When it comes to adding large-format printing to your operation, there are a few things to keep in mind. Here are 10 tips on the pitfalls to watch out for and how to set yourself up for success.
- Know your vendors. The technologies used in most of the wide-format equipment today are fairly comparable when it comes to quality of the print, color gamut, and substrates. What can set one apart from the rest is the vendor. What kind of service options do they have? Is there any training? Do they have a technician close enough to your shop to get someone in the same day if something goes down? How responsive are they to suggestions? Make sure to research the vendors and distributors you would be working with just as closely as you do the equipment itself.
- Before purchasing, get to know your own customer base. What products are they currently having produced somewhere else? What types of applications are they interested in if you were to offer them? Not all wide-format presses are great for all applications. If you plan to print mostly textiles, you’ll want something very different than if you want to print directly to acrylic boards, for example.
- Understand the differences between the inks. While they are all great at the applications they are designed for, each ink technology has its own strengths and weaknesses. Whether you go with UV LED, dye-sublimation, inkjet, or eco-solvent, you need to know the types of substrates you want to print on before committing to the wide-format press that best suits that specific substrate category.
- That also leads to understanding the difference between roll-fed, flatbed, or hybrid equipment. If you want the broadest possible application mix, consider a hybrid that allows you more flexibility, where roll-fed, for example, is a better choice if you plan to print mostly on vinyl or textiles, and flatbed is the best option if you plan to focus entirely on rigid applications such as wood, acrylic, or even metal or glass.
- Get training. Everything from sales, to estimating, to inventory management, to the actual printing is very different from other types of printing. Don’t dive in expecting your experience in another print segment to translate over perfectly. Find opportunities to learn about your press, what it can do, and how to sell wide-format work efficiently. Most vendors offer training courses, there are also classes through associations, and even many of the substrate vendors offer courses designed to help you get the most out of your investment.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment. Wide-format printing remains one of the more creative verticals in the print industry, and every day someone is figuring out how to get a different look, print on a different substrate, or coming up with new ways to produce truly innovate applications. Encourage your staff to try new ideas. Even if they don’t work as intended, it will spark new things to try, and in the end get everyone more familiar with the equipment and just how far it can be pushed.
- Don’t forget about the finishing. For every wide-format operation, one of the single best ancillary investments you can make is a good wide-format cutter. Like with the presses, there are many options out there to choose from, and you should go with the one that best compliments the press you ultimately install. But having a wide-format cutter can make all the difference between jobs that barely cover the cost to print them, and high-margin applications that truly add value to the shop as a whole.
- That said, don’t plan to rely on your current finishing department. Most commercial printers, for example, probably have a finishing department, and cutters might very well be part of that mix. That said, generally finishing equipment made for offset or production inkjet can’t necessarily meet the requirements of wide-format, which, as its name suggests, generally needs much larger equipment to fit the substrates in question. Current equipment will suffice when first getting started, but plan to add dedicated wide-format finishing within the first 12-18 months if you truly want to get the most out of this new business and grow it to its full potential.
- Installation is just as critical as printing. For most print jobs, once it comes off the press (or the finishing line) and goes out the door, that is the end of the shop’s involvement. But with wide-format, often the job isn’t over until the print is in place in its final location. This can mean everything from vehicle wraps, to wallpaper, to building wraps, to billboards — and everything in between. And every one of those have very different installation requirements. Just as you want to get your staff trained on how to operate the new equipment, you’ll want to make sure they are fully trained in how to install the types of applications you plan to focus on. This is where having a niche in mind helps — you can have your staff focus on becoming expert installers in one specific substrate or application, rather than having them try to learn it all at once.
- Finally, share your work! Wide-format is one of the most visually impressive types of printing out there, and provides a great opportunity to share what your shop is capable of. Take lots of photos of the entire installation process, and share before and after photos that demonstrate how you transformed a space. Share big, bold photographs on social media with a bit of background of what the project was and how you completed it. Use wide-format as a way to get your shop in front of a much wider audience, which in turn will bring the referrals and inquiries directly to your door.
Interested in learning more about wide-format printing and the technologies available today? The inaugural Wide-Format Summit will be held July 28-30 in Austin, Texas. This event is free to qualified hosted attendees, including airfare, hotel, and meals. To apply for a spot, visit the application form today.