And they’re off! Trade show season is upon us. LabelExpo kicked things off nearly a fortnight ago, and next week, Graph Expo comes to McCormick Place in Chicago. (The SGIA Expo comes to Las Vegas October 22–24, which Dan Marx will preview here next week.)

Today’s printing industry is diverging into many different directions, and as a result, the show floor—and corresponding educational sessions—will reflect a mix of topics. For our purposes here, we’ll look at what attendees can look forward to in terms of wide-format printing.

This year marks the second year that the Graphic Arts Show Company (GASC) has partnered with the International Sign Association (ISA) to sponsor the Wide-Format Pavilion. Meet manufacturers and distributors of wide-format printing equipment, and check out the ISA Wide Format Innovation Theater, which will comprise 30-minute presentations on many aspects of wide-format printing, from the basic technology, to workflow details like color management, to success stories, to exploring and exploiting new niches and opportunities. The current schedule of presentations can be found here.

Another show floor feature that debuted last year—which I didn’t think quite lived up to its potential and hopefully that will change this year—makes a return: the Inkjet Candy Store. Essentially, the “candy store” is a dedicated show-floor zone that provides attendees with the opportunity to compare and contrast some of the latest wide-format printing units. This year, representative models from EFI, Mutoh, Mimaki, Reprographic Technology Inc. (RTI), and Roland—among others— will be on display, representing a range of printing technologies and potential applications. This gives interested attendees a good place to start when evaluating models and niches.

Graph Expo doesn’t usually see too much in the way of new product announcements in the wide-format space—expect more at the SGIA Expo, although in recent years, product announcements are more and more independent of specific shows—but this year’s Graph will see vendors demonstrating a representative range of their product portfolios.

At last year’s show, Anajet used their direct-to-garment system to print T-shirts on the fly while you waited. This year, they’ll be back, printing shirts and showing the mPower i-series mP5i and mP10i printers, among the fastest direct-to-garment printers on the market, capable of printing a light-colored shirt in as little as 16 seconds.

Canon Solutions America (CSA) announced its Océ Arizona 6100 Series last spring. The six-color Océ Arizona 6160 XTS and seven-color Océ Arizona 6170 XTS boast speeds of up to 1,668 square feet per hour (your mileage may vary, of course) and can print on a broad range of rigid substrates. The Arizona 6100 Series won a Must See ’Em award in the Wide-Format category. CSA will also be showing its ColorWave 900 Memjet-based high-speed printer.

EFI has almost 20 different printers that cover a broad array of applications and abilities. The company has been concentrating on LED UV curing, and has introduced LED UV models in virtually all of its product categories. EFI’s most recent launch is the H1625 LED, a mid-level hybrid production printer capable of print CMYK+white on rigid and flexible substrates. The H1625—one of three Must See ’Ems for EFI this show—complements the entry-level H652 in EFI’s portfolio of hybrid units.

Epson will have on hand its SureColor F-Series—the 44-inch F6070 and 64-inch F7170—dye-sublimation printers, designed for cut-and-sew apparel applications, and its SureColor T-Series—in 36- and 44-inch versions—which support substrates from plain paper, to backlit signage, to 1.5-mm-thick poster board.

HP will be demonstrating the HP Latex 3000 Printer which it introduced last year. A 3.2-meter industrial printer, it is the top of the Latex line and well-suited for point of purchase displays and wallcoverings, vehicle graphics, outdoor banners, and more. Depending on the application, it can print at up to 1,950 square feet per hour, and the water-based Latex inks not only are compatible with a large array of substrates, including textiles, but are also more environmentally friendly than other ink technologies, especially solvents.

Last spring, Mimaki introduced the entry-level JFX200-2513 LED UV, a scaled-down (size-wise) version of its larger JFX500-2131. The new model is a 4 x 8-foot flatbed printer designed to be small enough to fit into most floorspace-cramped shops. It supports media up to almost two inches thick such as acrylics, foam board, plastics, and more, for such applications as backlit graphics. It also can print white for printing on dark substrates.

Mutoh will be demonstrating its new ValueJet 426UF UV-LED 19 x 13-inch tabletop printer, which prints with CMYK+white and varnish on virtually any substrate up to 2.75 inches thick for such applications as promotional and personalized objects such as golf balls, smartphone cases, pens, and other specialty items. Mutoh will also be demonstrating the ValueJet 1626UH 64-inch UV-LED hybrid printer that prints on both rigid and flexible media for such applications as packaging prototyping, trade show graphics, POP/POS displays, and signage. There will also be the 64-inch ValueJet 1624 and 54-inch ValueJet 1324, the former of which is ideal for vehicle wrapping. As ever, Mutoh will have cars on the show floor and will be holding vehicle wrapping demos throughout the show. Mutoh will also be partnering with our friend Deborah Corn’s Printerverse to offer a venue where attendees can take in seminars, network, or just chill and rest their feet.

Roland recently launched its 64-inch VersaEXPRESS RF-640, the latest in its expanding line of eco-solvent printers. The RF-640 features a dual CMYK mirrored printhead (MYCKKCYM) that is designed to virtually eliminate banding during bidirectional printing. Roland’s Eco-Sol MAX 2 inks are solvent inks that eschew the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that make traditional solvent inks such an environmental and workplace hazard. Roland will also be showing its VersaUV series of flatbed printers which comprises the 64-inch VersaUV LEJ-640 hybrid flatbed printer, the 30-/54-inch VersaUV LEC Series printer/cutter, and the 12-/20-inch VersaUV LEF Series flatbed printer. For those looking to get into dynamic digital signage, Roland will also be demoing its DisplayStudio “digital sign in a box” solution that includes a display, media player, scheduling software, and Roland’s service.

Also look for two units in the Memjet trinity. Reprographic Technology Inc. (RTI) will be showing its Vortex 4200 42-inch Memjet printer that can print up to 12 inches per second. The Vortex is ideal for AEC and GIS graphics, and has been adapted for certain POS applications. RTI will also be sharing success stories, both in its booth and in the ISA Wide Format Innovation Theater. Xante will be demonstrating its Excelagraphix 4200P Memjet wide-format printer targeted toward the short-run digital corrugated market.

As I always say, the real value of shows like Graph Expo—especially from a wide-format printing point of view—is not necessarily to compare equipment specs, but to check out all the different items these machines can produce, to get ideas, and give serious thought to the kinds of products and services you could potentially offer to your current—and potential—customer base.

On a shamelessly self-promotional note: join me and Dr. Joe Webb on Tuesday, September 30 in the Veritiv booth from 10:30 a.m. to 12 noon, and in the Kodak booth from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. where we will be signing copies of our new book This Point Forward. This edition and this edition only features a spiffy dimensional cover printed by Kodak on the NexPress using Endurance Digital Silk 10-lb cover, supplied by Veritiv. Thanks to Kodak and Veritiv for their support.