Graph Expo 2015 is right around the corner, and while wide-format is not the central focus of the show, over the past several years it has become a more conspicuous presence, as wide-format becomes a more important part of the printing industry in general.

Making its third appearance this year is the “Inkjet Candy Store,” a centrally-located show floor pavilion that offers, much like the shelves in an actual candy store, a side-by-side comparison of various types of wide-format printing technologies and the latest models from top manufacturers, identifying what types of devices are well-suited for what types of applications. Who specifically will have units in the Candy Store is always in flux, but Mimaki, Mutoh, EFI, HP, Roland, and half a dozen or so other manufacturers are usually represented. (I confess that in past shows, the Inkjet Candy Store has never quite lived up to its potential, but it’s worth a visit if you are very new to wide-format. And maybe this will be the year they nail it.) Anyway, stop by, take notes, and follow up with trips to the manufacturers’ booths.

We don’t see too many wide-format equipment launches at Graph Expo—wait for the SGIA Expo in November, various FESPAs throughout the year, or the ISA Sign Expo in April—but there are a few U.S. debuts.

At FESPA last spring, HP announced its six-color, 126-inch HP Latex 3500, designed for high-volume applications, and the company will be showing the machine for the first time in the U.S. in Chicago. HP will also be showing its entry into the single-pass printing market, the PageWide XL 8000, which had also been announced last spring. This isn’t entirely wide-format related (the lines blur sometimes), but HP will also be showing its High-Speed Inkjet Corrugated Packaging Solution. You may also recall that at last year’s Graph Expo, HP and KBA announced that they were partnering to develop a high-speed inkjet system for high-volume corrugated packaging, and we’ve seen a few updates trickle out since then, but the word on the street is there may more news over the course of this year’s show. Stay tuned.

Whilst HP has become the poster child—so to speak—for latex, Mimaki also has latex ink-based machines. Mimaki will be showing its 54- and 64-inch rollfed JV400LX latex printer which print CMYK plus orange, green ink, and what the company says is the world’s first white latex ink. Mimaki has a slew of other products, but one category that is starting to gain traction is tabletop UV printers, designed for specialty items like smartphone covers, pens, golf balls, and many other three-dimensional and oddly shaped objects. To that end, Mimaki has its UJF Series of tabletop UV LED printers, which supports three types of UV-curing inks (remember that different UV inks or pre-/post-treatments are required for different surfaces), with white and clear options available. Mimaki also offers a Kebab option for printing on cylindrical items like candles and bottles.

Mutoh has also debuted a tabletop specialty item printer, the ValueJet 426UF UV LED tabletop printer, a 19- by 13-inch unit that prints CMYK plus white and clear on any materials and objects up to 2.75 inches thick. Mutoh will also be showing its latest UV LED hybrid printer, the ValueJet 1626UH. This is a 64-inch unit that prints on both rigid and roll substrates with CMYK plus white and clear ink, up to a half-inch thick.

Roland has been offering its tabletop VersaUV LEF-12 and LEF-20 UV flatbeds for a few years now, and earlier this year, the company launched its first big UV flatbed, the 64-inch VersaUV LEJ-640FT. This new unit can print on materials up to six inches thick—at last April ISA Sign Expo, they were running footballs through the printer. (As the college football season is about to start, I can’t help but feel that the Syracuse football team should be in Roland’s booth, since they are more likely to be running footballs through a wide-format printer than an end zone. Oh, but I kid…)

Moving right along…

On the subject of flatbeds, this is also a fast-growing product category, with new units appearing, the performance increasing, and the price decreasing. EFI will be showcasing a representative range of all its flatbed, rollfed, and hybrid units. As I have reported for a couple of years now, EFI has been dedicating itself to LED UV curing technology for its UV lines, including the company’s most recent offering, the EFI H1625 LED, a mid-level flatbed or rollfed production printer. Last June marked the 10-year anniversary of EFI’s acquisition of VUTEk, and to celebrate, EFI acquired Matan Digital Printers, an Israel-based manufacturer of superwide hybrid UV printers. (EFI also bought Reggiani Macchine, a Bergamo, Italy-based manufacturer of industrial inkjet printers for the textile industry. I talk with EFI CEO Guy Gecht about these acquisitions here.)

Elsewhere in flatland, Canon will also be showing its most recent Océ Arizona units which launched last year. These are the six-color Océ Arizona 6160 XTS and seven-color Océ Arizona 6170 XTS. Canon will be playing off a recent email campaign that launched in August that aimed to shed light on how to measure real productivity with wide-format printers. Stop by Canon's booth and pick up a Canon-branded stopwatch.

Earlier this year, Canon launched its Océ ColorWave 700, a toner-based 42-inch printing system designed for a wide range of color graphics and CAD/GIS applications.

As always, there will be a few surprises, and if high-speed small-format inkjet is the star of this year’s show, wide-format will be playing a strong supporting role.

If you can’t make it out to Chicago this year, be sure to check WhatTheyThink for regular updates.