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The Current Capacity of Wide-Format Digital

(July 2009) posted on Mon Jul 13, 2009

This month, Greene presents research data about corporate buying practices that reveal some interesting inclinations and give an up-to-date look at the market for wide-format graphics.

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By Tim Greene

I think we’re at the dawn of automation in the wide-format-graphics business. Why? Because of the available opportunities for increasing the level of production through automation even for much lower-end types of equipment and processes—especially on the finishing side, which is often a bottleneck in the production workflow. Sometimes the bottleneck stems from the belief that it’s necessary to wait a certain period of time for graphics to dry before finishing. But sometimes finishing is a bottleneck because the people who do it most effectively only work during certain hours or days.

Before I am accused of leading a charge to eliminate jobs, I should note that is not what I am suggesting. People are still required to operate and repair the printing and finishing equipment, but the time between sheets or between print swaths could be reduced through greater use of automation tools.

These developments are very im-portant as an obvious response to customer demand for quick turnarounds. But yet another finding from this new study explains the continued demand for digital printing equipment. When asked about average order size, more than half of the respondents who buy wide-format graphics reported that they buy fewer than 10 prints at a time, and about 82% buy in quantities less than 100. So in addition to short turnaround times, we have small order quantities (Figure 1).


What do the numbers mean?

I think these research findings point to a trend in which purchasing patterns for shorter print runs are leaning toward digital. So in a sense, yes, if you consider that there are idle, wide-format screen presses while smaller, slower digital printers are producing a growing share of wide-format graphics, yes there is an underused capacity that is probably noteworthy. There also should be less waste in terms of screens and chemicals used for this short-run work, as well as the wide-format graphics printed and then inventoried, the graphics that are printed and shipped and then discarded, and of course the transportation costs for all of those materials.

The increase in focus on sustainability also is one of the selection criteria that print buyers use when they consider which print-service provider to choose. More than 40% of the print buyers indicated that their wide-format-graphics purchases reflect a preference for green printing, such as prints made on recyclable materials or using environmentally safer inks. Print-service providers that have invested in digital equipment july have a big advantage in this area through the elimination or reduction in use of prepress chemicals.

InfoTrends believes that, in the current economic downturn, the demand for more effective (through versioning) and more cost-effective short runs will only exacerbate the demand for wide-format digital printing. We believe the ability to localize marketing efforts to the in-store level should help print-service providers who support the all-important retail segment of the wide-format-graphics market. One of the indicators from the recent InfoTrends study was that five times more print buyers expected to increase their expenditures on wide-format graphics over the next 12 months than expected to decrease. That number is (hopefully) good for all different types of print-service providers, but those that have adopted digital printing processes are more likely to be able to capitalize on this type of increased business activity.


Tim Greene has worked at InfoTrends (formerly known as CAP Ventures) since 1997 and been the director of InfoTrends' Wide Format Printing Consulting Service since 2001. He is responsible for developing worldwide forecasts of the wide-format-printing market and conducting primary and secondary research. Greene holds a bachelor's degree in  management from Northeastern University. He can be reached at



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