The photo shoot took place on the top floor of an office building. The idea was to shoot the model under falling water, so “we rerouted the sprinkler system,” said photographer Bob Armstrong during a Roland booth appearance Monday at Print 13. “But then realized we wanted a waterfall.” They made some more, likely ill-advised, tweaks to the plumbing—and then the shoot became a race against time, as the building’s owners were on their way up. They managed to wrap in time.

“Then there was the time we got the horse up there...” Armstrong adds. His stories alone could fill several books.

Wide-format printing has always been an endeavor for the highly creative, and it would be hard to find someone more creative than Armstrong. Hailing from Australia, Armstrong’s design firm Body of Work at one time specialized in creating annual reports, back in the day when annual reports were the epitome of high-quality design and printing. When annual reports moved online, Armstrong doubled down, and decided he wanted to produce the “best printed products possible.” This has led to more than 115 international design and printing awards, including eight Bennies at Printing Industries of America’s Premier Print Awards, held during Print 13 earlier this week.

Armstrong, along with model Swarna Taylor, was in the Roland booth Sunday and Monday at Print 13, showcasing his body of work (much of that work featuring Taylor’s body) output on the Roland VersaUV wide-format printer. Armstrong applies the same creativity to the printing of his work as he does to the content of the imagery. His images feature a rotating cast of female models—including Taylor and another named Hannah who bills herself as a “professional mermaid”—in elaborate costumes and unique poses, some shot at the bottom of a pool, or, indeed, under an office building’s sprinkler system. Usually, the images are the result of a collaboration between Armstrong and his models, who seem to be game for most anything. Usually. “I don’t like the trampoline,” said Taylor, who admitted to being more partial to trapezes. (This was not my usual trade show booth conversation...)

Masking, layered varnishing (often as many as 12 layers), and myriad other design and printing techniques have allowed Armstrong—working with Roland and especially “technical whiz” Glyn Szasz—to push the Roland equipment to the max and produce stunning one-off prints which sell for upwards of $25,000. One image, printed on 9-carat gold—admittedly not a substrate most printers are used to working with—sold for $1 million. He’s printed several other prints on mirrors. Armstrong’s work is often too expensive for most people to actually purchase, so in 2014 he is launching—via his Body of Work Casino Collection—a new business venture: owners of Roland printing equipment can print and then rent his images to hotels, restaurants, corporate headquarters, and other businesses for a monthly fee. The image is swapped out with a new one every month.

One finds creativity in nearly every aspect of the wide-format market.

Rock That Candy Shop

Wide-format printing has never been a stranger to the Print show, but this is the first year that it has had such a major presence, reflecting the steady increase interest from mainstream commercial printers. Partnerships with the International Sign Association (ISA) and Big Picture led to wide-format pavilions on the show floor, which also included a series of presentations on various aspects of printing and selling wide-format output. Other educational sessions also focused on the economics of wide-format.

But as I always stress in these show recaps, the real advantage to wandering the show floor is to see all the myriad applications that the equipment can produce, which can’t help but trigger the imagination and get one’s creative juices flowing. Feeling “like a kid in a candy store” may be a bit of a cliché, but in the middle of the show floor was a large pavilion called “The Inkjet Candy Store,” which spotlit eight units which spanned the gamut of wide-format printers: the Fujifilm Acuity Select HS, the HP Latex 260, the Mutoh ValueJet 1617H, the Roland SolJet Pro XF-640, the Xerox IJP 2000, the Xante Excelagraphix 4200P, the Reprographic Technology Vortex 4200, and EFI’s VUTEk HS100 Pro. Each device was accompanied by a card that listed the basic specs as well as top applications. Representatives were also on hand to talk about and demonstrate the equipment, and then send interested parties on to the manufacturers’ booths for more information. It served as a good introduction to the breadth of equipment out there, as well as a starting point for anyone unfamiliar to wide-format.

This Year’s Models

There was not a tremendous number of new product announcements, although Print 13 marked the U.S. debut of some new devices. Canon Solutions America’s Océ ColorWave 900, although demonstrated for a couple of years as “Project Velocity,” made its official launch last June at FESPA London, and made its North American debut at Print, where it won a Must See ’Em in the “Pressroom: Wide-Format” category. It boasts 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. Canon were also showing their new S-Series printers which had been announced last week, the 44-inch imagePROGRAF 8400S and 24-inch imagePROGRAF 6400S printers, which offer enhanced print management and color control capabilities. Canon also had on hand their new Arizona 600 series of UV flatbed printers, comprising the 640 and 660, a four-color and six-color machine, respectively. The Arizona 660 XT also garnered a Must See ’Em in the “Pressroom: Wide-Format” category.

Another U.S. debut at Print 13 was HP’s Latex 3000, a highly versatile industrial-scale 126-inch-wide high-volume printer. HP also debuted—for the first time anywhere—the recently announced HP Designjet Z5400 PostScript ePrinter. The Z5400 is a two-roll, 44-inch-wide device intended for copy shops and small quick printers who need to print posters, photos, canvases, backlit prints, indoor signs, POS/POP displays, line drawings, and maps. The Z5400 includes HP’s Multi-Dimensional Smart Drop Placement Technology, which offers increased levels of color accuracy allowing print service providers to accommodate customers who say “we want it amazing and we want it now,” said Brandon Harrop, art director of Layton, Utah’s Express Imaging.

Epson announced their entry into the direct-to-garment market with the introduction at Print of the SureColorF2000, available in both Standard Edition and White Edition (as in white ink). The new SureColors utilize Epson’s new UltraChrome DG ink technology, a special garment ink formulation developed for the MicroPiezo TFP printhead. The SureColor F2000 can print directly onto garments such as T-shirts, jackets, hoodies, tote bags, and more—basically anything from 100% cotton to 50/50 fabric blends.

Xerox brought to the U.S. the IJP 2000, a single-pass poster printer capable of speeds of (says the spec sheet) up to 4,520 square feet per hour, producing 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.

In the Fujifilm booth was another U.S. debut, the Inca Onset Q40i, last seen at FESPA London. It is a 123.6 x 63-inch device that can handle media up to two inches thick. It’s designed to produce backlit cosmetics displays, fashion imagery, and other closely-viewed graphics. Fujifilm was also showing their range of Acuity Advance UV and LED UV industrial wide-format systems.

EFI were basking in the glow of their eight Must See ’Em awards, one of which—in the “Pressroom: Wide-Format” category—included the VUTEk HS100 Pro, a 3.2-meter-wide, LED UV inkjet flatbed press that boasts printing speeds in excess of 100 boards per hour. Another Must See ’Em—and the “Pressroom: Wide-Format” Best of Category award—went to the VUTEk GS-TF thermoforming system, an ink-and-printer solution designed to allow printing companies to print three-dimensional, thermoformed products. Yet another EFI Must See ’Em, in the “Future of Print: Technology Demonstrations” category, went to its SmartSign Analytics, which comprises a POS display with a tiny camera embedded in it that captures pictures of people reading the display. Facial recognition software can then be used to analyze these images to gauge things like age, gender, and how long they lingered, ultimately gathering data on how effective the display was. (Suddenly, I can’t get Rockwell’s 1984 hit “Somebody’s Watching Me” out of my head.)

Around the show floor, the word “Memjet” cropped up with more and more frequency (a future feature on this site will look at Memjet printhead technology). I mentioned the Canon ColorWave 900, a Memjet-based device, earlier, but two other manufacturers were also leveraging Memjet to expand their offerings. Xanté debuted their Excelagraphix 4200P, billed as a “digital package solution,” ideal for printing on foam and corrugated materials as a complement to a flexographic press. It’s a 42-inch-wide printer that prints up to 12 inches per second on media up to half an inch thick. It is also being touted as ideal for variable-data printing. The Excelagraphix 4200P was also deemed a Print 13 Must See ’Em in the “Pressroom: Wide-Format” category.

A name you may not be familiar with is Reprographic Technology, long a supplies, consumables, and parts dealer. They have been moving into original printing equipment, such as for labels and other small-format applications, but have recently introduced their first foray into wide-format printing with the Vortex 4200, a 42-inch Memjet-based inkjet printer capable of printing at speeds—says the spec sheet—of up to 12 inches per second, or up to 9,168 square feet per hour. It is designed for a variety of acronym-based applications, including CAD, AEC, GIS, and POS graphics.

The Long Walk Home

The general tone of this year’s Print show was one of excitement and enthusiasm (despite Dr. Joe’s best efforts...), certainly in comparison to recent years. Floor traffic was heavy—even on a Sunday with the Bears playing in town. Digital printing in all its myriad forms, especially wide-format, is opening up tremendous new possibilities for print—and for printers who are open to ex