As I was planning the 2015 editorial calendar for our Wide-Format section, I began by drawing up a list of topics that I had covered, topics that were heavily featured at trade shows like SGIA and ISA, and topics tend to get covered elsewhere in the industry press. And aside from the basic technological topics like “Roll-to-Roll Printers,” “Flatbeds,” “Finishing,” and so forth, the majority of the subject matter was on specific applications—and applications that were all over the map (and some even included maps!). There is signage, textile printing and its subset garment printing, vehicle graphics, signage, specialty printing, technical printing—the list goes on. And it even seems that there are certain applications that aren’t technically “wide-format printing,” but should be considered as being at least related to wide-format printing, such as digital signage. Heck, it isn’t even printing at all, but is increasingly deployed by some of the same players that produce printed signage and other types of graphics.
So where once the distinguishing characteristic of wide-format graphics was that it was “output greater than 24 inches wide,” that definition does seem to be a bit obsolete, doesn’t it? At the very least, it doesn’t tell the whole story. After all, unless you’re printing T-shirts for Orson Welles, garment printing isn’t necessarily going to be 24 inches wide. Some types of vehicle wrapping, such as smoked taillights or other small automotive detailing, are decidedly small-format, but then they can be produced on a wide-format printer. So does “wide-format” refer to the output itself or the equipment used to produce it?
Maybe both…maybe neither. Maybe we need another definition. Actually, the more I cover the topic(s), the more inclined I am to think of “wide-format printing” as synonymous with “specialty printing.” We used to think of specialty printing as the purview of small-format analog processes like screen and pad printing, but as our friends at SGIA discover in survey after survey, digital equipment—digital wide-format equipment—is increasingly used to produce these “specialty graphics” applications.
Now all of this ma be a bit of a semantic boondoggle, to be sure, but it goes some distance toward explaining (or perhaps justifying) our inclusion of some topics that one wouldn’t normally associate with “wide format.” After all, as I and our content partners have emphasized throughout the two-and-a-half years we have been publishing the Wide Format site, success in wide-format printing is largely about picking an application niche (or two), and the more there are to choose from, the better—and the greater the opportunities for companies to thrive.
After all, it doesn’t matter what we call it—as long as people are doing it!