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What Format Size and Operating Footprint Works Best for Your Needs?

Wide Format Printing is very hot right now. The pandemic has created a huge need for temporary outdoor signage, banners, social distancing floor decals, and other wide format applications. These new demands when added to the classic wide format products like vehicle wraps, trade show signage, and other point-of-sale-displays make for a significant opportunity to cash in on the growing need for wide format output.

What Format Size and Operating Footprint Works Best for Your Needs?

These two parameters are both critical and interdependent. Format size will in large part determine the operating footprint and how much floor space you will need to run your wide format printer. You should also plan your space with some expansion in mind. What if market demand is so high that you will need a second wide format device? What if that second wide format printer has to be larger? What if you will need two more devices? Plan ahead and be ready when the market explodes!

Remember that the larger the device, the more space you will require. I know this sounds silly, but it’s easy to forget.

Should I Get a Flatbed, a Roll-To-Roll Device, or a Hybrid?

Solvent-based and Latex roll-to-roll wide format printers come in a variety of widths and physical sizes. 1.6-meter widths are the most common. Keep in mind that roll-to-roll wide format machines have the feed rolls located behind the main body of the wide format device, so they can’t be pushed right up against the rear wall. They will have to be moved or wheeled away from the wall for paper feed changeovers.

Many flatbed and hybrid wide format devices use UV inks for instant ink drying. They also require more working space than a roll-to-roll or regular roll-fed device, because flatbeds are frequently used to print on large flat objects like doors, building panels, and the like. Consider also the space needed to stage these large flat objects before printing, and where they will go after printing.

Solvent-Based Inks Will Emit Solvents for a While!

After printing, items that use solvent-based inks will off-gas for a while, sometimes as long or longer than 24 hours. You will need plenty of drying rack space of you have a solvent based wide format printing device. Of course, UV based wide format machines will have cured and dry inks almost immediately after being printed. This solvent emissions phenomenon is known as “off-gassing” and it behaves much like “new car smell” in a new car interior.

What Size Finishing Tables Will I Need?

Finishing Tables are a must for shops running solvent-based and Latex ink-based printers so that workers can perform finishing tasks like trimming and mounting. The larger the output size of your wide format printer, the larger your finishing tables will need to be. Don’t forget short-term storage space for objects that are to be printed on, and storage of items once they have been printed. You will also need a wide, clear area in which to transport these items around your shop once they are printed on.

HVAC Considerations

Many solvent-based printers will off-gas for a period of time after they are printed. Your manufacturing facility will likely require specialized ventilation systems (HVAC) to carry away and to filter out the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) that result from using solvent-based equipment. Usually, UV and Latex inks do not off-gas like solvent-based inks, and do not need special HVAC equipment.

What Sorts of Media Can I Print On?

Solvent and latex -based inks require careful attention to the surface characteristics of the media or the objects they are imprinting upon. Knowledge of your device, the inks, the surface characteristics of the substrates that are being printed upon are all Key Performance Indicators of a successful wide format printing project.

Here are some examples of substrates that can be printed on with a wide format printing device:

  • Coated and uncoated paper
  • Synthetics like vinyl
  • Cloth
  • Wood
  • Metal
  • Lexan and other sheet plastics

If you have a UV-ink device, there is less concern over substrate surface characteristics and color because UV devices print white as a base color. As long as the UV-cured ink adheres or “sticks” to the substrate, all should be well. Flatbed wide format printers can also print on a variety of substrate thicknesses, in some cases in excess of four inches.

Whether or not your device uses media profiles will impact the color quality and accuracy of your wide format printer. Most professional quality wide-format devices these days will include a large number of default color profiles with the ability to edit or create new profiles.

Will Your Output be Used Inside or Outside?

The environment that your prints will used in will determine many things. Plain ink-based output is generally recommended for indoor use only. Latex, UV, and solvent based inks can last for years outdoors depending on exposure to direct sunlight and moisture. Substrate type also has a major impact on durability. Generally speaking, paper and cloth substrates are not intended for outdoor use.

Cheap Costs for High Quality Output

Understanding the end use, the best substrates for your specifications, and the best type of ink/device are the critical factors when deciding which technology to use for your wide format printing project

What Factors Influence the Cost of Wide Format Printing?

There are three main cost factors you need to be aware of when estimating the costs of wide format output:

  • Consumables such as substrates, ink, electricity, cleaning supplies, and replaceable components such as print heads, filters, and cutting blades
  • Labor
  • Time

Consumables

Ink Usage

Ink usage varies a lot based on the device, the ink type (plain or aqueous inks, solvent based inks, latex inks, or solvent based inks), how many colors, and the substrate. Aqueous and latex inks tend to go on thicker and heavier so ink consumption could be greater with these inks. If your wide format printer has 8 or more colors, it will likely consume more ink. Porous substrates like paper or wood tend to soak up the ink, which increases usage.

Power Usage

Power usage should not be ignored in the overall operating expense of a wide format output device. Solvent-based devices tend to use the least power, and UV devices tend to use the most because of the UV lamps required to provide instant ink drying. But this instant drying saves time spent waiting for items to dry.

Labor

Many devices nowadays have automated processes and workflows that save labor by saving time, or enabling your company to use a less-skilled operator who can be paid less than an experienced, expert operator. Automation also saves time.

Time

Time is perhaps the most critical component of cost. A wide format printer that runs quickly without sacrificing quality will pay for itself quickly. Labor saving automated processes will allow a wide format device to get the job done in less time, so you can get deliver, get paid and move quickly to the next paying project.

UV devices also save loads of time because their output is dry instantly, allowing for finishing operations like trimming, laminating, or mounting to occur immediately without having to wait for the output to dry.

A Few Good RIPs

Almost all professional quality wide format printing devices will have a variety of RIP’s (Raster Image Processors) to choose from. A RIP is a computer that converts data from a graphic arts program like Photoshop or InDesign into a data format that the print engine understands. There are a wide variety of RIPs with a wide variety of functionality. Your best bet is to consult an expert in wide format printers to help you make the most logical RIP selection.

We Can Help Choose the Best Wide Format Printer for You!

Making the right wide format printing decision can be very challenging. If you are having difficulty deciding which wide format printer or wide format printing device is the best choice for you, please feel free to contact us to request an appointment or meeting with a wide format printing expert!

September 27th, 2021