The growth in large format print has led many commercial and franchise and copyshop companies to enter this seemingly lucrative market. After all, they have the customers, and the requisite skills in file management, colour management and logistics.
Yet with so many businesses offering wide format print, is the market saturated, or are opportunities still to be found?
EFI Australia’s marketing specialist Jillian Michaels says that apart from the mega-volume end, traditional analogue wide format technologies are trailing digital significantly. She says digital has pushed screen printing, previously the favoured wide format process, to a mere 20 per cent of a total print volume of 67 billion sq ft. “Business owners are highly optimistic about the future of the sector and their own business, and, therefore, expect digital wide format printing to make up a greater percentage of their revenue.”
Wide format in general is certainly becoming a commodity offering for many print providers, says John Wall, president and director, Roland DG Australia. Yet there is still good profit to be made, not only in mainstream products but in the new markets to which the technology can take investors. He says, “Certainly wall graphics, soft signage and interior decoration are the hot spots that many of our customers are expanding their product offering to their clients with.”
Wall says the belief persists that inkjet is expensive to run on a job cost basis. “This may be true with some products on the market, but big advances have been made of late to bring both the operation and production costs down dramatically. Roland DG’s latest range of printers use 20 per cent less ink than previous generation product and often 30-45 per cent less than many of our competitors. This makes longer production runs more viable before having to switch to traditional press or screen techniques.”
The LED challenge
A new challenge is arising with the emergence of non-print platforms. APN Outdoor, for instance, is launching a dozen new billboards this year, all of them digital, with no new print sites planned.
But EFI’s Michaels says digital LED displays pose no immediate threat to wide format display printing. “We expect the two to co-exist with little impact on wide format print in the foreseeable future. Cost is the main reason for the delay in digital display implementation, particularly if you are talking about traditional, out-of-home advertising space, you have the expense of installation as well as the effort involved with securing multiple advertisers to support a single, more expensive sign.”
Charmaine Moldrich, CEO of the Outdoor Media Association, says that while the outdoor industry does not provide a breakdown of digital and static signage, by the end of 2014, outdoor operators would have added or converted more than 200 new digital screens, so there is tremendous growth in this area. At the end of Q2 2013-14, digital accounted for 13.9 per cent of outdoor revenue overall, up from 11.3 per cent in 2012-13 and 7.5 per cent in 2011-12, but this does not mean the end for print.
“The advantages to print versus digital are primarily in the ownership of the site and duration of the campaign,” she tells ProPrint.
“An advertiser can dominate and thus own a static site for a period without competing with potentially six or seven other messages (which is the case with digital.) Additionally, in regard to roadside signs, there is a greater opportunity for motorists to see static than digital because, on average, digital signs are rotated every ten seconds.”
Moldrich believes digital printing is enabling display printers to keep up with compressed deadlines in the outdoor industry and the push for longer selling cycles. “Digital print has the advantage of being able to print at larger sizes in one piece and a greater diversity of substrates. There is more flexibility in quantity of creatives, scaling of artwork is easier and more cost effective. Print quality is superior and we can meet smaller volumes efficiently.”
A buyer’s guidelines
Australia’s leading out-of-home advertising company, oOh! Media, has more than 20,000 advertising faces across the country. It has more than 4000 roadside billboards, the majority static.
oOh! covers 90 per cent of key arterial roads in five metro areas, 95 per cent of regional road inventory, more than 500 shopping centres around Australia and 19 airport terminals spanning nine markets nationally – plus opportunities across place-based media environments, such as universities, bars, cafés and social sport venues.
Out-of-home advertising hovers at around 3.5-4 per cent of advertisers’ budgets, says John Purcell, commercial director, operations and technology, for oOh! Media. “We expect this to grow to around six per cent due to media fragmentation and out-of-home’s compatibility with the growing online sector.
“Static signage will remain a key element of our business, as it has proven to work well and seamlessly in conjunction with digital, but also will continue to deliver other major benefits to advertisers such as innovative creative executions, savings in production costs and broadcast reach across our national network of billboards.”
Acording to Purcell print is still the clear leader for image and colour reproduction. He says, “Whilst digital display continues to improve, they still cannot match the quality a traditional static printed billboard provides. Recently we installed new digital and static panels in Sydney’s recently renovated Macquarie Shopping Centre. Our printed posters on high-quality PET substrate look incredible in the centre, with brightness and colour reproduction that outshines the best in digital display technology.”
His advice to printers seeking a berth in outdoor wide-format? “It is a hard sector to break into, with long-term agreements in place and outdoor companies owning their own print businesses. The cost of print and finishing equipment required is high and the scale and pace at which a supplier must operate eliminates all but a handful of suppliers.
“To maximise work in this sector, it is essential that print suppliers are willing to invest in long-term relationships. Suppliers must be willing to invest in product innovation, quality customer service, staff, online job management and tracking systems to be able to cope with the natural sales cycles they will see each month.
“One area that has an easier entry point is with ambient or non-standard production. All outdoor companies love hearing about new and exciting products, such as new substrates, print methods or point-of-sale concepts. We are constantly on the lookout for ways to help our advertisers stand out so anything a supplier has that can add value to this process is always appreciated.
“Any prospective supplier should familiarise themselves with the industry policies in regards to production on the Outdoor Media Association website. Safety is of huge importance to our industry and our print partners have a huge role to play in this – from the weight of the substrate they use, to how they package, label and freight the material to our warehouses.”
Displays to the trade
Grange Graphics is an eight-staff enterprise at Smeaton Grange in Sydney’s outer south west, supplying wide format print to the trade, which includes print providers who have not invested in digital wide format kit, at least not yet, and signwriting companies.
Managing director Alex Koulouris has a signage background and has worked in the field since 1998, before founding Grange Graphics eight years ago, with window tinting initially the main service, although ecosolvent printing of decorative media is now the mainstay of the company’s services.
Grange began as a wholesaler of decorative glass films and window tinting films and expanded into decorative edge films, particularly vinyls, introducing these to the window tinting industry. The upside of these are they are much easier to use and plotter friendly, says Koulouris.
“We started doing wallpapers and wall graphics and signage. We employed a few signwriters and Grange Graphics evolved into what it is today. Now I am incorporating some window tinting back into the business.
“Digital printing came on board and I saw a niche where I could supply the trade with that service. I knew that among the clientele, most could not afford to own their printing equipment. Window tinters were in an ideal position to benefit from the growth in decorative films, particularly in office partitioning and corporate fit out.”
Grange recently added a Roland VersaExpress RF640 ecosolvent wide-format printer from Roland DG to its production floor to help process the job traffic, alongside a Roland line-up that already included a SolJet Pro III XC540, a VersaUV LEJ640 and Grange’s original Roland machine, a SolJet Pro II SJ745EX. Intelligent flourishes such as an ability to replace inks on the fly and an iPad app to remotely control common printer functions distinguishes the RF640.
Grange has always been an all-digital facility, and apart from handling volume jobs, Koulouris sees a limited future for flexo, screen and other analogue technologies in custom display printing.
Koulouris says there is a constant churn in trade display printing because customers who outsource their wide format work eventually all invest in the kit, particularly with favourable price conditions, and bring it in in under their roof, to be replaced by new customers who need to farm out their large format jobs.
Outsourcing display work
One big display provider outsourcing contracts to the trade is Goa Billboards in Brisbane.
The Sunshine State’s only billboard and signage company was established more than thirty years ago in 1983 and remains a family-owned business.
Goa marketing executive Alex Peisker says: “As a media provider, we find both the cost and time in printing our own skins prohibitive. As such, we outsource to an external provider.
The company provides a mix of printed displays and LED displays and finds each type works best in given situations, she says. “Goa pioneered roadside [LED] digital billboards five years ago and now have the largest digital billboard network nationally, with inventory throughout Brisbane metro.
“Our products include the Coro Iconic and the Goa Grid. We boast a network offering in excess of 350,000 potential impacts daily through these. We aim to combine the power of a uniquely creative medium, super-flexible software and precision planning to deliver a ‘tick and flick’ solution to advertisers. Generally, we find that clients will use this in combination with printed sites, giving them ‘big impact’ as well as the flexibility to change their messaging frequently.”
At the cutting edge of billboard design, Goa offers such innovations as changing billboard shape to provide a faux 3D effect, installing robotics, cutting away part of the vinyl skin to show the metal billboard structure, and even integrating fauna and flora for a bionic billboard experience. The challenge for print is to integrate with innovations like these.
Goa also offers a signage construction and project management service, says Peisker. “We manage all aspects of clients’ signage project, from concept to completion, allowing them freedom and confidence to focus on your everyday responsibilities. Our project partners enable us to develop single printed sign solutions or extensive digital networks, completely customised to suit our clients’ requirements.”
Another major provider outsourcing much of its display work is Stadium Signs in Victoria. From its state-of-the-art premises in Ferntree Gully in Melbourne’s outer east, the company produces a wide range of bespoke products and experiential branding for clients such as MCG, Cricket Australia and a host of event companies.
Pamela Hammond, Stadium Signs’ co-director with partner Leigh Onions, says that in the more than four years since she can on board, Stadium, now a seven-staff operation, has rebranded, developed a new website, launched a Facebook page, and there is now a busy calendar of networking – on a national level and in its local catchment area of the eastern suburbs of Melbourne.
Projects have included vehicle wrapping for the 2013 Ride of the Lions, Mr Whippy vans for the Australian Open, an Adidas laneway tennis promotion in the Melbourne CBD, the Carlton Dry signs for the Mile High 4 Star World Snowboard Event at Perisher, NSW, and the VB and Holden Colorado signage and installation for all six Australia-wide Tough Mudder events. Stadium was commissioned to design and build the AAMI helipad stage with iPad plinths for Derby Day for the long-running Rhonda and Ktut campaign.
Stadium Signs runs a Mimaki JV5 160S 1.6m eco-solvent inkjet printer for printing inhouse with a lot of its larger signage being trade printed on a Durst Rho 550GT and Océ Arizona 360 UV flatbed, owned by one of its partner print outfits, says Leigh Onions. Finishing is done on a number of machines, including an inhouse Mimaki CJV30 cutter laminator.
But the co-directors emphasise that Stadium Signs is now very much a project management company, accessing its resources from a network of trade printers, finishers and installers – for a versatile range of signage and event-related products.
Other display print companies believe it is best printed under their own roof. Located at Sandringham on Melbourne’s bayside, Billboard Media offers fast turnarounds through its all-digital solutions for printing banners, posters, development signs and point of sale – and, of course, as the name indicates, billboards, and plenty of them.
David Zeunert, Billboard’s sales director, says two HP 10000 high-speed flatbed printers have recently been added to the production department.
This is in addition to a significant existing line-up that includes an HP XP2700 High Speed UV press, featuring eight colours, up to 800dpi resolution in a roll-to-roll format.
An HP XP5100 high-speed UV banner printer enables billboard-quality prints with crisp text at speeds of up to 150sqm per hour, while an XL1500 high-speed solvent banner printer is used for super-wide format applications.
Two Roland DG solvent machines – a VersaCamm VS640 high-speed printer and an A-J740i AdvancedJET – round out the output devices. The company prints posters, displays and POS for bus shelters, self-adhesive vinyl, billboard skins, development and commercial signage, computer cut lettering and banners.
Zeunert says the large format operation specialises in the brand identity, promotion, sourcing and manufacturing of all POS items including, posters, self-adhesive vinyl and rigid substrates for various segments including food, beverages, logistical, household, personal care, promotional and industrial markets.
Its strengths lie primarily in outdoor media product, he says, with billboard skins that use digitally printed single-sided vinyl, with either a welded pocket or Keder rope finish.
Billboard skins can be finished to any size using inhouse vinyl welders. Printed extensions and overlays can also be manufactured inhouse for 3D work.
Billboard does a lot of work with self-adhesive vinyl and one-way vision material using see-through substrates.
The company works on construction hoardings, printing building and fence advertising that covers entire infrastructures on quality printed cloth, mesh or banner. Materials range from short term, cost effective cloth to premium quality, high res printed mesh or banner.
Zeunert is a firm believer in technology-driven success, “We have been market leaders now for the past five years and have never been so busy. These new machines create opportunities where clients demand faster turnarounds.”
Corporate reset sharpens ADG’s image
Corporate realignment can often lead to a display media provider enriching its resources and widening its market appeal. Such has been the case with Melbourne based Active Display Group (ADG) in its recent acquisition by publicly listed marketing agency STW, a move slated to dramatically widen both client base and workload for the new one-stop shop entity.
ADG, formerly owned by the Gittus family, also has a 50 per cent stake in AFI Branding, has 390 staff in eastern Australia, and has an expanding Asia Pacific presence.
“The main change you will notice is a broadening of our range of services as we tap the creative resources of the wider STW group,” Zita Watkin, ADG’s creative marketing manager, tells ProPrint.
“While Active has always been strong in the provision of hardware and the execution of digital media projects – now we have access to the region’s strongest creative teams and will be able to deliver outstanding media content along with the delivery systems themselves.”
In the maturing and increasingly crowded wide format market, ADG has found several sustainable display niches, says Watkin, listing some of these as corrugated cardboard packaging and displays, ‘which are becoming more and more prepacked’, the banner and billboard market, including banner meshes and billboards around construction sites, innovative display work, and being able to print directly onto interesting and sometimes unusual substrates like timber and acrylic.
ADG has been known for its impressive screen and digital capex. Two Luescher JetScreen DX direct-to-screen systems enable the company to produce four colour sets of screens in under an hour without film – with film it used to be a day. And a Sias Multigraphica 1,850 x 1,250mm moving table line enables heavy and thick substrates like X-board, Alcabond and MDF, to be screenprinted.
Some time ago, before digital became commonplace in this sector, ADG was already busy proving its acumen there – with an Agfa M-press Tiger. Specifically, it is a hybrid flatbed screen/digital line that modifies a two colour Thieme screen press, with the first colour screen head replaced by a digital head. Basically there is a digital head, then a dryer, a screen head, then a dryer, then a stacker, with a fully automatic feeder at the front.
Watkin says a mix of digital and analogue technologies enables ADG to offer the wide format palette it has become known for – any quantity, any substrate, any gauge, and all of it produced inhouse. “It allows us to have consistency in the one campaign.”
Inhouse thinks big with wide format merger
Queensland outfit Inhouse Print & Design is bringing wide format company Queensland Posters into the fold in a merger to combine manpower, expertise and their two national customer bases.
Queensland Posters, run by Marc Flemington, has been producing wide format print, point of sale and large format display for the local Queensland and national Australian market for 15 years.
The two companies have been sharing jobs for years, and have decided to make it official. Inhouse print production manager Richard Tillotson with says: “Before we got into wide format ourselves, Queensland Posters was producing work for our clients, and we would supply their customers with smaller printed products. Slowly but surely over the years we have been using each other more and more, and finally decided to jump into bed together at the beginning of the year.
“Marc has a wealth of knowledge and has been in the game since basically day one, so he has a vast experience of the different applications and possibilities with different substrates. He was there in the wide format space early in the piece, so he has seen it all come and go. Now we are able to offer both of our customer bases a range of printed products under the one roof, so we can also manage colour consistency and the overall look of the print.”
The merger will also allow Flemington time to visit existing and potential customers out in the field, as Inhouse’s staff can take care of production back at the factory.
And rather than hire a third party to carry out installations and assessments, Tillotson says Flemington and the Inhouse team will now be able to take care of most of this work themselves. He says, “It has just made everything easier for everyone, and we are making big savings along the way.”
Flemington has now moved his equipment into Inhouse’s Underwood factory in Brisbane. Inhouse also runs a recently purchased Roland LEJ 640 UV hybrid machine and plotter cutter, and for finishing a three-way trimmer, perfect binder and two new Eurofold creasing and folding machines.
Tillotson says the focus for its machinery is to produce work on a wide range of materials. He says, “We have settled on some simple machines with our plotters, cutters, laminators and celloglaze applicators.”
Inhouse also offers general printing and perfect bound books, and is soon to add a publishing arm to its business.
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