The Profitability of Living Large


Well-known member
The Profitability of Living Large

By Noel Ward, Editor@Large

How wide can you go?
Some commercial print shops I’ve visited have inkjet printers that print sheets up to 72-inches wide. Such wide or large format machines are one of the easiest ways for print providers to increase their offerings and revenue streams. Ranging from basic 24-inch-wide models to far larger and more capable devices, wide/large format printers include flat-bed and roll-to-roll models, widely varying print speeds and widths, and a few types of ink. Some machines, inks, and substrates are purpose-made for fabrics, vehicle wraps and billboards while others can be used for many applications. Special training is required for some of these.

The advantage is in expanding what you offer customers. This may not matter a lot if you have some big presses doing the heavy lifting, but as run lengths and volumes shrink there may be real additional value in diversifying the types of printing you offer. Having wide/large format gives your sales team the ability to sell large-size, short-run products like signage and point-of-purchase displays, things a current customer presently gets from another shop—like the quick printer who is already poaching some of your work.

Equipment vendors are already targeting businesses like yours. They are worth listening to because they see the market potential. Yeah, they ultimately want to sell some iron and consumables like ink and paper but they also know that if you don’t spring for a wide/large format printer one or more of your competitors will. What they are really interested in is the aftermarket. “The money is in ink,” affirmed Ricoh’s Brian Balow, Vice President for Graphic Communications. Nothing wrong with that. You charge for it too. Which means opportunity.

See a need and fill it
Talk with customers before selecting a machine to determine their needs. This helps you choose the best machine for your market. The capabilities of some devices may limit your what you can do while others offer more than you need. In my opinion, it is better to invest in a machine that has a capability you could offer than to lose business—perhaps permanently—because you cannot do what a customer requires. Customers, as you know, have the annoying habit of voting with their checkbook.

“Start with the applications first, and work backward toward the hardware, media, and ink solution,” advises Jacob Hardin, Product Manager for Professional Imaging at Epson, a company that is all inkjet all the time. Hardin also notes that technical knowledge of the equipment and applications are vital because wide/large format devices can be adjusted based on what is being printed. Don’t let sticker price be your main arbiter. As Hardin notes, begin with the application and consider how you can sell its capabilities beyond the needs of any single customer. Also, keep in mind that you don’t need to print only poster-size images. Print driver software usually lets you print multiple one-off images at once across a wide substrate.

But wait. There’s more.
“Printing is only part of the process, notes Dino Pagiarello, Senior Vice President for Portfolio Management and Planning at Konica Minolta. “Finishing is usually required and provides additional revenue streams.” As a professional printer you may already have some of the finishing systems required. Such end-to-end attention to detail can pay off.

Equipment vendors encourage customers to help customers maximize the value of their printer. “Consulting services are an opportunity requiring experienced or well-trained people who understand the wide/large format market, applications, costs, and so on,” adds Pagiarello. Customers often don’t know all they can do. Offering both printing and advisory services makes customers more reliant on your company while positioning your company as a subject-matter expert. Not usually a bad thing.

Choices galore
Some of the wide/large format devices rolled out in 2023 were new models while others were existing ones refined with new or upgraded software, ink types or improved printheads.
  • Canon offers a wide range of wide format devices. Some are from Canon USA in Melville, NY while others are out of Canon Solutions America in Boca Raton, Florida.
  • Epson offers just about every imaginable type of wide/large format printer. A printer one town away from me here on the Maine coast says the busy season for his 60-inch-wide Epson is summer when he makes large prints of tourists’ photos.
  • HP sports three lines of wide/large format printers, beginning with its DesignJet line and extending to the company’s latex ink and PageWide devices.
  • Konica Minolta offers some HP’s DesignJet and PageWide models but the stars of KM’s show are its AccurioWide UV printers, notably the 250 2.5M released last year.
  • Ricoh offers devices from EFI, Epson, IM, Roland and Xanté. It’s latest offering is EFI’s Pro30h Wide Format LED Hybrid Printer, offering roll-to-roll and flatbed capabilities in one machine.
Follow the money
Competition for customer’s wide/large format spend is far from being as clear cut. Wide/large format printing is offered by places like Staples, quick/small commercial printers and some office technology dealers that are adding wide/large format printers to the copiers and MFPs they sell. Consider the target audiences of these competitors: You may be able offer more value for the money with a higher level of service, such as finishing capabilities. Additionally, because you will probably not invest in an entry-level machine, your machine’s speed and print volume can be differentiators. As Oriol Gasch, Head of Large Format at HP notes, “Jobs requiring specialty substrates are often handled by shops specializing in such services. Jobs requiring ten or more copies and finishing may be better suited to higher-end devices than those of a quick printer or office technology user.”

Because these are digital printers, software is increasingly important with workflow and color management as top focus areas. The requisite skills in these areas are part of your value proposition. Your sales guys can probably make these differentiators a customer will pay for. Customers are not just buying a big image: it also needs to be right. You can help make it so.

“The value proposition should be based on expanding capabilities, increasing value to a customer, and showing that you're a technology company that provides all aspects of the solution,” says Balow.

For instance, these days software includes security, always a good point to cover when talking with prospects. You may already have strong security and vendors often have it built into wide/large format products. HP for example, includes security protection in the latest version of its 36-inch DesignJet line, claiming it provides resiliency and endpoint protection across cloud-based software and services, safeguarding computers and printers from cyber threats.

Revenue by the Foot
You probably know that out-the-door pricing for wide/large format printing is charged per foot, a combination of paper, labor, ink, and equipment. What’s more, if you are already printing documents for a customer’s products you may have an on-ramp to a broader range of offerings. Find opportunities by asking questions, starting with present production cut-sheet customers. Then move on to other prospects. Begin by asking a few questions to move the conversation forward:
  • What do you do when you need prints larger than 11 x 17, 13 x 18, etc?
  • Where do you go for printing large images?
  • How are you using large-size prints?
  • About how many larger-size prints do you usually need at a time? How often?
  • Do you need to coat, mount, or laminate the large prints?
  • How much time is usually required to have bigger prints printed and finished?
  • How could printing wide/large format size be more convenient or cost-effective for you?
One other thing: Although equipment service requirements for wide/large format can be minimal, be sure you have written service and support agreements in place that include thorough training of your salespeople and operators. As with any press, operators may need to fill in as service techs.

Go Wide or Stay Home
When digital wide/large format devices first hit the market they produced images that looked great—from several feet away. Thanks to new inks and printheads, they now look fine up close. Diversifying the range of printing options your company offers increases your value in the market and may provide a competitive advantage. If there’s a fit for your business, a printing pro can make money in wide/large format. It’s yours for the taking.
Excellent choice.
We've had a 1650 for years and still love it.
Thanks. If it isn't confidential, what are your main workloads? I'm forseeing vehicle graphics, stickers, posters, and wallpaper. Other ideas are pocket folders and door hangers if we can find the right media.
Thanks. If it isn't confidential, what are your main workloads? I'm forseeing vehicle graphics, stickers, posters, and wallpaper. Other ideas are pocket folders and door hangers if we can find the right media.
Many different roll media.
Adhesive vinyls, synthetic and other papers (even bond paper), phototex, backlit films, frosted window films, 0.5mm magnetic sheet, PVC banner etc etc
Thanks. If it isn't confidential, what are your main workloads? I'm forseeing vehicle graphics, stickers, posters, and wallpaper. Other ideas are pocket folders and door hangers if we can find the right media.
I never thought of trying to make a pocket folder on a large format setup. Is this actually a thing? We are a union printer and being able to do short run union made folders would be a good product for us.


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