Large Format Printing on Page-Wide Inkjet Presses

By Ralf Schlozer / Published:

Posters, banners, signage – there is a large group of print applications that are based on a large format, unfolded sheet and usually printed single sided. Admittedly, what exactly constitutes a “large format” is up for discussion. Posters could be A3 format, but usually bigger sizes are required. There are several different types of large format prints depending on the substrate, end use and type of customer. Important groups are Point-of-Sale or Point-of-Purchase (POS/POP) large format prints for retail, Out-of-Home (OOH) advertising, signage and posters for consumers.

While the end markets can differ considerably, printers have one main interest: how to produce them efficiently. Traditionally offset printing, and to a smaller extend screen printing, were the methods of choice. Both make sense for high run lengths but, as for most print applications, run lengths are shrinking drastically for posters as well. This is where digital print found its market. Large format scanning head color inkjet printers rapidly took over the short run end of the market. Digital print offers additional benefits, such as printing variations or sets collated electronically (e.g. sets of POS posters collated for individual stores) – which make digital print competitive even beyond the pure break-even.

Digital poster printing has been the domain of wide format printers with scanning heads, but those have a relatively low throughput, leaving a large gap to high volume offset print. But there are alternatives: inkjet presses with pagewide inkjet heads, designed for commercial and publishing print.

Sheetfed inkjet for poster printing

The first type of inkjet presses that come to mind are sheetfed inkjet presses. Fujifilm has now its 3rd generation of its B2 Jetpress (JPress in the US) inkjet presses in the market. Some companies use their Jetpress mainly for poster, banner, signage applications. Fujifilm Europe reckons that 4 or 5 printers in Europe mainly print POS materials on their presses. A much larger share, mostly commercial printers, produce posters occasionally on their presses. The high quality of the Jetpress is a good fit for the B2 posters produced, as they are intended for close-up viewing, unlike billboards for example. With Poster XXL in Germany there is one user specializing on B2C poster printing, even running two devices to keep up with the volumes. The Jetpresses complement their wide-format scanning-head inkjet printers and are the method of choice for posters up to B2. As the Jetpress is able to print on canvas, Poster XXL can offer this range of products as well.

A size class larger are the B1 inkjet presses from Landa and some of their highly productive presses are used for POS/POP as well. Duggal Visual Solutions just added a Landa S10 to print mainly in-store applications, allowing for versioning and short runs. The Marketing Alliance Group installed a Landa S10 already in 2019 for high-quality digital color printing of short to medium-run POP and POS applications. In Europe EM de Jong, a retail print specialist, is active in POS/POP poster printing as well. In September the company installed a Landa press at their headquarter site in the Netherlands. The Landa S10P complements existing offset and wide-format printers and will target increased volumes of shorter run, collated jobs and reduce the time to market.

Continuous feed offering opportunities

A bit more unexpected is poster printing on continuous feed inkjet printers. This seems a bit counterintuitive, but with a format-flexible sheeter & stacker any 2-up web press can print B2 posters. A 4-up press can even go beyond B1 format. Given the very high productivity of continuous feed presses it is unlikely that producing posters will be a main application. However, some companies found it can be a good application to fill capacity – and it can be a very profitable add-on as well.

Zalsman, a leading graphics media solutions company located in the Netherlands, uses its Ricoh Pro VC60000 for poster printing – surprisingly not for POS, but for B2C posters. Zalsman works together with a partner that markets poster printing comparable to photo merchandise. A web2print application collects the job files every day. There is a check for resolution, orientation and fonts. Payments are handled automatically. The posters are printed every morning on the VC60000, allowing for a very fast delivery time in less than 24 hours. Posters are produced roll-to-stack and are single-sided B2 format. Printed on offset coated stock the posters offer a look and feel like offset printing.

The whole process is as much automated as possible, making it quite cost effective for poster printing. For Zalsman there are several advantages. The application brings extra volume to fill up the press capacity. As an online application there is no sales personnel involved, which can focus on other opportunities. And most important: it is a high margin application.

Belgium printer Symeta has a different approach and is able to produce even larger posters on their HP T400 press. Symeta is part of the Colruyt group and specialised in personalised client communication ranging from direct mail and other personalised promotional matter to transaction documents. While they contribute only a small volume share, customised POS/POP posters are an important part of the offerings. Posters printed are usually customised for a shop with local information or offers. This allows run lengths far beyond the break-even against offset. Having a prepress team specialised on handling variable data helps a lot. Customers are a mix of marketers that already have other communication printed by Symeta and users that only order POS/POP. Verticals range from banks to retail and include schools or public entities.

Posters are produced in different sizes, up to B1 – and could even go to 1m by 1.8m (39” x 71”) for specialty applications. Going that big can be a challenge in finishing. Symeta prints roll-to-roll to enable the full speed of the press and developed its own off-line cutter for poster applications. Symeta uses a post-print coating for best print quality and durability. Customers can choose paper types and weights up to 250 gsm are used. Being able to print 2-sided is a boon for some uses, e.g. shop hangers and backlit posters.

Keep in mind

Few printers will be able to justify a pagewide inkjet press investment for posters only. The high productivity would create a good-breakeven, but volumes needed would be equally high. Offering posters as additional applications makes sense for a lot of printers, however. By offering a one-stop-shop concept printers can avoid having the customers look elsewhere for posters and the like. The Covid-19 pandemic did show that signage can suddenly come in high demand. Digital signage is increasing as competition for printed, out-of-home advertising grows. However, easier prepress, web2print and low minimum orders are enabling a lot more smaller companies and consumers to have their own poster printed. This should especially benefit digital print.

Another advantage of digital print to keep in mind is that retail posters for each shop in a chain often command different amounts and motifs. Digital print cannot only print the exact amounts for each shop, sets can be collated electronically as well, avoiding cumbersome handpicking. Logistics is an important part of offering posters.

So, when planning your next inkjet investment decision, keep posters in mind

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About the Author

Ralf Schlozer

Ralf Schlozer is Independent Print Analyst. Ralf provides analysis, sizing and forecasting the market for digital printing technologies and associated applications and business processes. Connect with Ralf on LinkedIn

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