The Wide-Format Side of EFI
Earlier this year, the virtual EFI Engage event invited attendees from around the world to participate in sessions across two weeks, with content spanning every aspect of the print spectrum. Wide-format was one of those segments that saw multiple sessions; here are a few of the highlights.
Embracing Estimating and Quality Control
In the session called PrintSmith Vision: Large-Format Estimating, presenter Ron Teller walked viewers through the robust tools the software has for estimating print work effectively and efficiently. He offered a wide range of general tips as well, including pointing out that the ability to set universal rates that all salespeople use will lead to more consistent profitability long-term. For a long time, estimating hasn’t been high on most wide-format printers’ agendas, simply because so much of the work is one-off jobs, or very short runs. But with the latest tools on the market, even those types of jobs can take advantage of robust estimating software, which takes the guesswork out of what a customer will pay for a job.
Another interesting session for wide-format printers was Monitoring and Controlling Your Roll-to-Roll Print Device for Consistent Print Quality. Presented by Hanan Yosefi, VP, EFI Inkjet Israel, the session used the VUTEk Q5r press to demonstrate the tips and tricks shared through the session.
The key, he noted, is to have a system that can dynamically print, cut, and even group jobs with minimal supervision, including the ability to tape groups of prints — defined in the job queue, for example five posters going to one store location, and another five going to a different location — on the fly, automatically, without needing the operator to step in, reducing the change for operator error. In fact, he pointed out that equipment today can automate and reduce needed intervention in everything from feeding the media and supply issues, to ink issues, to print queue supervision, to job quality monitoring, to finishing, and finally unloading and collating. Operators can start a job and walk away, keeping an eye out for alerts if something goes wrong, but otherwise able to focus on other duties.
Another innovation that can help improve wide-format print quality is cameras mounted to the print heads, which monitor the print on the fly, and can alert operators if any anomalies are found. Not only can operators review that information, but they can perform spot checks to ensure a job is staying on target, even for large pieces or longer runs.
Get the Most From Double-Sided Printing
Tomer Ohavi, roll-to-roll product marketing manager, EFI Israel, hosted a session titled New and Unique Applications to Expand Your Offering and Open New Markets. Having the latest equipment, with the ability to control quality and repeat jobs is great, but to truly expand your business requires branching out into new applications.
In particular, he covered double-sided printing, and three applications that shops can tackle with this process. First up was backlit applications. Using special media created for the process and printed on a wide-format printer, the job under normal, front-lit lighting shows one message, while a second message is printed on the reverse side — and only shows up when the light source behind the print is turned on. It can boost colors, add special effects, and create unique pieces. The key to getting it right is 100% perfect registration — even the slightest shift in accuracy will throw off the image and ruin the intended effect. This type of printing can also be used for “day to night” graphics that will be viewed at all hours of the day, taking advantage of shifting light sources through the hours to have a more dynamic application.
Second is block-out media, that allows a print to be created double-sided, but despite the light source, the image on one side does not bleed through in any way to the opposite side. This is great for applications where both sides of a print will be viewed, but the customer might want to have different messages — on for entering a building, and another for leaving, for example, without the need to have two different signs.
Finally, the session demonstrated five-layer printing — rather than get a double-sided, block out look by printing one side, the flipping the media and printing on the reverse, this method prints on a clear substrate, and layers the print — first the image that will be seen on the front side, then a flood coat of white, then a block-out layer to ensure no bleed-through of the images, then another flood of white, and finally image two, seen on the back side. The benefits to printing double-sided prints this way is that a special “block out” media isn’t necessary – it can all be done on a single flatbed printer.
How can these processes be put to use? Unique window graphics and treatments is a big one, since it allows retail locations, for example, to entice customers into the store on one side, and then give them information such as highlight specific products once inside, or even give incentives to return.
The Soft Signage Opportunity
Mike Wozny, senior product manager, hosted another application-focused session called Soft-Signage — Market Recovery Through Application Creativity that took a look at applications in the textile and soft signage space. He noted that there are a wide range of opportunities for fabric printing — and the list is growing. Just a few that printers can take advantage of (once the threat of COVID has passed, and people are comfortable returning to large gatherings) include:
- Trade shows
- Retail advertising
- Festivals and events
- Sports marketing
- Flags and outdoor advertising
- Awnings and canopy tents
- Home décor — including pillows, throw blankets, and curtains
- PPE — including face masks, gaiters, barriers, and sanitizing stations
Wallcoverings Are Booming
Ohavi returned for another application-focused session, this time looking at one segment of the home décor space in particular. The session was titled Grow Your Business with Wallcoverings, and it explored this one specific application that has seen explosive growth over the past several years.
He noted that worldwide, digitally printed wallcoverings was a $6.5 billion market in 2020, and is projected to reach $13.07 billion by 2025. That is an expected growth of as much as 20% per year for the next several years — even in the middle of a global pandemic — making it a lucrative option for any shop with a wide-format printer capable of printing on textiles.
There are a number of reasons many are looking to move wallcoverings from the traditional gravure process to a digital one, including:
- More cost effective
- Customization is possible
- Web-to-print ordering solutions
- Patterns don’t have to repeat
- No custom hardware is needed to create them
- Short runs are possible
- No limits on the size
- Unlimited color options
Digitally printed wallcoverings open up a huge number of opportunities for wide-format print shops. Everything from customizing the space for a corporate headquarters, to a university department building, to retail spaces, and even direct to consumers, who are looking for ways to brighten and personalize their spaces as everyone is forced to spend more time at home.
The Future of Digital Textile Printing
Finally, Micol Gamba, the product and marketing manager for EFI Reggiani, presented Beyond 2020: Trends and Developments in the Textile Industry, that took a wider look at the potential in the space beyond just wallcoverings, and how it has been re-shaped by COVID.
The first trend she noted is a buzzword that has been around for some time now: sustainability. More and more, she said, brands are demanding a “green” process in order to remain competitive and relevant — and those who produce the textiles for those applications either have to offer green solutions, or those brands will look elsewhere. This is an opportunity for shops with digital textile printers, who can offer unique applications produced with sustainable processes that traditional manufacturers can’t match. Consumers are driving this trend to a large degree, giving their dollars to brands that match their own personal lifestyle choices, and governments are beginning to get more proactive as well, with growing attention to factors such as emissions and water usage.
The second trend she focused on is the idea of a circular economy, where pieces aren’t just tossed into landfills at the end of life, but are recycled back into other products, reclaiming the fibers for use in other applications, for example. This plays into the sustainability element as well, but it’s a push specifically to recycle fibers — polyester, for example — rather than discarding it.
Another trend she noted is the digitalization of textiles — and not just the printing. COVID, in particular, drove many consumers to shop online, using eCommerce portals to purchase everything from high fashion to home décor based on what they see on a screen, rather than being able to touch and feel it in a store. This, in turn, led to a push for more on-demand manufacturing options and Web-to-print portals, that allow brands to manufacture what they need as they need it, rather than invest in large inventories of products they might never have a chance to get in front of consumers. While it is a given that, eventually, things will begin to settle and people will return to retail stores, now that the habit of shopping online has set in, it is unlikely it will be abandoned completely in the future, so this is an opportunity wide-format printers should be keeping an eye on.
This is just a small sample from the event — and just the highlights of these sessions. EFI has solutions that span the breadth of the print industry, and the event strived to highlight as many of them as possible, not only to demonstrate the opportunities, but to help printers get the most from their investments. There are lucrative opportunities in wide-format printing — the innovative and creative owners who push the boundaries will be the ones to benefit in the years to come.