of dynamic signage. Amongst their wide range of product offerings are PrintBoard and Variable Display, the latter a combination of hardware and software that drives a video display or LED billboard, and can be integrated with printed output—such as, say, a printed window graphic that has blank spaces through which a video display presents the electronic component. Other Caldera products include CostView which not only calculates the costs associated with printing, but also the carbon cost of a given job; Cut Solution modules that can control cutting process at the RIP level; Flow+ for business management; Webshop for Web-to-print; GrandTex and VisualTex for textile printing; and many more. Many of these integrate with Caldera V.9.20, the company’s flagship workflow production software.

Laying the Future Bare?

One of the highlights of the show for some—and which garnered not a few complaints, curiously, almost entirely from men—was the conspicuous presence of a female “booth babe” wearing nothing more than body paint and a loincloth. My immediate question was, what device was used to print on her? And this got me thinking about a whole new potential product area: direct digital body imaging, to perhaps take advantage of the increasing tattooing trend. So my question: how to adapt a flatbed printer to print on human flesh?